A Story Is a Story

Bizarre is the only word to describe a conversation with a couple of recruiters from not one, but two different giant tech companies recently. Just weird.

Both companies were and still are developing teams of video content creators, yet the people who contacted me seem to have no idea what broadcast news storytellers are, what we create, how it’s done, or what that means in digital.

What the tech recruiters didn’t seem to get is that a story is a story, and producing a video or film story is producing a video or film story.

They outright said video digital content is synonymous with video social media content, as if the only important element was distribution. Meaning, they were splitting the skills of ideation and creation from how it is distributed. It’s not the difference between oranges and bagels, but between oranges and tangerines meaning video or film production to the web versus video or film production in the traditional pipelines of television and movie distribution. In a macro sense, digital video is a “formatting” question.

What the tech recruiters didn’t seem to get is that a story is a story, and producing a video or film story is producing a video or film story.Let’s not forget humans have been telling stories long before we had books, radio, TV, movies, web, or any kind of social media. Stories are simply a method of successfully engaging to delight or amuse or for purposes of transferring information, data and experiences. The basis for telling a story well – whether it is with pictures, words, sounds or sensory components or all of the above– doesn’t change based on technological evolutions of tools or platforms used. What stories you choose to tell and the format might change, but not the core nature of narrative or experiences or delight and surprise a creator might be focused on creating for the audience.

Content creators are taking our experience and knowledge and adapting it. They will continue to do so as we understand what a “story” does and will mean in VR and AR.

It’s not so easy across any platform. Lots of those books, radio shows, podcasts, television shows or movies, never mind web videos or films fail.

There are two critical components: the ability to tell a story and the ability to identify the format that will engage targeted audiences. The ability to tell a story is a skill. The best storytellers work incredibly hard at their craft, often for a very long time and this is not dependent on age. Damien Chazelle may have been the youngest person to win an Oscar for directing for his movie, La La Land, but from many accounts he’s been obsessed with movies and musicals his entire life. Perhaps in his young life he’s already reached a milestone in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point”, of 10-thousand hours to become an expert at something.

The truth is this: the nucleus driving stories created in film and video to move, engage or inform people is exactly the same whether it’s a 30-second spot or a three-hour feature or documentary. Stories are meant to inform, engage, entertain, teach or simply delight. They come in many packages, but they all seek to engage another human being in a meaningful way.

Personifying a story is a key element of every pitch that I’ve ever given, perhaps in the thousands at this point. Human beings respond to other human beings and great storytellers engage their audience. In fact, there is a growing body of neuroscience revealing our bodies experience physiological changes when we connect with others through a story according to research by Dr. Paul Zak at Claremont University.

New technologies innovate tools the type of stories and how we deliver them. Technology will continue to do so. The next generation is upon us in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and they’re radically expanding how users can relate to a story.

All this to say, the tech recruiter’s very narrow definition of digital video storytelling is a challenge that potentially impedes innovation now, especially in the next generation of storytelling tech in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In their eyes those of us who have not worked at a social media company have little to add to these evolutions, which just makes no sense.

Extrapolating this experience to a broader context, there are any number of indicators of the difficulty that tech companies have with creative content or realizing they are in the tech and content business, while content companies struggle with staying on top of and integrating the latest tech into their businesses.

We will do ourselves a world of good if we remember that a story is a story and this next generation of computing platforms in virtual reality and augmented reality will benefit tremendously from inviting all sorts of storytellers to the table…

Tech companies struggle with stories the same way that media or entertainment companies have systematically struggled with technology; how to expand what they do in relevant, repeatable methods. Content creators are taking our experience and knowledge and adapting and will continue to do so as we understand what a “story” does and will mean in VR and AR.

At the end of the day, most major consumer tech advances that create new platforms for consumption are of little use until there is content that drives demand. The gaming sector has a more direct line to potential VR consumers, with tens of millions of highly motivated users who are well versed in the combination of the well-told stories with interactivity or agency. As the VR market expands it is going to take the gamers, the storytellers across media, programmers and producers working together to hack and devise the best applications for other purposes.

Specific labels and poor assumptions are of little use in this less-traveled world. We will do ourselves a world of good if we remember that a story is a story and this next generation of computing platforms in virtual reality and augmented reality will benefit tremendously from inviting all sorts of storytellers to the table as we begin what to make, how to make it that will add great value to our audiences in understanding and having fun in the world we live in.

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