Reinvention, the Big Bang and Empty Mind…

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and reinvention lately….

As a documentary filmmaker and editor, the last three decades has been all about crafting good stories. More recently I’ve been exploring the use of story to engage community through OPEN CINEMA‘s programming and publicity. And now that social media and transmedia are reinventing our media ecosystem, it’s forced me to grapple with my own personal and professional reinvention as a transmedia producer, story architect and social media marketing strategist. Mostly, it’s been exciting and rewarding, but it’s also edgy and challenging.

Over the last few weeks, I’m grateful to have found myself amongst a like-minded  tribe of storytellers, brought together around an innovative virtual campfire. “The Reinvention Summit” is a model for the remarkable use of online networking and social media tools to engage people around the future of storytelling.  It was an honour to be a Summit Producer, a speaker in one of the 32 presentations, as well as one of over 500 virtual delegates from across the planet. The ideas, connections, conversations and twitterstream (#story10) that flowed from this gathering have been nothing short of inspirational, with revolutionary undertones. I particularly appreciated the sessions offered by Lance Weiler, Gunther Sonnenfeld, Nancy Duarte and Jim Gaines.  Big ups to Michael Margolis and the design team at GetStoried for having the chutzpah to pull off such a grand experiment  — and succeed!

The Big Bang

Now that the Summit is over, I’m left with an elemental complex of ideas and flash points.  I know they will eventually find their true orbital patterns within my narrative solar system, but for now, we’re still at the Big Bang stage. Thankfully my understanding of story allows me to trust the transformative relationship between chaos and order. The post-Big Bang universe must have been pretty messed up before it all settled into something relatively predictable.  Likewise, I’m in the eye of this hurricane of change and for the moment, it’s hard to know where and how it will all land.

A Quantum Guttenberg Moment

My professional reinvention lies at the confluence of a number of factors: the economic downturn has punched large holes in the broadcast media funding model, which has been the mainstay of the Canadian documentary industry, so documentary commissions and contracts are few and far between. Meanwhile, cheap digital filmmaking equipment, Web 2.0 and mobile technology is offering easy access to media tools, turning everyone into a documentarian of sorts. Consider the effect that the invention of the Guttenberg press had on writers and readers, then quantiply it: the social media revolution effectively puts a printing press and broadcast network into everyone’s pocket. The good news: it’s reinventing the way we create, share, experience and watch content and stories. But the bad news is that it’s challenging the way traditional professional media creators like myself make a living.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been diversifying, retooling and exploring this new terrain with plenty of excitement and a modicum of success. I’ve been offering media education in both traditional film and social media, while exploring transmedia,  interactive storytelling and marketing. But we’re still standing on the threshold between the old and the new, a foot in both camps, so to speak. It can be dizzying, disorienting and, at times, overwhelming.

Reinvention is messy

The Reinvention Summit was like a therapeutic irritant, creating a space to really dive into this liminal stage of transformation and collectively explore its boundaries. Along with my new narrative cohorts, we discussed everything from brand strategy, hip-hop, Maori myths, education, civic engagement, transmedia and much much more.  It was fascinating, and a lot to take in.  But reinvention isn’t a simple one-step process; it takes time, it’s messy and deceptive.  So now I’m grappling with how to make sense of it all: thinking, writing, soul searching, talking and reading a lot. But I’m itching to break out of the mold; I feel the butterfly’s hunger to shed the cocoon,  an urgency to spread my damp new wings out into the world,  to catch a glimpse of the bright, bold, unfolding story.  It’s taking shape nicely, but it’s not quite cooked yet.

Empty Mind

Then today, I stumbled upon this little story that offered fresh insight, and stopped me in my tracks.

“There was an American professor who had made a lifetime’s study of the Japanese tea ceremony. He was the western expert. He heard there was an old man living in Japan who was a master of the tea ceremony. So he made a special trip to Japan to see him. He found the master living in a small house on the outskirts of Tokyo and they sat down to have tea together. The professor immediately started talking about the tea ceremony, his study, all he knew about it and how he was looking forward to sharing his learning with the old man. The old man said nothing, but started to pour tea into the professor’s cup. While the professor talked, the old man continued to pour the tea, the cup filled and the old man kept pouring. The tea split down the sides of the cup in a stream onto the floor, yet the old man did not stop. “Stop!” said the professor. “You are crazy. You can’t fit any more tea in that cup. It’s full.” “I was just practicing,” replied the old man, “for the task of attempting to pass learning to a mind that is already full.” (Source http://www.lifepositive.com)

That’s when I decided to take a break from trying to figure it all out. Stay tuned for more on this process as it unfolds; but for now, there’s nothing like a long walk on the beach to empty the mind…..