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…..

Social UnMedia, Filmmaking and the Bigger Story

Scott Stratten doesn’t like the term ‘social media’ and he makes a good point. The word ‘media’ evokes an old paradigm,  a pushy marketing mindset that’s going the way of the Dodo. Traditional media is characterized by a privileged voice broadcasting a unified message to the masses, but now the emerging digital revolution is changing the game and giving everyone a voice. The key to getting heard above the roar is to authentically engage one-on-one, develop relationships and offer compelling content that pulls people into your (story) world.

Stratten, the dynamic speaker and author of the best-selling book ‘UnMarketing’ was one of the awesome Keynote Speakers at Victoria’s first Social Media Camp (#SMCV10) on October 3rd, 2010. About 500 people gathered for a full day of speakers, roundtables and networking opps, exchanging digital tools, tips and techniques — plus a whole lot of joie de vivre! The buzzwords were ‘content’, ‘engagement’ and ‘relationship’.  That sounds a lot like filmmaking to me. Or maybe we could call it ‘storytelling technology’. Let me explain…

Social UnMedia is All About Relationships

According to Stratten, the outdated concept of marketing as a job or distinct task no longer applies. “STOP that!” he scolds, jumping up and down like an adorable nerd. UnMarketing is the new normal;  everything  you say, do, don’t do, watch or ‘like’ online contributes to the persona, character or brand you are offering up to the digital ecosystem. Good relationships have always been a key to good business; except now they’re the lock, the key, the door and the entire treasure box itself.

Social UnMedia, (to borrow Scott’s UnSemantics!) is making it possible for everyone to be a broadcaster, and even better, you can now connect with each person individually, so you don’t have to shout.

‘Now Hear This!’ becomes Once Upon a Time…’

Social media amplifies everything, so it’s not a quick fix for anything. “If you suck at business offline, then you’re just gonna suck harder online!”, warns  Stratton. “People only spread awesome frickin’ content!” What makes awesome content? Great storytelling.

I’m ready for my Close-Up, Mr. DeMille!

The invention of social media tools to the evolution of the Internet is equivalent to the discovery of the close-up to the history of filmmaking. The movies came of age in the early 20th century, graduating into a true storytelling medium when D.W. Griffith, the father of narrative cinema, decided to move the camera from it’s proscenium arch wide-shot to a close-up of the actors for dramatic effect. At first the Hollywood producers were horrified, worried that audiences would demand their money back having paid to see the whole actor! But as we all know, the close-up led to the art of editing and the evolution of the language of film: a set of ever-evolving conventions that offer precise creative control over the story’s dramatic narrative, fact or fiction.

Overacting was the norm in turn-of-the-century silent-era films. Grand exaggerated gestures were necessary for actions to be noticed in the fuzzy wide shot. But acting styles were forced to change with the advent of the close-up, which accentuated subtle nuance, unspoken backstory, laser intimacy and vulnerable authenticity. The tiniest facial twitch can suggest a rich personal story, such as Marlon Brando’s performance in The Godfather or Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.

So what does this have to do with social media? Like it or not, social media is the contemporary digital hearth around which our stories are being told. “It’s a social forge, a fiery pressure cooker that transforms (or destroys) everything that is fed into it.”  So says Julien Smith, #SMCV10’s other awesome Keynote speaker and co-author of the best-seller Trust Agents with Chris Brogan. Smith nailed it: “We are being called to expand our role and tell a bigger story.”

The Internet Moves in for its Close-Up

Social media is telling this bigger story in digital close-up. Echoing the cinematic revolution,  almost exactly a century later social media etiquette favours authentic human gestures over bold, brassy proclamations .  Conversation and engagement is what it takes to be a star in the social media universe, everything else is likely to find itself on the cutting room floor.

Storytelling Technology for Reinvention

I’m continually amazed with the ways in which good social media strategy mirrors the filmmaking process. As a filmmaker, I live in the realm of story and I’m very excited about the opportunity for transformation and reinvention that this new storytelling technology offers. What’s the bigger story that is calling you?