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← The future of storytelling

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Showing Revision 9 created 10/30/2017 by Brian Greene.

  1. Cyndi Stivers: So, future of storytelling.
  2. Before we do the future,
  3. let's talk about what is never
    going to change about storytelling.
  4. Shonda Rhimes:
    What's never going to change.

  5. Obviously, I think good stories
    are never going to change,
  6. the need for people to gather together
    and exchange their stories
  7. and to talk about the things
    that feel universal,
  8. the idea that we all feel
    a compelling need to watch stories,
  9. to tell stories, to share stories --
  10. sort of the gathering around the campfire
  11. to discuss the things
    that tell each one of us
  12. that we are not alone in the world.
  13. Those things to me
    are never going to change.
  14. That essence of storytelling
    is never going to change.
  15. CS: OK. In preparation
    for this conversation,

  16. I checked in with Susan Lyne,
  17. who was running ABC Entertainment
  18. when you were working
    on "Grey's Anatomy" --
  19. SR: Yes.

  20. CS: And she said that there was
    this indelible memory she had

  21. of your casting process,
  22. where without discussing it
    with any of the executives,
  23. you got people coming in
    to read for your scripts,
  24. and every one of them
    was the full range of humanity,
  25. you did not type anyone in any way,
  26. and that it was completely surprising.
  27. So she said, in addition
    to retraining the studio executives,
  28. you also, she feels,
  29. and I think this is -- I agree,
  30. retrained the expectations
    of the American TV audience.
  31. So what else does the audience
    not yet realize that it needs?
  32. SR: What else does it not yet realize?

  33. Well, I mean, I don't think
    we're anywhere near there yet.
  34. I mean, we're still in a place
  35. in which we're far, far behind what looks
    like the real world in actuality.
  36. I wasn't bringing in
    a bunch of actors
  37. who looked very different from one another
  38. simply because I was
    trying to make a point,
  39. and I wasn't trying
    to do anything special.
  40. It never occurred to me
    that that was new, different or weird.
  41. I just brought in actors
    because I thought they were interesting
  42. and to me, the idea that it
    was completely surprising to everybody --
  43. I didn't know that for a while.
  44. I just thought: these are the actors
    I want to see play these parts.
  45. I want to see what
    they look like if they read.
  46. We'll see what happens.
  47. So I think the interesting thing
    that happens is
  48. that when you look at the world
    through another lens,
  49. when you're not the person
    normally in charge of things,
  50. it just comes out a different way.
  51. CS: So you now have
    this big machine that you run,

  52. as a titan -- as you know,
    last year when she gave her talk --
  53. she's a titan.
  54. So what do you think
    is going to happen as we go on?
  55. There's a huge amount of money
    involved in producing these shows.
  56. While the tools of making stories
    have gone and gotten greatly democratized,
  57. there's still this large distribution:
  58. people who rent networks,
    who rent the audience to advertisers
  59. and make it all pay.
  60. How do you see the business model changing
    now that anyone can be a storyteller?
  61. SR: I think it's changing every day.

  62. I mean, the rapid, rapid change
    that's happening is amazing.
  63. And I feel -- the panic is palpable,
  64. and I don't mean that in a bad way.
  65. I think it's kind of exciting.
  66. The idea that there's
    sort of an equalizer happening,
  67. that sort of means that anybody
    can make something, is wonderful.
  68. I think there's some scary in the idea
    that you can't find the good work now.
  69. There's so much work out there.
  70. I think there's something like
    417 dramas on television right now
  71. at any given time in any given place,
  72. but you can't find them.
  73. You can't find the good ones.
  74. So there's a lot of bad stuff out there
    because everybody can make something.
  75. It's like if everybody painted a painting.
  76. You know, there's not
    that many good painters.
  77. But finding the good stories,
    the good shows,
  78. is harder and harder and harder.
  79. Because if you have
    one tiny show over here on AMC
  80. and one tiny show over here over there,
  81. finding where they are
    becomes much harder.
  82. So I think that ferreting out the gems
  83. and finding out who made
    the great webisode and who made this,
  84. it's -- I mean, think
    about the poor critics
  85. who now are spending 24 hours a day
  86. trapped in their homes
    watching everything.
  87. It's not an easy job right now.
  88. So the distribution engines
    are getting more and more vast,
  89. but finding the good programming
    for everybody in the audience
  90. is getting harder.
  91. And unlike the news,
  92. where everything's getting
    winnowed down to just who you are,
  93. television seems to be getting --
  94. and by television I mean anything
    you can watch, television shows on --
  95. seems to be getting
    wider and wider and wider.
  96. And so anybody's making stories,
  97. and the geniuses are sometimes hidden.
  98. But it's going to be harder to find,
  99. and at some point that will collapse.
  100. People keep talking about peak TV.
  101. I don't know when that's going to happen.
  102. I think at some point
    it'll collapse a little bit
  103. and we'll, sort of, come back together.
  104. I don't know if it
    will be network television.
  105. I don't know if that model is sustainable.
  106. CS: What about the model

  107. that Amazon and Netflix are throwing
    a lot of money around right now.
  108. SR: That is true.

  109. I think it's an interesting model.
  110. I think there's
    something exciting about it.
  111. For content creators, I think
    there's something exciting about it.
  112. For the world, I think
    there's something exciting about it.
  113. The idea that there are programs now
  114. that can be in multiple languages
    with characters from all over the world
  115. that are appealing and come out
    for everybody at the same time
  116. is exciting.
  117. I mean, I think the international sense
    that television can now take on
  118. makes sense to me,
  119. that programming can now take on.
  120. Television so much is made for, like --
    here's our American audience.
  121. We make these shows,
  122. and then they shove them
    out into the world
  123. and hope for the best,
  124. as opposed to really thinking
    about the fact that America is not it.
  125. I mean, we love ourselves
    and everything, but it's not i.
  126. And we should be
    taking into account the fact
  127. that there are all
    of these other places in the world
  128. that we should be interested in
    while we're telling stories.
  129. It makes the world smaller.
  130. I don't know.
  131. I think it pushes forward the idea
    that the world is a universal place,
  132. and our stories become universal things.
  133. We stop being other.
  134. CS: You've pioneered, as far as I can see,

  135. interesting ways to launch new shows, too.
  136. I mean, when you
    launched "Scandal" in 2012,
  137. there was this amazing groundswell
    of support on Twitter
  138. the likes of which nobody had seen before.
  139. Do you have any other
    tricks up your sleeve
  140. when you launch your next one?
  141. What do you think
    will happen in that regard?
  142. SR: We do have some interesting ideas.

  143. We have a show called "Still Star-Crossed"
    coming out this summer.
  144. We have some interesting ideas for that.
  145. I'm not sure if we're going
    to be able to do them in time.
  146. I thought they were fun.
  147. But the idea
    that we would live-tweet our show
  148. was really just us thinking
    that would be fun.
  149. We didn't realize that the critics
    would start to live-tweet along with us.
  150. But the fans -- getting people
    to be a part of it,
  151. making it more of a campfire --
  152. you know, when you're all
    on Twitter together
  153. and you're all talking together,
  154. it is more of a shared experience,
  155. and finding other ways
    to make that possible
  156. and finding other ways
    to make people feel engaged
  157. is important.
  158. CS: So when you have
    all those different people making stories

  159. and only some of them
    are going to break through
  160. and get that audience somehow,
  161. how do you think
    storytellers will get paid?
  162. SR: I actually have been struggling
    with this concept as well.

  163. Is it going to be a subscriber model?
  164. Are people going to say, like, I'm going
    to watch this particular person's shows,
  165. and that's how we're going to do it?
  166. CS: I think we should buy
    a passport to Shondaland. Right?

  167. SR: I don't know about that, but yeah.
    That's a lot more work for me.

  168. I do think that there are
    going to be different ways,
  169. but I don't know necessarily.
  170. I mean, I'll be honest and say
    a lot of content creators
  171. are not necessarily interested
    in being distributors,
  172. mainly because what I dream of doing
  173. is creating content.
  174. I really love to create content.
  175. I want to get paid for it
  176. and I want to get paid the money
    that I deserve to get paid for it,
  177. and there's a hard part in finding that.
  178. But I also want it to be made possible
  179. for, you know,
    the people who work with me,
  180. the people who work for me,
  181. everybody to sort of get paid in a way,
    and they're all making a living.
  182. How it gets distributed
    is getting harder and harder.
  183. CS: How about the many new tools,

  184. you know, VR, AR ...
  185. I find it fascinating
    that you can't really binge-watch,
  186. you can't fast-forward in those things.
  187. What do you see as the future
    of those for storytelling?
  188. SR: I spent a lot of time in the past year

  189. just exploring those,
  190. getting lots of demonstrations
    and paying attention.
  191. I find them fascinating,
  192. mainly because I think that --
  193. I think most people
    think of them for gaming,
  194. I think most people think of them
    for things like action,
  195. and I think that there is
    a sense of intimacy
  196. that is very present in those things,
  197. the idea that -- picture this,
  198. you can sit there
    and have a conversation with Fitz,
  199. or at least sit there
    while Fitz talks to you,
  200. President Fitzgerald Grant III,
  201. while he talks to you
  202. about why he's making
    a choice that he makes,
  203. and it's a very heartfelt moment.
  204. And instead of you watching
    a television screen,
  205. you're sitting there next to him,
    and he's having this conversation.
  206. Now, you fall in love with the man
  207. while he's doing it
    from a television screen.
  208. Imagine sitting next to him,
  209. or being with a character like Huck
    who's about to execute somebody.
  210. And instead of having a scene
  211. where, you know, he's talking
    to another character very rapidly,
  212. he goes into a closet and turns to you
    and tells you, you know,
  213. what's going to happen
    and why he's afraid and nervous.
  214. It's a little more like theater,
    and I'm not sure it would work,
  215. but I'm fascinating by the concept
    of something like that
  216. and what that would mean for an audience.
  217. And to get to play with those ideas
    would be interesting,
  218. and I think, you know, for my audience,
    the people who watch my shows,
  219. which is, you know, women 12 to 75,
  220. there's something interesting
    in there for them.
  221. CS: And how about
    the input of the audience?

  222. How interested are you in the things
  223. where the audience
    can actually go up to a certain point
  224. and then decide, oh wait,
    I'm going to choose my own adventure.
  225. I'm going to run off with Fitz
    or I'm going to run off with --
  226. SR: Oh, the choose-
    your-own-adventure stories.

  227. I have a hard time with those,
  228. and not necessarily because
    I want to be in control of everything,
  229. but because when I'm watching television
    or I'm watching a movie,
  230. I know for a fact
    that a story is not as good
  231. when I have control
    over exactly what's going to happen
  232. to somebody else's character.
  233. You know, if I could tell you exactly
    what I wanted to happen to Walter White,
  234. that's great, but the story
    is not the same, and it's not as powerful.
  235. You know, if I'm in charge
    of how "The Sopranos" ends,
  236. then that's lovely and I have an ending
    that's nice and satisfying,
  237. but it's not the same story
    and it's not the same emotional impact.
  238. CS: I can't stop imagining
    what that might be.

  239. Sorry, you're losing me for a minute.
  240. SR: But what's wonderful is
    I don't get to imagine it,

  241. because Vince has his own ending,
  242. and it makes it really powerful
    to know that somebody else has told.
  243. You know, if you could
    decide that, you know,
  244. in "Jaws," the shark wins or something,
  245. it doesn't do what it needs to do for you.
  246. The story is the story that is told,
  247. and you can walk away angry
    and you can walk away debating
  248. and you can walk away arguing,
  249. but that's why it works.
  250. That is why it's art.
  251. Otherwise, it's just a game,
  252. and games can be art,
    but in a very different way.
  253. CS: Gamers who actually
    sell the right to sit there

  254. and comment on what's happening,
  255. to me that's more community
    than storytelling.
  256. SR: And that is its own form of campfire.

  257. I don't discount that
    as a form of storytelling,
  258. but it is a group form, I suppose.
  259. CS: All right,
    what about the super-super --

  260. the fact that everything's
    getting shorter, shorter, shorter.
  261. And, you know, Snapchat
    now has something it calls shows
  262. that are one minute long.
  263. SR: It's interesting.

  264. Part of me thinks
    it sounds like commercials.
  265. I mean, it does -- like, sponsored by.
  266. But part of me also gets it completely.
  267. There's something
    really wonderful about it.
  268. If you think about a world
  269. in which most people
    are watching television on their phones,
  270. if you think about a place like India,
  271. where most of the input is coming in
  272. and that's where
    most of the product is coming in,
  273. shorter makes sense.
  274. If you can charge people more
    for shorter periods of content,
  275. some distributor has figured out
    a way to make a lot more money.
  276. If you're making content,
  277. it costs less money
    to make it and put it out there.
  278. And, by the way,
  279. if you're 14 and have
    a short attention span, like my daughter,
  280. that's what you want to see,
    that's what you want to make,
  281. that's how it works.
  282. And if you do it right
    and it actually feels like narrative,
  283. people will hang on for it
    no matter what you do.
  284. CS: I'm glad you raised your daughters,

  285. because I am wondering how are they
    going to consume entertainment,
  286. and also not just entertainment,
  287. but news, too.
  288. When they're not -- I mean,
    the algorithmic robot overlords
  289. are going to feed them
    what they've already done.
  290. How do you think we will correct for that
    and make people well-rounded citizens?
  291. SR: Well, me and how I correct for it

  292. is completely different
    than how somebody else might do it.
  293. CS: Feel free to speculate.

  294. SR: I really don't know
    how we're going to do it in the future.

  295. I mean, my poor children have been
    the subject of all of my experiments.
  296. We're still doing
    what I call "Amish summers"
  297. where I turn off all electronics
  298. and pack away
    all their computers and stuff
  299. and watch them scream for a while
    until they settle down
  300. into, like, an electronic-free summer.
  301. But honestly, it's a very hard world
  302. in which now, as grown-ups,
  303. we're so interested
    in watching our own thing,
  304. and we don't even know
    that we're being fed, sometimes,
  305. just our own opinions.
  306. You know, the way it's working now,
  307. you're watching a feed,
  308. and the feeds are being corrected
  309. so that you're only getting
    your own opinions
  310. and you're feeling
    more and more right about yourself.
  311. So how do you really start to discern?
  312. It's getting a little bit disturbing.
  313. So maybe it'll overcorrect,
    maybe it'll all explode,
  314. or maybe we'll all just become --
  315. I hate to be negative about it,
  316. but maybe we'll all
    just become more idiotic.
  317. (Cyndi laughs)

  318. CS: Yeah, can you picture
    any corrective that you could do

  319. with scripted, fictional work?
  320. SR: I think a lot about the fact
    that television has the power

  321. to educate people in a powerful way,
  322. and when you're watching television --
  323. for instance, they do studies
    about medical shows.
  324. I think it's 87 percent,
    87 percent of people
  325. get most of their knowledge
    about medicine and medical facts
  326. from medical shows,
  327. much more so than
    they do from their doctors,
  328. than from articles.
  329. So we work really hard to be accurate,
    and every time we make a mistake,
  330. I feel really guilty,
    like we're going to do something bad,
  331. but we also give a lot
    of good medical information.
  332. There are so many other ways
    to give information on those shows.
  333. People are being entertained
  334. and maybe they don't want
    to read the news,
  335. but there are a lot of ways to give
    fair information out on those shows,
  336. not in some creepy, like,
    we're going to control people's minds way,
  337. but in a way that's sort of
    very interesting and intelligent
  338. and not about pushing
    one side's version or the other,
  339. like, giving out the truth.
  340. It would be strange, though,
  341. if television drama
    was how we were giving the news.
  342. CS: It would be strange,

  343. but I gather a lot of what
    you've written as fiction
  344. has become prediction this season?
  345. SR: You know, "Scandal" has been
    very disturbing for that reason.

  346. We have this show
    that's about politics gone mad,
  347. and basically the way
    we've always told the show --
  348. you know, everybody
    pays attention to the papers.
  349. We read everything.
    We talk about everything.
  350. We have lots of friends in Washington.
  351. And we'd always sort of
    done our show as a speculation.
  352. We'd sit in the room and think,
  353. what would happen
    if the wheels came off the bus
  354. and everything went crazy?
  355. And that was always great,
  356. except now it felt like
    the wheels were coming off the bus
  357. and things were actually going crazy,
  358. so the things that we were speculating
    were really coming true.
  359. I mean, our season this year
  360. was going to end with the Russians
    controlling the American election,
  361. and we'd written it, we'd planned for it,
  362. it was all there,
  363. and then the Russians were suspected
    of being involved in the American election
  364. and we suddenly had to change
    what we were going to do for our season.
  365. I walked in and I was like,
  366. "That scene where our mystery woman
    starts speaking Russian?
  367. We have to fix that
    and figure out what we're going to do."
  368. That just comes from extrapolating
  369. out from what we thought
    was going to happen,
  370. or what we thought was crazy.
  371. CS: That's great.

  372. So where else in US or elsewhere
    in the world do you look?
  373. Who is doing interesting
    storytelling right now?
  374. SR: I don't know, there's a lot
    of interesting stuff out there.

  375. Obviously British television
    is always amazing
  376. and always does interesting things.
  377. I don't get to watch a lot of TV,
  378. mainly because I'm busy working.
  379. And I pretty much try not to watch
    very much television at all,
  380. even American television,
    until I'm done with a season,
  381. because things start
    to creep into my head otherwise.
  382. I start to wonder, like,
  383. why can't our characters wear crowns
    and talk about being on a throne?
  384. It gets crazy.
  385. So I try not to watch much
    until the seasons are over.
  386. But I do think that there's a lot of
    interesting European television out there.
  387. I was at the International Emmys
  388. and looking around and seeing
    the stuff that they were showing,
  389. and I was kind of fascinated.
  390. There's some stuff
    I want to watch and check out.
  391. CS: Can you imagine --

  392. I know that you don't spend a lot of time
    thinking about tech stuff,
  393. but you know how a few years ago
    we had someone here at TED
  394. talking about seeing,
  395. wearing Google Glass and seeing
    your TV shows essentially in your eye?
  396. Do you ever fantasize when, you know --
  397. the little girl
    who sat on the pantry floor
  398. in your parents' house,
  399. did you ever imagine any other medium?
  400. Or would you now?
  401. SR: Any other medium.

  402. For storytelling, other than books?
  403. I mean, I grew up wanting
    to be Toni Morrison, so no.
  404. I mean, I didn't even imagine television.
  405. So the idea that there could be
    some bigger world,
  406. some more magical way of making things ---
  407. I'm always excited
    when new technology comes out
  408. and I'm always the first one
    to want to try it.
  409. The possibilities feel endless
    and exciting right now,
  410. which is what excites me.
  411. We're in this sort of Wild West period,
    to me, it feels like,
  412. because nobody knows
    what we're going to settle on.
  413. You can put stories anywhere right now
  414. and that's cool to me,
  415. and it feels like once we figure out
    how to get the technology
  416. and the creativity
    of storytelling to meet,
  417. the possibilities are endless.
  418. CS: And also the technology has enabled
    the thing I briefly flew by earlier,

  419. binge-viewing,
    which is a recent phenomenon,
  420. since you've been doing shows, right?
  421. And how do you think does that change
    the storytelling process at all?
  422. You always had a bible
    for the whole season beforehand, right?
  423. SR: No, I just always knew
    where we were going to end.

  424. So for me,
  425. the only way I can really comment on that
  426. is that I have a show
    that's been going on for 14 seasons
  427. and so there are the people
    who have been watching it for 14 seasons,
  428. and then there are the 12-year-old girls
    I'd encounter in the grocery store
  429. who had watched
    297 episodes in three weeks.
  430. Seriously, and that's a very different
    experience for them,
  431. because they've been inside of something
  432. really intensely for
    a very short period of time
  433. in a very intense way,
  434. and to them the story
    has a completely different arc
  435. and a completely different meaning
  436. because it never had any breaks.
  437. CS: It's like visiting a country
    and then leaving it. It's a strange --

  438. SR: It's like reading an amazing novel
    and then putting it down.

  439. I think that is the beauty
    of the experience.
  440. You don't necessarily have to watch
    something for 14 seasons.
  441. It's not necessarily
    the way everything's supposed to be.
  442. CS: Is there any topic
    that you don't think we should touch?

  443. SR: I don't think
    I think of story that way.

  444. I think of story in terms of character
    and what characters would do
  445. and what characters need to do
    in order to make them move forward,
  446. so I'm never really thinking of story
    in terms of just plot,
  447. and when writers come
    into my writer's room and pitch me plot,
  448. I say, "You're not speaking English."
  449. Like, that's the thing I say.
  450. We're not speaking English.
    I need to hear what's real.
  451. And so I don't think of it that way.
  452. I don't know if there's a way
    to think there's something I wouldn't do
  453. because that feels like I'm plucking
    pieces of plot off a wall or something.
  454. CS: That's great. To what extent
    do you think you will use --

  455. You know, you recently went
    on the board of Planned Parenthood
  456. and got involved
    in the Hillary Clinton campaign.
  457. To what extent do you think
    you will use your storytelling
  458. in the real world
  459. to effect change?
  460. SR: Well, you know, there's --

  461. That's an intense subject to me,
  462. because I feel like the lack of narrative
  463. that a lot of people have is difficult.
  464. You know, like,
    there's a lot of organizations
  465. that don't have a positive narrative
    that they've created for themselves
  466. that would help them.
  467. There's a lot of campaigns
  468. that could be helped
    with a better narrative.
  469. The Democrats could do a lot
  470. with a very strong
    narrative for themselves.
  471. There's a lot of different things
    that could happen
  472. in terms of using storytelling voice,
  473. and I don't mean that in a fiction way,
  474. I mean that in a same way
    that any speechwriter would mean it.
  475. And I see that,
  476. but I don't necessarily know
    that that's, like, my job to do that.
  477. CS: All right.

  478. Please help me thank Shonda.
    SR: Thank you.

  479. (Applause)