TEDTalks (2006-2012) series
For years I was accused of having the best job in the world, though I was never comfortable saying anything so bold. In my role as the Director of Film + Video for TED, I initially launched and, for the next half-decade, continued to supervise the direction, production, and creative direction of TEDTalks, the Peabody Award winning video series of ideas and inspiration from TED’s roster of authors, architects, rockstars, astronauts, knights, and Nobel laureates: Bill Gates, Bono, Jane Goodall, Hillary Clinton, Stephen Hawking, to start.
For two decades, beginning with the first TED conference back in 1984, TED remained in the shadows of the public eye as an annual, invitation-only, prohibitively expensive gathering of a few hundred highly accomplished leaders and thinkers. When I came on board at the start of 2006, nobody outside this exclusive environment had ever seen a speech from TED, the most views any online lecture (anywhere) had received fell in the low thousands, and online video ad revenue (everywhere) was measured by increments of thousands of dollars not millions of dollars. That was then. TED wanted to bring its talks to television, a far sexier medium at the time, so everyone called it career suicide when I advocated going online instead. I was charged with defining the aesthetic of TEDTalks, establishing standards for how to direct, light, shoot, capture, edit, encode, and package the talks, building out a video department, and, together with Chris Anderson and June Cohen, developing our original funding and distribution strategies. People had been recording academic lectures for years but no one before us had borrowed from the language of cinema or harnessed the power of crowds. It clicked. Something tapped into our shared, primal love of storytelling. Within weeks of unveiling the series, the impact was so staggering, immediate, and extraordinary that we scrambled to relaunch and rebrand TED.com as a platform devoted entirely to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and that’s how people know TED today. Our production values continued to grow along with our audience. By the time I stepped down, six years later, over 1000 videos had been watched and shared nearly a billion times... online, on tv, on airplanes, even in outer space.
You can shuffle through some of my favorites: J.J. Abrams, Michael Specter, Sir Ken Robinson, Sarah Kay, Temple Grandin, Deb Roy, and more. Reload and enjoy!
The New Venue (1996-2005) online cinema
A decade before YouTube or Vimeo, when computers still used disks and modems and the promise of online cinema was distant, before browsers could handle postage-stamp sized video clips and there were still plenty of post offices to buy stamps in the first place, I created the first showcase dedicated to movies made exclusively for the web. It was an art house for the future, encouraging filmmakers to push the boundaries of an emerging medium, complete with an instruction manual, because constraints spark creativity. The New Venue.
My eccentric, scrappy, solo side project beat Rolling Stone at SXSW in 1999 for “Best Use of Video on the Internet.” More awards followed, among them a Webby nomination, and even Apple partnered with me, promoting New Venue content on its own website. The New Venue coasted on steady unsolicited coverage from the likes of ABC, BBC, CNN, Wired, Variety, Spin, Fortune, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Rollling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, and others.
Persona (above), one of New Venue’s flagship films, was my collaboration with Kristie Lu Stout. You can see how the web site looked and functioned. The cardboard box filled the full screen: monitors were smaller then.
As a spin-off, in 2000, I held the first film festival for the Palm Pilot, hacking turn-of-the-millenium day-planners into digital kinetescopes. To compensate for the technical limitations of the time, these first mobile movies had to be silent, black and white, and last only a few seconds long, hence its name: The Aggressively Boring Film Festival.
At 25, I was being flown around the world to lecture on the future of film and explain how, one day, video would be everywhere. Then, when the bubble burst, amid the collateral damage I discovered it’s rarely a matter of who gets there first. The New Venue kept its loyal following even after I stopped updating it with filmmaking tips, filmmaker interviews, or “new movies for a new medium.”
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