TEDTalks (2006-2012) series
For years I was accused of having the best job in the world. 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 and production 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, Ai Weiwei just to start.
When I came on board at the start of 2006, TED wanted to bring its talks to television, a far sexier medium at the time, and everyone called it career suicide when I advocated going online instead. 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. 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. 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 Aggressively Boring Film Festival (2000) mobile movies
People often ask why TED brought me on board to help launch TEDTalks in the first place.
In 2000, I held the very first film festival for handheld computers. A surprising number of people from all over the world submitted entries. Back then, these gadgets were glorified, battery-powered dayplanners (often without phones). The earliest video software was a hack to turn them into kinetescopes. Due to the technological limitations of the time, these tiny Palm Pilot movies had to be silent, black and white, and only a few seconds long, hence the festival name.
Of course, The New Venue came before all of this.
The New Venue (1996-2005) online cinema
An entire decade before YouTube, I created the first online film site dedicated to movies made exclusively for the web. It was called The New Venue. Back when computers still used disks and modems, and the promise of online cinema was distant, I encouraged filmmakers to push the boundaries of this emerging medium. Why? Because constraints spark creativity. The site showcased short, postage stamp sized movies and taught valuable digital filmmaking tips. One day, we’d all be watching films and videos everywhere, and somebody needed to champion their quality. It was never meant to be me. I simply couldn’t find anyplace else curating new movies for this new medium, so I built one.
In 1999, my scrappy side project beat Rolling Stone Magazine at SXSW for “Best Use of Video on the Internet.” More awards followed, among them a Webby nomination, and Apple started promoting New Venue selections each week. (The site’s reputation grew without any push on my part, I just went along for the ride. By 25, I was being flown around the world to lecture on the future of film.) The New Venue survived into the early 2000s and during that time received 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 (thankyou). For a spin-off, I organized The Aggressively Boring Film Festival as the first ever mobile film festival.
Here is how the web site looked and functioned. The cardboard box filled the full screen: monitors were smaller then.
Then the bubble burst. Amid the collateral damage I discovered it’s rarely about who gets there first. The New Venue kept its loyal following even after I stopped updating it and still, to this day, I occasionally meet fans of the site.
Persona (above), one of New Venue’s flagship films, was co-directed with Kristie Lu Stout.
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