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 tapped the power of crowds. It clicked. Something tapped into our shared, primal love of storytelling. If you think of your own best teachers, they didn’t just affect you on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level. We wanted to harness that. 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!
My most memorable TED experiences involved speakers: spending the night in a hotel room with a brain in a jar; delivering computers to kids in rural Colombia under armed, military escort; staging a rooftop swordfight between Sir Ken Robinson and Sir Richard Branson – because that’s what knights do; and advising actual, weightless astronauts (hurtling 200 miles above the Earth at 17,000 mph – because that's what THEY do) on how to best film themselves aboard the International Space Station, so it might look like they’re “flying.”
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