I used to spread ideas, by day, for a living...
TED Talks 2006-2012
As TED’s founding “Director of Film + Video,” I initially launched and, for half a 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. I did other things too, but this was my most noteworthy.
Here’s the story in under 18 minutes.
Beginning with its first 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, twenty years in, 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 before the big, round, red rug. 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, build and run a video department, and, together with Chris Anderson and June Cohen, developing our original funding and distribution strategies. It clicked. Something engaged a shared, primal love of storytelling. Within weeks of unveiling the series, the impact was so 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. (Yes, 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. That seemed odd to me, because if you think of your own best teachers, they didn’t just affect you on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level as well.) Practically overnight, we went from a conference with a digital presence to a major media platform and global community. Our style has since been replicated, parodied, and even become synonymous with giving a certain type of speech. There are now thousands of spin-off TEDx events as a result. Our production values continued to grow along with our audience. By the time I stepped down, after more than six years, 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 (because people often ask): Sir Ken Robinson, John Hodgman, Chris Abani, Carolyn Porco, The Handspring Puppet Company, above.
I went from from nobody knowing where I worked to being accused of having the best job in the world, and as I transitioned out to tackle personal projects, my last business cards simply read: “Film Director at Large.” I loved those cards.
My most memorable TED moments involved speakers: spending the night in a hotel room with a brain in a jar; riding in a helicopter with a head of state to deliver computers to kids in terrorist territory; staging a rooftop sword fight between two actual knights – Sir Ken Robinson and Sir Richard Branson – since that’s what knights do; and talking on the phone with actual, weightless astronauts (hurtling 200 miles above the Earth at 17,000 mph – because that's what THEY do) to advise how they might best film themselves aboard the International Space Station.
ted.com > >
Behind the scenes...