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Where The Puck Will Be – The New Age of Storytelling

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

About two years ago I started to notice some big goings on in the business of our art, began to profess: “the times they are a changin”, and began advising anyone who would listen what skills they needed to be developing in order to be ready to grab onto opportunity. It was not the first time this type of shift has happened, definitely not the last, and I was not the first person to notice.

I was, however, as it turns out, correct.

This isn’t a ‘told you so I know what’s what’ article, promise. It is, though my prediction of ‘where the puck is going to be’, which as any Good Canadian Kid knows is the secret to success of all Great Ones.

We are at the dawn of a new age of storytelling. There is opportunity in front of us that has never existed ever ever ever before in history. I’ll get to that. Where we are going, I believe, all started about two years ago around the time I began to point out where the puck is right now.

At that time, Netflix and DirecTV were beginning to create original series and cast them in Canada. New players in the market were entering the game at a level that hadn’t existed before. That meant an increase in demand was on the horizon. A battle for the attention of the viewer and consumer was coming and the ammunition for that battle is content.

I was (and still am) in the habit of pointing out a growing polarization in what audiences are seeking – effectively the extremes of either ‘poke you in the endorphins’ sensationalization (extreme game shows, “reality” television, pornography, freak show type stuff), or extreme real humanity or rather sensationalized presentation of real humanity. Watch Peter Saarsgard in his final episode of The Killing, Bryan Cranston when he decides not to roll Jane over in Breaking Bad. Or, a little closer to home, Michael Eklund’s guest role on Alcatraz, Ben Cotton’s wonderful work on The Killing. Just to name a few.

Audiences want HUMANITY, the real stuff, in their entertainment.

This isn’t an accident. It’s a product of the times. Entertainment always is. Entertainment is merely a flashy word for ‘Engagement’. It’s the audience’s engagement that is sought, and it’s what everyone saying anything to anyone is fighting for – their engagement. The ‘rules of engagement’ continue to evolve, and are a product of competition, which is why it’s so damn noisy out there. When a world consists of people who are under constant attack, demand, and coercion for their attention, the means of acquiring their engagement seems to go in two directions: hyper sensory or hyper real.

We are connected and yet more lonely than we have ever been. I am way way too late to be the first person to point this out, but it’s true, and it bears repeating: we live in an age of artificial compensation for our fundamental human requirements of companionship, proof that we are not alone, – Connectedness. Not “networked” – CONNECTEDNESS. That ‘Hey I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re not alone, here’s life happening with us right now’. Connectedness.

As I have already stated, I believe that truly experiencing this sense of connection is a fundamental human requirement. Without it we are not well, and without it we grab on to ideas and ideals to compensate for it. That’s what’s been going on with us, and it’s been accelerating for decades. Ever since Lee Harvey Oswald got killed live on television, that ‘even better than the real thing’ jolt of humanity has been getting stronger and stronger and going in the two distinct directions.

Here’s a great video that’s been going around that shows how social media has helped push things along:

This sense of connection is fundamental human requirement. Without it we are not well, and without it we grab on to ideas and ideals to compensate for it. It’s accelerating too. Ever since Lee Harvey Oswald got killed live on television, that ‘even better than the real thing’ jolt of humanity has been getting stronger and stronger and going in the two distinct directions.

At the present, both due to societal circumstance and the increased content demand that is created by the battle of the providers, there is huge opportunity for actors who are the most expert in bringing real humanity forth into their work. More than ever before, it’s about the ‘who’ and not the ‘what’.

The people in the industry who are the current experts at bringing out the ‘who’ are in demand, and those who are not are falling by the wayside - or rather to the middle of the divide in the entertainment casm that’s being created.

If you were paying attention to the factors I’ve pointed out two years ago, you’re probably right in line with supplying what is being demanded and opportunities are opening up for you. Either co-incidentally, intuitively, or logically, you knew where the puck would be and you are receiving the pass.

There’s an interesting phenomenon at foot right now: a TON of actors from the UK are leading North American series. I think that’s probably because the industry functions differently there, fostering (read VALUING) the conditions that produce these types of actors.

OK, so that’s where the puck IS right now. So, where is the puck going to be next.

It’s going somewhere extremely exciting. Forward into a new age of storytelling, and we have technology to thank.

There’s a video that’s been going around lately with Kevin Spacey recounting how his Netflix Original Series (a phrase we can expect to hear more and more in the next few years) House of Cards came to be. In particular, he discusses the fact that he, David Fincher, and the team could not shoot a pilot for the series. To do so would have undermined the type of story they wanted to tell. One in which characters were slowly revealed over time. Hmm - one that’s more like ‘real life’ perhaps?

The rules of pilots negate that type of story telling. Pilots are basically an increasingly inefficient market research/marketing campaign for a series. There’s a ton of money at risk in ordering a series, and those whose money it is (the current networks - Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS etc etc) want to risk as little as possible. They make a ton of pilots, get advertisers behind them, measure the success, based on the success of the show, order a season, and based on the success of the season continue or cancel.

This puts pressure on the story crafters to play toward holding an audience, and it’s the reason that historically there has been less diversity in shows, and over-sensationalize stories forever. We want to make what we know will sell. That’s a reasonable point of view. It’s a business. Business do not want to fail, they want to succeed.

What if…. there was a way to know who would watch what? What if you could say with a huge degree of certainty what shows would be watched by whom for how long?

What if… a company had the amalgamated real time user data of every 40 million viewers and counting.

That would make it pretty easy to decide what shows to back, wouldn’t it? It would take away from the confines of ‘the pilot’ model - grab an audience, push your story forward early, sell sell sell. It would flip the model around - it would have people lining up telling creators what stories they wish to view, and give the providers the opportunity to simply decide to fulfill the orders.

Viewers would be communicating where they were going to pass the puck, and the providers would simply go where it was going to be.

Do you have a Netflix account? If you are a film and television actor and you don’t, you need one. If you do, then you will know - when Netflix says you’ll give something 4 stars, you usually give it 4 stars. They know what you will like.

Netflix knows with certainty what shows to get behind because they are that company. They possess the amalgamated real time user data of everyone.

As big-brotherish as that sounds, it’s also incredibly exciting for professional story facilitators. That means that we are going to get to tell stories in a format that has never existed before.

It means the old rules, born of the restrictions of financial risk and uncertainty will no longer constrict as they have until now. It means that 12, 24, 36, 60 or however many episode orders will be possible.

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