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Seven Inspiring TED Talks About Filmmaking

This is a guest post by writer Nadia Jones.

Using film as a means for communication, inspiration, and entertainment, humankind uses pictures and stories to further explore our thoughts, beliefs, and world. These seven TED talks given by famous filmmakers, producers, and directors tap into the amazing potential of film as an art form, exploring the nature of inspiration, creativity, and communication.

1. Jehane Noujaim Wishes for a Global Day of Film: In this TED talk, Jehane Noujaim discusses the power of film and the potential it has to change the world. Each year the TED organization works to grant one wish of one of its speakers. Here, Noujaim reveals her wish for a global day of film. She discusses the ability film has to bridge gaps between cultures and continents. Noujaim’s powerful film, Control Room, documented Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war and the differing ways Arabs and the U.S. covered the war. In her talk, Noujaim discusses the power of film, inspiring any individual with dreams of making a difference in this world to pick up a camera and try:

2. Jeff Skoll Makes Movies that Matter: Discussing the things that inspire him and his dreams for the future, Jeff Skoll gives a TED talk about his media production company. Skoll’s company Participant Productions aspires to make movies to inspire social change. With films about social and political issues, Skoll’s production company has driven real change in the world. This talk discusses the real life social events that inspire Skoll and his company to make films. Skoll explores the potential of film to make change and the potential of people to do good:

3. Deborah Scranton on Her “War Tapes”: Filmmaker Deborah Scranton discusses making her film The War Tapes and discusses what inspired her to create this experience. The War Tapes is a film that puts cameras in the hands of National Guard troops stationed in Iraq during the war. Discussing clips from this film, Scranton approaches discussing matters that are uncomfortable and difficult to talk about. She emphasizes the importance of conversation and the potential of film to create and encourage that conversation:

4. Shekhar Kapur: We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves: Shekhar Kapur discusses where creative inspiration comes from, while exploring his thought process behind the making of the film Elizabeth. In this talk, Kapur explores the misunderstood world of storytelling and creativity, explaining that inspiration is born from “sheer, utter panic”. Emphasizing the power of storytelling, Kapur explains that stories create our existence. This talk takes clips from his film and discusses his thought process behind cinematography and what the film is trying to convey:

5. James Cameron: Before Avatar…  a Curious Boy: Immensely famous director James Cameron, reveals his fascination with the fantastic and the uncanny. Discussing his life and interests as a child, Cameron explains how his childhood interest in science inspired his passion and vision for science fiction. With this talk, Cameron explains that inspiration for film and pictures can come from things that are just the opposite of film. Cameron’s interest in the real mysteries of the world bred a capacity for the creative storytelling of fictional mysteries in fiction worlds. This talk also approaches the issues of computer graphics in modern film and why Cameron is inspired by computer generated animation and graphics. Computer visuals enabled Cameron to display the mysteries in his imagination in film. Ultimately Cameron explains that inspiration and imagination comes from experience and exploration:

6. Morgan Spurlock: The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold: Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock discusses film as a means for discussing important societal issues. In this talk, Spurlock discusses his new inspiration and idea for a film that would explore the world of branding and marketing. Spurlock reveals his interesting thought process for filmmaking when discussing the film he wishes to make that is completely funded by sponsors. However, while discussing his specific idea for his sponsorship film, Spurlock uncovers the things that inspire him such as people, problems, and societal contradictions:

7. J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box: Writer, director, and producer, J. J. Abrams discusses his passion for “the unseen mystery” and how that mystery inspires his films. As is evident in his works Cloverfield, Lost, and Alias, Abrams explores the mystery and depth of the unknown with his film work. In this talk, Abrams expresses his enthusiasm for mystery and the interest mystery creates. He explains how mystery and the unknown are his inspiration for his work and for life. He discusses how mystery represents potential, imagination, and hope. This speech will encourage any individual, filmmaker or not, to attack the unknown, explain the mystery, and find passion in something:

This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • I started with the JJ Abrams one, very cool. Love the Ted talks. thanks for sharing!

  • For microbudget filmmakers I would also add the TED talk “Breakthrough designs fro ultra-low-cost products”:

    While not directly about making movies, there are lots of good things in this video we can apply to stretching the almighty budget dollar.

  • this is a great collection – I’ve seen two of these already, and I just saved the rest for later watching :)

  • Sorry to spoil the party but absolute rubbish @ jeff Skoll and others….. No film or filmmaker will save the planet and no film ever made has had any social impact. Not a Holocaust documentary, not a slasher dolphin gorefest….These films screen to the most limited of audiences (don’t be fooled by Avatar’s green message). The world continues to burn, we kill and maim each as an industry of self indulgent, self righteous filmmakers spew their Pollyannaish delusions into art houses and tourist film festivals. As George Carlin said “f you think there’s a solution, you’re part of the problem.”

    • Jeez Dan, in that case what’s the point of doing anything?

    • @dan…. It’s pretty easy being a cynic, isn’t it?…. Seemingly our generations favorite pastime. Unfortunately for you, it’s usually the dreamers, not the cynics, that accomplish anything in this world.

      Inspirational filmmaking is not about changing people’s opinion in 2 hours…. I think it’s about planting a kernel of doubt in the self righteous attitude most people have about their understanding of others. Information does change the world and factual filmaking is information.

    • All I’d add to those above is that since the end of WW2, the media has probably kept this world of ours from attempting to annihilate itself several times over.

      Without information we are powerless and yet film (as well as newspapers, TV, radio and the web) CAN help keep us informed as much as it can also spew rubbish. The real challenge is helping people tell the difference.

      As VanLazarus says: it’s easy to be cynical…

  • @Nadia – thanks for the link love.

    @Dan – As one of the seven filmmakers, and knowing Jehane, Jeff, Morgan, and JJ, very often we’ve spent a lot of time on the front lines of the world that burns while people are killed and maimed for the reason of bearing witness, trying to help people who are living insulated comfortable lives walk the proverbial mile in someone else’s shoes and engage themselves in the outcome. Do we make a difference? Obviously not for you, but in my experience, we have helped some bridge disconnects, fostered empathy, and made the world a better place. Do we still have a long way to go? Yes. Will we get there? I don’t know. But at least we are doing something. What are you doing?

    • @ Dan – on your George Carlin qoute… “If you think there is a solution then you’re part of the problem.”

      Carlin is a story teller…. he has made movies…. and he has made an impact on you since your using his pov to buttress your cynical stabs.

      The solution is recognizing that our problem is ourselves and that is all Carlin does… he uses his show to make us look at ourselves in a different way…. and yes that is all good film does… turns the mirror back at us too see what we are doing wrong and what we can do it better. If we know we are the problem then the solution is to fix ourselves, and Dan…. I think your attitude and outlook need some fixing.

      If you haven’t been affected by the films you have seen in your life… then I feel sorry for you… because your taste is lacking,

      @ Deb — love your work…. you’re making a difference with every viewing… for the positive, for peace.

  • You missed my personal favorite! Ryan Lobo, photographer and filmmaker, on compassionate storytelling:

  • Thomas Korn on 06.3.11 @ 1:25PM

    @ Dan. The pov that nothing is possible, that nothing can change the world, is just as much a delusional view of reality as someone who believes everything is possible. In truth I personally believe it is somewhere in-between. . I completely disagree with you when you say ‘no film or filmmaker will save the planet and no film ever made has had any social impact.’ Art, and especially storytelling, has been fundamentally influencing society for thousands of years, and more so now than ever, whether it is the art of the Renaissance, with Da Vinci and his ‘exploration of the visual world’ (which hugely influenced science and medicine) or a pop culture film introducing fashion and/or new slang, and therefore literally influencing language and culture within society. Storytelling, including film, has more influence on society than almost anything else. To take a quote from shekhar kapur ‘we are the stories we tell ourselves’. We unconsciously learn a huge amount from watching films, reading and listening to stories. We learn about who we are, who we should be and where we fit into society. Media, for example, has a huge impact on minorities, either to polish their images or to tarnish them. Marlon Brando, for example didn’t accept his Oscar for ‘The God Father’, because he recognized the impact Hollywood was having on the image of the Native Indians (usually portrayed as savages). Although film is often an escape from our own lives it is also a pedagogical tool. We learn about how to live our lives from stories, very literally. Children’s stories, fairytales, myths and legends almost always teach a moral. Of course there are natural instinctual influences as well, unarguable. I agree that perhaps no SINGLE film can make more than a small dent in changing society. But if everyone contributes a dent then eventually the social landscape will look very different, and hopefully for the better, with people like Skoll, among others, pushing in a new and positive direction. And let’s be honest, when it comes down to it we are always self indulgent and selfish. We help others because it makes us feel good about ourselves, but really, is that so bad? If film can help create a more sympathetic and understanding humanity then I’m all for it. Maybe one day I’ll make a self-indulgent film that is meant to help a lot of people, but really it’ll help me the most, and I will feel good about it.

  • @Koo, just a story, honest, authentic with a point of view.

    @Deborah, I can walk out my door hand a buck and loaf of bread to a homeless man on the corner and I have made a “difference” to a hungry soul for just one moment. I film that exchange what does that say to the viewer?
    One person in the audience will say it comes from a dishonest place another will applaud me for my generosity.
    All I ask for is the filmmaker not to applaud himself.

    • @ Juan totally agree with you about Jehane and Pangea Day, she is an incredible visionary and it is too bad that she didn’t have an homage paid to her for paving the way.

      @ Dave absolutely Morgan changed what McDonald”s offered, no doubt about it.

      @ Koo you have a really great blog, I spent some time clicking around it.

      @ Dan none of the filmmakers listed above handed a loaf of bread to anyone and filmed it, for applause or disparagement. I don’t recall ever hearing any of us applaud ourselves, we’re often asked to give talks and explain out thought processes and our work, how it came to exist, what our hopes or vision or ideas were. We do that. And for all your typing, you still haven’t shared with us, what have you done besides be a cynical troll on a computer? I look forward to your posting links of your work that contribute to society or make a difference to anyone other than you…. oh, wait, let me guess, you don’t have any.

  • Thomas, I retract my comment re lasting social impact. Yes it does of course. I was targeting specifically the contemporary American Independent documentary genre and the narcissistic TED/Oprah industry. About the same really.

  • Thanks for the links!

    I think doing sth. for the sake of doing sth. is wrong.

  • debate!! i love it.

    i don’t think that films have a clear cause-and-effect, but they certainly have an effect. changes brought upon by films (and all culture for that matter) are not global, but incremental.

    let’s take a social issue – homosexuality. a film like brokeback mountain pushes that issue into the national conversation in a way that it never had been before. maybe not equally across all demographics, but it certainly did increase the level of awareness of that issue. you can’t have change without awareness, without conversation. maybe “supersize me” didn’t put mcdonald’s out of business, but im sure it made a lot of people question their own diets and health. now look at mcdonalds… snack wraps?? salad?? not to mention, whats with all this organic food lately? i’m not saying these changes are the result of a single film, but they certainly ARE the result of an evolving zeitgeist – of which ‘supersize me’ was at least partly responsible.

    and avatar? sorry dude, but it definitely had an impact. not just as another talking point in the national conversation about the environment, but in other ways. all these 3d movies today? avatar. maybe not a very social-changey, “ted” issue, but if you’re looking for a sure fire, DIRECT way in which a film can influence society, there’s one right there.

    culture influences culture. films are culture. transitive property.

  • You would not believe the impact GASLAND has had here in N. Texas. It has motivated previously uninvolved people to participate directly in civic discourse regarding gas drilling/fracking. Many of them point to that film as the main factor that got them off their collective asses. And they are making a difference. Laws are being re-conceived and re-written to protect air and water quality.

  • I really enjoyed Jehane Noujaim presentation. Considering that in 2006 HD-DSLR (the founding father of today’s cinema-like-everyday-life-experience-sharing) was just a mind-trip of technology developers. It’s kind of a shame that movie projects like Life In A Day, the exact same thing that Jehane Noujaim proposes, doesn’t even mention her work or thoughts about her vision of today’s cinema-like life sharing reality.

    Let’s just think that, great minds think a like.

    Thanks for putting up together this great TED talks about filmmaking Koo.

  • Absolutely fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

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