August 2, 2014

You Are Not a Storyteller

A video has been making the rounds that seems to have quite a few people riled up. FITC Events, a company that puts together conferences and seminars around topics like technology, business, and design, sat down with designer Stefan Sagmeister to discuss his thoughts on the idea of storytelling. Essentially he said that if you're not in the business of telling actual stories, you shouldn't be calling yourself a storyteller, and that those people who do tell stories, don't necessarily see themselves that way -- though he uses a bit more colorful language in his response in the video:

And some background on Stefan:

Stefan Sagmeister formed the New York based Sagmeister Inc. in 1993 and has since designed for clients as diverse as the Rolling Stones, HBO and the Guggenheim Museum. Having been nominated eight times, he finally won two Grammy Awards for the Talking Heads and Brian Eno & David Byrne package designs. He has also earned practically every important international design award.

In 2012 young designer Jessica Walsh became a partner and the company was renamed into Sagmeister & Walsh. A native of Austria, he received his MFA from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and, as a Fulbright Scholar, a master’s degree from Pratt Institute in New York. After his studies he worked as a Creative Director for Leo Burnett in Hong Kong and for M&Co. in New York.

Stefan absolutely has a point in saying that it's very "in" to be calling yourself a storyteller regardless of what your actual job is. Even in the most basic jobs we can still be creative, but there seems to be this idea that what you do isn't good enough or "cool" enough, and it's necessary to use more creative terms to describe a job or career. This is true in any profession, and definitely true in filmmaking, where there are plenty of jobs that have nothing to do with telling stories.

What I do think is a bit silly is getting so worked up over a basically nonexistent problem. People can call themselves whatever they want, and it's not hurting those who do actually tell stories. When it's no longer in vogue for roller coaster designers to call themselves storytellers, they will find new words to describe the equally challenging work that they do, and the word will return to what it originally referred to in the first place. Some of the same arguments have been had over words like videographer and cinematographer, but if the work speaks for itself and clients are happy, the words we use to describe what we do probably don't matter.

A great Zacuto FilmFellas webisode a few years ago discussed a similar topic with wedding filmmakers:

What do you think about Stefan's idea of storytelling? Do you think he's being too narrow-minded in his definition, or are there too many people trying to make their professions seem like something they're not? What about other careers, do you think it hurts actual filmmakers or storytellers when other people use those terms in jobs that have only recently started using those terms?

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81 Comments

sop, any exposure is a good exposure.

August 2, 2014 at 12:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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"People can call themselves whatever they want, and it’s not hurting those who do actually tell stories."

I think herein lies the crux of the matter. If some people are calling foul, they must believe that there is some damage being done by this overarching practice. So what damage could that be? If it exists, then my best guess is a dilution of meaning.

When a real storyteller describes him or herself as such, then perhaps the listener will nod with a glazed over look. After all, we all tell our stories, artificial or not, on Instagram and Facebook, cultivating personas and finding creative outlets. Oh, you're a storyteller for a living? Well, I can do that too. That must not be very important. And so with dilution comes a detraction of value. And with value lost, an appreciation for the professional storytellers (those who make a living studying and implementing the nuances and facets of telling a beautiful story) goes away as well. And with less value and appreciation for the professional comes less willingness to pay that professional to tell your story *well*.

So...though I don't believe the effect is prominent enough to rant about continuously, I can absolutely see this problem playing out on a daily, granular level, and agree with much of his sentiments, at least to the tune of a 2-minute rant.

August 2, 2014 at 1:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Very well put, Samuel.

August 2, 2014 at 5:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michi

Samuel you have articulated my thoughts into your comment way better than I could. There are many other areas that the same applies I think. I've always had a big problem with marketing/advertising jobs being described as 'creative' as well. If you're in advertising, you're hardly Stanley Kubrick.

It's easy to sound bitter so I tend to shut up about this sort of thing, but I am totally with Stefan on this. It's nice to have somebody else say it.

August 2, 2014 at 6:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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My thoughts exactly. And it isn't just storyteller. Anybody with a DSLR is a photographer (and cinematographer often), anybody selling stuff on eBay is CEO, anybody selling t-shirts with their illustrator graphics is a fashion designer, anybody who signs up for blogspot is content creator etc. And this phenomenon builds up the general misconception that anybody with (semi)proper tools can do the job. We (as a society) completely shifted our focus from craftsmanship and theory to choosing which lens will my our work great.

But I guess this is the price we have to pay for technological advancements.

August 2, 2014 at 9:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Filip Wesołowski

this video is a real piece of work. Why is a designer speaking for the "real storytellers" in the first place? Did anyone complain to him?
I thought designers are the champions of open mindedness and thinking outside the box ..., so to be so rigid and backwards about the concept of storytelling is very odd coming from an award winning designer.
A rollercoaster designer IS a storyteller if he/she intended on telling a story and not just lay down some "boring" tracks. Intention is key, medium is not. A painter is a storyteller, game designers are storytellers, cavemen were storytellers, and to completely overlook the fact the storytelling has changed and evolved since the dawn of man is another weakness in his argument.
If he had some personal bad experience with some "fake" storyteller then he should be talking about that experience specifically to a friend and no one should be making a video about it.

August 2, 2014 at 1:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Well said.
I have guys come into my house who have been framing houses since they were kids, who lecture the other trades about what they're doing wrong, who live to work with well maintained tools and exotic woods. Then there are guys that come through who can barely trim out a window. They both call themselves carpenters. I don't really have a problem with that.

August 3, 2014 at 9:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Billy Barber

This reminds me of back when MiniDV started becoming accessible as a "professional" acquisition format, and every kid with access to a PD-150 or XL-2 started claiming to be making a "documentary." At the time I was employed on a real, professional documentary film crew, and over the course of a few years I noticed a very definite shift in how people reacted when they asked what I did for a living. It slowly shifted from one of respectful intrigue to, "oh, you must be one of those people who bought a camera and traveled to Africa to film poor people but never really did anything important with it." I think a similar shift is happening (or has already happened) with the dilution of the title of "storyteller."

August 2, 2014 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brian

Having instagram on your phone doesn't make you a photographer either.. The democratization of technology shouldn't hurt the true artist, our audience is becoming more and more sophisticated enough to see through the BS and call it out.

August 2, 2014 at 8:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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jamil

Damn, I would LOVE to travel to Africa and film poor people! These days that actually DOES qualify as doing something. People don't make it beyond their neighborhood when making "documentaries" on their DSLRs.

March 16, 2015 at 3:49PM

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Daniel Jarvis
Editor
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Well put. I agree that dilution is the bigger concern, but I don't think that people appropriating the word 'storyteller' is hurting anyone. It's just become an adjective to separate the art involved in their job, and most of that is driven by trending buzzwords. It used to be 'artist', until Subway adopted the word, which was the equivalent of holding a megaphone next to the bottom of the barrel whilst someone scrapes the last final dregs from it.

People who are looking for 'traditional' storytellers, know where to look. People who are looking for roller coaster designers with an edge, probably want to hear about a unique outlook on their approach. When a roller coaster designer is hired to write and direct feature films over Christopher Nolan, then we'll know we've got a problem.

August 2, 2014 at 8:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ben Howling

Excellent assessment.

August 6, 2014 at 2:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brad T

Well said!

August 8, 2014 at 3:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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What you wrote here in the comments was more inspiring and insightful than the video I just watched.

August 8, 2014 at 3:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Justin

Yes. Yes. Yes. I think the point being made is that just because you can point a camera, doesn't mean you can use that camera to tell an interesting story or make that image you snap a work of art. To paraphrase Ansel Adams, The photograph happens not in the camera, but in the mind's eye of the photographer. As human beings we are natural storytellers, but that doesn't mean every one can tell a story that anyone wants to hear or see. That takes a certain natural talent and skills acquired over a lifetime.

August 9, 2014 at 12:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Samuel, brillo comment. Well done. There's fools out there are right out of school calling themselves directors after doing a youtube video. Sure we've all been young but when I was younger we had some reality checks, like good teaching and maybe a bit of humility too.

March 16, 2015 at 1:33PM

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Kevin Liddy
Writer/Director
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why why whyyyyy this music always plays behind someone giving a statement. any bloody statement or comment or interview online, has to play this kind of music... sooooo annoying! its either this or some ukulele thing trying to be cute. grrrrr!

im a filmmaker, i write scripts, no idea if im telling a good story, ever. but man, if people want to call themselves storytellers, just let them! if im a doctor and i write a perscription and i want to say that is an abstract nonlinear experimental story, please let me. i can call myself anything i want to.

INTERNET IS BECOMING SO BORING WITH ALL THESE RULES, DOS AND DONTS, LISTS AND STATISTICS AND OPINIONS THAT ARE NOT ADDING UP TO ANYTHING!

people call themselver what they want, period! now go get naked to promote your work and call yourself a designer. "we accept you, one of us".

August 2, 2014 at 1:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ju

I would definitely not want to be treated by someone who calls himself a doctor, but is actually a carpenter.

December 12, 2014 at 9:14AM

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I think Stefan might be the first to go public with what some professionals feel. That being said thanks to technology the increasingly ease of use and low barrier of entry it has made it easy for people to at least feel like something that they are not.

You see this in everything from music to cinematography I even have a friend who watches how to videos and suddenly he thinks he is a contractor and have tried and failed to do his home remodel. You can call yourself whatever you want but in the end the proof is the body of work itself.

Stefan is just someone who is famous enough that people actually spend some time listening to his soap box moment. Most of us just grin and move on because we don't have the time to nor energy to ridicule other people.

Hey live and let live, whatever rocks your boat and reality is that even with work people hire who they like sometimes the work and qualification is secondary.

August 2, 2014 at 1:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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H

He's right.

August 2, 2014 at 1:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chris

This is nonsense. Human beings are natural storytellers. It's how people creatively pass along ideas, events, memories, dreams, plans for the future, advice, etc etc etc..It's a simplistic point of view to narrowly define storytelling as something that only exists in the realm of professional filmmaking and novelists.

The bigger question is why are highly visible professionals wasting time on this nonsense pedantic drivel when there are far bigger issues to be voicing opinions about that could actually make a difference in the world?

Are they bitter for sticking to some misguided ethics and now that some people are grabbing more attention for themselves by expanding who they want to be in life? Is this UPWORTHY?

August 2, 2014 at 1:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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xpez

Maybe he should worry more about learning how to light an interview (or should I call it a pointless rant) without making it look incredibly dull and flat. But seriously, who cares if someone calls themselves a storyteller, the argument is on par with someone calling themselves an "artist." It's not a profession in and of itself so arguing the point seems like a waste of time to me.

August 2, 2014 at 1:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stephen

I understand what he's trying to convey. He would (and we should) agree that if someone just plunked down $1,500 for Adobe Creative Suite and started diddling around could call him/herself a "graphic designer," but that doesn't necessarily make them one.

Anyone with a $300 digital camera and Photoshop is suddenly Ansel Adams? Not really.

Of course, we ALL tell stories, we ALL take pictures, we ALL balance checkbooks, etc., but it takes a serious commitment to the craft to call oneself a storyteller, a photographer, an accountant. We live in a corporatocracy that deludes people of worthiness in doing "bullshit jobs" to quote David Graeber. People in middle and upper management who need "buzzwords" to actually define what they do and make the work seem more complex than it is. What the fuck is an "Event Marketing Communication Strategist?" Read the job description, and I'll tell you what it is in 7 words or less.

August 2, 2014 at 2:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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KOF

Stefan is a master at self promotion. I found the video to be pointless. He has a right to speak his mind like we have a right to form our own opinion. We have been storytellers since before language was invented. Let's move on as to not give any more credence to this.

If you buy creative suite and call yourself a graphic designer. More power to you. As one, I'm not the least offended or threatened. My skill level must be very low if I am. If you understand what branding is, it's not what you say you are but what they say you are. So if they (meaning the general public or potential clients) don't think you are a designer then guess what? You aren't.

August 2, 2014 at 2:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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"the words we use to describe what we do probably don’t matter" is a hilarious thing to say in response to a WRITER, a person who essentially makes a career out of words

August 2, 2014 at 2:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alex

The work is what matters, that's what I'm saying. You can call yourself whatever you'd like, but in the end people will respond to whatever the work is that you actually do.

August 2, 2014 at 2:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Agree. What anybody says (about themselves) is generally much less interesting than what they show or actually do. The proof is in the pudding.

August 2, 2014 at 3:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Erwin

You're only as good as your last job.

August 9, 2014 at 11:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anthony Marino

This guy should be knighted. He's cool. Funny this comes from a European, I could never imagine an American being so brash.

August 2, 2014 at 3:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hamish

Get off my lawn!

August 2, 2014 at 3:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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keith

Ah I just fell in the love with that guy! 100% true! I'm tired on hearing that stupid word all the time and he's right those are who are not storytellers and don't know anything about stories called themselves storytellers all the time just because they think. Designers, photographers, etc... They should open a dictionnary. The more a person talk about storytelling the less he's actually telling one.
And it's interesting to know that that word is mostly used in USA. A wedding photographer in Italy or a french designer will not talk about storytelling all the time he will just do his job. Which is NOT storytelling.

August 2, 2014 at 3:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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!00% agree. Stefan nails is. Rollercoaster designers and wedding videographers are not storytellers. It hey are then everything anyone does is a storyteller. Don't dilute words so you can be looked at more reverently.

August 2, 2014 at 8:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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saraG

saraG: I'm sorry, but please do not say "wedding videographers are not storytellers." Certainly not all wedding videographer are, but companies like Still Motion, or people like Joe Simon, Ray Roman & Rob Adams are absolutely storytellers. Please refrain from blanket statements.

August 2, 2014 at 3:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sean K

Wedding videographers are not storytellers when the story isn't a story. Its an event. You can parse it any way you want but you're event recorders not storytellers.

August 2, 2014 at 6:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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saraG

saraG: An event involving people, people with a story. The story is about them, not the wedding. I'm guessing you're not in the wedding industry, and therefore have no idea about the kind of work that is currently being produced. If you think that wedding videographers can't tell stories, you're living in the dark ages.

August 2, 2014 at 7:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sean K

He's not saying rollercoaster designers or wedding videographers aren't storytellers. He's saying that the story they're telling is either cliche, predictable, boring, poorly structured, etc. and we're not really into their work for the story, we're into it for some other (extremely valid, often artistic) reason.

Again, that's not at all to say wedding videographers aren't artists. They very much can be and it takes a special sort of talent to produce that great art. But as a story, it's usually: 2 different people (with different personalities) met, fell in love (despite their different personalities), planned a wedding, and got married.

Can you point me to a wedding video that is telling a fundamentally different story than that? I'm not talking about the stylistic presentation or anxious/suspenseful/cute editing or any of that. But the real core story- is it really very different than that? I mean it's very rarely 2 different people met, found out that their dna wasn't compatible, sold their souls to an alien in order to get nano-tech from the future, restructured their dna to combine, found out that they accidentally then become fundamentally different looking people (maybe switched genders, to make it a rom-com), realized their personalities were still intact, and got married anyway despite their new physical appearance, then the twist ending that the nano-tech was actually a virus to control them and do the alien's bidding. (M Night Shyamalan are you listening?).

August 3, 2014 at 4:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Haha!! Exactly what I was thinking, and you said it more hilariously! There is no core "story" other than that. Plus, being an artist doesn't mean you have to be a "storyteller." My brother is a kickass bass player, but would never describe what he does as "storytelling" as he wouldn't say something so ridiculous.

I do find it mildly offensive when someone in advertising or marketing talks about "telling a story" to clients, but ultimately, it won't affect what I do.

August 6, 2014 at 3:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brad T

Dude, "2 different people (with different personalities) met, fell in love (despite their different personalities), planned a wedding, and got married. "
That sounds like many famous feature films story to me. And don't tell me every single movie comes up with a very original and unique story. Yeah, it can be boring repetitive and even just a copy of something else, you judge its quality, but it is still a story. Some of those guys, in wedding videography, they just use the same storytelling devices that are used in fiction films or other genre.

I agree, they are not all telling stories, but some are storytellers, it's undeniable.

August 7, 2014 at 3:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alix

I think he's got a point, and I'm not sure the trend is as harmless as you suggest...

Leaving aside the obvious damage to language and communication (any time the meaning of a word becomes too broad, it loses its essential meaning altogether), I think "story" has become an overrated virtue in every field, including and especially the arts.

I am a writer, and I have worked as an actor and filmmaker, and I have never considered myself a storyteller. But the focus on story has become so intense in these professions that it limits the creative options of those who work in them, while also limiting the understanding and appreciation of their audience. Now we talk about films and novels almost exclusively in terms of story. "Does it serve the story?" is the question we always hear getting tossed around. But sometimes the "story" is not what the artist is trying to serve.

Films and novels can, and have, been much more than stories. Look at Kubrick's 2001 or Nabokov's Pale Fire, for popular examples. But there are also less well known films and novels whose creators' primary interest and focus is not story at all. Look at Stan Brakhage or Maya Deren... I doubt very much that Godard would call himself a storyteller or even say that storytelling was essential within the purview of the filmmaker...

I understand that, from a certain perspective, EVERYTHING has/is a story. From a certain perspective, IKEA instruction booklets tell the story of furniture assembly, but that's not their purpose or function. By making everything about story, we actually lose understanding of what it is we're looking at.

Even in art, story is just a vehicle. A means of delivery. Saying that story is the most important thing in art is like saying the most important part of your cocktail is the glass. Sure, you don't want any holes in it, but it's what it contains that matters...

August 2, 2014 at 4:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I could not agree more.

Recently I had lunch with a producer who is a complete idiot in my opinion. I told him I was working on a cosmetics campaign. And he said "Well even that, it's all about the story right?." Of course not. It's all about beautiful skin and perfect lighting. These may evoke a story, but that story is invented entirely in the viewer's mind, it's not the creative team of the ad telling it, and for many viewers, the "story" is just "wow she looks pretty" - not really a story at all.

Even many great music videos, they are only about color and motion and abstracted feeling, there is no "story" in the proper sense. I'd say music videos that stand up best to repeated views are less story defendant, because a story is often only interesting the first time you see it - after that you know the ending.

I think many people (that producer very much included) use "It's all about the story" as an excuse not to properly pay crews. Who cares about great lighting and set design, since it's "all about the story"? Therefore what you do has basically no value, therefore they will pay you almost nothing.

August 2, 2014 at 2:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert Ruffo

Doesn't sound to me like that producer is an idiot at all. We see millions of images a day, many of which have beautiful skin and lighting. For your campaign to stand out and evoke an emotional response, it should probably tell some sort of story that the audience can relate to and remember.

August 3, 2014 at 4:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Never would have guessed he's Austrian. And I wish the Zacuto piece had more cuts.

Sarcasm aside, the less important you are, the bigger the title you seek.
Remember the Rolling Stones' Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man?
Have you never received the two business cards from the two person company, one President, the other CEO?

On the other hand, there's the old story:
A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.”
He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.”
He asked the third, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”

August 2, 2014 at 4:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Charlie

Storytelling is just packaging, a filter through which we present an account. In the same way that all history is basically fiction anyone is a storyteller. And that's all that needs to be said. The issue isn't with storytelling or filmmaking or any of that crap, the issue is with me-too appropriation of what's cool. And that's the same battle we always fight but that's what I personally love about this business. The more people jump on something the more opportunity there is to be different and standout. Welcome the bland and the prevailing force because over there in a corner shuffling uncomfortably is something awesome just waiting to be given a chance.

August 2, 2014 at 4:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Didn't watch the clip, but clearly this guy (Stef?) feels his foundations are shaking a little - who knows what challenges he has been feeling recently - we don't know, except clearly he feels the need to protect his turf, and by calling it this or that he thinks he's defining that turf - the victors always try to write history, until someone usurps his/her power. Kind of lame and insecure really, specially as the creative world is celebrating and embracing broader definitions of everything.

August 2, 2014 at 4:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chang Dek

Didn't watch the clip? It's two minutes long! (not even)

August 3, 2014 at 9:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Billy Barber

I think this is all about the desire to be seen as a "professional" working in what 'should' be recognized as a professional practice. My friends and I are "creatives" and it drives us nuts when we have clients making numerous (what we think) asinine changes and edits to our work and after a healthy amount of beers our conversations always lead to the same self indulgent and very slurred "truths". These are:
1. (In support of Sagmeister): If I go around telling people I am a doctor or lawyer I can go to jail for fraud. But if some joebloe fraudulently goes around telling the world they are a cinematographer or story teller, no one blinks an eye.
2. (in regards to respect of our profession) You don't see these clients questioning a lawyer's/doctor's advice or strategy - what makes them think they can have so much input into our work?
3. (In regards to payment). Could you imagine these same clients beatching and complaining at getting a huge bill after their doctor/lawyer/accountant spends hours on end on helping them? They just shut up and pay.... but for us? nooooo ... they fight tooth and nail to save a penny.

This is a bit of a different take on the situation than #samuelneff but I think equally legitimate.

PS: It's embarrassing to say but our government has banned Vimeo (I am Indonesian) so if there are others like me and want to see this video you can see it on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlkIVIau1Nk

Salam Tiga Jari,

Jakartaguy

August 2, 2014 at 7:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jakartaguy

He's just wrong.

The more you learn about the nature of story, the more you'll understand that everyone's a storyteller.

The fact that some trendy types like the epithet "storyteller" as a kind of buzz word irritates you... well, tell a story about it.

August 2, 2014 at 7:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sam

#Sam If Sagmeister was just expressing what he believes (opinion) then it's not a simplified "He's just WRONG".

I think the more interesting analysis is what drove his opinion?

August 2, 2014 at 9:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jakartaguy

Good promo for Sagmeister Inc.
Clever not to talk about Design - Sagmeisters own profession - but using an overused term in advertising (this is not about filmmaking) to draw aline between old, experienced companies like Sagmeister Inc. and all the new "design/creative boutiques" that pop up and cannibalize the market.
So when the next GH4 shooter steals one of your "easy money" clients (e.g. corporate talking-head interviews), remember Sagmeisters rant;)
And this is not about talent. There are many talented shooters without jobs and many mediocre ones with jobs.

August 2, 2014 at 9:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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BearWithMe

Alright, so there are people out there who call themselves storytellers who actually don't write novels or produce feature films. It doesn't really matter because those of us who have a brain will see that.

If you think you're giving us insight on something that can be obviously figured out (oh, this guy makes roller coasters and he doesn't write novels or make films) then you're just as full of shit as you claim the other guy is. And why not let him call himself a storyteller? So what. We know that he's stretching the idea of what a storyteller is, but thanks Stefan Sagmeister for teaching us about the critical difference between storytelling and not.

Oh, wait, since you're a graphic designer I need to not call you a teacher. My mistake.

August 2, 2014 at 9:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Steve

It's not an issue people with intelligence should be concerned about.

August 2, 2014 at 9:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James

Maybe he's wrong, maybe he's right; but I don't like his attitude.

August 2, 2014 at 10:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks James. I was just going to say, who cares? Who cares about what people are calling themselves? It all seems irrelevant and the people who put so much time into defending titles are the ones who are scared of what is coming around the corner.

August 2, 2014 at 11:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Adam

This gentleman has a few points, but I personally think everyone has the right to call themselves storytellers if they so wish.

So novelists and feature filmmakers (broad term by the way) are storytellers.... other are not... so what about short films? documentaries? short stories? poems? songs? - I would go as far as to say that good accountants, those that not only see numbers in a spreadsheet, but see what the numbers are saying, are in a way storytellers.

A 30 second commercial tells you a story. sometime an apple pie tells you a story. And you don't need a college degree or someone else's certification to tell stories.

So then the Zacuto video... the cinematographer, the videographer discussion! at the end these are all labels. Because you are just documenting you are not a cinematographer? because you are not "interpreting"??? sorry, but the instant moment you take your camera, any camera, even the iphone camera, and you fram your perception of reality into a 16:9, a 4:3 or a 1:1, you are immediately starting to interpret reality!

It's like saying that a father of 4 teenagers is more of a father than he who just had a kid. So he who just had the kid should not call himself a father! no!!!

Are you less of a driver because you drive a ford vs a Ferrari?

If Stephan , and some other are bitter about other people calling themselves storytellers I would advise you to look within and find where is it that you are calling yourself something you are not, other wise you wouldn't be so concern with it.

Keep telling stories people! that is what makes us human!

August 2, 2014 at 2:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Very interesting. First time commenting, but some Red Heart Rum drove me to it. I think the definition of storytelling is what is central to this debate. The guy who designs roller coasters probably has an different understanding of what storytelling entails than the graphic designer. But it may also be an example of the power politics surrounding definitions. It seems that the ability of storytelling has become something of value. i.e someone who just designs mind blowing roller coasters is less skilled than someone who can 'tell a story with it.' Tells you something about what storytelling means today. This may see childish, but I feel that older generation folks could sit and entertain me with stories around a campfire. And really entertaining stories. I mean the kind that would make you think: "Man, this would make an awesome movie." I don't know many of my pears who can do the some. And those folk did it purely as leisure time entertainment - never something that made their craft of more value. (Ek moet aanheg dat ek van die Republiek van Suid-Afrika is en dat die voorgenoemde nie op almal van toepassing mag wees nie). Sorry for the Afrikaans. Filling up.

My take on storytelling:

The concept 'story' is very complex (not complicated) and it affects our lives greatly. Not just in the sense of novels and films, but also in religion, politics, the clothes we wear, why we brush our teeth... our understanding of what part we play in this wild world.
Still, i absolutely agree with graphic designer person in the sense that roller coaster man cannot tell a story that Aristotle would deem a worthy tragedy. That is a craft on it's own. A phenomenon that draws people in, makes them sit for still and watch for for more than hour. What else has that power over a human?

Sorry for the rant, but i believe that the copious amounts of shit (not in a bad sense) I've read in the comments NFS justifies it in some way. P.S. I love your blog and spend most of my free time at work reading and learning from it. Vrede

August 2, 2014 at 2:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Low

I think we should get Barbara Walters opinion on this ....

August 2, 2014 at 3:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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"He's telling stories", is another way of saying he's lying. There's a lot of that around for sure.

August 2, 2014 at 3:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

It's funny, our interns and production assistants are all 'directors/storytellers' when they come through the door, working on short films and ads for some competitions. One was getting business cards made up the other day and then asked 'Should I put that I'm a director on it?'. I said, if your getting paid to direct things then yeah- sure...

August 2, 2014 at 5:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hamish

Other commentators have said it. He is not speaking to "us". His point is aimed at graphic designers, product designers, and the many other creative disciplines which have cooped storytelling as their newly discovered highest calling. I personally have no problem with it because I believe as a career editor/director in TV and Film it suddenly makes my skills and talent applicable to a whole new client set and provides a shared vocabulary and values to discuss. Instead of diluting my sense of self it has exponentially enlarged the audience for my skills and talent. They need us and we need people who value story. Seems like a win-win to me. Btw, FICT's series is called brand "stories" or something like that. This is just FITC stirring the pot by getting the guru designer to take a crap all over design-storytelling on their design-storytelling web-series.

August 2, 2014 at 5:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matthew

I'm gonna kick your fucking ass - that's storytelling.

August 2, 2014 at 5:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

hah .. it's not even the first act ...

August 2, 2014 at 11:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I find it offensive that "storytelling" is still the standard in film making. You don't have to spoon feed your audience a narrative to make a valid movie. Aphex twin doesn't use narrative in his music. Where's the narrative in HR Gigers paintings? Motion picture as an art form is in a retarded state of development.

August 2, 2014 at 5:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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A picture is worth a thousand words. There are 129,600 pictures in a 90 minute movie. 129 million words.

All art is storytelling. Sometimes the story just isn't as obvious as others.

August 2, 2014 at 7:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bertzie

I actually feel that the A7s will make me a better story teller than what my 550D is offering, or do you think the 4K GH4 will make better stories ?

I only like stories shot with L Lenses, it just make them better in my opinion...

Now what should I call myself on my business card: Cinematographer ? or Wedding Story teller ?
btw Im so exited to film my first paid wedding gig with a 50mm 1.2 L lens it looks so nice and I can flip quickly from video to photo mode to capture some awesome moments!

**********************************

I like his rant and I wish it was 3.2min longer even.

August 2, 2014 at 8:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joe the Story teller

Storyteller. MEH. I work in the news journalism world. We switched over to those oddly vague descriptives two years ago. One of our best sports writers had his title officially changed to "storyteller". He quit two months later.

August 3, 2014 at 4:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We are all storytellers. It's baked into our neuroanatomy.

But we need to be more specific than that. Don't be a storyteller, be a filmmaker, be a screenwriter/cinematographer/editor. Be an accountant, a roller coaster designer.

I channeled my thoughts into this more coherent shape: http://pgdejonge.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/you-are-not-a-storyteller-or-a...

August 3, 2014 at 9:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's perhaps a question of scale and attention. You could argue that a grain of sand is a story. You have a variety of mediums (film, prose, poetry, spoken word, visual art etc.) each with their own idiosyncrasies with which to convey that story. Some people might be interested in that story, others won't. Furthermore, some may be more comfortable and/or conditioned to having said story communicated to them in one medium versus another (e.g. novel versus film). In any case, it will take an human being with sensitivity and attention to imagine and convey this story about, for example, a grain of sand. This quality is perhaps more important in the long run than whatever arbitrary semantic designation we give to people capable of such things. The improvement of this quality is an ongoing and continual process too. It usually involves building a lot of sandcastles and watching the tide sweeping them away imao :-)

August 3, 2014 at 11:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lupocide

Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't.

Margaret Thatcher

August 3, 2014 at 7:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Soizburga

This is a classic example of someone nitpicking a word, and derailing from its actual meaning.

If you tell a story, whether you do it professionally or are putting your daughter to sleep, in that moment you are a storyteller.

August 6, 2014 at 1:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Form follows function right? so the form that the story takes is dependant on the function, and the desired experience. There are multiple forms of stories. You may believe that the written word and motion video are the only ways to communicate a story, but if you believe that, you are being too narrow minded.

It may not be an epic story, but, more often than not, an element of many good designs is story telling and generating a narrative through experience. It seems Sagmeister has forgotten the ideals and theories of composition.

August 6, 2014 at 1:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anthony Pace

Whatever man. I recently shot an interview with Bun B. He used to change his name all the time when he was young. Then he realized that what you call yourself means nothing, it's all in what you do/say/make.

Hey guys, i'm a kangaroo. Watch my film
Don't think i'm a kangaroo? Who cares. Watch my film.

August 6, 2014 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jim

Totally agreeable.

When ever I am gathering writers, all of them asks me.

"Which film festival are you aiming to?"

In this circumstances, I have two things in my mind.

1. This guy know what he is doing.

2. What a sad world, I need to create a story, which has to follow curtain circumstances to get an award. - And do you call this is a creative work?

Regarding second thoughts, I always asked my self, if you don't have a theme, or a theme that affected by others' how do you call your self a creative writer and director?

I think, director, film-maker is an artist, or a conductor, who knows about mixing cinematography, production design, art-direction, character design, creative writing, composing... etc

A Filmmaker is a multi unity form of art. On the other hand, there are many indie film makers' in NYC, who just doesn't care about this anymore.

Everyone tries to make a comedy pilot there without budget.

I understood that they want to do something, but in my opinion, if you created something there wasn't original idea how would you call your self as a director, or film maker?

Be shame on your self, and learn something from the past and get a degree with a solid knowledge.

Furthermore, don't ever call your self a story teller, when you are using your product for a god sake marketing purpose.

August 7, 2014 at 9:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Frankly, I could not care less what this designer has to say about this... because by his very definition of storyteller, he is definitely not a storyteller...I'd call him a bellyaching snob, personally. I think I'll just go back to being aware that I'm telling stories through my work...and not knocking other people who find stories in unexpected places.

August 7, 2014 at 3:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Andrew

Wow - quite a response from all around. Iagree 100% on his commentary. 100%

I am in business and have been for many years. I hear the same thing over and over again. I went through 7 bookkeepers to find 1 good one. They all called themselves bookkeepers, but most were bullshit types. It is insane how people want to put themselves on a pedestal and exalt their virtues. Nothing to back it up.

Let their works prove their credibility. Put up or shut up. Then you will know if you are a story teller, a photographer, a movie maker, a screen play writer. it took 40 re-writes to do Ben-Hur and finally 2 men managed to pull it off - but only 1 got the screen credit. It is a level of expertise that counts.

If you are a budding story teller - then say so - nothing wrong with that. But if you are not good at it, your works will show you up big time and you will get run out of town. End of story teller.

Yup - could not agree more

August 7, 2014 at 3:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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David

Is this anything like still photographers calling themselves cinematographers because their cameras now record video? What about videographers calling themselves cinematographers for marketing purposes?

August 7, 2014 at 4:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stephy

Also, it might have been nice if someone had either used makeup on Stefan or diffused the key light source because he looks quite greasy. Considering his hair, perhaps a shower?

August 7, 2014 at 4:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stephy

Althought, I wouldn't go the extent of saying that 'everybody who calls themselves a storyteller, isn't a storyteller', and that 'filmmakers dont call themselves storytellers'. I do believe, there is a valid point that he is making, and that is that it's important to define roles, and terms clearly, otherwise those that rely on being storytellers, and have trained and put in many hours to be so, are rewarded for that very thing that they have become. There does seem to be a hijacking of the word.

August 7, 2014 at 9:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael

hehehe glad to see all the opinions. I didn't realize there was a niche and a criteria for story tellers. I better ditch my Celtx because I am definitely not worthy. Thanks for the heads up Stefan you just saved me hour and hours of wasted time.

August 8, 2014 at 5:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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A most interesting video, along with fascinating comments. Two sides to every coin. Such a valid point, as a roller coaster designer, you're just creating a ride, what's really the story? On the other side, if someone does say they are a story teller, then so what, i'm personally not really harmed, and if I am then it doesn't take much to harm me lol . I think, maybe its the intention of the person that matters. If someone calls themselves a story teller, but they don't really know or care what that means deep down, then they have to live that.

Having read all the comments and viewing the video, along with other things i've come across, what kind of experience are is the viewer having? That's probably more powerful than telling just a story. I think of apple as an example, from their videos, to website, the unboxing of the products, the ease with which everything seems to work. I'm not really sure, or even concerned with the "story" they may or may not be telling, but it's one heck of an experience. Maybe people should call themselves " experience providers" instead of "story tellers" lol.

August 8, 2014 at 11:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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amanjot palaha

Dumb discussion about natural acting from real people. Obviously, none of them has worked with real actors in a real story. They're all documentarists. They all seem to have an identity crisis.

August 9, 2014 at 10:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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eric

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