Biography has the potential to be interesting, but not every interesting person is the subject of a good biography. Sports never seem to grab me, unless the presentation somehow transcends the tedium of the game. Science offers the potential for intellectual discovery and poetic metaphor, but explorations of atomic neighborhoods and galactic horizons can rapidly become just so much cosmic dust unless they’re contextualized for non-experts.
The thing that makes any of these things work is how it’s conveyed in a story. Without a story, facts that underpin sequential events are just piles of bricks without mortar.
Story means everything, even if everything doesn’t look like a story. How we think about what we do is the essential architecture of all stories, and the onus is always on storytellers to make them sing. I’m inclined to needle accountants and real estate agents, unfair though those jibes may be. But I’m aware that the numerical calculations inherent to their daily labors mean different things depending on how those numbers are prepared and presented. Where did the money come from? How will it be used? Is this a first home or a last home? Is it an emotional buy or a disciplined decision? Story makes facts matter and how those facts fit into bigger picture frames shape stories.
As producers and artists we live to tell stories, yet most of the day-to-day work we do has nothing to do with character and plot and sequential events. The work of bringing something to narrative life inevitably reduces to components, to bricks. At the granular scale of daily work, it’s hard to see story in the mundane aspects of complex to-do lists. The producer’s daily lot is not that different from a real estate maven: at the end of the process there’s a family moving into a house, or a new video production ready for broadcast. In advance of furniture coming off the truck there are a million dull but essential details about packing, unpacking, what’s breakable, and where the breakables should go. In advance of the new production, there are locations to scout, equipment to organize, budgets to prepare, schedules to make. The measure of the overall efforts however lie not in those incremental details, but in the overall sum.
A story doesn’t have to say much to matter. Smart, abstract designs of light and color, devoid of traditional character, narrative, or even a deconstructable arc can be the province of story. A little glowing sparkle in a brief video transition can coordinate with colored underlines and background lighting. That sparkle can initiate another graphical element to appear or disappear on screen. In the relationship of these elements through time—even if that time is only a handful of seconds—we have a story. Because there is relationship, we become emotionally connected, even if the relationship is non-linear, non-verbal, non-literal. Story is how one part interacts with another.
So the next time you’re thinking about redecorating your living room, think of the task as more than collecting matching furniture and color coordinated carpeting. You’re structuring the reality of a space where family conversations haven’t happened yet, where people will laugh and cry and sit quietly and celebrate birthdays. There are stories waiting to be told in that space, but there are also stories in the smart way the objects in the room will interact, all by themselves, placed just so because you choose to put them in relationship with each other. They only become part of a story when they become something more than accumulations of matter in space.