You Are Not A Storyteller

This two minute interview with Austrian graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister is absolutely right on.  However I hesitated posting it because of the profanity.  But the subject is so good and so timely I decided to post it anyway.  If you’re fed up like me with all the people calling themselves “storytellers” out there, then this is for you.  He doesn’t mince words, and hence the profanity.  If you’re offended, don’t watch. But if you’re not, it’s well worth two minutes:

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  1. I saw this the other week and was going to post, but hesitated for the same reasons. Thanks for being brave enough to post. Despite the profanity, he has an important message.

  2. Some people call me a “filmmaker” (I have never called myself this) and I don’t feel like I’ve earned that title. But sometimes there isn’t much of an alternative (videomaker? corporate storyteller? media specialist?) so I understand. Even if I did make films, I wouldn’t put “filmmaker” on my business card (director, producer maybe)

  3. OMG! This is PRICEless. I mean, as an academic, I have to take issue with him. But from the purist perspective of the artist – his outrage is so understandable. In general, “story” is in danger of losing all definition in society today. Tee hee – thanks for sharing, Phil.

  4. I’m shocked and offended by all those filthy words, so I can’t possibly listen to his message. He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy…

    Actually I agree. Though for me the real overused word these days is not storytelling but the reference to everybody being on a “journey”. You haven’t been on a journey unless you’ve physically moved from point A to point B.

    Also “workshops”. Acting workshop? It’s not a workshop unless there are manly tools involved (no, don’t go there).

    I could go on…

  5. Phil,

    There are two things Stefan Sagmeister states in the videos I can relate.

    In the video, You Are Not A Storyteller, Sagmeister says, “People that actually tell stories, meaning people that write novels and make feature films, don’t see themselves as storytellers.”

    My whole life I’ve had people tell me I should be a writer or storyteller. I didn’t believe them until I felt myself drawn to a “Writers Write” Screenwriting Conference in Park City years ago and took an opportunity to share a few pages of one of my stories. I received positive feedback but was slammed, rightfully so, for my writing mechanical skills.

    Since then I’ve improved my writing skills and have had a few original screenplays kicking around in my head driving me crazy. Through my point-of-contact in the Air Force Public Affairs office on Wilshire Blvd. in LA, I was able to meet people in the movie business and pitch my ideas. Every time I pitched an idea I was told they wanted to see the spec screenplay when I write it.

    Consumed by Air Force program management problems, shrinking budget problems, flight safety and environmental problems and working with contractors that only wanted to format technical manuals the way they wanted to format the AF technical manuals. I was waylaid for many years as I fought for quality for the users in the technical manuals I oversaw to ensure we gave them the best manuals we could, given all the restraints being imposed on us at every turn of events. (Adapting and overcoming)

    Out of the blue, pressure began to grow in my head wanting to begin writing my story ideas. That pressure soon over-powering the pressure I’ve had to do the best that I could for my Country all these years. It suddenly dawned on me that I could retire. Within a-month-and-a-half I retired. Now I could begin to get the stories out of my head and into my laptop.

    A second thing Sagmeister said that I understand from my life experience is in the other video, More On Storytelling. Sagmeister points out; that there is a big difference between being a viewer as opposed to being a doer.

    When I retired I had no illusions. I knew I had a lot to learn and I knew from life experience, I probably didn’t know all I had to to do. I’ve learn through the years, as I helped develop new products, that there is a big difference between developing a product to merely using a product.

    Now my days are filled with reading, learning and applying what I’m learning. My first screenplay is in-work but as I learn, I identify missing elements that I need to go back and ensure they are inserted correctly and effectively into the screenplay. I struggle with fencing my time for writing because of life 101, but with help from my wife I’m getting better at ensuring I get my time in to write as well as meeting life’s other demands.

    The first screenplay is coming along ever so slow, but that is okay because what I have written is done as a craftsmen, not just as an emotional storyteller.

  6. Well, first off, I guess I should remove that title from my bio because this guy thinks it’s an identifier that has become too clichéd – and it may very well be. It is, however, a lot quicker to say than: writer, director, producer, editor, etc., etc.

    Are people who “write novels and make feature films” the only ones who can claim the mantel of “storyteller”? Tell that to painters, sculptors, dancers, and musicians.

    Secondly, while it certainly is a stretch, how many roller coaster designers do you hear going around calling themselves storytellers? Me thinks this guy has too much time on his hands.

    Stefan needs to find something worth getting worked up about.

    1. Actually I posted it because it seems everyone these days calls themselves a “storyteller.” And the truth is, I hate trends… 🙂
      Certainly he would include dancers, sculptors, artists, etc.. but he couldn’t list everyone. I think that goes without saying.
      But it’s probably good that you pull it from your bio. Good call…. 🙂

    1. That’s a terrific response Tom and I encourage others to read it. In a much more brief form, my biggest beef with the explosion of people calling themselves “storytellers” is stated in the beginning of your post: If everyone is a storyteller, then no one is a storyteller. Just look at Twitter and see the thousands of people who’s bio simply reads “storyteller.” Ah – probably not. And Stefan is right – I work in Hollywood and meet hundreds of exceptional and successful writers, producers, directors, and actors. They don’t refer to themselves as “storytellers” – they just do their art and call it a day.
      Thanks for posting Tom. Excellent piece.

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