Long storytelling, from film to television broadcast, continues to capture the attention of audiences today
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of ASU Thrive.
When Hollywood independent director Ted Hope, producer of more than 70 independent films and now a professor at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, began buying one of his first successful films, Ang Lee’s “Wedding” in 1993, “Nobody initially He remembers.
Romantic, the film followed the genre formula but featured gay main characters, was in Chinese and felt like a 1940s movie. When he was finally selected by Samuel Goldwyn, he garnered great reviews, became a crowd favorite and won first prize at the Berlin Film Festival. When Hope later asked the jury what they liked about the movie, “They said it’s gay, Chinese and feels like a 1940s movie,” Hope said.
This was one of the first lessons Hope learned as a director and artist: Stay true to the vision – when you do, you’ll find an audience. Another learning that propelled Hope into film productions: Lengthy storytelling matters.
“We need people with fresh perspectives, from diverse backgrounds, with a variety of life experiences, and who are familiar with the interdisciplinary play.”
Ted Hope is a professor in the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University
The power of long storytelling
Sanjeev Khagram, Managing Director and Dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, recruited Hope at Arizona State University from Amazon. There, Hope transformed Amazon Studios as co-chair of films where he led, among his accomplishments, the streaming company’s entry into and acquisitions of feature films. It has given the green light to three Academy Award winners, including “Sound of Metal,” as well as the Academy Award-nominated “Time.” Recently, he curated Adam Driver’s new movie, “Annette,” which he calls “a very special movie by one of the great filmmakers in the world.” Last summer, the film won Best Director at Cannes for Leos Carax.
Hope is currently working on several new film productions and says that one thing has remained the same throughout his career: Long-form storytelling, regardless of whether it is in the form of a feature film or a streaming series, remains as vibrant and popular as ever. One example is the post-“soprano” explosion of binge-able HDTV. Another example of this popularity? During the pandemic, researchers found that the average American streamed eight hours of content per day, and had a login for at least four streaming services.
One trick Hope taught her: “You have to get them connected in the first 11 minutes. After someone has seen that much, they are supposed to be more likely to stay engaged.”
Another reason for the enduring power of long storytelling, especially film? Filmmaker Rina Higashitani, professor at Sidney Poitier School of New American Film at Arizona State University, says it takes time to tell the story in both simple and complex nuances, creating an immersive experience.
“I still have that feeling whenever I go to a movie, no matter what I’m watching.”
– Rina Higashitani, Professor at Sidney Poitier New American Film School at Arizona State University
For Higashitani, it was the strength of the story that first inspired her. She still remembers feeling fascinated by “Star Wars” when she was a young girl in Japan and walked off the stage intent on making films. “I still have that feeling whenever I go to a movie, no matter what I’m watching.”
Storytelling fits human needs
As the researchers note, human brains are strongly linked to a need for stories, not just a story, but those that follow a specific ancient pattern. The Equation: A protagonist who has a goal is challenged and tested along the way, then experiences an emotional transformation and creates a new normal.
“In a two-hour movie like John Wick, these things can be very basic,” says Peter Morita, two-time Emmy Award-winning producer and resident director at Sidney Poitier New American Film School. He compares it to a TV series like “Ted Lasso,” where the characters’ challenges become more complex and varied.
The enduring allure of a great movie became clear to Morita when his 18-year-old son recently asked to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood together.
“He told me there was a video game he was inspired by,” Morita says. “Someone was inspired by this movie enough to make an entire video game.”
Even today, eons ago in human storytelling, “I think we’re in a very early stage of storytelling,” says Hope, even though today’s stories use many of the same themes as the tales told throughout human history. “How is the story different when it’s a game, social network, limited series, or documentary series, if it’s interactive?” Asked. “Not much has been done yet.”
Ultimately, says Hope, long storytelling continues to win the day with audiences, allowing analysis of complex stories for broadcast television and many other immersive experiences.
Balancing art and business to bring projects to life
One of the reasons Hope joined ASU is to help other creators collaborate across disciplines and balance art, budgets, revenue, and profits. A new program, Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management: Creative Industries, began last fall in downtown Los Angeles at the historic Herald Examiner Building. The software is powered by Thunderbird with support from the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts.
“Hope will use his talents of wise storytelling, practical experience and entrepreneurship to help us obtain an undergraduate degree that is unparalleled in the world,” says Khagram. “It will also provide students with invaluable insights into the creative processes and institutions of the twenty-first century.”
Hope is counting on his successful sale of “The Wedding Banquet” to Samuel Goldwyn Jr. as an example of what he hopes students will learn in the program.
We asked Goldwyn, “Are you entrepreneurs or are you artists?” I said: Both. He said: No, you have to choose.
Hope is different. Hope says that part of his success is his ability to transcend worlds to showcase his artistic vision to the world. This financial acumen, along with the ability to creatively collaborate with many other people, is the key to a successful career in cinema, he says.
“We need people with fresh perspectives, from diverse backgrounds, with a variety of life experiences, and who are familiar with the interdisciplinary play,” Hope says.
That’s why he helped lead the program for managers who want to learn creative competencies and for creatives looking for management experience.
“On most weekends, once it’s dark, there will be people sitting on bean bags watching a movie. I look upstairs from my window, and if I close my eyes it’s no different from a campfire who knows what era, surrounded by people telling a story” .
– Peter Morita, director-in-residence at Sidney Poitier New American Film School
The magic of storytelling
Ultimately, the creative process revolves around the story, whether it’s played in theater, on a streaming service, on the phone, or using a virtual reality headset.
“Stories give us knowledge, a sense of adventure, and a sense that we are not alone,” Morita explains.
And people often want to experience those stories with other people. Morita recalls that during the pandemic, with movie theaters closed across the country, his neighbor showed up to an inflatable yard in his front yard.
“On most weekends, once it gets dark, there will be people sitting on bean bags watching a movie,” Morita says. “And as I look upstairs from my window, and if I turn my eyes, it is no different from a campfire who knows what era, surrounded by people telling a story.”
Top photo: Ted Hope (center) discusses the future of storytelling with students based in Los Angeles.
Written by Marcus Baram