Q&A: DREW, EXCALIBUR, AND THE MAGICAL WORLD OF STORIES

Drew Beam is Director of Innovation at Free Range, a famous storytelling studio based in Oakland. He is part of our wonderful jury.

STORY2023: What is your vision of 2023?

DB: Today, our technology is truly helping us to express our stories in magical ways that many of us couldn’t have dreamed up or afford to produce just 20 years ago. Imagine producing an animation, a film, or video game in 1993? You would have needed a lot of support and funds to make that happen. New affordable production tools are springing up, many of which are free, allowing us to make beautiful immersive worlds, code games, and generate rich media for the masses. Take Instagram plus our cell phones, for example—we no longer have to take photography courses to operate our cameras and develop images. Thanks to filters, even the most novice photographer has a good chance of making a pleasing image. I think Instagram, PS, html5, Flash, aftereffects, and the many other impressive production tools are just the tip of iceberg in regards to helping us produce rich media.

In fact, I believe by 2023 we will look back at these tools and remember when our creative expression was limited to a select number of features and buttons we had to press. 2023 isn’t that far away, yet our technology makes ten years feel like 10,000 years if we continue at this rate of innovation. In ten years, the average person will be able to ask a computer to produce:

“Computer, make me a duck animated in the style of Looney Toons.”
“Actually, scratch that and make it like Pixar.”
“Give him a walk like my uncle Larry.”
“And, give him Bill Murray’s voice.”
“Make our duck open a porthole and turn it into a game.”

What I’m getting at with this wild scenario is that creative production will be just a thought away. We will be able to make anything we dream up and all programming will be automated.

What are we left to create, you might think? My answer is stories. They are our cultural DNA. We may not need to go to art or film school to make a pretty picture in the future but we will all need to be great storytellers. No matter how beautiful and easy it is to make, in the end if it’s not a great story—providing meaning, values, and hint at new lenses of thinking—our creativity will just be decorative and entertaining for a brief moment, not legendary.

STORY2023: How did transmedia enter your life?

DB: Transmedia entered my life at the young age of five. My father was a transmedia story creator long before there was a word for it. One day, he brought home Excalibur the movie. We watched it with much delight and were so inspired by the story that we made our own swords and fought. I remember saying to my father, “I wish Merlin was still alive so I could become a wizard like him.” And he said, “Well, he is still alive. Wizards don’t die. Do you want to write him?” That’s how I began exchanging letters with Merlin and passionately keeping the story of Excalibur alive and evolving. My father is a great man for creating this experience.

My professional career was shaped by my relationship to the story experience of Excalibur. When I entered the field of innovation, I was continually challenged by how to take an idea to a real world or virtual experience. Most importantly, taking that idea and crafting a grand story so that others are seduced by its magic and relate to its values to transform and remix it so that it is no longer my story but ours or theirs.

STORY2023: Your advice for STORY2023 participants?

DB: Study the great stories that remain relevant throughout time. Very few things are left from ancient cultures, but amazingly stories have survived intact. Explore how stories and myths provide meaning and explanation to how the world works. The basic structures for creating a great story seem to remain relevant today in this ever-changing digital world. I ask that you focus on a breakthrough story before you playfully align the mediums that can best carry out your narrative. Allow the users to feel it’s their story and not yours. I ask that we all push ourselves to deeply explore the craft of creating more empowering stories driving bigger cultural leaps. More values, less pretty bells n’ whistles.

More about Drew

drewbeamDrew combines his deep experience with a dash of amazing to bring brand visions to life. With over 12 years in top branding and innovation firms, his outputs are truly multimedia, from billboards, fine art and videos, to amusement park rides and sneakers, all based on a profound understanding of today’s marketplace of products and ideas. But what he really loves to do is tell stories. By applying his unique approach to method branding, he lives, eats and breathes your brand to help create breakthroughs in how you tell your story so others will not only listen but participate, and ask for more.

In addition to partnering on many of Free Range’s key branding engagements he creates complex and rich illustrations, designs interactive games and art directs everything from videos to wacky business cards. After getting his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and spending a beloved decade in Brooklyn, this San Francisco native enjoys being back among the neighborhoods and landscapes that helped shape him. When he’s not working he’s likely to be sculpting, studying falconry, archery writing music or teaching Stuart, his part Lab, part Chihuahua, how to put his toys away.

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