Fuck the Story

In spring 2013 I went to Austin for the SXSW-conference. On my first day there, I went by random into one of the many talks. A young guy, who was introduced as a brilliant thinker and maybe the next Steve Jobs went on stage. He told a well crafted story, about the problems of the world and how they can be fixed – a great talk.

He had thought carefully about his story, it was a very convincing story. But – and it took me quite a while to realize – what he said, was pretty banal. It felt new and exciting, but it was not.

A great story, almost no content. And I am sure the guy had spent much more time thinking about his story than thinking about what he wanted to say – these are two different things. But so often people take the story for the content and vice versa. The authors as well, as the audience.

A story is a construction, and if we build this construction in a way, that it lets us see things, that we could not see without the construction: it is a good thing! If the construction functions as a tower that lets us look into the distance: Great!

And sometimes stories do exactly that. They let us see things.

But most often the story is a construction, that is in between us and the thing we are interested in. Like a wall. So we look at the wall, not at the thing, that is behind it. The author puts a wall between the audience and the reality behind the wall.

So the audience watches the wall, and they even might enjoy it. Because it might be a pretty pretty wall. But is that really, what we want?

I rewired my brain using Korsakow over the last 13 years, and I have to say: I don’t enjoy it any more to watch the wall. I enjoy complexity (at least to a certain point), I enjoy that an informed author shows me around, but does not tell me what to think.

Korsakow is a tool that allows authors to create open narratives. Flexible films. The author does not pre-think the paths. The author of a Korsakow-film is like a guide that shows you his favorite places, but he does not tell you what to think.

But I often get the criticism: people say: “This is boring”. These people say, that the audience wants to get a story told and that the audience does not want to do the work of the author. And I agree to a certain point. It is not about the audience doing the work of the author. There still needs to be a strong author that works – hard – do create meaningful viewpoints; a strong author that voices his opinion, a strong author that simplifies reality to a point that it can be understood without spending too much time.

But I have to say: I get terribly frustrated if authors oversimplify. And it seems to me, that this is what authors usually do for the sake of the story. The story needs it simpler, than the audience. And I can see this everywhere: In documentary films, in journalism, in politics. People get more and more frustrated with that. Just like me, who rewired his brain with Korsakow. Other people are currently re-wireing their brains with the internet.

It is the beauty of computer-based storytelling, that you have more freedom. More freedom as an author, more freedom as the viewer. Open and flexible stories can be done in a way it can not be done in a film. And it can be done better, on a computer than in any other medium.

I totally dislike, when the author pre-thinks the story. When the author seduces the audience to think, what he or she wants them to think. By using cheap tricks. The cheap tricks of storytelling, perfected in linear film.

Most of the time, I am audience as well. And when I sense, how I get seduced by an author, and I notice that, when I recognize the tools of drama, when the story is _too_ good: I get an allergic reaction and:

I do not believe the story – I just don’t buy it.

When I make a korsakow-film ( the last one is geld.gr – Money and the Greek, a Korsakow-film about the financial crisis in Greece ) I don’t want to convince anyone of anything. I want to discuss ideas. In this case the ideas that I found on my travels in Greece and talking with people.

The goal of a good Korsakow-film is not to come up with answers. Good Korsakow-films generate questions. And I think we don’t have to focus any more on the answers answers. There is a paradime shift. For a few years now, we live in the time of answers. Every smartphone is the gate to the answers. This is a new thing. I remember very well how difficult it was to get the them.

Now that we have the answers it is time to find the right questions.

Stories give answers.

Good nonlinear narratives create relevant questions.

This is, what I am looking for.

Geschichten

Ich bin Geschichten gegenüber mißtrauisch. Sie gaukeln uns das Leben vor, aber sie folgen ihren eigenen Regeln.

Regeln, die mit dem Leben nichts zu tun haben.

So wie das Hirn arbeitet

Es begann, als ich meine Freundin fragte: “Wo hast Du denn dieser leckeren, Nudeln gekauft?” Sie deutete mit der Hand in die Ferne: “In diesem tollen, asiatischen Laden im Wedding, wo wir vor zwei Wochen waren.” Und dann sprach sie darüber, wie bekömmlich diese Reisnudeln wären, viel besser als Weizennudeln, aber da hörte ich schon gar nicht mehr zu, sondern starrte nur starr vor mich hin.

“Sag, mal, kannst Du nicht mal an einem Sonntag mit deiner Freundin kommunizieren?”.

Jetzt war sie beleidigt. Das holte mich wieder in die Realität zurück. “Ahhh,” stiess es nach einer Weile aus mir heraus, Wedding ist gar nicht da,” und ich deutete in die Richtung, in die meine Freundin gerade gezeigt hatte, “Wedding ist da!” und wies mit meiner Hand in die Richtung, in der der Wedding wirklich liegt.

“Ach Quatsch!” meine Freundin deutete in ihre Richtung. Ich deutete nun ebenfalls in ihre Richtung, stand auf und lief aus der Küche ins Wohnzimmer und von dort auf den Balkon, mit dem Arm die ganze Zeit in die Richtung deutend, in der meine Freundin Wedding vermutete. “Schau mal, da drüber, das ist Moabit, rief ich vom Balkon!” und nachdem ich wieder in der Küche war: “Wedding ist da!”.

“Oh Mann!” sagte sie. Ich war ganz begeistert: “Und jetzt weiss ich auch, welchen Laden du meinst!”

“Ok, ok, Du hast ja Recht, mir doch egal.” Jetzt war sie völlig beleidigt. Und ich war sauer, dass sie nicht meine Begeisterung teilte, dass *ich* jetzt endlich wusste, von welchem Laden *sie* sprach.

Was war da passiert?

Dazu muss ich ein wenig ausholen und ein Stück weit erklären, wie mein Hirn funktioniert: Es hat im allgemeinen einen recht guten Orientierungssinn, allerdings ist mein Hirn sehr schlecht darin, sich Namen zu merken. Als also mein Freundin in die Richtung deutete, in der sie den asiatischen Lebensmittelladen vermutete, suchte mein Hirn angestengt nach einer Erinnerung an einen Asiashop, noch dazu einen, den wir gemeinsam besucht hatten und noch dazu, in letzter Zeit. Das lief ins Leere und frustrierte mich unendlich, obwohl ich von diesen Gedankengängen ansonsten gar nichts mitbekam. Mein dummes Hirn hätte einfach die Information “im Wedding” bedenken sollen, tat dies aber nicht, weil es, wie immer, keine Lust hatte, sich mit Namen zu beschäftigen. Erst als überhaupt kein passender asiatischer Laden in dieser Richtung auftauchte, weder in Moabit, noch in Charlottenburg, oder Spandau oder wie die ganzen Bezirke heissen mögen, die von uns aus gesehen hinter Moabit liegen; tauchte endlich, wie eine Blase, die aus den Tiefen des Meeres langsam nach oben steigt, der Name “Wedding” auf. Für mein Hirn die Rettung, sich wieder aus seinen Gedankenspiralen zu befreien:

“Wedding liegt in einer ganz anderen Richtung!”

Meine Freundin hatte von dem Kampf, der gerade tief im Inneren meines Gehirns tobte, natürlich nichts mitbekommen. Wobei, das stimmt nicht. Sie hatte sehr wohl etwas mitbekommen. Ich war ja eine Weile lang, ganz wie ein Computer, der plötzlich auf die Idee kommt, mal eben die Dateien auf seiner Festplatte durchzuzählen, derart mit mir selbst beschäftigt, dass ich *sie* gar nicht mehr wahrnahm. Das hatte *sie* natürlich bemerkt. Und sie war – ganz meine Freundin – ganz eine Freundin – beleidigt.

Drama zweiter Teil:

Als die Blase “Wedding” endlich die Wasseroberfläche meines Bewusstseins erreicht hatte und in dem Satz “Wedding liegt in einer ganz anderen Richtung!” zerplatzte, war meiner Freundin zweierlei schlagartig klar:

1. Ich wollte von dem Vorwurf ablenken, ihr nicht genügend Aufmerksamkeit entgegenzubringen.

2. Ich musste mir mal wieder raushängen lassen, dass ich alles besser wusste. – “Klugscheisser!”

These 1 wurden dadurch unterstrichen, dass ich aufsprang und den Raum verliess, These 2, dass ich wieder zurück kam und ihr, wie ein Katze, die eine tote Ratte mit nach Hause bringt, die neue Richtung Weddings vor die Füße legte. Dabei hätte alles ein beschaulicher Sonntag sein können.

Master vs. Medium

When I was a child and my father read bedtime stories to me, he always finished with the same question: “And what is the moral of this story?” Then he usually answered the question himself. Suspiciously, the moral of the story was most often related to stuff that had been going on in our family, or in school: To succeed in life, one has to be nice to one’s brothers, do one’s math homework, or help one’s mother do the dishes.

I learned that the moral of the story is a trick the narrator uses to make the listener do something, or believe something, that he thinks is important. As a kid I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously by my father, and even today, when a film comes up with that moral thing, I feel like there is someone disrespecting my brain.

Later in life I became a story-teller myself.

I love to learn about people and I love image and sound. I became a documentary filmmaker. But I don’t want to share a moral, or tell people what thoughts they should have in their brains. Usually, as a documentary filmmaker, I end up in situations where, of all the people that are around, I am the most clueless. So why should I – the clueless one – be the one to explain to an audience how things work?

In 1997, around the time I discovered my interest in storytelling, I also found my fascination with computers. That led to the development of Korsakow. For the last three years I have been working together with Matt Soar and our programmer Dave Reisch who has rewritten the code of Korsakow from scratch, and built the foundation from where we can further develop the application.

For my own work, I almost exclusively use Korsakow and, depending on the way you count it, I have made (depending on how one counts) between 7 and 45 Korsakow-films. Last year, for the first time in my life, I also made a linear film (ie a film that is the very same every time you look at it). This film is called Planet Galata, a portrait of a bridge in Istanbul, and the people living on and around it. Planet Galata was made for French/German broadcaster ARTE, and there are two versions: a linear film and a Korsakow film. It was an amazing experience to make a linear film alongside a Korsakow-film. In a nutshell: The linear version of Planet Galata created some kind of moral, or message. I tried not to, but the film – the format of linear film – made me do it. It is the format of linear film that demands a moral, or a message. The author can fight it, and maybe some great masters of filmmaking sometimes succeed, but linear film is a monster and it demands moral.

An author can be either one or the other:

The master of the story. The author pre-defines, and pre-thinks the experience of the viewer. In a linear film, the author cannot avoid being the master of the story, because, in the end, a linear film has one – and only one – concrete order, and the author has to take full responsibility for it.

That said, also non-linear, multi-path and flexible-structured projects (I call them multi-linear) are usually made by authors who still take the role of masters of the story: The experience of the viewer, the order of things, has been per-thought by the master. The order is certainly more flexible than in a linear film, and these multi-path films do not always look the same, every time you look at them, but nothing happens that the author did not pre-think.

The medium of the story. Here the author prepares the material, the bits and pieces of the story; she can also be present as a voice; she can state her view, or her opinion, just like in any linear film. The difference is that the author creates the rules of the film, but does not pre-think the film. And that allows her to tell stories that are usually very, very difficult to tell in films, stories that are inspirational, but that don’t have a message or moral. – Korsakow is a tool that allows the author to be the medium of the story.

Korsakow allows to create stories – without a moral.

{ This text was originally written for a talk given at Visible Evidence in New York in August 2011. }