20 Inspiring TED Talks on Storytelling, Writing, Filmmaking and Creativity.

Every aspiring screenwriter should watch right now.

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriter Career
November 23, 2017 27 comments
ted talks storytelling

20 inspiring TED talks on storytelling, writing, filmmaking and creativity.

Welcome to our curated list of the top TED talks on storytelling. Originally founded in 1984,  the TED media organization has grown exponentially in recent years. Their free online database of talks has become something of a wormhole of inspiring talks on a wide variety of topics.

Luckily for you, we’ve dived into that wormhole and emerged with the top TED talks on storytelling from filmmakers such as JJ Abrams, novelists such as JK Rowling and screenwriters such as Shonda Rhimes. As well as a whole host of film industry professionals, motivational speakers, professors and entrepreneurs.

So, without further ado, it’s time to grab that coffee, dim the lights, and get inspired…

Best TED talks on storytelling. 

1. How to write a story: John Dufresne.

Author, screenwriter and professor of creative writing, John Dufresne, talks about how it doesn’t matter how luminous your prose is, or fascinating your central character, you need a plot.

If your central character isn’t striving to accomplish something meaningful, the reader will put down your story.

2. The mystery of storytelling: Julian Friedmann.

Highlights of this talk by veteran agent, Julian Friedmann, include how you need to make an audience feel pity for your protagonist, usually by making them go through some kind of undeserved misfortune.

This enables the audience to connect emotionally with the character and when this happens you, the writer, begin to have control over the audience. One of the very best TED talks on storytelling online.

3. Rewriting collective instincts: Phil Lord.

Hollywood screenwriter Phil Lord, who co-wrote the Lego Movie, talks about the process of rewriting—a vital process, however much it stresses writers out.

An interesting fact he gives is that the Writers’ Guild of America consumes more mental health visits than any other healthcare collective in America.

4. The clues to a great story: Andrew Stanton.

This is one of the best TED talks on storytelling you’ll find. Andrew Stanton, part of the Pixar writing dream team behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, etc. talks about writing with emotion.

He implores us to make him care about our stories and characters—emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically. Because we all know what it’s like to not care…

5. Screenwriting and the fear of being found out: Tim Sullivan.

Tim Sullivan is a British screenwriter whose most recent movie was Letters to Juliet, starring Amanda Seyfried. In this TED talk, he describes how screenwriting is always about selling.

When you have an idea for a film, the first person you have to convince it’s any good is yourself. If you don’t, somewhere down the road, someone’s going to find you out…

Best TED talks on storytelling and filmmaking.

6. Making your first film whatever it takes: Nicolas Forzy.

Nicolas Forzy is an independent filmmaker who explains that if you want to shoot a feature film, you usually start with what you have access to: a car, an apartment, a friend’s restaurant, and build a story around that.

Forzy did the opposite, filming a feature with gunfights, sword fights and extravagant locations, and yet somehow managed to get it produced and up on the big screen.

7. What it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood: Naomi Jones.

What can really help your screenwriting is to see what you put on the page from the point of view of an actor. As actor Naomi McDougall Jones highlights, a typical female character description in a script reads like this: “Brian’s love interest. Attractive, cute, and flirty, she is the ideal girl and Brian’s prize throughout the entire film.”

Very useful talk on how to write more interesting female characters.

8. The film industry today: Frank Smith.

Having a general idea about the industry you want to work in can always be beneficial, and in this talk, Frank Smith gives a great overview of Hollywood today. He discusses how a lot of people make their fortunes in Hollywood and a lot of people spend their fortunes in Hollywood. But why?

The reason is that they’re entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs thrive on constant change. Which of course describes Hollywood perfectly.

9. How I made an impossible film: Martin Villeneuve.

Filmmaker Martin Villeneuve (younger brother of Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Enemy, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049, etc.) talks here about his experience making Mars et Avril, the sci-fi spectacular based on his own graphic novel.

Getting his unique vision of the future on the big screen was a challenge primarily because he had virtually no money. Listen to how he managed to achieve it against all the odds.

Best TED talks on storytelling and creativity.

10. Try something new for 30 days: Matt Cutts.

Former Google engineer Matt Cutts tells us in under four minutes how you should think about something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it. Every day for the next thirty days.

This is just about the right amount of time to add a new habit or subtract a habit. When it comes to screenwriting this could mean, for example, adding something positive like one hour’s solid writing a day, and subtracting something negative, like Facebook.

11. The mystery box: JJ Abrams.

JJ Abrams needs no introduction and in this amusing talk, he delves deep into one of the most fundamental aspects of imagination: mystery. Every scene should be a teaser that draws the reader into the next, using question after question after question.

He gives the example of Star Wars, in which the droids meet a mysterious woman we don’t know: mystery. Then we meet Luke Skywalker who sees the droids’ holographic message that she wants to find Obi Wan Kenobi, but who the hell’s Obi Wan Kenobi: mystery. And on and on.

12. Before Avatar… A curious boy: James Cameron.

James Cameron reveals how the genesis of his movies like Aliens, The Terminator and Avatar lie in a childhood fascination with the fantastic—from reading science fiction on his way to high school, to man going to the moon in the late 60s, to Jacques Cousteau’s deep-sea diving.

An interesting and personal account of the creative process from one of today’s major forces in film.

13. Success, failure and the drive to keep creating: Elizabeth Gilbert.

Author of the novel that went on to become the movie Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes how she failed continuously for six years while trying to get published.

She talks about how every rejection letter was devastating, but how eventually she was able to keep going and keep writing because she loved writing more than she hated failing at writing. Inspiring stuff.

14. A writer’s secret to catching creative ideas: Brad Herzog.

Author Brad Herzog bases his talk on the fact that there are different aspects to creating an idea: there’s conceiving the idea, developing the idea and conveying the idea. The trick is to put them all together in order to come up with something really special.

He advises you do this by countering conventional wisdom, surprising people and making them expect the unexpected.

15. How to build your creative confidence: David Kelley.

Legendary designer David Kelley urges us to realize that we’re all naturally creative and tells us how to let our ideas fly and do what we set out to do.

In this inspiring talk, he stresses that we can all reach a place of creative confidence if we put our mind to it.

16. My year of saying yes to everything: Shonda Rhimes.

Shonda Rhimes has written over 300 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and is one of the hardest working people in TV. In this eloquent and passionate speech, she describes how much she loves her work and the process of writing, which she calls “the hum.”

But what do you do when you lose “the hum”?—that sense of joy you once had for something you love? Watch the talk to find out.

17. How to stop screwing yourself over: Mel Robbins.

An award-winning life coach and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins, tells us how to get motivated to do what we really want to do in life. She notes, for example, that scientists have calculated the odds of each of us being born: 1 in 400 trillion.

Yet despite the fact that it’s amazing we’re here in the first place, we take it for granted and continue to be ruled by our “inner snooze alarm.”

18. The magical science of storytelling: David JP Phillips.

Absolutely brilliant talk on stories and chemicals in the brain. When we write a story we’re actually trying to induce a hormonal, chemical response in the reader’s mind. One that will engage them with the story you’re telling.

Phillips suggests all your stories should be sorted by type, according to which make people laugh (via endorphins) which make people feel empathy (via oxytocin) and so on. Unmissable.

19. Why you will fail to have a great career: Larry Smith.

Larry Smith, a professor of economics, has a blunt challenge to all of us who are putting off the pursuit of our dreams: “Everyone tells you to pursue your passion and follow your dreams. You hear it again and again and then you decide not to do it. You’re afraid that if you look for your passion but don’t find it, you’ll look like an idiot. So then you look for excuses as to why you’re not going to follow your passion.”

20. Inside the mind of a master procrastinator: Tim Urban.

Still struggling to finish (or start) that screenplay? Want to shoot your own short but can’t find the time? Entrepreneur Tim Urban urges us to think about why we’re really procrastinating because everyone is procrastinating on something in life.

In this funny talk, he says how we need to stay aware of the power of the “instant gratification monkey” and make sure we start today. Well, maybe not today.


Let us know in the comments below what you think of our selection and if we’ve missed out your favorite TED talk on creativity, storytelling or filmmaking.

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Enjoyed these TED talks on storytelling? Get even more inspired by these posts…

How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Guide to Unlocking Your Career

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