“The room is the sacred place,” said Buckner, as if speaking about a thousand-year-old temple. In fact, he was referring to the intensely creative and meditative process used to create Hollywood’s most successful TV series: Locking 10 or more writers in a room to rapidly blast out ideas that some “poor kid” has to keep up with and capture. “I used to be that kid,” Buckner said, adding that the process depends on the group sharing credits and ownership of ideas.
Spanning a 20-year career, Buckner has seen storytelling evolve to a point where TV shows have become “extremely social”. Tens of millions of people tweet and respond to what they’re watching live, and that is altering the way shows are produced. “As a storyteller I sort of think, 'Can’t you just wait until the end? Because if you’re tweeting, you’re missing the story.'” But whether viewers are missing details or not, it’s a reality that is happening, and the conversations are real.
This is something Hay is interested in. “Social media today is purely tactical," he said. "There are great videos being put on social media, but no one is being truly creative with how social is used. Everything is short-term.”
By contrast, Hollywood builds long-range content missiles. Series producers build their stories up over time to reach a crescendo. “We need to be investing in enduring platforms with brilliant creative writing where we can collaborate with brands at the heart of it,” said Hay, citing Nike for its continuing “inner athlete” story, Dove's “beauty” work and Coca-Cola's “optimism” as fine examples.
According to Hay, to achieve this consistently, the creative process in the agency model will need to change. Instead of having two creative people receive a brief, go into a room and work on a “precious idea where no one else can have a chance to help build it”, the future of social-media storytelling may look more like the way Buckner has worked for the last 20 years.
“With this idea of writers’ rooms found in Hollywood, agencies will need to change their creative staffing, bring in multiple skills and talents, and rethink their measures of success,” said Hay, “because right now at Cannes, only two creatives get up on stage.”
When asked how he would story-tell for brands, Buckner answered: “I would look for brands that have a good story to tell. I think people have a visceral response to manipulative content. People know when they’re being advertised to. From what I know about how people watch TV shows, it’s crucial to show incredible integrity.”
According to Buckner, this is true anywhere in the world and it’s, “why True Blood has had such wide appeal. Even in Asia.”
Regarding social media, Buckner added, “I think Breaking Bad did a really good job on social, on a network who don't get a really huge audience. They’re really responsive. They had a kind of live broadcast and even after the show finished, they kept releasing outtakes. In that sense, the show is nearly perfect.”