TikTok Is Full Of Untold Stories. Adobe And Netflix Want To Tell Them
“We are witnessing the democratization of filmmaking.”
Hollywood blockbusters have become known for their focus on larger-than-life scenarios, with top franchises featuring flying cars and feats of superhuman strength. However, what may be missing here are the unique, more authentic perspectives tucked away in the lived experiences of everyday people. So, Netflix and Adobe are hoping to capture just that by tapping into the creative minds on TikTok.
Recently, the two titans of creativity announced The Great Untold, a nationwide contest searching for pitches featuring the unheard stories and perspectives that Hollywood has been missing. And, armed with the hashtag #TheGreatUntold, the competition urged contestants to submit via TikTok.
Why TikTok? A key part of this platform’s rapidly growing appeal is its low barrier to entry. A creator need not have any formal training in writing or videography to be able to make a compelling piece of content. Rather, all they need is an idea and the determination to see it through. Because of that, young filmmakers on the platform have stretched their creativity to push the boundaries of visual storytelling on the app. And as a result, TikTok has opened filmmaking up to a whole new generation of creators.
“We are witnessing the democratization of filmmaking,” said Ann Lewnes, CMO and EVP of Corporate Strategy and Development at Adobe. “TikTok is a global social video channel that will enable Adobe and Netflix to discover the next generation of filmmakers.”
With submissions now closed, the teams behind the contest are sifting through the countless pitches to find the three winners. Once selected, each filmmaker will be given access to equipment, crew, Adobe products, and $10,000 to see their film through to the end. Once finished, the final films will be shared via Netflix’s larger platform to help the stories find their audience. And all the while, each participant will be paired with a seasoned creative professional as a mentor.
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“We wanted to identify mentors from diverse backgrounds who had a broad set of skills like writing, directing, producing, acting, and others so they could provide a range of insight and guidance to these young creators,” said Magno Herran, Head of Marketing Partnerships at Netflix.
The mentors, composed of filmmaker David Talbert (Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey), producer Lyn Sisson-Talbert (Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey), and actor Ryan O’Connell (Special), will be present every step of the way for the young filmmakers. These creative professionals will not only help the winners see their projects to the finish line, but also guide them along their beginnings into the world of entertainment.
“I think still having that same mentality that they had as they were doing their TikTok videos is great,” said Lyn Sisson-Talbert. “Because their resources have been smaller, but then they see what more can be done. It’s going to be such a great balance in telling a story.”
I recently spoke further with Lyn Sisson-Talbert to get her thoughts on TikTok’s creative potential, the need for greater representation in mainstream entertainment, and the potential impact of The Great Untold. Below is a summary of our conversation.
Anhar Karim: What’s really exciting to me about this is how the competition is taking submissions over TikTok. This platform has seen extraordinary growth over the last few years, and creators on there are doing a lot to push the boundaries of visual storytelling. What are your thoughts on using this platform?
Lyn Sisson-Talbert: Well, I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not that great at TikTok [Laughs]. It is a new thing for me. But I thought it was fun because it gave people an opportunity to really look at— how do I condense telling my story, and getting this across in this short amount of time?
And I feel like in general, across the board social media, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram have opened up a door for so many people that would have never had an opportunity to tell their stories. And I think that’s what’s so great about it. It opens a door to people not in Hollywood, not in New York, not in Chicago, to say let me tell my version of a story, and see if I can get it made, and fulfill that dream to be a filmmaker.
And I always get excited about stories like that, the underdogs, you know? Even like an Issa Rae, you know? Who started off with Awkward Black Girl, and look at what she’s been able to do! So, I think it’s fantastic. And if you have the wherewithal and the will to really push through, some great things can happen.
AK: Have you been looking through some of the entries on TikTok? What are your thoughts so far?
LST: I have. I’ve just been watching them when they’ve tagged it. You know, I just kind of wanted to watch the process. And there’s been some really great things, I have to say, from animation, to documentary-type, to traditional film. And I’ve commented on a few of them and I’m like, ‘I hope you submitted towards this!’ And if they haven’t submitted, if it’s just something they’ve done, I send them the link and I’m like, ‘Go submit! There’s a contest going on. This would be great!’
AK: The stated mission of this project is to provide a platform for underrepresented voices and stories. What kinds of stories do you most look forward to giving a spotlight?
LST: I’m really staying open regarding that. Because sometimes things affect you that you don’t even realize. I have a very eclectic taste myself. And I think that’s what kind of lends my brand to this, to be helpful. Because I can look at all different types of stories and see, how can we make the experience better in receiving the story as an audience member? So, I’m going to stay open regarding that. Because it may be some totally hilarious comedy that we end up doing, or maybe something really emotional and personal.
AK: What do you see as lacking in current Hollywood storytelling?
LST: Obviously, I think more diverse stories. I think that we’re doing a much better job of pushing that. I think that, being a woman of color, there’s still a lot of work to do as far as having many different options and layers of types of stories. I love the specificity of culture, be it Indian, be it African, be it African American. And so, I feel like when you infuse specificity, that’s what makes the story so unique.
And also it makes us look at the stories and say, ‘Wow, we got more in common than I thought!’ It’s like, there really isn’t too much different from, you know, a really staunch Jewish mom, to a staunch black mom. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of similarities there as far as what we want at the end of the day. So, I think that’s what it’s really about. Being able to tell culturally much more layered stories. And not the same old, same old within the cultures.
AK: As a mentor, you’re going to be teaching the winners a lot. What’s one lesson that will be key here, and one that other growing storytellers from underrepresented backgrounds should know?
LST: I say keep pushing, you know? Don’t give up on it. There’s always a way to figure it out. And that’s one of the keys in making films: that you’re still finding ways to make it better and to get it done. And I think that’s really important. You know, sometimes people think that they can’t do something on a limited budget. And certainly, one thing about TikTok is they’ve taken limited resources and they’ve done big things with it.
So, I think having that mentality going into this is key. Because we’re going to be finding ways to get something done and layer it, and make it beautiful, and elevated in ways that they haven’t seen before. That’s going to help them in their storytelling. But at the same time, they’re used to the kind of limited resources of it all. So I feel like it’s going to be a good pairing because they’re going to be like, ‘We’re going to be able to do this and we’re going to be able to do that?’ [Laughs].
AK: So, say we’re one year after the competition has wrapped, what do you hope for the impact of all this to have been?
LST: I want these storytellers to be continuing to tell their story, and to have expanded their brand, expanded their storytelling experience, and still be pushing to do what they dream to do. For all we know this could open it up where maybe they wanted to write or direct, but maybe they wanted to do production design, or wardrobe design, or be a cinematographer. So, I really just want it to open doors to other avenues in the industry that they may be interested in.
Submissions are now closed for The Great Untold and winners are expected to be announced shortly. Once the winners are announced, the program will supply the chosen filmmakers with resources to finish their films and then follow their creative journey via a behind-the-scenes docu-series overseen by Nadia Hallgren (Becoming).