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The art of Storytelling with Shane Small, Creator of Exploding Kittens

Feb 14, 2021

Shane Small is described as a futurist and pioneer of interactive, immersive and personalized storytelling, Shane Small squeezes every drop out of emerging technologies to create stories that take your breath away. Shane worked with the Snapchat Originals team, using their platform (AR, social, maps, messaging, gaming) to make mobile-first shows and experiences that are totally unique to Snap. Prior Shane cofounded Exploding Kittens and worked with an internal incubator at Facebook, exploring the question: what kinds of products will near-future platforms technologies (like AR and VR) make possible? Shane also led design for an undisclosed AR project for Facebook.

This blog post was created with an A.I. transcription of the interview.

Creating Content That Matters To People

10:05 –> 20:01
So I think that the key component for me is making things that matter. You know when people come to me and say, Oh, yeah, I want to do a story in VR or I want to do a story using AR. I want to do branching narrative and you know, you control the character and you do this and that, or whatever the technology is, I want to I want to do it on the phone versus on you know, the TV or whatever it is. My question is, why? Why do you think you know, a big mistake that a lot of people make is they lead with the And I think that it becomes dangerous because very quickly that can become a gimmick. So when I asked the question, Okay, why do you want to tell a story that uses And if they answer me well because it’s cool and you can look around, then I’m like, Well, can you tell that story? If I take the VR component at and you can still tell that story. Why are you using VR? Well, why am I making choices that I always want to hear is because that’s the only way you can tell that The DNA of that story requires that technology because that’s when the story and the technology blend to make something meaningful, like for me. And I am still doing meaningful content and telling meaningful stories that capitalize on the amazing technology that we have and, ah, hold up the phone. But it’s everything from VR consoles. Whatever it is, we have these amazing tools at our fingertips to tell amazing stories that could be really meaningful and infect traditional linear couldn’t but be just as meaningful, if not more so. And I still believe we’re the embryo extension actually proving that out, and that’s what I’m really trying to do. appropriate to the media or the platform that I’m using. So if I’m telling a story that’s phone based, I’ve gotta think about what that means in terms of format, like vertical frame in terms of the way, distractions that a phone gives me, I got my mother texted me. I’ve got a bull that pops up. I’ve got all these distractions. So what does telling when all those distractions air there? And I think that’s what Snapchat does really? Well, when looking at telling stories and Snapchats, we’ve gotta think about all those elements. We’ve got to think about the phone, the mobile, distractions. And what snapped it does really well is when they tell stories, they really grab you right from the beginning. You got three seconds. You know, that first frame needs to be something that, like, What does that mean? The 2nd 2nd is like I can’t believe that happened. The 3rd 2nd is what is gonna happen next? And you just gotta hold onto that person because the Snapchat user’s finger is hovering constantly to move forward to click, they And the thing that I love about that versus most. This other streaming is that the audience is ready to engage and is poised to get involved. So if we can platform and the tools that snap has, you know the ER experiences messaging and use those and put it into a part, mix it up to create a show that capitalizes on the behavior of the snap, the platform, the way we use it, the different tools that we have to bring the show allowed through a R or to have branching narrative or to use a map and location of where I am. That changes the story that, for me, becomes really exciting. And if you can do it in a and I feel responsible for the actions I’m taking or for the experience, and I think that’s where it becomes really, really powerful, you know, and unfortunate or so to be able to, you know, dabble a little bit with Netflix defined, interactive content for them. I worked with who on creating an anthology, Siri’s and look at their platform and and kind of the way you know.

Getting To The Heart Of The Story As Quickly As Possible

16:37 –> 20:01
Yeah, what you’re saying is exactly correct. There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of distractions and it’s How can you hold on to that? And so I love it. I love the platform for that because it becomes a very interesting challenge to write a good story that makes Snap episodes predominantly five minutes long. You might have between eight and 20 episodes that you can bend shut away so you get your full movies length. But they’re like five minute chunks, right? You’re challenged about all the distractions that the phone brings, right? But the thing that in the format, but the thing that snap does really well is that understand that audience and I understand how the audience engages with the And so all those things, like the three seconds and you know, when you’re trying to tell a story that you know we’re building your character or, you know, like a lot of the times that us they were Snapchat could you just go go, go, go, go! You almost want to. If you’re going to do it, you just don’t have the lecture that beautiful pan shots and that emotion and the person’s eyes are about to cry up. If you wanna build any character development, I like to say that you build it while the characters are running someplace. I mean, that’s the way you kind of do it with snap. I mean, that’s not always the case. It’s just again economize struck down to the basics. Get to the heart of the story as quickly as possible. Get to the meat of that story. Don’t put any of the fluff, and that’s what I love. Because you do. You get to the truth and to the spine of that story really quickly. And what we noticed on Snapchat is like number one. They have an amazing audience, like it’s crazy. They got like, uh, it’s probably gone up from now, but they have, like 218 like million like And like for some of the shows, like one of the shows on snap called Wolfram that have 35 million views on that show, and that’s just one of them. And there’s a network audience, that’s insane and what we also found with snappers when you come down and you actually go down to the core. But it’s because normally you have these big sparks in the pilot episode. But when you actually see the audience plan down and the ones that have stuck around, that’s a healthy audience and they become very passionate about the show, too, and they stick with it. They’re very vocal and yes, you gotta know your platform. You know, you’ve got to know how your the audience uses that platform, and then you’ve got to develop for that using any of these fun technology enhancements, orbits or tools without becoming a gimmick. It’s actually quicker. It’s easier, much easier to become a gimmick than to actually do something meaningful, and my goal is to make something meaningful.

Creating Stickiness By Matching Your Content With The Platform

21:32 –> 26:24
You know, to be honest, I think it’s a crapshoot, like, I don’t think anybody knows, right? I think if we’re being honest, I think what you do is you go. When you asked me like we took a digital game, well, I took a digital game. We made it an analog game, and we put it on Kickstarter and I thought, okay with Mets audience. Yeah, we could get some good money, but I never thought in a tech environment, you know, that we’re living in right now like it did. I just never know how to enhance that. When I put all the things again, I go back. But when doing it, we did not. All I knew is that I knew the game was super fun. I knew that exploding kittens as a name and mats illustrations. That combination was good. The Kickstarter. We definitely approached it in a very different way than Kickstarter had been used. And we broke records there with the most back kick start of all time. I think it still holds that and was, I think, fourth highest monetized at one point. But I’m sure we were pretty done in, like 11 12 now, whatever. But you couldn’t. You couldn’t predict that. I couldn’t predict that success, especially on a global scale, and I think it’s about being true to what you are doing and the story you are telling. I think that’s the only kind of thing that you can do. So look at the and see. In that story is the DNA off? That story doesn’t mesh with the platform itself for the tools that you’re using or the interactive components of the VR or the AR. The part of that DNA is key, like the story that we’re turning its sincere to the platform and needs those things. It’s not. We’re just trying to use it because it is cool, you know, we want to combine it. That’s where people see through that. And I realized that this is a market employee, or it’s a hook that they’re trying to sustain. Those hooks who lost, though Flash brought for a short period of time, and then they will get lost. But longevity is with sincerity and, you know, as long as we build content that meets the needs of I think that’s where you have the best chance of success. So when you’re looking at, could be, for example, now could be you had a bunch of amazing and I’m so devastated that it didn’t do well. But when I look at some of the approaches that they’re made on glisten, there was also bad timing covered. Listen, there was a host of things that they went up against. That was just unfortunate, you know? And there’s so many amazing things, But when I was looking at their content, personally I saw it quit. B short for quick bites again. Very similar to Snapchat, where it’s short content. Get to get the people then and I’m on a commute. I’m in a waiting room and I’m gonna watch something amazing for the next five minutes But when I saw the content that was on, a lot of it felt like traditional content, and all I wanted to do is swamp it up and put it on my big screen. Sit back and relax. And if I could have done that, I would’ve been happy. I would have come in with. Could be. I watched all the episodes because I felt like they weren’t built for this platform. They were built and they were beautiful. For Netflix was something like that, just maybe too short for those. But they felt like traditional content on an And again, that was you, right? They had all the big names and they had all the beautiful shows. I just felt the disconnect was again the sincerity of. What Alright, then I don’t know. That’s just my two cents.

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