May 29, 2009

Link: J.J. Abrams Talks About 'Mystery Boxes'

May 29, 2009
I thought I'd add to the previous post 'Fleeting Details' with this talk about how to use mystery, by someone who specialises in it. And who specializes more in mystery than the Executive Producer of both Lost and Alias as well as the Producer of Cloverfield? No one, that's who.

Except Alfred Hitchcock... and David Copperfield... okay, so there's a couple, but none of them recorded a speech at TED which I have posted here, have they?

This video talks about the bigger mysteries in a story, rather than the smaller details that never have to be resolved. It's a very interesting listen.

We'd love to hear some examples of what you think are badly done mysteries. Withholding information from an audience is a fantastic technique, but where has it gone wrong for you?


  1. Man, TED is just such an excellent resource for information and education.

    I love that speech so much. It really changes the way you think about the use of mystery, especially when he emphasized it's use in Star Wars.

    I can't remember how the quote goes, but it goes something like this.

    "A great host pretends that he knows something that his audience doesn't and can't wait to show them."

    Pretty applicable to storytelling too, I suppose.

  2. Badly done mysteries? Lost?
    Granted they seem to be tying some stuff up now, but it does seem like they're making it up as they are going. And given that they're not, that's a bad mystery. I have been disappointed with Lost since the end of season 3.

  3. I guess the thing about mystery is you have to have faith that the storyteller has something - even if they don't.

    As soon as one becomes sceptical, mystery becomes a bad thing. This is especially true with horror.

    Would it be safe to say Mystery without reward can backfire?

  4. It would be very safe to say that Helmutt, I never liked lost because the entire thing just seemed like a big marketing gimick. "If we never tell the audience anything, than we wont actually have to do anything, so long as they keep perving on our cast they'll ignore our failures" Sums up the attitude behind lost.

    I never watched cloverfeild because i suspected the same mentality.

  5. I actually got excited when this topic came up. I've been thinking about it for ages and considered several series and specific movies that do it well. One however nails it so perfectly that I smiled and said "huh..." when I thought of it. Suspense and mystery is perfectly built up, maintained and released in the textbook manner in


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