Mystery Box

Perpetually inspiring, fanboy turned film mogul JJ Abrams has truly been handed the keys to the media castle. He is now responsible for continuing and bringing vital universes into the modern age. He proves his passion again and again, through his work on Lost, Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek and now Star Wars. His TED talk is no exception. He makes tangible the mystery present in each of his works through what he calls a magic box.


He walked out onto the stage with the same awkward confidence that first made me fall in love with him. He began weaving a tale from his childhood. His first Super 8 camera was a gift from his grandfather. The love and respect that he maintains for the man to this day has impacted every one of his works since. An example of his fascination with mystery and form, he pulls out an empty tissue box, carefully taken apart at the seams.

Tannen’s Magic Mystery Box sat unopened on a small table set on the center of the stage. The message was simple, and yet profound. There are mystery boxes all over effective storytelling. He shared his belief that mystery is the catalyst for inspiration. Each blank page is a mystery box. While he left his physical mystery box sealed, he then began to delve into what he believed the box truly contained. Character, is what fills the unopened mystery box. That is the core of an effective emotional impact on the viewer. This is critical not only for creators, but also, for a successful artist or product manager.


The goal of any successful sale, whether it is a movie purchase, a ticket to a live show, or a product or service sold, is to reach the heart of the audience. I believe that is what Abrams is describing with his mystery box analogy. At the heart of the mystique is the fact that we, as an audience, care to discover what is being concealed. The character of our product or art form, is what we, regardless of our role in our industry, must strive to develop. What does your mystery box contain?