Kevin Spacey: No matter how technology changes film & TV, we need to embrace our future storytellers

The Oscar-winner and star of Netflix's House of Cards is the first actor to deliver the Edinburgh TV Festival's Mactaggart Lecture

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Kevin Spacey has delivered the annual Mactaggart lecture at this year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, choosing to focus on the importance of nurturing emerging young talent in television and the future of the industry in light of the models of Netflix and their competitors. 

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Speaking this evening, he announced to his audience that, “our challenge now is to keep the flame of revolutionary programming alive by continuing to seek out new talent, nurture it, encourage it, challenge it, give it home and the kind of autonomy that the past and present – or our three Golden Ages of television – has proved it deserves.” 

The 54-year-old actor Oscar-winning actor shared his thoughts on the importance of seeking out new talent, rather than waiting for young generations to come to them. “Until now, those of us in the teleivsion and film business have been able to wait for the talent to find us… But now things are changing and changing fast,” he warned.

“Kids aren’t growing up with a sense of television as the aspirational place for their ideas; all they know is the incredible diversity of entertainment, stories and engagement that they can find online and if they do love a show on Netflix or Apple TV you can bet they probably don’t know which network it originally aired on.” 

Spacey went on to speak about the progammes he’s introduced at the Old Vic to help guide young talent into the industry, before adding, “For those who do have a passion for the arts and have a voice – I believe that we have a responsibility to seek them out, because if we don’t they may never find their way over the walls we’ve built so effectively around our theatres, networks and studios and we may lose their stories forever.”

He later returned to the topic, making reference to the way creativity has evolved alongside developments in technology. “We are no longer operating in a world where someone has to decide if they are an actor, director, producer or writer – these days kids growing up on YouTube can be all these things.

“We have to persuade them there is a home for them in the mainstream. But we also have to make space for those single-minded geniuses that just have it all together, and all they need is a door to be opened – the Lena Dunhams of our world.”

The star of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated remake of House of Cards discussed the achievements of Netflix after the online streaming service ordered two series of his political drama back in 2011. “Clearly the success of the Netflix model – releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once has proved one thing – the audience wants the control…

“I think we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn: Give people what they want – when they want it – in the form they want it in – at a reasonable price – and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it; well, some will still steal it, but I believe this new model can take a bite out of piracy.”  

Spacey went on to reference the streaming service’s innovative approach to original content as the future the industry now needs to switch its focus to: “Netflix and other similar services have succeeded because they have married good content with a forward-thinking approach to viewing habits and appetites,”

And before concluding, he returned to the virtues of on-demand, concluding, “We no longer live in a world of appointment viewing. So the water cooler has gone virtual, because the discussion is now online. And it’s a sophisticated, no-spoilers generation’ and because of that we need never be alone with our Breaking Bad habit or our crazy obsession with Dexter.

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“And stories are the great leveller – capable of crossing borders to unite audiences. And when there is so much conflict in our world as countries go to war, with all that pulls us apart – it is culture that unites us.”