STORY + AUDIENCE with Jill Golick & Annelise Larson

Episode 101: Why STORY+AUDIENCE

April 13, 2020 Jill Golick & Annelise Larson Season 1 Episode 1
STORY + AUDIENCE with Jill Golick & Annelise Larson
Episode 101: Why STORY+AUDIENCE
Show Notes Transcript

In this first episode of Season 1, screenwriter Jill Golick and strategist Annelise Larson discuss the inspiration for this series, which episodes they are each looking forward to and why they believe the STORY+AUDIENCE combo is key for successful business models in media storytelling. And Jill and the listeners get their first homework assignment from Annelise in how to apply the STORY+AUDIENCE approach to their current set of projects.

Examples mentioned in this episode:
Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Game of Thrones Season 8

Find more about Jill at
And more about Annelise at

Or reach us both at

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Jill Golick:   0:03
Welcome to STORY plus AUDIENCE, a podcast about creating stories that connect deeply with audiences

Annelise Larson:   0:15
And using that connection to build a long term career as a storyteller.

Jill Golick:   0:20
I'm Jill Golick. I'm a screenwriter and digital creator.

Annelise Larson:   0:24
I'm Annelise Larson. I work in digital marketing and strategy for media.

Jill Golick:   0:29
And Annelise. We're not alone here, are we? There's someone else with us to our audience. The listeners. Who are we trying to reach with this podcast?

Annelise Larson:   0:41
Well, this is a podcast for storytellers, especially in media like TV, film, web series and all the myriad of ways that stories could be told these days and the people who work with and support these stories and storytellers, from production and post production to distribution to the people in funding and policy. Basically, if you care deeply about having our stories told and reaching a global audience, this podcast is for you.

Jill Golick:   1:12
And for you storytellers, the writers out there we will have in every episode actionable items, techniques that you can apply it to your writing right now, and so we're hoping to be useful to you in that way. So, Annelise, why are we doing this again?

Annelise Larson:   1:30
Well, from my perspective. I'm really passionate about trying to help creative people, storytellers and the rest to find a way to have a more sustainable creative life, a bigger picture of where there careers can take them. And I think that there is. There's a lot of really huge opportunities in the digital space that allow us to do that. And I think when we're when we're looking at the Canadian ecosystem in particular that we really need sort of a story plus audience revolution in the way that we make and invest in media. I think we have a real opportunity to shift policy on and funding and other kinds of support that the odds that the government and our creative community invest in and where they put their effort. You know, we all have limited hours in the day, and I think the smarter that we can be about the choices that we make about our creative work, the better and more sustainable our careers can be as creatives, and I think that the missing piece we have so many good storytellers in our country. But the missing piece often is that audience piece. So I'm hoping the more that we can twin them and make them work together, the better we can all be. I think there's lots of room for all of us and a whole bunch of different perspectives on story. Ah, that comes from Canada because we are such a, you know, a mosaic of culture.

Jill Golick:   3:19
Yeah, I agree. I feel like I'm very optimistic about this country's future in storytelling, but I do think this is really very important piece to add. So you know, I mean, I come to this sort of for three reasons. I would say the first is that I just think when you know your audience, you're better storyteller and  I go back to the idea of reading a story to your kids in bed at night. You put your arm around them and you cuddle up and they say, "do the funny voice. Skip this, the kissing part to do the scary part" again and again. And you're you know your audience so well. And you've got that feedback that  you're a better storyteller for it. And also there was a incredible pleasure in getting that feedback and knowing the audience and feeling their satisfaction from the experience. Then this. The second reason for me is that audiences have become so powerful, especially because of the Internet, where they really have this voice that could be heard. And  if they love your show, they're sharing it and spreading it the word and they're better than any PR team and they can even finance you. They can send letters to the to the broadcaster to get your next season picked up. Or, of course, they can destroy hate what you're doing. But you know, they're powerful and opinionated and you want them to be your partner because they're so powerful now.  I think the third thing is in this country we're always looking. When it comes to financing a production, we're looking for some guarantees that it will get watched and and find a market. And in one of the ways this is traditionally done is by putting stars into shows, and we don't have a lot of stars. But the reason we wanted a star because we know that they'll bring in audience with them. So I'm always interested in other ways of bringing audience to a show, figuring out what those are so that you know, somebody will give me that big, huge whack of cash to make by production. So that's kind of what I'm hoping to get out of it. And I know that every time you and I have a conversation, I learned a tremendous amount, and I I really feel like I'm a better writer for it. So I'm hoping to learn a lot. 

Annelise Larson:   6:18
Me, too. I always like learning. And I think being able to have conversations with you about your process as a writer, I think will just make me better at the kind of teaching, mentorship and strategy that I do anyway. And I really feel like you. But, you know, the audiences is so powerful these days that in them lies the real opportunity because we have an abundance. We're so lucky to live in this time of such great creative abundance with a 1,000,000 ways to find stories, to watch stories, to be entertained, that the only thing that is in limited supply is each person's individual, you know, amount of time, how they're gonna curate, curate the things that they watch. And so I think the better that we can have that connection, the better that we can acknowledge how powerful they are and use that to inform some of the strategic choices that we make that overall, just collectively, we're all gonna do better. And I think that in Canada we have such an amazing abundance of different perspectives. We encourage people to bring their lived their individual lived experience and culture to the stories that they tell. And there's such a hunger for that these days that we want to see something that's different. That's not part of the monoculture that we've, you know, enjoy it in the past. Still space for that. Obviously superhero movies. They're doing really well these days. But what's really exciting? I mean, my god, look at Parasite. It just cleaned up at the Oscars because it brought a very unique and distinct voice and story to the screen that was incredibly exciting to a lot of people. So, yes, niche does not necessarily mean limited. It just means fresh and unique.

Jill Golick:   8:19
And that's very much authority, an audience driven thing. You know, they're driving this this more, driving us away from the monoculture and into a world where we're seeing we're seeing more choice and more diversity. And I guess that's kind of the final beat of this. Is that when I started my career, television was large. What was it was an advertising business. That was the revenue for the industry was selling ads, and our jobs writers was kind of keep audiences in their seats. During those ads, we were serving theat advertiser. And today, with with the rise of streaming service is and kind of cable subscription channels, the audience is paying their own way. And that's who were serving. And so, you know, we have to reorient ourselves to the audience and understanding them and change our writing techniques to do that. 

Annelise Larson:   9:28
Okay, so we've talked in general terms about what what our hopes are, but I think you know, we need to make a case for ourselves. So I think we should each bringing forward a couple of examples. Where have you seen this STORY+AUDIENCE combo work? Why don't you start?

Jill Golick:   9:45
Well, I just want to mention Fleabag to start with. I guess late last year took home a whole whack of Emmys, which was, it's interesting because, of course, Fleabag is, it's a small show. It's not huge but a jet It it didn't get a huge, you know, tremendous amount of promotion. It's about a woman who is definitely an anti hero, and and it's quite sexual and, you know, little surprising choice to be such a critical favorite night. I think one of the reasons that this show is so successful is because of how well its creator and star knows her audience, and this comes from kind of working the material in front of live audiences at the fringe festivals, So it's difficult material. But she performed it so often in front of audiences that she knew where those connections were. And and I would argue that knowing her audience that well, is what led to its success and also gave producers and broadcasters the confidence to put a production like this into into production to green light at we can't all work or material in front of fringe festival audiences are particularly can't because I am not an actor by any means, but I think it just you know, it points out how important and how valuable knowing your audience can be.

Annelise Larson:   11:30
Yeah, absolutely. Well, one of my favorite examples that I that I use all the time is actually from the web series world. This example is about six years old. So you know, the landscape for web series is quite different today, but I think it has to do with more episode length. So it's a very distinct kind of storytelling with these short episodes. And what was really interesting about the example that I want to use is it it brought to audiences together to really create a phenomenon. So Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern day vlog, with the locked camera shot forcheap for production,  retelling of Pride and Prejudice. But it's all done from Elizabeth Bennett's point of view. Primarily, she's in control of narrative. And what was really interesting to me is, obviously this is a very beloved story. Pride and Prejudice has been retold a million times, if you say did some key word research about all of Jane Austen's novels and keyword research lets you know what people are searching for. Pride and Prejudice comes out head and shoulders above every other Austen novel. So you're already got the built in audience of of Austen fans coming to the table. They're going to, once they learn about it, they're going to at least check it out, out of curiosity sake, because they love it. We love our Mr Darcy. And it really made it present, modern day, as opposed to this Edwardian, kind of drama of its time.  So that was one audience. The other audience came because one of the people that funded it, in fact, I think he was the first chunk of money in is one of the Green brothers, Hank Green. He and his brother have a massive following through YouTube and other channels of primarily young women called the Nerd Fighters. The Nerd Fighters also came to it, and many of them didn't know about Jane Austen. They didn't know Pride and Prejudice. But they love these characters because the characters are so strong and eternal in many ways. And through this modern lens, it became new and exciting I mean, this story rolled out practically in real time. Over a year, they dropped two webisodes a week. They had extended stories that were happening because the characters all had social media presence, where they would engage with each other, but also with the audience in the story world that really engaged in deepened the connection with the audience by really inviting them to become part of the story world, to treat it as reality. At the very end of it, they launched a crowdfunding campaign and expected to raise, I think, $40,000 they were trying to raise. But it ended up because people just have loved this journey that they've been taken on, they ended up raising over $400,000 American. So it's exciting.

Jill Golick:   14:50
But, you know, I mean, I get the point here is that they really understood that audience really well, and I want a contrast that with a big, big old media,  it's not that old, so I want to talk about season eight of Game of Thrones. So here's series, a mega series. It's on HBO. It's got a massive budget. And it's got this incredibly large audience that just that watches and re watches every episode and is in the forums theorizing and guessing what's gonna happen. Who's gonna end up on the  throne. Their theories are so elaborate, and they have read every frame of every season in such detail. And along comes Season eight. The showrunners, who are called Benioff and Weiss. They wanted to, I assume what they wanted to do was surprise the audience. They wanted to give the audience the ending that they weren't expecting. And so they didn't pay off all that work that the audience had done, kind of figuring out what was gonna happen and investigating legends and, you know, tying disparate pieces of story together and instead sort of changed the direction completely. And the audience was pissed. It was so angry. I mean, there were huge petitions to have the season eight remade. They were out to destroy the showrunners. They just totally turned on them and, like, I wonder what's gonna happen to them. Do you think the audience is going to carry that grudge to the next project?

Annelise Larson:   16:53
When you're playing in that genre space, especially around fantasy and sci fi, people have very strong feelings about it, which can be to your benefit but also to your demise. So I think it will be a while before they may want to be trusted. Or maybe don't want to deal with those fans. So maybe their future lies in another genre or in, you know, in a world that they create from nothing right that they create, not based on, work that other people have made in the past and that people are already really passionate about.

Jill Golick:   17:38
But, you know, I think you know, from writers points of view. They worry that audiences have have become co creators with them and really, they, we would like to be the creators and the writers and the storytellers and them to be the audience. But I think you have to pay attention to how the audience is consuming the story and all that effort that went into understanding that storyworld should pay off like it should. You should be building towards something, so there's that logical ending for audiences. But you know, when we used to be in the business of making television for ad supported channels, the job was to create a story engine that kept churning out story forever and ever and ever. And you didn't really think about how it was gonna end. But I think today it's really important for writers to know from the beginning how they're gonna end their shows, especially if they're going on to these platforms, that are driven by audiences rather than by advertisers. So it's my number one rule is to know the ending. All right. I think we have another you have another example.

Annelise Larson:   19:03
Yeah, again, smaller and outside of the episodic world, it's a film that was crowdfunded and privately funded by a group of investors in the States. It is about real vampires. So not a sparkly kind from Twilight. There are people in our world who identify as vampires, and there's a whole culture around that. And the premise of this particular film is that the vampires have set up a church and have applied and received charitable status from the IRS for all those tax benefits, and then they get audited. And it's actually a romantic comedy with a love story between the IRS agent and the head priestess, I guess, of the vampire church. So it's funny and, genre based, you know, it touches on that kind of fantasy genre, though it is based in reality, there's not magic involved. And there's a huge appetite within that community to have, to see authentic representation of their lifestyle and their culture. This is in a very different kind of way. Maybe that people might define and expect that to happen. But they've done this incredible. Last summer, they did this incredible road tour, I think, called the Joyful Vampire Tour where they went to, I don't know, 51 different cities across the States and toured. It wasn't just screenings, screenings that people would show up for. It was a screening, partnered in most cases with a vampire ball where you could dress up in any kind of costume. Apparently, adults love to still dress up. We don't have enough opportunities to do so.  

Jill Golick:   21:04
Dressing up is huge in fan communities.  

Annelise Larson:   21:07
Conventions have been built around that desire. So this is a case study that is still unfolding, and they're really trying to find a model outside of what has traditionally felt was the path forward for a film, which is festival > distributor > and then you move on to the next thing. Now that's not possible anymore. The distribution system for film in Canada and the States, anywhere in the world is struggling a lot because people don't necessarily want to leave their houses anymore because we've got a million things that we can entertain ourselves with at home. So you really have to sweeten the pot and give something extra. And through an understanding of their audience, they were able to give them a show, a show and a show that encouraged them. It wasn't really something that they could recreate in their own homes. They had to go out. They had to participate in this community. They had a lot of success, especially in smaller centers, because in bigger centers say, like New Orleans, actually huge vampire scene out there. Lots of competition for that audience. But in smaller centers, not so much. So they got great turnouts, actually, in small centers. And this is all intelligence and things much like Phoebe's stand up routine where you're actually engaging with your audience in the real world to learn what it is they want. What is it they like. What it is they respond to. So I'm really curious to see how this story continues to roll out on what happens with it.

Jill Golick:   22:52
You know, there's this other element that occurs to me when you're talking about that and that is audience participation, you know, I mean old media, mass media said you the audience should lie there on the couch eating potato chips and drooling. We'll do the rest. And like with Game of Thrones even, you're guessing, you're guessing, you're participating by trying to figure it out. And you're going to the Bite Me movie and get dressed up and be part of the ball, right? So I think that's something like where you're, when we talk about engaging fans. It's really giving them something to do, to participate and be part of this world that they've fallen in love with. 

Annelise Larson:   23:37
The note that you made before about you know how writers want to be the sole author. They don't want to necessarily invite the audience into co-create with them. The reality is the audience is very powerful, and they can do that with or without you. So it's better if you can show up. I mean, it even happened in Star Wars back in the day. There were  early fan films, frame by frame, faithful recreations, say, with Lego recreation of the movies by fans that, you know, um, Lucas and company tried to shut down and then realize that eventually just had to had to let go, And that was even before the Internet really had taken off

Jill Golick:   24:21
In terms of engaging the audience. You know what? The thing I'm writing now, as I read through it, I think to myself, Where is the audience? What are they thinking? What do they know? What are they trying to figure out? Have I given them enough clues to get to the thing that I want them to know. Now, after this episode is over, what are they going to talk about with their friends? How are they going to speculate about this show? Because I want them to have something to think about. And I want to kind of prepare that user path through the show.  

Jill Golick:   25:01
So I think this is going pretty well so far. I'm enjoying talking to you Annelise. Looking ahead, I know we've kind of planned seven more episodes of STORY + AUDIENCE coming up, which will be our first season. And I thought we could talk just a little bit about what we're excited to get to next. And one of the things that really has me excited is, episode five when we'll be talking a lot about fan culture and, uh, you know, it's a topic I love. I think when we understand how fans interact with the property and what elements really engage them, I think we can begin to put those kinds of elements into the stories we create and the storyworlds we create so that when the fans arrive, they have all the materials they want to play with.

Annelise Larson:   26:01
Yeah, I love thinking and talking and learning about fandoms. I think you know, a lot of what we just talked about in terms of our examples is a lot about the power for good and for bad,  of fandoms. And they are inevitable if you're doing your job right. So I'm eager to dig into that one, too. I'm also really looking forward to our sixth episode where we're going to discuss how to use this kind of approach of STORY+AUDIENCE to get found. The word discoveryability has been so huge in the Canadian arts and culture sector for the last few years that it is really being presented as this kind of magic bullet to solve the problem of connecting story to audience or creative work to audience. Definitely important. But I think I really would like to break that down a lot more. There's so much more to it than just how to satisfy the algorithms of the search engines, which is really how it's framed. I think the more you understand your audience, and the discoverers in this discoverability model the better, because you need to make that work for them.

Jill Golick:   27:36
One of the things that bothers me about the whole concept of discoverability is that it puts the work on the audience to discover you. And I think in this podcast what we're trying to do is take the opposite approach and say, we can go out and find our audience and know where they are and begin to even build those connections with them even before the content comes out  and bring it to them rather than forcing them to go look for us. And then the other episode, I thought I would mention this episode 104. Where will be talking about you as a creator, how you create a version of yourself to use in the social media, online in interacting with your audience. How you create that.

Annelise Larson:   28:27
I think, you need to frame it as almost a performance. You have this performance of your life. You don't have to give it all away online, for it to be really an effective tool. It's just a tool for you as a creative to connect with your audience. It's always been a part of the internet to create connections between people. That's where it started. So, how we can leverage that again by being really strategic and about really thinking about who is the audience that we want to attract and engage to this performance that we're making online. It's gonna be fun. I'm looking forward to it.

Jill Golick:   29:10
See, I already feel you know, a sense of safety. It'll be it'll be my social media therapy episode. So I've got this whole story, an audience thing, kind of beginning to percolate around in my head right now. And I got a bunch of a bunch of different projects on the go at the moment. So how can I take what we're talking about now? And what's the first step I could take in my own work for the rest of this afternoon, for example?

Annelise Larson:   29:52
Sure. Well, here's some homework for you and for our listeners. I think a good place to start is to take a look at all those stories. All those projects that you've got right now on the go and go from a place of the gut to start with. We're gonna back this with some more strategic thinking later on. But just as you're looking at the stories that you have in front of you at the moment, which do you think will generate the strongest feeling in an audience? No. Really digging down. We've given some pretty good examples of strong feeling that audiences had for story. So thinking about those examples maybe that might help you frame your own work in terms of which would generate those strong feelings and connection and then start to try to visualize who those people are. Who are those people that are gonna feel those feelings? And what about your story are they going to care about the most? And I think that's a good jumping off point for a lot of the other things that we'll talk about it over the next seven episodes.

Jill Golick:   31:04
Okay, I have my work cut out for me now. 

Annelise Larson:   31:09
I think it's a good place to start. Let's sort of wrap this up today. Thank you so much everyone for listening. If you found it helpful, please take a moment to rate, subscribe and share on whichever platform you're listening to us on.

Jill Golick:   31:29
And if you want to reach Annelise or know more about her, check out 

Annelise Larson:   31:39
And you can learn more about Jill and check her out at 

Jill Golick:   31:51
And you can reach us both at story plus audience at gmail dot com. And that plus is spelled out. P.L.U.S.  

Jill Golick:   32:01
I'm Jill Golick.

Annelise Larson:   32:02
And I'm Annelise Larson. Again, hanks for listening. Now go listen to your audience.