In this fifth episode, screenwriter Jill Golick and digital strategist Annelise Larson explore the concept of fandom and how to write scripts that inspire & invite these superfans into your storyworld. The homework this week is to walk in the shoes of fandom and for listeners to find existing fan influencers, conversations and communities that align closely with their own work.
Mentioned in this episode:
Sonic the Hedgehog fans
Veronica Mars fans
Harry Potter fans
Masked Singer fans
Iyengar Yoga fans
And for another perspective, read this article: Superfans: A Love Story
Find more about Jill at http://jillgolick.com/
And more about Annelise at https://veria.ca/
Or reach us both at [email protected]
Please rate, share, like, follow & subscribe and send us your thoughts & questions about STORY+AUDIENCE to be addressed in our final episode of the season!
Jill Golick: 0:03
Welcome to STORY+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. In today's episode, we really want to take a deep dive into fandom and how you can use that sort of STORY+AUDIENCE approach to find those true fans.
Jill Golick: 0:42
Well Annelise, do you belong to any fandoms?
Annelise Larson: 0:45
Oh, so many, especially in the sci fi fantasy space, but also literary. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which was a web series. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Firefly. So many.
Jill Golick: 1:00
I mean, I would say the only fandom that I have been a consistent member of for a long time is the Harry Potter fandom, and I'm very into that world. But I guess you know, if I had been when I was a kid, if there had been such thing as fandoms I would have been into Narnia, a lot of the Vonnegut novels. Is there, can there be a fandom around yoga because I'm definitely an Iyengar yoga fan. Like an evangelist and member of many online Iyengar yoga communities. It's kind of one of the only brands I'll kind of align myself with besides Harry Potter.
Annelise Larson: 1:42
I think there are fandoms, whether they're overtly called fandoms, around all kinds of things with big feelings. So definitely there's fandoms around creative properties. But I don't see why Iyengar couldn't be the source of a fandom. We're seeing, like around Dungeons and Dragons. There's a lot of fandoms around just that game, and we're certainly seeing a lot of big feelings around political activism in young people when it comes to climate change and social justice causes. So I think if we look at fandoms in that context, it goes beyond creative work. But there was a really interesting example quite recently, of a fandom of a creative property. So there's this movie around the Sonic the Hedgehog video game. And when they originally did test audiences with it, the fans of Sonic were just appalled with how this character was being rendered on the screen. And so the backlash was so strong that it totally freaked out the studio and they actually went back and changed the animation of that character so that it was more aligned with the actual beloved character from the video games. And there was an article that I saw that was disparaging of fandom, that there needed to be artistic freedom. But the reality was when this thing opened and the fans felt seen and heard and that they've had record breaking box office. So I think there is always this feeling of like, do I bow to the fandom? What do you think about that?
Jill Golick: 3:20
Well, you know, it reminds me of another fandom that I used to belong to that I no longer am a member of. That's the Veronica Mars fandom. I love that series. When they did their Kickstarter for the movie I was one of the very first investors, and and then the new series came out and I was super excited. And then in the last episode, spoiler alert and I'm advising you if you're a Veronica Mars fan, to not watch the new TV series. The spoiler is this that they killed off a very beloved character in the last five minutes of the show. And I remember reading Rob Thomas talking about this, and he's the showrunner and creator. And he was saying, "I knew that some of the fans would be upset, but I needed to go places dramatically without this character." And I thought, "BYE!" So as a writer, I completely understand the instinct to say I want to control the thing I'm creating. But as a fan, I'm like don't destroy that in the process. Once you've started telling the story and I'm the audience for it, we now share it.
Annelise Larson: 4:37
Yeah, if you've done your job right, there's definitely a feeling of ownership in your audience. When you're able to create a fandom, it does become collectively very, very powerful, and so you risk losing it all if you betray them.
Jill Golick: 4:53
This is the whole STORY+AUDIENCE thesis is that you have to keep the audience central to your thinking at every stage of creating and launching, and producing and promoting. The audience is your closest partner, and you can't do stuff that you know it's gonna piss them off. You have to think about them. One of the marks I think of a really big fan is that they want to watch your show over and over and over again. And that was certainly true with Game of Thrones. And yet, as a former fan of that property, I kind of wonder if it has any legs anymore, whether there's any value to those eight seasons, whether anyone is rewatching them anymore.
Annelise Larson: 5:37
Yeah, with How I Met Your Mother, the way that that series ended, I was in and I was in, I was in and then the mother finally came along. So I said,. "OK. Finally. I put all this time. We're going to get the payoff.": And then it ended as it did, and it was just like, "Uh." It absolutely has colored every I don't want to go back and watch that again.
Jill Golick: 5:55
Whereas I would go back in a minute and watch Mr Robot, the full five seasons of Mr Robot again. I know I've watched The Wire many times.
Annelise Larson: 6:04
I think we have to remember that the word fan is short for fanatic. It is an insatiable group of people. You've spurred in them a hunger for this story, for these characters, for this world where they just want everything you can give and then some. There is also this language thing about having this name for a fandom. If they have a way of self declaring themselves through a very specialized word, like what's, what is it for Harry Potter?
Jill Golick: 6:35
Potterheads, I guess.
Annelise Larson: 6:37
Well, and we talked about the Nerdfighters who were the fans of the Vlogbrothers. It takes a certain kind of story to be able to do that. You know, you really have to figure out how to work within the frame of that devotion.
Jill Golick: 6:51
But I think we should kind of define what a fandom is and how that differs from just normal people who watch your show and go on with their lives.
Annelise Larson: 7:02
There's a writer that I've been lucky enough to have some great conversations with, Brent Friedman, who's done a lot of writing for the Star Wars franchise, especially in their animated series. And he had this great phrase, "a storyworld worthy of devotion," that really defines the stories around which fandoms grow. And I think the desire to know everything, to have all the details down pat, to feed that hunger. These are the people that are gonna part from their money to buy the merchandise. They're gonna buy the T shirt, they're gonna buy the DVDs with the extras.
Jill Golick: 7:44
They imagine themselves living there. They pride themselves on knowing obscure details about the story universe. They'll wear the wardrobe or go out for Halloween, dressed as a character or not even Halloween. They'll dress up any time as a character from that world.
Annelise Larson: 8:03
There's fan fiction where fans are writing stories about characters that they wanted, maybe to see get together that hadn't in the canon.
Jill Golick: 8:12
Well not all fan fiction is about shipping, you know. It could be about anything, really.
Annelise Larson: 8:18
You just used a word "shipping." Which is about wanting to see characters in a relation-SHIP. If you're not part of a fandom or the fan fiction community, you probably wouldn't know what shipping was.
Jill Golick: 8:29
You know that fantasy worlds that scifi worlds are the ones than are most apt to have fandoms develop around them. Could it be any kind of a property? Could it be a doc series or a podcast, a reality series? Could it build up around those things?
Annelise Larson: 8:47
It's about these big feelings, so yeah, scifi fantasy, for sure. But I think often when we see new points of view, even if it's a more conventional story. But it could be, you know, through a specific cultural lens that we haven't seen before or an LGBTQ take on a story. Those kinds of voices get really exciting, and there are definitely fandoms that have big feelings about seeing their lives represented on the screen. That gets them really excited. So I think that can really inspire that kind of devotion we're talking about.
Jill Golick: 9:21
Yeah, so that in those cases, sometimes the fandom congregates around an individual rather than the entertainment property. And I was thinking about the YouTubers. YouTubers have really engaged fandoms often because there is so much personal sharing of their lives, so much emotion expressed. Even, you know, people who are doing video game play throughs can have incredibly engaged fandoms.
Annelise Larson: 9:47
It becomes, you know, about that personality. Like I think we talked about last week the power and the intimacy and the connection, emotional connection you feel to someone if you're following their vlog in that way. You feel that you really have an insider knowledge of their life and their world. They did a study or the, you know, sort of polled young people as to who they would rank as celebrities. Of the top 25, 20 or something of them were all YouTubers.
Jill Golick: 10:12
A lot of times there isn't a deep level of entertainment or story there. It's just the fact that you're getting to know someone really well.
Annelise Larson: 10:23
Yeah, and I think another trait of a fandom is if people have big feelings about these stories or characters or people, they have found others who also share those big feelings. So in the work that I'm often doing when I'm looking at sort of building these audience development strategies, I'm looking for three kind of elements in terms of identifying where to start building audience, where to start engaging and finding them. And it's it's influencers, so people who are already kind of leaders within those fandoms. The communities that have formed, which could be groups on Facebook or a subreddit. And then the conversations could be represented by specific kinds of hashtags and other other kinds of jargon that would be part of that tribe, that group. I think it's really important to understand that when people love things, or have big feelings about things they've definitely sought out and found other people online who share those as well. And that actually could become a great way to start developing a strategy and learning about your potential audience.
Jill Golick: 11:26
Okay, so I'm just thinking about Iyengar yoga. We definitely have influencers. We have famous teachers from all over the world. We have many groups on Facebook and probably lots of other places as well. We certainly have the Iyenger yoga hashtag, we have rope wall, and there are conversations going on. So I think we're fandom. And I happen to know like we're super avid group of people. We're the people who when people say, "Oh, you do yoga." We say, "I do Iyengar yoga. You know, don't put me in that box with all those other yoga people."
Annelise Larson: 12:06
Well, I was also thinking of an example. I was consulting on a project that was like a romantic comedy that took place sort of in the wrestling world. And they actually had cast wrestlers that have been part of because it was WWF in the day and is now WWE. These filmmakers, they weren't wrestling fans. Even though they had cast these people who were a big part of that, you know the fandom around pro wrestling, they weren't following the audience. They weren't paying attention to where where they were. And the main character, like the female protagonist, was a female wrestler, and it was her high school boyfriend. It was at a high school reunion. They were reconnecting, and the tensions and hilarity ensued. When I started digging into this, I said, "Well, you need to get someone from that fandom on your team." That's the shortcut. And so one of the things they did was to get someone who was already live tweeting all of the wrestling matches for fun, who started doing it under the brand of film and was just thrilled. But he knew all of the language and the hashtags and everything that was part of it. But it definitely was different platforms and they would expect, like there were huge subreddits about wrestling and specifically women in wrestling, and there was a big controversy happening at the time. Even if your story doesn't have a fandom yet, understanding where there are related fandoms can teach you a lot about an approach to take when you're trying to develop and grow an audience.
Jill Golick: 13:29
There's another element of fandoms that we didn't mention, and that's Wikis. I don't know if there's Iyengar yoga wiki, I must say. But if there isn't, maybe I'll start one.
Annelise Larson: 13:39
You'll have to come up with a fandom name if there isn't one already. What a great experiment that would be.
Jill Golick: 13:42
As a side note, I wrote an article about Iyengar yoga, and I've never had anything spread quite so quickly as that did. Two hours later, three hours later, around the world, it was just crazy. So, yes, that must be a fandom. It hadn't occurred to me before, but it must be. And that's another thing about fandoms is that they share the content that's of value to them. Which is why we want a fandom around our property,
Annelise Larson: 14:11
Having that sort of framework in mindset, as a writer how would you start to craft a story that would have the potential of that kind of fandom? That kind of devotion.
Jill Golick: 14:24
I've been looking at this for a long time. I think there are there are a few things that I see. Certainly you can build a fandom in a community of an underserved audience, an audience that hasn't had its stories told. That's why so many of the early LGBTQ web series had massive fandoms because they were catering to an audience that hadn't seen themselves on the screen. So that's that's a really good one, underserved audiences. But beyond that, like when I look at entertainment properties that I think the model really is Harry Potter. That is an incredibly detailed world. It's got many different locations. Each location has its own cast of characters, its own wardrobe, its own foods, its own past and present and future. Even because JK Rowling has created these incredible histories and interconnections between characters. There's also a great pattern to the storytelling. And I think those are are really great for audiences. The Narnia books did that to where they would start in the real world, and the characters would somehow get to Narnia. So I think some of those patterns that we see in children's books actually work well for fandoms.
Annelise Larson: 15:40
I think that those details are really important. But even those details on their own aren't enough. At the end of the day it all boils down to emotional connections. So obviously, there need to be things for people to care about through the power of narrative, strong narrative and amazing characters that you just wanna learn more about. Like you only get a little bit of a character and so creating an intriguing enough character that I want, I want to know more.
Jill Golick: 16:06
I mean, I think the intrigue is what keeps you there for the episode. But it's the emotional connection and seeing that character's flaws and struggles and feeling that somehow it connects to you personally. Whenever I would teach about Harry Potter in university classes, the first thing students would always say is we grew up with him. There was a connection because they saw him grow up with them at the same time. So they felt that connection and he had all the teenage struggles that they could understand. It's those big emotions that we talked about right from the beginning are part of what build that fan base.
Annelise Larson: 16:44
Yeah, and a sense of authenticity, right? Like we keep on talking about this, the authenticity, the specificity, all of those things are so important for that emotional connection. You need people to care a lot.
Jill Golick: 16:56
Well, there was that series called bonding on Netflix, which was about the kink community, which could have been the massive hit because it did have that hook into an underserved community, an underserved audience. But the kink community did not relate. They didn't find it authentic, and therefore they rejected it
Annelise Larson: 17:18
It was more than it was inauthentic. They felt that it was dangerous, that it was giving misinformation that could lead to people getting hurt.
Jill Golick: 17:25
Right, and they didn't feel seen by it. So inauthenticity will push audiences away. I know we're at homework, but I want to go back and talk about one other thing. And that is like we came in and we talked about what happens if you kind of go against your fan base. And we talked about Veronica Mars. We talked about Game of Thrones and those situations where people have sort of...
Annelise Larson: 17:49
Betrayed the fandom.
Jill Golick: 17:50
Betrayed the fans! That's right, betrayed the fan base and lost them. But I wanted to ask if there's a save.. Are there instances where the fan base turned on the creators and how did they win them back? I was actually thinking about StarKid, around Harry Potter, A Very Potter Musical. And it was this YouTube musical about the Harry Potter world. The Harry Potter copyright owners made them take it down. didn't they?
Annelise Larson: 18:17
They tried. But the reality was that the negative backlash that was terrible and so the best thing they could do would be to open and embrace those fans virtually as much as they could and allow that to happen.
Jill Golick: 18:28
So they turned it around and they actually gave them. I mean, I have to look up the story, but I remember that that they said, OK, you can do it after all. As that fandom grew and the property became were valuable, they actually opened up, didn't try to defend their copyright interests against their own fans.
Annelise Larson: 18:49
And that happened with Star Wars as well. There's definitely ways to turn it around. I think we saw it with the Sonic movie is, well, right. Like there was this big backlash and luckily it was early enough in the process. I think if you show that you're listening, that's the thing. Like if the fans are willing to chime up with their opinion, even if it's a negative opinion just to be open to a conversation and to demonstrate that you're listening and responding. Even if you're not changing course with your creative work. But at least acknowledge that you're hearing them. I think that can go a huge way. It's about respecting the fans and the love that they're giving you.
Jill Golick: 19:26
So it's like being a good partner in a marriage. You listen. You acknowledge your mistakes, you offer to do better. You promise to do better.
Annelise Larson: 19:36
Yeah, take out the garbage.
Jill Golick: 19:38
You recognize that you're part of a partnership and that I think that's really what being a creator with a fandom is.
Annelise Larson: 19:47
Yeah, that has immense value. Like don't see it as a negative or see it that it is limiting. Like try to find the way to work with your fans, to take you both to higher and better places. Do things that you hadn't thought of before. Like, yes, it started as a Harry Potter fandom, the StarKids, but they're doing all kinds of crazy stories now.
Jill Golick: 20:09
Lots of advantages to having a fandom and being part of one, too. I mean, because it does. It adds value to that property. If you extend your experience you don't want to leave that world. Now you can go online and talk to other people about it, hear other people's theories.
Annelise Larson: 20:25
Maybe the best thing next step would be to actually turn to the homework.
Jill Golick: 20:29
Yes. Okay, let's talk about homework.
Annelise Larson: 20:32
Talk about it as Fandom 101. I mean, obviously, you and I have been able to very quickly identify fandoms that we belong to already. I guess we would challenge our listeners to do the same. Is there a particular story entertainment property that you are a fan of already? Does it align in any way with the story that you're wanting to tell, the world that you're wanting to create? And if so, then do you already know where it exists online? What is its name? We realize that that is quite important. What are its hashtags? Who are the leaders on the ground? The influencers for that fandom. Where's the wiki? Where are they on fanfiction.net or DeviantArt?
Jill Golick: 21:15
So your job for your homework is to get more deeply involved in any fandom that you already subscribe to or find fandom and join it.
Annelise Larson: 21:28
You don't have to participate. But join those forums. Join the Wiki, the Facebook group. Figure out what are the platforms that they are on? Not necessarily Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Maybe it is on Reddit. Maybe it's on TikTok. Maybe it's on Twitch. And just do what Jill's been doing. Lurking. Lurking and learn. Pay attention. What do they like? Who are they? What is it about this particular story world that has earned that devotion, that emotional connection? And can you find resonance, I would say, in your own work and what you're planning for the story that you're writing,
Jill Golick: 22:06
Really, you know, you could be your own research subject. And if you are deeply engaged with something, think about why. What connects you to it? What do you look up after the episode? Who are you reading, whose comments? Whose analysis and so on?
Annelise Larson: 22:26
I'm doing that right now with Picard, the new Star Trek series. It's so good, and I'm totally like just going through everything I can find online. Once the episode's done, I don't want it to end. I want to have some continuation of that so my husband and I will talk our ears off with each other and then I'll go online and try to figure out what other people are saying. What they see saw that I missed.
Jill Golick: 22:49
All right, so that's really interesting, because it's about extending the experience. And we've been watching a lot of Masked Singer in my house and kind of fangirling over that, too. So we'll go to YouTube afterwards and watch performances again and theorize about who's behind the different masks. You know, that's another really potent thing. Who is that? What's gonna happen, you know, and that is definitely something that connects people to a property.
Annelise Larson: 23:18
Going back to that homework, just encouraging everyone to engage in fandom. Take in and learn and research and absorb as much as you can. And hopefully that will help you recognize the benefit of creating this kind of audience relationship around your story. So that's I think it for this episode. Please follow us, subscribe, rate, share wherever you're listening to this podcast.
Jill Golick: 23:45
And if you want to know more about Annelise check her out at veria.ca
Annelise Larson: 23:55
And you can check Jill out at JillGolick.com.
Jill Golick: 24:05
Please send us any thoughts, comments, questions to storyplusaudience at gmail.com. I'm Jill Golick.
Annelise Larson: 24:15
And I'm Annelise Larson. Thanks so much for listening. Now go listen to your audience.
Jill Golick: 24:22
And their fandoms.
Annelise Larson: 24:23