Anna Sussman, Julia DeWitt
Anna Sussman, Julia DeWitt
3. Course Introduction
So after you have your idea of you running through the checklist you feeling like I got it? I'm good, which could take months or years. So it's just a few days, depending on you. Um then you need to write a pitch. Um, and this is either because you wantto pitch it to an outlet, a publishing outlet or a broadcaster podcasts outlet. Ah, and even if you don't, even if you're just making the story for yourself, you should write a pitch for yourself. But there's gonna be a document that you come back to again and again when you lose the plot when you're like what, um, totally lost, like where's. My story going what's it about you have this document that you wrote, um and it's a bit of a scary process because to write the pitch because you sit down in front of a blank page, which is nobody's idea of a good time. Um, but you, uh, you write a pitch and this there's kind of ah, a math to this it's pretty easy. I'm so we're gonna talk about, you know, four basic elements of, um, of a good pitch.
Um, these are they, um, first you want to start with a compellingly it's like you know that this is this is the hook this is the place where you going really grab somebody's attention on dh this isn't this is like a little bit where you can figure out either like what the twist or the crux of it is going to be or even with um like what's you know what's gonna hold what's gonna hold interest um you also want a unique angle um what separates your story from other stories? Right? So this is tricky because like in the age of information and and the internet there's not a story out there that somebody hasn't told already sadly, which is the real bummer raft and you get really excited about your story and then you go online and you realize someone already told this story um devastating but it's okay, because you're gonna tell it a different way um and this is what you're gonna tell me in the pitch here what is what is the way you're telling it that's different so people know that the taliban I came to kabul and wrecked shop and they know that it ruined lives and they know it was scary but they don't know what that was like for an adolescent boy who befriended one of those guys so that's my angle you can also a little bit think of it as like perspective who that could be your angle you're telling it like in this case, I'm telling you from any kind of different perspective um but it's just like taking a picture um taking a photograph, you're always taking the photograph from from a perspective, right? You don't just shoot it, so and that perspective tells the story other any questions on that? Yeah, I mean, I'd like to just hear from our students here is anybody right now at the point where they are ready to pitch their story, you feel like you have the story you're looking for outlets to picture too is anybody in that process right now and maybe use some help? So I'm working on telling my life story so that I can express why I do what I do on the holistic health educator and making organic products and, you know, I had my first major surgeries age three and you know, so you could approach it from so many different angles, and I don't wantto go down in the weeds with those kinds of things, but I really feel like the life that I'm creating for myself absolutely reflects where I came from, and I want to be able to tell the story in a in a way that's inspiring and doesn't sound dreary and, you know, waken help way, yeah, we actually, you know, life stories are often the spring springs this to a point that we I don't think they actually touch them is really important life stories. Our lives are full of so much, and you identified it right off the bat that you do that's when it becomes really important to figure out what you're angle is because sometimes life stories have become pretty unwieldy unless you're just trying to dio a biography, but you can like, you can cover the span of a lead, right? No, I can't cover oh, you can't, but yeah, but it does have kind of a thematic thematic thread. What the other thing I was thinking is, is that I noticed that I tell it really well sometimes, but it's live and it's like one on one or in a small group, and I tell it differently each time and that's part of the reason why I don't know what to put down on the paper or into a video or something like that. Um, so I had, uh, I was cut open hip to hip bone, first kidney problems when I was a small child, twice in the same place, and then two months after we moved to san francisco, I had my third major surgery, my spine was the bones were cut off, and they took a tumor out of my back, and then, just as I was getting into healing with that, I decided to move to mexico and find myself and I got dengue fever, and that changed my brain configuration and that's when I was like, okay, I'm never having another surgery again, and, uh, we're going to figure out howto make this, you know, maybe make something rock star out of it that's, you know, makes it all worth it. So it's really, uh, telling that you said that you seem to tell the best when you're talking to somebody else. So, like, you might think about that being the format for your video or you're you're podcaster, you do a video, I need to do some of both, and I also I'm already a writer, but what happens sometimes when I'm writing is I just start going how much of this do people really need to know? Or I drill into one part so much, and then I sort of all of a sudden fast forward, a little bit too much through an important part? Yeah, it's really there's a really hard and important questions. Um, so one trick might be too, uh, tell a bunch of different folks and record yourself each time and then listen back and see which parts for the best a lot of what we do after we interview is listened back and you know, we do four hours of interview for a twenty minute story, so you don't know what good until you have to write long talk long record it all and then and then do the editing right, then you do the hard work of pulling out um what's good and what's not and it's okay, if in the beginning your story is really long, you know, and then you're going to keep tightening and keep tightening, playing it for more and more people in showing it tomorrow, more people, um, this problem you identified of kind of taking people down to medical rabbit hole is something we experience a lot. We do first person storytelling in a lot of first person stories are about something that happened to their body and it's hard for listeners, yeah to scare people, it's scary people don't want to go there, I want to find that small amount of wrath it is compelling, but not enough that they're like, I'm starting to leave my own body. Yeah, that's, right? So I think I'm in my kind of more hard advice to you would be to take, you know, just one or two examples where you're where you're showing not telling right you're you're showing I mean, you had some really visceral language there, which I liked you know about like hipbone too hip bone and rebuilding your spot you know those air things that really get you you'd be very judicious and then and after you want to kind of show examples then just tell me this happened over and over again and it's okay to even kind of turn the audience and be like this is hard to hear, you know, like I don't wantto I'm not somebody who wants to put you in a place that's hard to be you know so many things that nice thank you thank you so much. Um when you're when you're when you're pitching your story um you also want teo uh think about who will listen yeah who's your audience so this we talked about in the check list a little bit too, right? But, um, in your pitch, this is gonna, um, it's kind of going to determine a lot of the materials that you get right if you're pitching to a niche audience here if you're pitching tio broad audience trip into older listeners or younger listeners on dh it's important to have that in your pitch so that you know what kind of material you're going after question yeah, I want to revisit that checklists I know that you you mention how important it is to know your audience in that checklist, but is that something? Is it like what comes first the chicken or the egg right? Do you like research and audience before you have your story it's like I have this fantastic story and now I gotta find an audience for it. How does that work? You can do it either way almost everything we're gonna talk about you can like tio kind of everything works in cycles you can do it sort of the exact opposite direction. So uh so sometimes, uh, like a while back, I was like, I want to do a story for the show marketplace, right, which is ah, public radio show that focus is kind of on broad interest economic news issues. Um so then I just made a list of all things were like the venn diagram overlapped of things that I'm interested in the things marketplace listeners might be interested too. And I ended up with this, you know, pitch about the high cost of prison phone calls. Um but that's because I started with the end, right? I started with who do I want to hear my piece? And it was I wanted those listeners to hear my peace but sometimes it's you know, I want to tell this story about an executioner I'm gonna start with that and then I think, well, who wants to hear that story and you could take it from there yeah, and in part of this kind of makes it like, once you find that if you find the story and you really love it, um, ends, but you kind of know if it's a gonna, like, hit a certain age, you know, demographic. Um then that helps you make a bunch of decisions about what kind of like tape you need, you know what I mean? Like, if you're talking, teo, a bunch of, um, I don't know ten year olds, maybe you need to explain to them what the korean war was we need explains everything the ten girls like, at some point, you know, you need to start explaining to younger generations like what? Historical events where that older generations already know, you know, or like some people know what a gulag is that that's central to your story? Maybe you need to outline that and some people because some people don't, you know, you need to, like, sort of think about who is going to be listening to it. There is just sort of it comes naturally with the story is you get interested that makes sense. There's also something to be said here about, um kind of risque material, right? So ah, a lot of personal story is a lot of important stories have material that's just not suitable for like a broad audience particular when you're talking about in the radio and tv is broadcasting to people's homes we have our show is on in the morning sometimes um like parents are driving their kids to school and that's something we have to be really mindful of if we have a story about sex you know we're free of a story about drugs or even a story about it surgery that gets really graphic we get people calling us and be like, hey man, you know and now I have to explain to my ten year old why someone was sliced open from hip to hip thanks so much that was a great tuesday morning so um but there's so many outlets out there right? Like there's so many outlets out there there is an outlet for every story you want to tell. Um I once had a teacher who told me don't give up on a story until you've pitched it ten times um and it's such good advice I've never not placed a story after trying to pitch it ten times it's not you know it's not always the place I wanted to land but it landed somewhere yeah can you talk a little bit more about the hook and kind of your quick elevator pitch because I feel like it's easy for me to, you know, in a page or several paragraphs or something to kind of get all of these elements and let people know what my story is, but I still even just one on one in like a quick this is what my story is about a struggle, so I have this feature length documentary that I'm almost done with, like the story is there like, and I love the story and it has all of the elements, but when you asked me what the story is about, it, it doesn't like so, you know, my story is about doctors and nurses who attend birth in the hospital and had their own children at home. Oh, that sounded great. I don't know if I feel like something is like I feel like something's lacking or I don't know what do you love about it? I love the story because it's about something eso birth is something that everyone has some experience with, like everyone was born right? And and I love it because it has this unique angle that you're talking about home birth, but not in the way that most people think about it, so most people think about home birth is like something that hippies do or kind of fringe people do, but the's air actually oh b's doctors nurses who are attending birth in hospitals they see hospital birth all the time but they're saying I'm going to have my baby at home and and I think that that is that that unique angle I love that about it can make head and really quick before I think probably best suited to answer this question but this just really quickly just to use this as a teachable moment this is also really good for who will listen this is like so uh anna is a mother and has has been pregnant has a toddler I am unmarried and childless and parenting stories land totally differently with anna um and that which is like completely fine it doesn't mean that I like I have some ideas about what could be in there that's not just about parenting but this is like this is like a perfect example of sort of like if you're going to make a story for parents about this or four people have been through it's the story will be slightly different you have different considerations than if you're making it for people that also haven't gone through that yeah that's important but let's talk a little yeah let's talk a little bit about what what might be in there so so here's a trick that's a little bit gimmicky so I apologize for that but if you believe in it it is not gimmicky so um so I would take the first thing you said which is you know, I'm working on a film about doctors and nurses who had home birth at home but uh but but work attending hospital births that dumb accurate enough um and then he might just add like, what I love about it is that what these medical professionals say about both experiences is so surprising and like, so beautiful just like take what you love about it and if you believe it I believe you two and if you tell somebody that something is like super surprising they're so then they want to know what isthe right so it's a little bit of a gimmick but it sounds does not sound true to you yeah, yeah, yeah um so I mean, I think your first sentence gives me a clear idea what it is and then I would just have your second sentence make me want it does that sound like something? Okay, yeah and a little. So you mentioned you also mentioned the hook and then what the story is actually about sometimes they're so sometimes the same thing sometimes they're not this far is what this story is actually about what I do with myself when I get when I I have a story like that is he said, what is interesting to me is that these people have decided tio um have their children at home and like what is the what is the nature of that decision and why do you look like one of the commonalities between these people and why are they all making this decision that seems to contradict what they do with their day to day lives and like that's I need to think about it a bit longer but that is something you can graft onto like the ways in which our behavior sometimes cunt contradict themselves is like something that you could pick out of there and graft onto lots of situations and all of a sudden this sort of unique situation becomes something that people can relate to if you can really it's tough but if you can really like get at that yeah yeah good hi now it's it's a very interesting approach when you're talking about pitching your story I hear a lot of pitches all day and my job what well I do venture type stuff and I've also had a radio show at one point and what I was going to ask you for pitching your story and who will listen often it's best to have the audience tell you what they find most instead of looking for the audience let the audience to find the story is that something you have tried as well? Can you be more specific so you know knowing their items to let's say the doctor in in reversing that and just your experience where you have some preliminary discussions with people who seemed like the target audience they may help you write the story it's like letting the customer right the business plan is that something that that you've tried on snap judgment is that inappropriate approach so my my show was on china business totally unrelated, but I did a lot of interviewing and often I would talk to people who would be interested in this topic and get their input as to what they found most topical and most interesting and they'd help me think about it before I would ever do an interview that is really important it's really important and I think we're coming up to something like that soon but we can't even just say it now um, which is in fact steal their julie's about saying but it's just you know, run your pitch by as many people as you can before you pitch it to whoever you're officially pitching it to um and you know, in the end big range of folks folks, do you think of your audience and folks who you think are not your audience um and they're all going to help and I was going to say also for your elevator pitch again, it sounds like you have the first sentence down and I would just try out like, write down ten different options for your concluding sentence and try it out on people in your house and people you trust and ask them which sounds best. Did you question? I've got some questions that are coming in from the online audience. I want to get them, and some of these can be pretty quick hitting questions, but, yeah, people are loving this so far. Uh, here's a question that comes from nisha, and she says, how do you pitch a story if you are sharing an experience with someone? You don't know what you mentioned, like sharing something with a friend? Maybe that could work for something personal like that, but a lot of times is a really personal stories, and you're pitching them to someone who they have no idea what the context is. We know about you any any quick advice for anybody out there? Who's feeling nervous about that? Yeah, well, this actually gets it. One of the things that's really tricky about personal stories, it's not just that you need to be prepared to expose yourself and treat your story as just as you treat any other stories that means, like dropping certain, you know, elements that feel important to you aren't interesting, other people, you know, that that can mean a lot of vulnerability, but the greatest challenge is having that. Objectivity being able to make your own story as if it were, um, somebody else's story, so it takes sometimes a lot more work shopping and figuring out what the meaning actually is is an even greater challenge, and pitching it to strangers is, you know, to have having as many conversations as you can in the process of figuring it out with people that don't know you. There are questions that they ask the follow questions that they ask you will clarify a lot. You know, where you see them glaze over. That kind of thing will help you figure out what, what, where you're sort of where you're wrong about what's interesting, where you're you're right? Yeah, I'd also say, uh, take a deep breath because it's gonna hurt? Um, I'm indeed that creative process hurts, like, kind of start to finish, right? And especially if it's your own story. Um, and you're making a decision I should, like, take your personal story and make it public right? And when you cross that threshold, like julia said, you have to be prepared for certain consequences. Um, so so maybe you don't want to do it. That's the first question do you wantto do you want to move it into that space it's no longer yours? You know and especially the bigger audience you have, the less yours it is if you do it for your own podcast do whatever you want if you doing it for a national show with two million listeners you know we're gonna make it a certain way a couple of more questions that came in here this one comes from kevin morales and he says I create and develop television shows and I'm hoping here some tips on pitching and getting buyer's interested in the key part of this is the buyers to me now do you change your approach if this is something that you're looking to profit off of versus just kind of getting getting it out there? I mean I don't know how much I know it's kind of beyond the scope of the class but any advice for people like if you're pitching this I mean you may be pitching it to somebody who's who's giving you money for your story you may be pitching it just to somebody who's going to be sharing any advice for the different types of people your patient too yeah, I mean I think this is where the sort of how you approach the thinking about who will listen question and kind of some really specific ways and you need to actually be probably more kind of say more sort of devoted to what what you think they'll want from you um you know, like like we're talking about their other times, it just informs how you structure the story and that's that's honestly, how ann and I generally used this idea of who's your audience. Um, because if you're pitching it, if you're gonna try to sell it to somebody, you really need to be kind of making it for them and has also done freelance more than I have, so she sold more stories have to feel like there's. Yeah, I mean, I think there's two rails right on the first rail is to tailor your pitch to your buyer, um, and find out, find out what they want. I mean, go to their website and find out the kind of stories they want, the kind of content they want and and talk to everybody who knows the people you're pitching to and say, how do I pitched this person by the second rail is, don't be a sellout, you know, be true to your story love it, then don't completely change it because that's, what this buyer wants because they'll see right through that and you'll be bummed that you saw something you don't want to make this balance. I want to ask one more question, and this one, can you talk about building a and pitching a siri's of stories I'm working on a ten part series each segment has to have an arc but the whole thing has to have a total arc is there any advice if you're pitching something that's a serious like you go into it with just like one piece and hope for the bastard you go in saying I see this as a ten part series what do you recommend there? Um I'm just going to completely transparent say we're probably just winging it on the answer here, but we don't do serial of serialized does um but that I mean that is like the real challenge and I think I imagine this person maybe is working in tv although serial the podcast has introduced this format to podcasting in a way that it never was there before, but tv this is the thing you have to think about all the times that you have to have the individual and the much larger arc on dh they need to both little arcs need to help you build the larger what they're like you know you have to make all these little accident toe bend it into this larger can it's you know, very that that's the challenge I would imagine that you're going for the larger arc in your pitch I want my own experience with this is I want to try to sell a siri's to a local public radio station and their response was like, who the hell are you? They were like, we need to we need to really know you work and you need to have worked with us aton and we need to really trust you before that happened was like, thank you point taken and, uh, yeah, it's hard the way that he will say that the way that happens in radios it's commonly, like there'll be a serious about, like food or about where the ark the larger arc isn't so much anarchist just a a theme. And so if you're interested in syria, like making something that sort of its many that has many smaller segments, I would suggest you really start out with that just kind of find, like, a more basic thematic, um, thread, because having making a larger arc out of the smaller ones is this pretty challenging fancy stuff and the last thing in here that we want to talk about when you're when you're pitching, your story is who will talk so that's going to be that's gonna mean there's going to be the kind of for the purposes audio, that sort of tape that you're going to be, uh, gathering for all mediums it's gonna be who you're gonna interview that involves, we'll talk a little bit more about this later identifying your characters do you want to use expert snap judgment for example, has like basically a rule no experts in the case of my story for example, I could have brought in a psychiatrist and to talk about multiple personality disorder in general and what their take on this story was but that's you know we were doing the more we do more personal emotional stories that are based sort of on the people's own sort of the meaning that they find in their own stories but julia did talk to a psychiatrist I'm a correct but it is the on background so that she knew what she was talking about and that's why she could be like well, this you know, but my guy said this does that sound familiar to you is he you know, totally off base here so that it informed her script aerating and the way she constructed the story yeah um you also want to be, you know, there's a temptation teo interview just like absolutely everybody um and just like, you know, because maybe that will like make it work but then you're gonna around in people and have some different perspectives that there's gonna wash each other so I want to be sort of judicious here um and this is also a place to think about what kind of footage or tape already exist. So have they been interviewed before um you know if so can you can you use those interviews just as you know, background or in your story? Um, archival tape news footage you know, anna, for example, could have if she felt like it used, you know, um, news footage with about the invasion of afghanistan? Um yeah, and I will say that in radio and audio in particular, for some reason archival tape can be magic. Um, if you have an opportunity to use it, I really encourage you to something about it it's really special for the listener when they hear that old tape, particularly if it's very relevant to your story if it isn't news clip that's it I'd like that a nice whistle in belle, but like, you know, if you're a talker, you know, didn't audio diary when they were ten, you know, if they have ah video you could take audio from from, like, you know, they're somebody's birthday party it really because audio is so intimate and like it's such an intimate experience hearing that audio from a real life event given just really kicks your story up question that just came in this one has got a couple of votes people out there are really curious to know the question comes from dance aoki and we've had a bunch of people vote on this now I know you're going to talk about some specific work they've done on snap judgment, which is a little bit different than what a lot of people are doing at home, but the question is how do you meet these amazing people that become part of the show? And I know like there's not one easy answer to that, but if somebody's out there so anything that they can do to kind of get in front of these people is there anything I mean you meet these people all the time, but how do you to a better job of connecting with them? Don't give up, don't give up easier, then it's easier than it seems, I mean, thank god for google and it's easier than it seems tio to get in front of and to get people on the phone and email them I mean, you confined with something very rudimentary, like facebook linked in google searches like you can find out what someone works and you can call them and it's just a question not being scared to do it, you know, get him on the phone and spit out really quickly where you are and what you want and hopefully they're interested, I think we have a question here yeah s o I'm in the prelim minister just stages of working on also a life story about more of my mothers of taking us out of communist poland in the eighties and through refugee camps and west western europe and so my question related tio who will talk us? How much do you balance yourself as a narrator of the story with interviews of other people who are maybe there as well. Yeah, I mean that that can work a lot of different ways if you are trying to make it broader than just your store. It sounds like york. You sounds like you can be both the narrator and sort of a subject of the story, which is often a really interesting um can be really interesting perspective for the narrator to be coming from, um you know where at some point they find out that not only are you the narrator but you also had the similar experiences. Um and so your question is how to balance how much you talk on interview is times that are hundred percent just the narrator you know, like, make the mayo just it's just him. The whole hawk has yes, a few decide that you want other come ask why why it is that you wanna interview other people, not just do your story what's the motivation because there are other people who are we met along the way and so would I think it would be interesting teo see what they remember because I was very young at the time, so my memory's going to be very different than somebody else's perspective that maybe we came in contact with oh it's very interesting. Yeah, so that I mean, I'd say I mean, that what's a little bit checking just because that really just depends on the moments when, like, there's a reason for you guys both to be talking about. So in that case, you know it, identify the places where you remember things differently, you know, and why? Why is it that you like you remember, you know, somebody giving you a bag of apples and your mom was like, there are no apples and refugee camp, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no food at all, you know, and that, like, you know, sort of exploring like, why does he would have imagined this bag of apples or whatever? But, you know, yeah, it's just it's making sure that you kind of have, like, don't do it unless there's a reason I mean, he was the narrator you can like, help people like patch, you're just going to be coming in throughout, right? But like stars bringing in your own story, you want to have a reason every time you you bring yourself your version of it in with theirs that too vague, I'm say, is a little it's, a little tricky to talk about without knowing sort of nuts and bolts of the story. I think it also depends on the the tape you get um, if you get bad tape, you have to get, like hand hold the tape the whole way for us. Um, if you get tons of like gold and you just have, like so many beautiful moments it from all of your interviews, they can carry the whole story and you can just pop in everyone to know what, um so like us, the stories we do if it's real narration heavy that's a clue that the interview did not go so well behaved, and they're like no matter what questions we asked, they didn't give what we needed or wanted for the story, and if I'm out of entirely it's because it was like a recorded interview and they just some people could just carry their own story and you're like thing goodness for you, so it depends what you get. Yeah, I really know as I'm thinking about realizing we're talking, we're talking kind of from what we usually do, which is like we kind of follow the tape, but it sounds a little bit like you're trying to tell your story with the addition of other people yeah that's sort of so I think in that in that case you're just gonna want to bring them in as like you remember them in the ways that like you remember them being important at the times that you remember them being important didn't you know what I mean like you want to keep even when they're talking like you want to keep it's sort of coming from like ur perspective so maybe your uncle was there the whole time but there was like a year when you were living with him when your parents had to be in another country or something and that's when you're gonna have a lot more of your uncle um yeah, just the last point on who will talk um and this might come back to our question about pitching people you want to buy your story it's be realistic about what kind of access you khun get it's great to know before you send your pitch out if you can actually get the voices you've said you're gonna be able to get right this like probably sees him nod in the crowd. This has happened to roast like you write a check you cannot cash and then you burned a bridge with, uh with that outlet um so like don't be like I'm going to ask obama what his response was to the benghazi incident you know, like don't do that even though they'll be like great we buy your story deliver um so do a lot of pre interviewing a lot of you know like pre reporting make sure you can access what you say you're doing um yeah writing a pitch yes we're gonna talk a little bit about then now, like once you've gone through all these thieves steps and sort of identifying your elements how do you actually structure the pitch particularly helpful if you're going to be say, sending a print version of it somebody but still this this still helps you sort of identify um where where you going with your your story and this kind of further help to articulate it so yeah, this is going to be reboot basically we're gonna outline for you four paragraph pitch the first paragraph I'm just going to use my story for the purposes of uh going through these four paragraphs um the leader hook we talked about that a little bit before in my case that is the uh rhonda has seventy plus personalities. Um looked yes and listen, uh the second paragraph this is where you explain your story. This is this is the events part of the event with meaning s o jim and rhonda met they fell in love early on in dating he found out that she had these many personalities and then he met started to meet them he met the triplets he met numbers who only speaks in numbers he met uh leleu who speaks only in gibberish like the fifth element character and then she passes away and yes, to deal with on the lead. So you said that the lead is that she has all the different personalities, right? Okay. And how did you come across that mean, I know that we heard a little bit about a teaser for what the whole story was was that, like, the initial lead? Had you thought about any other leads? This may be a little bit more on the process of how you got to that as the lead. Yeah, so that is the most unique aspect of that story. You know, lots of stories have have love and death, death and in courtship. And, um, which is actually one of the challenges of this story so you actually take that away. The story is kind of boring, so that that way put just like you put right at the top in the pitch. It doesn't necessarily come right right at the top in the story it comes it comes pretty early, but yes, just because it's like the most sort of like what what? Yeah, whatever you may have it like, well, what feeling that that that's your hook okay um your third paragraph um what sets your story apart or your angle we very talks a little bit about um this is actually a place where my story is, um a little bit weak um to that um but yeah, this is this is yeah, we kind of already talked about about angle but this is where when you're this is when you're gonna put like, um like like but your story doesn't example sure even like in julia story a possible angle could have been that like associative identity disorder is fine and healthy um she didn't want to go there, but instead I would say your angle was more like what's it like to be in love with somebody who their seventy of and, you know, just bringing inside that experience that's an angle I knew disassociative identity disorder existed, you know, I'm not familiar with the movie sibyl, but like I would say her angle is like what's it like to be in a relationship with this person and all of those people where's mine like we said before the angle was more like I'm inside the war from the perspective of an adolescent boy. Yeah um and in your fourth paragraph why you are the one to tell it also at the end, don't forget to include your contact info if you're sending somebody why when you're the one to tell it in my case this just happens to be sort of my uh santa put it my beats like the convergence of um the mind and psychology with with society and how we define normal is just has turned out I had no idea this turned out to be an interest of mine and made a few stories about it so I kind of know how to handle these stories where you're dealing with non normative people um this is also the place where I say you're going to do a story about the moon community in minneapolis you might want to mention that you are monk where you grew up we grew up there or you know like why why is it that what is sort of your unique um take her perspective on it so I know at this point we're gonna talk a little bit about what to do before you send out the pitch, but I think now would be a good time if we have any other questions if not if anybody wants to go through one of their pitches and actually kind of way have a volunteer for that request okay? Let's get your question go ahead, you stand up so we can see you my first question five two questions the first is when you're writing your pitch if you're doing radio are you actually writing it and presenting it rent written structure or written for matter are you writing it and then presenting it verbally that's my first question and my second question is going back to what we're talking about a little earlier with the lead where do you get your leads so and a show like yours where you're having to come up with content on a very regular basis and you come up with things that are pretty fantastic how are you meeting the kid from kabul or this woman with the multiple personalities or whatever? So there's two uses of the word lead in this context just to be clear, right? Okay, so we've been talking about the lead isn't like the the opening ah paragraph but you're talking about a lead is in a piece of string that you follow in order to find the story um take it so oh it's exhausting it sze exhausting just thinking about it um you follow every lead that interests you um and that means, you know, like going to a library and getting because it gets too expensive to buy all the books, go to the library or used a kindle unlimited um you read everything you can about about the one thing somebody said and you're like I was inappropriate I was in over the other day and on the uber driver told me that he, um has difficulty with attachments, so instead of staying with all of his boyfriend's, he steals their underwear and keeps their underwear as a way to feel attached to them. And I was, like, that's fascinating, and it made me think about kleptomania and like, why people are more control being attached to things than humans, so I just bought, like, took out a bunch of books about kleptomania and like, hopefully I'll find somebody story there, and then I just take their name and search it and try and find a way to contact them and take it from there. But, you know, it just means writing down everything that ever interest you and finding out more information about it. Is that an answer? That makes sense? But it still seems daunting when you think about I don't know how many producers there are in your show, but however many there are that you have to feel content, you know again on this very regular basis. So can you be curious enough? And do you have enough time to read enough that you can come up with these leads? Or do you depend on some coming to you? Do you have a lot of conversations with your team? Do you? Maybe mellish out ideas, things like that, we need all of you wait need everybody so um my story actually came from a there's a larger vice article about people that live with what they call healthy multiplicity or um other what other people called associative identity disorder and I found a paragraph in there about jim and about him as a person that isn't non multiple and uh they sort of allude very briefly to the fact that he had a relationship with with rhonda and so that that was just like you do I mean, you do have to get curious but like I didn't meet ju mei didn't meet anybody that was multiple I wasn't even on that day necessarily thinking about dissociative identity disorder where multiplicity um I you know, but I got so I got the nut from something that was that had been previously done and sort of follow that to a sort of new territory and that's something that will we will do when we have to produce as much content is we have to if you're in a situation where you have to produce a lot of contents, you know, looking at that what is already out there and then kind of finding seeing if you have a different perspective or finding a character that like isn't it isn't fully filled out but you're really curious about her uh it's it's not necessarily based on just our physical sort of what comes into our personal lives because you're right it's it's too much but, yes, we enter what we call like a curiosity desert were like, well, just come to work and look at each other and be like, I feel I can't find anything that inspires me. I don't even know what I'm interested in any more like I have nothing interests me. Um, yeah, like everyone's had this experience clearly, um and you're like, I just why don't I have a different job? Um but then tell me what my story I found I I'm interested in stories that take place in conflict zones. And so I read an anthology of two stories written by children and conflict zones. Um, and this was just a little piece of of one guy story, and I, um, contact the publisher and the publisher gave me his number, and I just pre interviewed him for a while about what happened with this story and what it meant to him and just this that I was kind of formulating in my brain. Does this sound like an accurate way to tell the story and then take it from there? Follow up question because we have a lot of people who are first off amazed that you two can come up with so many stories for the show and also just intimidated by that. You just said something that I want to touch on you mentioned that you were reading a book or an anthology or something. I think that might be good advice I'm here curious to hear more. Is that something where you need to always be consuming more information? Like what kind of stuff do you do? Like there's reading watching listening to try toe keep those ideas in your head by consuming this contour any tips for people out there if they are reading watching how do you turn that into possible story ideas? Um well it sze different people have different sort preferences you can do all those things you can read watch and listen anna is a big fan of, um autobiographies a lot a lot of people have written about especially sort of in this moment where everybody um blog's and consult publish they're ton of really interesting stories out there that where the person just is not necessarily a very strong writer or strong filmmaker but the story is all there is just they you know, haven't really presented it properly. Um and so you did it differently presented it differently? Yes. Huh? Uh yeah there's a little bit I mean there's only so many hours in the day um so the things you do in your outside of work life have to overlap a little bit like it just happens doesn't happen to me, but like things I'm interested in my outside of work life are the same thing, right? So, like, these are the kind of stories I like to listen to watch and go see on guatemala on tv and see in films so that it helps, because then I could just write down the name of the director of the film or, you know, go back to the credits and c you're the second person they interviewed wass yeah, because you can't do it all in forty hours and it's totally intimidating it's horrifying, even funding for everybody, for us. Two it's a terrible feeling and great too, uh, another pitch question here from from jennifer pemberton, and she says that seems like snap judgment mostly uses its own producers to tell the stories, but she wants to know if you are the ones ever taking the pitches like, do you ever have to? We talked about how you pitch, but are you ever on the other end of that? Our people pitching stories to snap judgment that you have to read about? How does that change your perspective of being on the other side of the pitch? So we're in both sides all the time because all I'm on the julia will pitch her pitches to the team with your name on it, and I'll pitch my picture's the team which was we're all in the same we're both givers and receivers and we take freelance bitches we love freelance pitches you contend them two pitches that snap judgment dot lord great I think a lot of people are interested in that say that again pitches pitches that snap judgment dot organise your really great resource is on our web page if you click on tell your story um this kind of a flow chart which takes you through um whether or not your story's right for us please listen to the show before pitching but but we get freelance bitches all the time and they go through the same process that our in house pitches go through um so yeah, we did that we do that every week and if you structure your pitch in the way that julia is instructing you to you will have a much higher chance of success like that. Okay, so yeah you two up for doing a pitch with some of our students here if anybody has what they want to work yeah, yeah well, volunteer all right let's pass the mike over. Hi, oyster. Yeah let's break it down paragraph by paragraph and it just really quick tell us where what you're no, but what brings you here? I've got a journalism background my day job is currently in marketing's I'm still producing content but I've got free time and I'm planning to spend more time working on the type of stories that I used to work on and I wanted to pick your brains for um, I I actually I have an unsuccessful pitch that I'd like to talk about. Um I, um was primarily a writer and photographer also produced some video I've never produced podcast content specifically, but I pitched to an online outlet, a story about a voiceover artist their theme for the for the month was silence, and the the voiceover artist in question is somebody who has a past in voiceover used to work in radio on dh is now running up against a saturated market because the barrier to entry has been lowered as technology becomes more and more available to people and one of the chief concerns you know, working out of his home has been trying to find the perfect silence in which to produce sound in orderto audition and create the pieces that he wants to make and it it wasn't successful possibly because, you know, maybe maybe visual wasn't the right medium for it, but you know, love tto hear your thoughts on it? It was a photography writing in photography, so story you pitched what's written pitcher for the story you pitched was a print piece for for an online outlet, you're going to write an article right? Read an article and supported with photos yes on dh I also offered them the option of you know what additional content uh but yeah okay and did they give you any reason I got nothing? Okay sorry about that. Okay, my first before before we get into that canyon what what do you love about this story? Well, first I mean maybe it's a bit of a stretch part of what interests me is it's actually a friend of mine actually said right on dh yeah he's he's he's an incredible performer and he makes good noises and you know, obviously that that won't come across in the print and photos as much but um you know to me the completely changing market of you because I think what fifteen years ago it used to be a specialty thing where you know you uh correct me if I'm wrong but five guys yeah on now and now you know there's ah hundreds maybe thousands of people scrabbling over each other for for jobs that pay very little but there's still there's still the potential of breaking into the market and so people are still trying really hard. Um answer your question yeah uh it was this cool because you're here so we wait so so um one of things I think is potential in your story but might be a roadblock for an editor is where attention. So I would love to draw out like like I have this vision and tell me if I'm off base here of, like you seeking and failing and seeking and failing to find silence and be like, now, I just definitely soundproof room and then, like, you know, kind of the siri's of events building the tension build is like your quest for silence because every more difficult and I like that story is that story. But yes, yes, very much so on this, and you still feel like I know what you get. What what is it that? Well, first leave only pitched it to one place and not nine more, so maybe just also thinking about sort of who you're pitching to and also you meet him thiss just seems like a natural fit for radio, obviously, um, because you can deal with, like, darkness and have the silence in your radio voice and all that, um um, what was the tension? For what? What? What are the barriers that are getting in the way of silence? And also, um I understand that that supposed to act as a metaphor for this sort of saturated market in the challenge that challenge actually yes that that that was that was my later twist is that you know was part of the noise that you're overcoming is he's these submissions from hundreds of hundreds of people you know, how do you how do you break through in a market like that where you might not ever be heard? You know, when you're trying so hard be perfect yeah, some of barriers the way the way he explained the story to me I do have recorded audio of that at home but you know that a big part of it was uh exactly what you're saying you think you've done everything that you can to silence your environment and then your wife search grinding coffee downstairs on dh you know, the neighbor kids start playing basketball and there's nothing quite so distinctive this that ping, you know, breaking through with another wise perfect silence you can't hear it until you go listen to the tape there it is and what happens in this totally feel afraid that this is too personal, but what happens if you don't? If you do start stop getting those gigs like what's it ten part attention is what's at stake. I actually I didn't realize that the emphasis was on the silence we talked a lot about like building the interview that he conducted makes so much more sense now, but attention for me is mostly my wife who actually that's one hundred percent true story okay, I'm recording ok? And with but the tension for me one percent is from my wife when is this going to stop being a hobby and start being a profession which it is to a limited extent but she keeps seeing the outlay of okay so now you've got a booth in your office can you start? Can I start seeing some you know, actual checks coming in now so that's that's a big part of the tension which we didn't touch on in the interview at all? I think probably because he didn't want to bring wife into a completely different story um but that sounds like they're the tension there and interviewing your wife her being a character in it may maybe a solution so that it's more a story about that sort of like I think every couple knows that experience um you know and that's that so there's a lot of relatability and there I think I am not married and um then I mean at some point maybe where do we take you? I don't want to take you like too far away from what you what you want todo no, I mean and that's that's part of thing is, is you having not recorded audio of her? You know, I I know her well as well, but you know she has never expressed that side of it to me you know I know peripherally that that might be a small bit of attention but it was I don't want to call it a wound but you know I wasn't wasn't willing to scrape that so maybe maybe that's what what I ought to have done was look for the source but yeah yeah yeah unfortunately or fortunately or however you want to think about this is this sore spots are where people can usually talk most authentically and most sort of um it could be hard to find those and to get those but that's often where the best sort of most authentic human moments come from the things that the most the things that become universal about your story that everybody feels and experiences I think the story has a lot of beautiful elements and it's like we get a lot of pitches about people being kind of monica maniacal about something and the rabbit hole that takes them down which can be tedious but but the search for silence particularly radio is it's really great and I would love to know like well you know was it ever achieving did you make it into something that you were never going to be able to achieve because you wanted some kind of unattainable goal you can you can answer that later with by all means contact us we'd love to tell you the o in this one more not that this this raises in like in radio in particular metaphor is kind of tricky and you are dealing with something here that like is just it just adds another layer of challenge and metaphor no matter actually what medium you're working in, you know, to make people feel the metaphor without having to state the metaphor x that's the point of metaphors you don't have to state it um is uh this just yes and it's an extra challenge and so bringing bringing, bringing frank's wife in, um kind of takes you away from that metaphor in a way that it just like it will be easier to do metaphor store is incredibly beautiful, it's just hard and in writing it would be more like an essay than what we're talking about is the traditional story here and let's just kind of out of the bounds of this course, but like there could be a whole nother thing also I mean, I feel kind of bad because it sounds don't know if we're telling you why it was rejected were telling you what what was good? Um but there's like there's all kinds of alchemy for why pitch succeeds and doesn't sometimes that's just impossible to put your finger on like maybe they had too many pitches maybe they're in a bad mood that day there's a little bit of it that completely out of our hands which is why you picked a ten places and really don't be afraid to write back and say is it possible for me tio to find out what was missing from the story how you what what it would have needed for you to have taken it um and totally take editors out for a cup of coffee and find out what their they need more of because there's also we all have things that we're like falling flat on um the kind of stories that we need more of and if you pitch the tourist we'll take him question the back can you talk more about what you're saying but ah, metaphor stories I feel like I feel like I watch stories and see metaphors in them all the time that's the part of how I personalize things for me and yet I noticed that that's not how what other people necessarily get from them and maybe that's part of what holds me back from writing sometimes or getting these slow five but I found what you're seeing sort of fascinating but I couldn't quite glow mournfully um yeah, I wish I had some great examples because I feel like that would be that's way to talk about it um difficult the thing about I mean what you're trying to do with with any story is find something some commonality in there that other people can I can connect with and metaphor just, like elevates that challenge like making metaphor that other people will recognize and understand and sort of be like, oh, yeah, I never thought of it that would never saw, like, you know, the rain looking that way. But like, now that you show it to me that way, of course it looks that way that is just it's just so it's a lot it's just even harder um especially with radio, because it is why's it with radio isjust radio in general has to be simpler. You have to repeat yourself a lot and it's hard to hold, like, really complex it's, like, really abstract thoughts need to be made. I need to be made concrete needs to be outlined. Um, so I think actually your story as it has a good example of this. So to me, what julia story about them, the man who loved the woman with seventy personalities, um to me what it was a metaphor for was that we all have young parts of us in the old parts of us and masculine parts and feminine parts. And when you fall in love with somebody, you fall in love with all of those parts, and so so when julie was looking for a way to bring that home at the end the best way to do that with metaphors and show don't tell right like don't just say that at the end because then you've ruined your story and you're like completely undermined it but instead what he did was he walked um with this man to the memorial that he had made for his deceased wife and and on the memorial there were all these kind of gems I getting this right that representative for different personalities and he was able to mourn for each of those individually um but to me that really brought home the metaphor that you know, we love all of somebody in all of all of their seventy person out his um hey was just able to show it in there really visceral way you just to be clear with what I'm sort of talking about in this case is just metaphor as a storytelling tool like the sort of the not talking about what the rain looked like but sort of describing the rain in a different you know, uh being too yes definitely that with radio don't do that unfortunately and you can convey complex ideas it's just, you know it's it's it's more difficult a great example of of of a radio story that works where it's just pure metaphor um there's really no sort of there's like little narratives inside of it but there's no one big narrative it's by any if I can't if I don't think of it in the next ten seconds we'll come back and I'll have that name for everybody this is gorgeous like just a gorgeous story I think it lands differently with other appeal but I just it was the first rate one of the first radio story she ever made just amazing she lives up in newfoundland and she just gone through this heartbreak you know, our first big heartbreak um heard her boyfriend had left her and she would sit alone in her kitchen and hear the foghorns um you know, just like the way that she and she interviews other people about heartbreak and then she weaves in the sound of the fog horns and then she has this guy talking about how foghorns are like, you know, in light and how foghorns are you know like, um I'm not even going to try to finish that sentence because you should listen teo just the way that she makes the foghorns makes sense and like make you feel those stories even weren't like I'm getting chills talking about it right now um that I mean that's the kind of metaphor that's just so hard you have to make people understand that the foghorns are the metaphor for that otherwise you're just like what's the deal with the fog horns you know and so that's what I mean by sort of make that making that connection um is is just just very challenging, and then you said, don't ruin it by lake writing what's the equivalent of the moral of the story we're getting to the end of our pitching segment here, I wanna ask tomb or quick questions that came in these air, very specific things, and first one comes from t funk was a regular in the chat room love the three name t funk, but he says, I understand now how to structure the pitch, but his question is, I struggle to find the optimal lengths to ensure that it gets red. Now I know that we talked about the paragraphs here, but but their suggestion two thousand words or less, is that a good idea? Is there any other ballpark as faras like how long his paragraph should be? Ah, paige forbids, yeah, like a single space. Paige feels good to me that nobody has any time like we're skimming long enoughto get the point across, but not too long a bore anybody like feel food playing for us, you can put parent ethically like I'm happy to talk more about this there's way more information here clue me in that that you know all the backstory, but yeah, and that that's, a big part of the about of the lead that the hook at the beginning it's, just because you're dealing you when you're dealing with people that don't have much time, which will be the case almost always, uh, that just you need to grab him or they're gonna walk away. So, um uh, I just want to say that a pitch is like an interview in that, you know, when it's done if you nailed it or if you blew it um but luckily you khun keep editing it until you've nailed it. So like, at the end, if you like, like, man, like, successfully communicated everything that was in my heart and mind, well, them but if you haven't the first time, which is usually the case, just keep coming back to that question, what did you love about this? Why did you want to do this story to begin with? Um and that will really guide your pitch to the place that makes you excited about it and make other people excited about it. The question here, can you just how can you actually just give us your pitches for the stories? Or can we just hear a couple pitches real quick from you, whether it's like two lines or just something just to finish up this segment? Yes, yeah, yeah, so this train heist story uh, that I'm working on, um it was called, I think, was this probably for the same thing was called the great train robbery. It took place in scotland in the sixties, and there was a mail train there's traveling from maybe edinburgh, london, something like that, and, uh, fourteen guys got together and decided, then plan this, like elaborate rail heist. So, like, picture, like, you know, scotland steam in the middle of the night, like four guys and fourteen guys in each one plays a different role ready, there's like the bruiser and there's, the brains and there's, the guy who knows how to drive a train and there's, a guy who knows the schedule. If this guy knows how to switch the track, you know, everyone's got their thing to play. And, you know, I really bring you into this moment in the middle of the night, and they pull off. The train robbery and our teller I should say it's um uh his name is gordon goody and he was one of the guys who had ties to the train um and they get it ready with it and they go to the safe house and they're counting out there millions of pounds and everybody a site and in this kind of ocean's eleven way one by one they need to go their separate ways but of course one by one they need to get caught and, uh they all remained fantastically tightlipped for the duration of their trials and nobody rat anybody out and they're all caught except for one guy um and nobody knows and this was the inside guy that calling the ulsterman on they don't nobody knows um you know, the identity of the ulsterman and on his deathbed this one guy gordon goody contacts a filmmaker and says, I want to reveal the name of the ulsterman um and so that's what this story's about we interview uh, that filmmaker simon and use his tape that he got from gordon goody um and what what we find out when he reveals the identity of the old tremendous habits I don't even affectionate, I'm not going to tell you, but like it's this great twist about side, we wouldn't really do that in a pitch but I want teo never do that but um but the old statement is totally not who you expect him to be and once and once according that he reveals for the ulsterman is you suddenly wish he hadn't you like oh you should have taken that the grave with you but it's too late and then everyone knows that help yeah except in if you say we're to write that she would have put the sort of like everybody was arrested except one he remained at large for x number of years and then you go into it it would be a lead like what's what's that set that like right at the top why what's gonna be that where's twisting yeah situation right in not speaker pitch what and we said this before but I cannot impress upon you like enough how how important this is that testing it out on people is like I just find it so incredibly useful people are asking you like you go to a party and you know it's just firstly makes you like five times were interesting a party's really fun trip but it just like trying trying out your stories on people like just mustering the energy and being like I'm going to sell this person on this story until the best version of it and then notice like what happens to their face what they ask about where they're confused like all of that stuff will help you you know you know come to understand like what your where your story's going what you want to cut you know sort of helps you edit yourself a little bit I'm just a couple of nuts and bolts wth proof you to pitch the test people's reaction part that was talked about uh instinctual feeling of nailing it um you want to make sure you have that and then what if you do if you're not excited which is what you do if I got excited anybody know why did you love it? Okay, thanks. You guys. Yeah. And any final questions on this slide about before you send it out? We spent so much time talking about what to do when you build it but these are important things that you do before you send it out. You definitely don't want to skip any of these. All right? Question here. So recently I read a novel by the so called by dave's dave baker believe sf native here and the last sentence I'm totally gonna push her this but I figured very brief which is something like this um the world deserves to know and cannot wait and it's really way a way of putting grammatical error very punch way off putting a sentence about the world needs to know anything about human thoughts I mean that's that's the next step right is to pray in it machines can read everything about brain except if we don't talk right now we don't write um and that that leads me to thinking I mean hearing all the stories and you start the class by saying really impressed by your need to write stories to tell stories at the same time the universe to believe that is a story worth listening to every story if you keep digging deeper and deeper um but is that true? I mean, do we have to tell the story all the time? I mean, this is this is really proud question I'm not sure that one going in with but I feel that I need to to say that what is the point at some point you tell yourself stop digging that there's not a store here that's so important like thank you that's so important we abandoned or kill a lot of stories um because they're not good enough, um, that's part of the process too, and I think you know, when you have a story that satisfying and is worth people's times and there's a reason to tell it um and when you have a story that not like despite your best efforts and everyone's best efforts, it doesn't work and there's no reason to tell it pitch reasons not to tell it um and then you have to give it up
Ratings and Reviews
Loved this training---plenty of great takeaways from women who've done the hard work, done it successfully and well, and know how to share that with others. Especially enjoyed: 1. Their clear story checklist (Compelling lead, Unique angle, Who will listen?, Who will speak?) 2. Their hammering home of continuing to ask yourself throughout the process why YOU love your story, so that that passion helps to drive it 3. Their emphasis on the dynamism of storytelling and its taking shape between the producer and the audience Great stuff---thank you! PS Could commenters here please focus on content, rather than the presenters' voices? I liked both myself, but if you didn't, that's really not the point of this review section. Also, please see: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/545/if-you-dont-have-anything-nice-to-say-say-it-in-all-caps?act=2#play.
Three hours and 10 1/2 pages of furious note-taking later, I'm feeling encouraged and excited to get back into some story projects I'd put on hold. Julia DeWitt and Anna Sussman brought to my memory some great concepts I've interacted with in my previous work and gave me fresh information to help me evolve and become a better storyteller. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and helpful resources.
My high hopes for this class were exceeded. Co-instructors Anna and Julia did an excellent job conveying what story collection is like in the field, offering pointers for capturing necessary tape, and explaining the building blocks of narrative that's strong enough to keep the attention of distractible listeners. I loved that they're seasoned producers who get the human elements of storytelling and understand that it's a messy, challenging process, but shared the paths they've mapped out that work. Also appreciated the pointers on pitching, which was one of the most useful part of the session to me. I second the comment of another reviewer that the moderator's interjections distracted a bit from the flow of the instruction, though understand why CreativeLive wants to do this.