In a former Soviet sewing factory, Warner Brothers Vice President, Cate Adams, and Joe Sabia, the creator of Vogue’s 73 Questions series, sat down to find an answer to just that.
Stories have always been with us, but the nature of the industry has changed dramatically with the arrival of digital media. Content creators now have to stand out in a world that never stops buzzing.
Audiences have dispersed and online content has proliferated. Finding viewers, readers, and listeners requires much more work.
“You hear people saying cinema is dead…it’s just a matter of where [people] are engaging with it,” Cate said, speaking candidly about what this change has done to major studios like Warner Bros.
If you’ve noticed that studios seem less and less willing to try new movie ideas and keep recycling existing ideas (ahem, Emoji Movie), you’re not wrong.
Cate admitted that the pragmatic response to digitization is simply to look for less original content.
It’s no longer enough to make a film people will like because those are on Netflix and the myriad of other online platforms. Instead, studios focus on films that audiences will want to see immediately, on the big screen.
That requires films that reach more people and cut across boundaries.
Today the focus has shifted to authenticity, Joe said. It’s what made 73 questions such a success. Famous people are real, authentic and, through their very normal, everyday selves, directly engage with the audience.
“IMPRESS ME ONCE, COOL. IMPRESS ME TWICE, YOU’RE HIRED,” JOE SAID.
One audience member asked how a writer can “make it” in the current system. Cate’s advice was succinct: Get an agent and focus on good characters, strong world-building, and surprising stories.
“If you can surprise me, which is hard to do…I get so excited,” she added.
Joe Sabia, who’s renowned for his work online, spoke at length about how storytellers can get noticed in digital media. You have to reach the audience where they are, not where you want them to be.
Though Vogue makes more money by advertising on its website, it knows that people watch videos on YouTube. So Vogue finds its audience there.
You have to have a “clarity of concept” that will immediately connect with a fickle audience, bombarded with competing content, Joe added.
Telling real stories in a feature means adding something to the story, something the viewer hasn’t seen or heard of. Dig deep into a subject and show the audience the untold side of the story.
“Impress me once, cool. Impress me twice, you’re hired,” Joe said.