How Joe Wilson Bypassed the Industry to Tell His Stories
This is a guest post by indie storyteller Joe Wilson. I am very pleased Joe accepted my offer to share with us how making the choice to bypass the industry and reach out directly to his audience unfolded.
This is an honest story made of passion, mistakes, perseverance and lessons learned; with creativity at its center.
What If You Could Tell Stories Without An Industry?
I’m a storyteller. That’s my title because that’s what I do. I tell stories to a small audience all over the world, with their help. It’s not a title usually used in the entertainment industry and that’s okay with me because, although I live in Los Angeles and tell stories, I don’t work in the entertainment business. I tried for years and it stopped being fun. Telling stories, however, has always been fun, that’s why I started to begin with, it’s fun.
The business model of the entertainment industry is to get millions of people to behave the same way, watch a show at a certain time or buy tickets to movie on a certain day. The behavior of the audience is to watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it and where.
The music and publishing industries have been decimated by a change in human behavior and technology, and yet, there is more music and more to read. The number of television shows has swelled and now there’s internet companies winning awards television networks had won in the past, all of the past.
I believe that we are seeing a change in human behavior that will forever impact all businesses, including entertainment. Audience fragmentation is speeding up, it’s not slowing down. Everyone’s attention is spread across the net. TV ads are seen by less people, we’re all looking at our phones, fast forwarding through ads or streaming without them.
How is the Entertainment Industry Going to Get the Attention of People to Tell Them to Watch Something?[pullquote]All jobs in the entertainment industry are temps jobs, the audience is not yours and when that job is over, the audience usually goes away with it.[/pullquote]
The spike mentality of TV ratings and box office is a byproduct of a flawed business model, one that human behavior is pushing into obsolescence and one that is going to drastically change.
Again, think music, think publishing. When you can’t get millions of people to watch the commercials, how can you sell advertising? When you can’t get millions of people to get in their car, drive to a theater and buy a movie ticket on opening day, how will you be number one at the box office?
All jobs in the entertainment industry are temps jobs, the audience is not yours and when that job is over, the audience usually goes away with it.
How Big of an Audience is Needed to Tell a Story?[pullquote]I didn’t need to use the spike mentality of the entertainment industry because I don’t use their business model and I don’t have their overhead. I’m just one guy.[/pullquote]
Breaking down storytelling economics to its basics, the size of the audience determines what story is made, let’s call it a budget. As the audience grows, so do the stories.
I didn’t need to use the spike mentality of the entertainment industry because I don’t use their business model and I don’t have their overhead. I’m just one guy. But I needed a story to tell before there ever could be any audience.
In June of 2010 I posted the first episode of “Vampire Mob” made on a tiny budget, using old video cameras that shot in standard definition and, very slowly, the audience began to watch and say “hi” on Twitter. I said, “Hi,” back, and kept saying it.
If I quit when I saw the small number of views that came initially, if I thought in terms of views, ratings, box office, then I failed and I failed hard. The audience was tiny and growing very slowly.
What If There’s a Different Way to Measure the Success of a Story?
When you sit in a room, typing stories that no one sees, you never know what they do.[pullquote]I failed on Kickstarter. I repeat, I failed on Kickstarter and lost the entire budget to shoot another season of Vampire Mob on October 30th, 2010.[/pullquote]
When you tell stories directly to the audience, to human beings, some of those human beings will tell you how your story entertained them, made them laugh, made them recognize a parallel in their own past and, maybe, it made their life a little better for a short span of time.
When you tell stories to agents, managers and producers, that doesn’t happen.
It’s all about the audience.
I failed on Kickstarter. I repeat, I failed on Kickstarter and lost the entire budget to shoot another season of Vampire Mob on October 30th, 2010. Seconds after the campaign ended, I posted a poorly designed web page on VampireMob.com full of paypal buttons and in six months, I raised $10,000 to shoot season two, this time in HD.
The audience saved me, they made it possible for me to tell more of a story. Season two of Vampire Mob premiered in June of 2011 and the audience kept growing.[pullquote]It was at this point I made a huge mistake, I waited.[/pullquote]
It was at this point I made a huge mistake, I waited.
There were meetings with different companies about making more Vampire Mob online and one seemed liked a good fit. “I don’t want to produce your show, I just have a few notes,” was the statement that sold me on working with a production company that was in the TV biz. And then I began doing what I had done when I was a screenwriter, I waited for them to tell me when I could start.
With no new episodes, I hung out with the audience on Twitter and Facebook talking about everything from coffee to my cat, Mike. Life can’t be a constant Q&A, that gets boring fast.
I tripped over ideas from outside of the entertainment industry from Seth Godin, Brene Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Amanda Palmer, Elizabeth Gilbert, Simon Sinek and Gary Vaynerchuk. Cherry-picking and mixing their ideas together, seeing failure as part of the process, ignoring anything that looked like hype, that all took a while for me to figure out. I began to look at time differently. “The long tail” became a big part of my thinking.
A year later, the production company changed their mind, no deal.
I was tired of waiting. I looked at all the obstacles in VMob and, with them in mind, I launched PlayShorts, an audience-funded online anthology series.
Making a story that was not cast contingent and easily scalable to a budget seemed like the perfect fit. I had about forty short play scripts I had written and in 2013, the first episode of PlayShorts, “Snow is Bullshit” was posted with more episodes to follow.
VMob continued to haunt me. I wanted to find a way to make the 150-page script I had written for season 3, which was to be six, fifteen minute episodes. That was one of the notes from the now long gone production company. The other note, treat season 3 like a season one so someone new to the story wouldn’t have to watch the previous seasons.
Then Marcia Wallace died in October of 2013. She was a main cast member, playing the vampire/mother-in-law from hell who just moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, for eternity. I wrote the part with her in mind, never thinking she’d say yes.
I thought launching another series would allow me to get back to telling stories while I figured out a way to make more VMob. I waited. I was wrong.
But I’m a storyteller. So, with the help of the audience, I’m adapting Vampire Mob season 3 into a series of graphic novels. Issue 1 is now online, with Issue 2 on deck.
It’s all about the audience.