If you’re enjoying #FromOurDarkSide’s daily Facebook links to women working in genre worldwide, you’ve got Annelise Larson to thank for! Annelise joined the From Our Dark Side mentor pool last year and has been one of our most prolific mentors – guiding all of the 2015 mentorship recipients towards a successful digital strategy for their films.
Annelise comes from a background as an indie producer and writer but has worked in the field of digital marketing for over 20 years. Her focus is helping content creators and storytellers define, find, attract and engage their audiences and work toward strategic and sustainable digital business models. Her groundbreaking online course, Becoming a Storypreneur: Digital Marketing for Screen Media is running its fourth cohort across Canada, with a cohort from Sweden scheduled to start in the new year.
We spoke with Annelise about her take on genre:
What does genre mean to you, personally?
Genre is a space in which unique and challenging stories can be told, often with less judgement because they take place in fantastical or alien settings. They are about “the other” but they are also able to tell deep stories about being human in ways that make your heart pound.
Genre stories inspire fandoms that are extremely passionate and vocal. This kind of response is gold to indie filmmakers and storytellers because this kind of passion creates more active and engaged audiences – ones who will share your work, want to follow you from project to project and consume everything about your storyworld possible (often paying for the privilege). This blessing can sometimes be a curse if you fail to give this dedicated crowd what they want and expect, because they can be very vocal in their criticism. But they are also willing to be convinced and follow different paths if you honour and involve them along the way. I love genre fans, and include myself among them.
Who are some of the filmmakers or artists who inspire you?
My favourite genre stories actually come from the written word. I am a huge fan of many sci-fi/fantasy writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Andre Norton, Sheri S. Tepper, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin. Some of these amazing authors have had their work translated to the screen (with varying degrees of success), but more often it is stories written by men that follow this path. Perhaps it is because these kinds of storyworlds are thought to require massive Hollywood budgets and we know how resistant that institution has been when it comes to female-driven stories. Wildly popular young adult fiction written by women have found incredible box office success lately, but I have been less interested personally in those stories.
In general terms, filmmakers who I find inspiring are Anne Wheeler, Patricia Rozema, Deepa Mehta and Sarah Polley here in Canada. Further abroad Agnieszka Holland, Julie Taymor, Catherine Hardwicke and so many, many more. (Yep, all women, all providing inspiration, all worth celebrating.)
Why are you involved with this contest?
I have my own passion for helping creative people build sustainable careers for themselves through the digital opportunity. I also want to support and strengthen women’s voices in media. The From Our Dark Side contest combines both of these things, allowing me to mentor these female writers to make strategic choices that can help them make a living and find and grow an audience for their work. It’s always a balance – the story must be good and well-nurtured, but it’s also important to know who will be interested in it and how you can connect with them in meaningful ways. As I said before the genre crowd is a passionate one and if I can help these writers tap into that passion in an authentic way, I have helped them lay a strong foundation for their careers.
What can mentees expect of working with you?
I worked with the mentees from the first round of From Our Side, and what we found works is we do two online group meetings where we talk about the genre audience and what they are looking for at the beginning, and then at the end talk about what these women can do personally to develop an audience online. In between these two meetings, I also give each mentee a 1-hour personal consultation where I try to help them dig deeper into their stories with a more strategic perspective and find the hooks that can help them identify and target the audiences they need to reach and (eventually) activate.
What is your best advice to writers and filmmakers starting a genre project from scratch?
Know your audience. And it’s not all women between 18 and 34. Understand the power of segmenting potential fans into the narrowest niche possible, which allows you to know them really well. In the digital context you can find an amazing amount of detailed information about such niches. Learning about that can come LONG before your story is even written let alone made into a movie. Search for them, participate in their communities in authentic and relevant ways, add value to their conversations. All of this can start today and allow you to truly give your future fans what they want, and what they don’t even know they want yet. The digital world can help provide you with the access and knowledge so your story can find an audience who wants to be publicist, customer, spectator and even collaborator. It’s an amazing time of opportunity for storytellers!
Thank you for the conversation and for being on board!
Q&A by Katja De Bock