Great Big Story celebrates two years and over 1,500 amazing stories
December 1, 2017
Who says the twos have to be terrible? Great Big Story (GBS) is celebrating its second anniversary this fall, and with over 1,500 stories spanning more than 85 countries, it’s more like the Terrific Twos. To find out how these masters of cinematic storytelling crammed all these amazingly inspirational tales into just 24 months, we sat down with Great Big Story’s VP of Content/Executive Producer Courtney Coupe. She had some pretty incredible stories, so sit back and enjoy this peak into what goes into the greatest, biggest stories out there.
And head over to www.greatbigstory.com to start experiencing the adventure for yourself.
Hi Courtney – so let’s learn a little bit about you. Tell us what you do over at Great Big Story.
Well, I’ve been here since day one; I was part of the team hired to bring the concept and idea to life. Now I’m the VP of Content and executive producer, so I basically oversee all of editorial and production - the stories, how we tell them, our lens on the world, and what our voice is as well as our look and feel.
What was the goal that your group was trying to solve for when the idea of Great Big Story came about?
We really examined the landscape of digital video, and found that while there were a lot of people making video, it all looked generally the same. We actively tried to figure out what that white space was in the landscape, that space where we could stand apart from crowd and infuse it with a unique DNA that looked completely different. Our goal was to make sure you know you are watching Great Big Story – stories that reignited the magic in the world and that showed that our planet is a truly wondrous place.
You’ve shot more than 1,500 stories from over 85 countries… that’s a truly amazing number. What stories stand out the most to you as being memorable?
We have a north star for GBS that we adhere to – our stories need to be surprising, unexpected and untold, so the ones that stand out are the ones that surprise me the most. For me, a story out of China about two best friends really does that. One is blind, the other has no arms, and together they have planted over 10,000 trees in their hometown, giving back to their town and the environment. To watch the act of a blind man being led by a man with no arms, and then the blind man helping his friend dig a hole to plant a tree, it just shows that no matter what your challenges in life, you can give back and do anything. It was incredibly inspiring.
Of all the people you’ve featured on GBS, is there anyone that really stuck with you?
Lala Evans. Some people call me a bit of a Grinch, in that it takes a lot for me to cry watching a piece. But I’ve seen this piece over 20 times, and it gets me every single time. Lala and his wife were married for 59 years and 11 months, and she passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack one month before their 60th anniversary. Lala then decided to turn his home into a wonderful museum of sorts, honoring their life together and the love they shared. He is filled with joy when he talks about her. And it’s really not sad, it simply makes you appreciate the love and the people you have in your life. It’s a simple story, but so amazingly relatable.
Sorry, can I have a tissue? Someone must be cutting onions in here…
Anyway, was there ever a story that started out being one thing, but morphed into something completely different once you really got into it?
We did a short film at the end of last year called “Hard Ship.” It was about one of the most difficult boat races on Earth. We wanted to feature these three sailors who were all paralyzed – two from the mid-torso down and one from the waist down. These men were very confident that they could finish the race in a week, but as the week went on, everything began to fall apart. The three sailors started going at each other, there was lots of personal tension, and we weren’t sure they would make it to the end and finish the race. But then something amazing happened. The racing community around them wanted to see them finish and be successful, so other people began chipping in to help them finish. The turn this piece took was totally unexpected, and so much more powerful than we ever imagined.
How do you crank out this much amazing content in such a short period of time?
Our production staff is amazingly talented, and they work incredibly hard in ways that are so unique. They have the ability to find these unexpected stories – and they’re not just chasing the popular news, they have to really dig to find these. They have the cinematic experience, they’re talented behind camera, but they also have the journalistic knowledge and integrity to be able to tell a great story. There are no egos here. Story is the most important thing.
There must have been a scary moment or two in filming all of these stories – anything stand out?
We did a story on Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It was about a man who lived near the tower and had climbed it thousands of times, almost weekly. The man insisted our producers, Jillian Eugenios and Eben Hall, climb with him. This would involve getting in the full rig and scaling it in gear like a spider monkey, going completely vertical. Neither of the producers were climbers, and in addition to scaling this mountain, they had to film it as well. There is a behind-the-scenes video we made (see link below) of Jillian and Eben telling the story of that journey. It was amazing.
With all of the worldwide travel involved in these stories, there must be funny tales from the road.
Oh absolutely. Each person has their own share of travel-gone-wrong stories. One time, two of our producers, Austin Brown and Jacob Harrell, were in Italy shooting a story about this quaint, picturesque town where all these incredible violin craftsman live. It’s an ancient town untouched by time, however once a year it transforms into a huge techno music festival. And of course, that’s exactly when Austin and Jacob were there to shoot. The beautiful town square turned into one giant rave. But they jumped right in to experience it for themselves. That footage didn’t make it into the piece, but we all appreciated the unexpected moments it provided.
So, what’s next? Come on, give us the skinny.
We’re constantly thinking about what it means to live inside of Great Big Story. So many of our fans are super engaged with the content, calling out friends in the comment sections and urging them to visit some of these places. So we want to try to bring GBS offline and into the real world to get closer to our fans. Our event strategy is to bring our world of video into a tangible environment so people can experience a GBS for themselves in real life, so stay tuned!
To experience Great Big Story for yourself, go to www.greatbigstory.com. See below for links to the specific episodes and videos Courtney mentions in our interview.
Chinese Best Friends: https://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/the-definition-of-teamwork
Devil’s Tower behind the climb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHLTJmp7pPc&ab_channel=GreatBigStory