AMA with Nazanin Rafsanjani
November 14, 2018
In November, Nazanin Rafsanjani, VP of New Show Development, joined our Members' Slack for a Q and A. See below for an abridged version.
Matt: What's the biggest difference to you between your old role and your new one?
In my old role, we were creating a lot of shows that lasted 6-8 episodes. In this role, we're trying to set up shows that can go on forever!
Allison: How do you know how many shows is "enough"? Do you think it'll be perpetual that Gimlet will always need new shows?
This is a great question. I think about this a lot because podcasting is so crowded. I think we always want to be able to invest in talented people and build shows around them...so that's why it doesn't feel like there's necessarily an "enough" and why we love making new shows. But yeah, they have to be really special.
Kan: best things about working at the same place as your husband?
Emma: also worst things about same
Best and worst....worst is that it is SO ALL CONSUMING. our kids constantly have to tell us to stop talking about work. which is terrible.
best....hmmmm.... Well, it's made me a more empathetic spouse I think. I understand the ins and outs of what Alex is dealing with at work and same with him. so that's helpful.
Joey: Have you guys ever considered a Gaming podcast. Also - will there be any new scripted shows? And one more: Are you selling ads based on the location of the listeners? I'm in Europe, and the last without Fail didn't have any ad in the first block.
We are actually looking at gaming podcasts right now! We've been listening to a ton of them in the development department at gimlet. Are there ones that you listen to?
Yes! There are new scripted shows coming. We have a YA show about two princes who fall in love. That'll be out early next year!
We do some targeted ads based on location. A lot of our advertisers need to stay US only...so that might be why you're not hearing the ads in Europe.
Sarai: Hi Nazanin. I just finished the book Evicted. I also have been listening to Serial's latest season on the Cleveland justice system. In both of those, I heard stories that I wouldn't likely have encountered elsewhere and was enlightened about things in our "system." I may be wrong..., but I don't see stories like this -- from the inner city, people for whom the system (justice or housing or whatever) isn't working and whose stories need to be told -- on your shows. Any chance of doing something like this?
Hey Sarai! PJ did some amazing reporting [in Reply All's series "The Crime Machine"]. But! We also a series coming out in January that is all about the 42nd police precinct in the Bronx. The story is about policing and the lack of access to the justice system for a whole community of people. We've been working on it for more than a year and I can't wait to get it out!
Laurent: How many project pitches you get compared to the amount of projects that stem from inside Gimlet or from Gimlet Creative?
We get a lot of pitches. I think mostly from outside Gimlet actually.
Allison: How do you see the role of the Gimlet Members in shaping new shows - do you ever consider using us as an alpha testing team?
We did that more consistently early on. It was always super helpful to hear what the members thought of the episodes and we want to try to build that back in next year.
Matt: From your perspective, what's missing in audio/podcasting/radio/what-have-you? It could be a product or people or a content gap or a particular perspective. Really anything you think this whole world of podcasts is lacking.
I was talking just last night with Martina Castro who founded a podcasting company called Adonde Media.. and she was talking about how incredibly english language the podcasting world is and how stories take on such a different texture in different languages. English is my second language so that really resonates with me. I would love to see that myself...spanish, arabic...real storytelling podcasts in other languages. Also, we really want to translate Chompers to Spanish!
Emma: what's something you look for in a new show pitch that people might not be expecting?
Let's see...mainly what I look for is vision and access to a world or story that not everyone has access to and then I ask the question of - why are you the best person to tell this story? or do this show? Sometimes I've found that people assume that we want to control the vision of the show...but what we're really looking for are super talented people who we can support to make a really amazing show.
Sarah: I just saw you mention the show coming out in January about the 42nd police precinct in the Bronx. That sounds awesome! Is there anything else you can tell us about any forthcoming/in the pipeline shows?
I think those two are the only two I can talk about right now...a fiction YA love story and our show about the 42nd police precinct. Those both come out in January February-ish of next year!
Matt: What's new out there that you wish Gimlet had made?
I mean there are so many shows that are so good that I love and I listen and I wanted to have worked on for lots of different reasons... I remember the first season of In the Dark which covered the Jacob Wetterling case in this amazing way. That case colored my whole childhood in Minnesota and I loved that season.
I've also been listening to Bag Man which is a podcast from my former boss Rachel Maddow and it's great and fascinating and I loved working with her...so I wish we'd made that one just so I could have worked with her again.
Sean: Gimlet has so many different podcasts of so many different formats and subjects now. What is the “end of 2018” definition of what makes something a Gimlet podcast specifically?
I think the stories and shows we try to do are human stories that say something bigger about the world. Sometimes the stories feel specific and personal but what we look for is that they are reflecting something more universal. I don't think it's about formats (Narrative vs conversational)...I think we can do both. We do also believe in editing and taking listeners' time seriously.
Emma: When there's a new show that we as listeners really love, what is the best way to support the show? do iTunes reviews really have that much impact?
iTunes reviews are super helpful. I think (don't know for sure. NO ONE KNOWS.) but i think they help propel the show up the charts which helps discovery. honestly, the best way is to tell everyone you know to listen...repeatedly. Podcasts still mostly spread from word of mouth.
Alex:When you green light a new show, does the studios side of the business come into the room to decide on yay/nay or do they generally online mine shows after they have been green-lit/in process of being executed?
When we greenlight a show, we make sure to talk with Chris Giliberti who runs gimlet pictures, to get his sense of viability of the project for TV and film. We always think audio-first so we don't make a decision based just on that input...but it's definitely something we take into consideration.
Alex:You may be my favorite "character" in any Gimlet show in how much of a badass you are on Startup. Now that you run the part of the business that's most within Alex's wheel house, do you find yourself having a whole lot more intersection between work and family life?
YES. We talk about work a lot. Alex and I have very, very candid conversations about work. It somehow doesn't feel as weird as it might sound. Some couples have told me that they could never work together. It doesn't feel that way (yet)...but, it definitely is all consuming.
Alex: Curious - what happens when you both feel strongly about something and disagree? Do you do so more in private than in public? Both?
Both. I think it's important for us to disagree in public, in front of coworkers in a way that we would if we weren't married. Otherwise, I think it can feel like we go home, talk about stuff and make decisions. so, we pretty transparently disagree in front of others about work stuff.
Allen: If you could ask us anything at all, what would it be?
Is there a kind of show you guys think is missing from podcasting that you'd really want to see exist?
Emma: more queer pods! Nancy is the only one I really like but there is so much untapped gayness out there.
Matt: yes! More queer ppl plz. Sounds like they're coming, but even more, and more non-fictional ones. I'd also love Gimlet's twist on a tech conversation pod. Something like The Cut on Tuesdays. But that area feels WAY overcrowded and I mostly want it because I can listen to them back to back for days. I also had a pod about immigration (this is really not a pitch) that was trying to be about immigration in a way that wasn't about a wall or a border or that stuff, but about regular people just trying to live. I don't know if I was successful, but I'd love to see somebody be successful in that in a way that engages with but gets around popular political narratives.
Anna: have you kept in touch with your new found family member from Twice Removed? (guess not so newly found now hah)
Aw. I'm sorry to say that we haven't kept in touch. We had a lovely evening after she came in for the interview. We had dinner. She met my kids, who literally would not be here with out her. But, since then we haven't kept in touch. I'm so glad I got to meet her though.
Allen: What was your favourite Gimlet Creative series? And why?
It's hard to decide! eBay was the first one I ever did...so I have a soft spot in my heart for that series. But, I loved DTR and Casting Call and if you're an investment person..I think we made the best damn institutional investment podcast out there with AQR.
And the why...DTR was a reality show, basically. The second season of it and we learned a lot about producing a reality show by making that show. Emma was on it! She was great.
And Casting Call was ambitious and fun and we met Anna Ladd and the other finalists and Squarespace was a really great partner.
Allen: What podcasts are you listening to right now or would recommend to folks?
I'm obviously to going say all the non-Gimlet ones! I'm listening to Bag Man. I heard about The Shadows the other week so I'm trying out that one. It's a fiction/non-fiction blend CBC podcast. Aminatou Sow from Call Your Girlfriend told me about a podcast called She's All Fat that I've been listening to. It's a body positivity podcast.
Matt: Who do you think of as Gimlet’s primary competitors? And/or (if you’d rather), which podcast networks or similar entities do you admire?
We all do subtly different things. I admire obviously TAL and Serial for their just excellent, unparalleled storytelling. I think Wondery does an amazing job marketing their shows. There are so many production companies. I don't feel very competitive with folks, honestly. Maybe I should!
Matt: what podcast app do you use, and do you speed up your podcasts?!
hahaha! i will never tell.
Allen: when are you planning GimletFest Melbourne?
Oh man. I would LOVE to go to Gimletfest Melbourne. Let's lobby Matt and Alex together.