Storyteller Sit-down: Julianne Wilkinson

Edition 16. HERE.WE.GO.

This is Julianne Wilkinson — a Great Big Story Producer and the token Australian on the team. Julianne is also the voice of Great Big Story’s “On The Brink” series and if she can be 1–100,000th as good as David Attenborough she’ll die happy. On weekends you can find her walking dogs at her local Brooklyn animal shelter and drinking red wine.

Strangest or best ‘on location’ occurrence

JW: The strangest AND best experience I had on location was filming at a Level 3 maximum security prison in North Carolina. My Co-Producer Andy and I were working on a piece about a prison music program run by the chamber orchestra from Carnegie hall in NYC.

Freedom to Play: Music As Prison Rehabilitation

My parents are both musicians so hearing from these inmates about how music was the best “therapy” was really moving. It was an emotionally trying few days but the best shoot I have ever been on.

This piece was really well received. You hit all the right notes (no pun intended).

Favorite piece produced and why

JW: My favorite piece is “Candy Bomber”. This piece was my BIGGEST fail…. Until it wasn’t.

I was challenged by the senior team to make this “look different than any other studio shoot,” so I decided to try a lighting technique called “Bokeh Effect” and it seemed to fit the story really well.

For the first trial we tried using Christmas lights but they were too small and the frame was too busy:

BIG thanks goes out to our stand in man Rodrigo (former Great Big Story intern)

End Result: We went with café lights, which we taped to the back of the seamless; they were larger and less distracting:

Thanks to Gail Halvorsen for letting us take over his home in Arizona!

BRoll: Didn’t make it into the cut. But thanks to our actors!

Former Editor turned Producer Dave Yim.

After a few weeks of the piece “not working” I decided we needed to use animation to tell the story and match the interview shot, so I teamed up with the very talented animator Sean Lattrell (who also contributed to our Willie Nelson series: Hey Willie!). We sent him pictures of Gail and the kids, which turned into incredible animations. We were all really happy with how it turned out!

Sweet Salute: In Berlin, He Dropped Candy Not Bombs
Now the world knows what you went through. I remember the office setup while you were working on this story. You really worked some magic to turn it into what it is now.

Biggest self-criticism of a piece you worked on

JW: I am constantly critical of my work. I have never left a shoot without thinking, “Could I have done more?” Sometimes the moments you need to capture are fleeting and that’s what makes it fun.

And that’s what makes us Great Big Story!

A strange, nightmarish, or weird-mazing tale from the road

JW: I once booked a hotel room that had no furniture in it.

True Story.

Out in the middle of nowhere with my Co-Producer Andria, her room had a coffee table in it and mine had six (6) mattresses. Safe to say we left that night and I never booked that hotel chain again.

The reputation of booking terrible hotels stayed with me though…

Let corporate travel save you from the hassle next time!

A callout to your favorite Great Big Story social media supporter

My mum (mom) comments on everything…. Thanks mum.


Most difficult part about being a storyteller.

JW: Researchers block!! There is no magic way we find stories; it’s all research. Every now and again I have days where I think:

“Ok, that’s it. I’ve read the internet. All of it. There’s nothing left.”

Of course this isn’t the case, so it’s about changing the approach and digging a little deeper or taking a different angle.

I once was looking at inanimate objects on my desk for inspiration and saw a piece of gum and this sparked searching for stories about the origins of different candies. It was in that rabbit hole I found the story about how a dentist patented the cotton candy machine we use today.

The more you know…