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Going Behind the Research of Lore with Carl Nellis

Carl Z. Nellis is the lead researcher and executive producer of Grim & Mild Entertainment, an audio production company that is home to award-winning podcasts such as Lore and Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Carl’s research has him digging up some of history’s forgotten graveyards so we at Podchaser were instantly fascinated. We asked Carl if we could sit down with him and get some insights into what his work entails, how he conducts his research and what podcasters can do to change up their research.

To start Carl, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Grim & Mild? 

I’m a writer, editor, producer, and storyteller. I love finding an amazing story, shaping it into something truly dramatic, and hearing a voice bring it to life. Podcasting is the perfect format for that. 

As for the daily work behind the job titles, it’s always exciting because it’s something new every day. Sometimes I’m writing scripts, like for Unobscured and Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Sometimes I’m chasing a research question into libraries and historical scholarship. Maybe I’m booking interviews, interviewing guests, or cutting tape. Or on a given day I could be discussing show pitches and research methods with our team in a writers’ room for Lore or American Shadows.  

It’s work that takes a lot of curiosity and a lot of creativity, and I love being able to exercise both in my day to day.

Working on so many shows is a big undertaking, how do you manage it and multitask?

It helps that we have an amazing team at Grim & Mild. We coordinate across a number of different producers, researchers, and writers. Everyone has different strengths and when we put our heads together there’s a real spirit of generosity across the team. We always challenge ourselves to grow in new areas, while also pitching in to help each other. It’s a “many hands make light work” situation.  

You lead a team of researchers, can you tell us a bit about that team and how you’re able to coordinate across several people for several different shows? 

Anyone interested in our process as a team will love the show that we create for Patreon supporters: Behind the Lore

Every time a new Lore episode comes out, I sit down with the member of our team who researched the episode. We talk about how it came together from concept to published podcast. If you listen, you’ll hear conversations with Michelle Muto, Robin Miniter, Taylor Hagerdorn, Allie Steed, Sam Alberty, and Meaghan Des Roche. Our backgrounds are all different. We’re talented historians, great horror fiction writers, documentary producers, archivists, and librarians. In each episode of Behind the Lore, you’ll get a little sneak peek into the talent they bring to the table, the passion we share for things like primary sources, and our production process. 

When we hit an episode of Lore that I researched, Aaron Mahnke joins me for Behind the Lore and we often get into exploring the big picture for Grim & Mild across all the different shows we make. 

You can find that and everything else we offer to supporters at https://www.patreon.com/lorepodcast

How do you go about finding a new topic and what is your process once you have it?

All of us at Grim & Mild are constant learners. We read omnivorously, and we’re always sharing what we’ve found. If I stumble on something amazing or unusual that’s not on-topic in the moment, it gets shared with the team and bookmarked for the future. When there’s excitement across the team for a new discovery, we know we’ve hit gold. So at this point, it’s a virtuous cycle of research leading to new avenues leading to more research. 

What type of obstacles do you encounter when you are researching a show?

Since we deal with folklore, we often get suggestions from listeners who would like us to investigate their local stories and the legends that are really meaningful to them. But those can be tricky to dig into. If it’s a legend that’s new, or that’s really kept alive in a small community through retellings in the present, we may not find enough for us to build a podcast episode around. Not every story leaves a paper trail!

You’ve been doing this for long enough now to learn and grow, is there one lesson you can point to that’s really helped you improve?

I’ve really learned the habit of not letting anything go to waste. Keeping detailed notes and having a system for filing away new discoveries has been key.

In particular, Harry Marks, who writes for Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and Michelle Muto, who writes American Shadows, are fonts of wisdom when it comes to organizational tools. It’s a real privilege to work with them and follow their example. 

What research did you enjoy doing the most?

Crafting Unobscured has really been a delight over the past few years. 

I love the long-form, documentary-style narrative, and the chance to explore the depths and nuances of misunderstood historical events. Before I started working on the series, I knew a few things about the Salem witch trials, modern Spiritualism, the Whitechapel murders, and Grigory Rasputin. But each season of Unobscured offered me the chance to go beyond trivia and into the human stories and rich history for each one. 

What piece of text was specifically haunting?

In 2019, I researched the history of human parasites for Lore episode 121, “Uninvited Guest.” There are a few accounts that really stick with me, as people who felt sick realized that they were suffering from something feeding on their bodies. The dawning horror that some of those folks experienced is the kind of thing that I find especially haunting. 

What advice do you have for taking a piece of great text and turning it into a great story?

It’s all about the people, and especially about human emotion. Looking into a text, I’m always searching for the motivations that guided someone’s choices, and how they felt about the things they experienced. If I can connect with the interior worlds of the people in the stories we tell, I think that’s what makes a story come alive for our listeners. 

What type of documents and sources do you prioritize when you research?

I try to take seriously the challenge of exploring the past as it really happened. So I’m always looking for multiple documents and sources that support each other. I love it when I have both an eyewitness account of a historical event, and some good scholarship exploring that event in its context. 

What exciting things can we look forward to being released by Grim & Mild?

We have so much in the works. I’m proud to say that there is a lot more Lore, American Shadows, and Cabinet of Curiosities on the way for listeners to enjoy. For the rest, keep an eye out for announcements as the time comes. 

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