Four story lessons from Chewbacca Mask Lady

Happy chewbacca ad

“I’M SUCH A HAPPY CHEWBACCA!!!” she shouts into her cell phone camera, streaming live to Facebook.

“THIS IS WORTH. EVERY. PENNY!!!” she yells, gasping for air between spasms of laughter.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the video of Texas housewife Candace Payne demonstrating her favorite birthday present to herself EVER.

You WILL laugh. It’s physically impossible not to.

This video smashed Facebook video records, racking up over 50 million views in the first 24 hours it was up.


As of this writing, online stores selling Chewbacca masks are now sold out. Everywhere.


And Candace Payne from Texas has appeared on Good Morning America and become a viral video star.

If you look at Candace’s Facebook profile, you’ll see she studied Musical Theater, so it makes sense that she does have an easy on-camera presence. Having said that, I doubt she sat down and plotted out the communication strategy behind her video while shooting it.

Heck no. She just grabbed a Chewbacca mask and hit record.

Here are four lessons we storytellers and creative types can learn from Chewbacca Mask Lady.


1. Context is CRITICAL.

On seeing the video was four minutes long, my first response was, “I don’t wanna spend four minutes watching this.” Then I started watching, and it sucked me in. It became clear that it needs all four minutes. Here’s why…

Every extra giggle, every extra “you’re gonna love this, just wait,” all of it builds suspense in the viewer.

Even fumbling with the box makes us wonder what’s in the crazy thing. She wasn’t trying to mess with the audience (see below thoughts on authenticity), but making us wait longer before she got the box open still made us want to know what was inside.

So often we want to “cut to the chase” – skip the chitchat, just gimme the good stuff.

You can do that, and just getting to the good stuff will sometimes still be ok. But when you understand the context of what’s happening, the “good stuff” is so much better:

You know about her family, why she’s sitting in a parking lot, and how people are looking at her strangely.

And she just doesn’t care.

Which, let’s face it – we ALL care what people think, even the most rule-breaking individualist, and to see someone not care right in front of you is pretty cool.

In your stories, make sure you explain yourself clearly.

Yeah yeah, some of our favorite movies and TV shows surprise us with things that don’t get explained, but that’s ridiculously tough to do well. Most people don’t.

The more your viewers understand, the more they can connect with your story.


2. The world loves authenticity.

authentic stampI’ll admit, when I first heard her say at the beginning, “I was shopping at Kohl’s,” I rolled my eyes.

Greeeeat. A “viral video” brought to you by the social media marketing department at Kohl’s, I thought.

Right up there with America’s Next Top Model brazenly shoving Cover Girl products down their viewers’ throats – “Girls, I know you all want to prove that you’re a brave woman who believes in herself, and I know you’ll do that when you’re wearing your Cover Girl Ultra Glow Foundation And Base Powder!!”

Blech. Just shoot me now.

So, so inauthentic and ham-fistedly driven by corporate payola, not actually about being brave and believing in yourself.

Media outlets are stuffed full of things you want to think are real, but they’re as phony as a $3 bill. Our Fake Radars become ever more sensitive, and we HATE getting fooled.

I’m no exception.

But the more you watch the Chewbacca Mask video, the more obvious it becomes that it’s not a pitch for Kohl’s – it’s a happy, happy customer erupting in authentic glee.

You can’t fake that. It feels completely genuine.

Because it is.

In your stories, trust your gut to know what feels real and what doesn’t. Cynical viewers are just itching for a reason to point their finger at something in your story and say, “AHA!! Fake!!” and to write off what you’re saying.

Authenticity is critical in storytelling. In life too, but that’s a whole other discussion.


3. Know your venue and its audience.

Think about the idea of sharing something laugh-out-loud funny: where’s the best place to share that?

How about a place where people obsessively compare their boring daily lives to everyone else’s highlight reels?

Where every post is weighed by “will this make me look better or worse to other people?”

Research abounds these days on how people on social media can literally become clinically depressed by their online lives. Or lack thereof.

People constantly compare themselves to others, so if there’s a way to look cool by sharing cool stuff?

“Heck yeah, sign me up!” they say.

Aaaand click Share button.

At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, social media is filled with depressed people who desperately want to feel happy. This video fills that desperate need, if only for a couple minutes.

Which is why it’s racking up crazy, crazy huge numbers of likes and shares.

In your stories, who SPECIFICALLY are you talking to, and what do they want BADLY?

Give them that, and you will make them very happy.


4. Know your bigger reason Why.

why typesetCandace Payne appeared on Good Morning America telling the story of the Chewbacca Mask video.

Host Robin Roberts asked her about the best part of the video experience has been, and Candace didn’t even blink:

It’s all about the people thanking her for spreading happiness and laughter into their world, she said.

She said that a mother messaged her saying that her autistic daughter hadn’t laughed for two months, but every time she saw the video she just laughed and laughed.

“And from one momma’s heart to another,” said Candace, “those are the stories I will take with me every day.”

That’s the reason why she made the video in the first place – to share Joy.

You could have somebody do the exact same thing with the exact same goofy mask, but if the reason would have been “Hey look at me, aren’t I funny?”… the result would have been completely different.

But a normal person who’s just filled with happiness and wants to share it?

That’s as real as it gets, and people respond to that… by the MILLIONS.

In your storytelling, knowing what you’re doing and what story you’re telling is important… but it’s not enough.

Your reason WHY you’re doing what you’re doing has an untold number of effects on your projects in ways far too numerous to discuss here.

But merely asking the question and acting on the answer is a fantastic place to start.

And when you know how to explain what you’re doing, do it in an authentic way, and put it in front of an audience who wants what you have to offer, you have an opportunity to tell stories that matter.

That might even leave the world a better place than we found it.

And that’s definitely a goal worth pursuing.

As to my personal why: I’m here to be excellent at telling stories that entertain and inspire people to make the world a better place, and to help the right people do the same thing.

I do the first part every day through my editing work for some of the largest media outlets in the world here in Hollywood. And I do the second here at The Power Edit.

If that idea resonates with you, and you find thoughts like the above valuable, then you should join our email list.

I write about editing, storytelling, and the creative life twice a week – sometimes more, sometimes less – to help YOU as part of our worldwide community to get where YOU want to be in your storytelling.

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Jeff BartschJeff Bartsch is the founder of The Power Edit and teaches and edits television in Los Angeles. His editing clients include ABC, NBC, Universal, Disney, ESPN, MTV, and many others. His book Edit Better: Hollywood-Tested Strategies for Powerful Video Editing is available worldwide on Amazon, Audible, Kindle, and iTunes. His commentary has been featured in TIME Magazine, USA Today, and the Associated Press.


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