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‘Lore’: From terrifying podcast to more terrifying TV show

A scene from the Amazon show
A scene from the Amazon show "Lore."
Tina Rowden

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Amazon's latest television series debuting, aptly enough, on Friday the 13th, is a horror anthology called "Lore." It’s based on the popular podcast of the same name that tells non-fiction stories about dark historical tales.

Lore Amazon Trailer

Aaron Mahnke is the host and creator of the podcast "Lore," which he launched in 2015 and continues to produce independently. "Lore" is currently one of the top 3 most popular podcasts on iTunes, right next to shows by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and NPR.

Mahnke is the creator, co-executive producer and narrator of the Amazon series. He partnered with the producers of The Walking Dead to bring the TV adaptation to life on-screen.

When Mahnke spoke with The Frame's John Horn, he talked about how he adapted his podcast to television and why folklore remains popular today.


Why are audiences so interested in stories about folklore, especially those that are dark in nature?

Well folklore has a lot of purposes. There's the basics–story is used to teach, you know, we pass down lessons to our children and our grandchildren. The Grimm's fairy tales were chock full of lessons and warnings for how to act in society. But I do think that one of the things that's most attractive about story is that it acknowledges the shadows in our lives. It acknowledges those unknown things that are on the edge of our experience, that we don't have an answer for. We don't have an explanation for them and so I feel like it helps us cope better with lives that are full of the unexpected. For thousands of years, it's one of the reasons why we tell the stories we tell.

Campbell Scott, Steve Coulter and Benjamin Keepers in
Campbell Scott, Steve Coulter and Benjamin Keepers in "Lore."
Curtis Baker

In the first episode, there's a story about somebody who is put in a coffin, many years ago. People believe she's dead and maybe she's not. And there's a detail of what happens to her that involves her fingernails and what happens to her inside that coffin. I heard this story probably 50 years ago and I immediately knew about the fingernails. That detail was burned in my memory. Is that part of what you're talking about, the ways in which those little telling details in folklore stay with us and we can never shake them?

Absolutely. And these stories, you know, they're born in a time–especially that tale–coming from 1700s and 1800s when people were obsessed... in Europe, Germany, France and America, they were obsessed with this fear of being  buried alive. And this is because for a very long time we were not good at declaring someone dead. Sometimes you just didn't know, and they had to come up with very unique ways of testing to see if people were dead. That's why writers like Edgar Allan Poe wrote a number of stories about being buried alive or trapped because that was a common fear at the time.

When you first got a pitch or had a conversation about turning the podcast into a TV series, what were your initial reservations and what was your initial interest?

My reservations were always in the department of creative vision. I have a very particular taste for my own show. I built a podcast that I would listen to myself. It's the length that it is because it fits my time spent in the car, my attention span. It fits my interests and my approach to story. So I kind of built a podcast for myself and a lot of people tended to like it. I wanted to make sure that the TV show fit that.

Early on, a lot of the pitches were very off the mark on vision. Thankfully, I had a lot of production companies that reached out so I had a lot to look at. At the end of the day, it was working with somebody who not only had the talent, the resources, the connections, but also had that vision for a show that was very much a video version of the podcast.

Adam Goldberg in
Adam Goldberg in "Lore."
Steve Dietl

How do you retain the DNA of the podcast, other than with your voice, when you're adding things like animation, re-enactments, a little more production value? How do you make sure that you haven't lost the things that made the story work the first time?

Well, you just hold true to that core story that you want to tell. "Lore" as a podcast is this deceptively simple entity. It sounds like, I'll press play and I'll listen to Aaron talk for 25 minutes. But it's more than just me telling a story for 25 minutes. There are segments to the show that just kind of escape perception. There are moments when I'm going to give some contextual background, or maybe I'll tell a little bit of folklore that backs up the main story that we're about to hear. In audio format, it's really hard to distinguish those.

But in TV, you've got this visual format and there are a lot more options for helping segments be distinct from each other so that's what I like about the show. You can have the main story played out, and then we can take a break and cut away to an animation that describes a bit of folklore or some found footage or photographs, then we can jump back in and move forward again. I think by doing that in the TV show, it's different from the podcast, but at the same time that's one of the pieces that helps it retain that soul.

To listen to the interview with Aaron Mahnke, click on the player above. The Frame is also available as a podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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