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Filmmaker Tours 150 Small U.S. Communities: The Surprising, Positive Lessons with Sarah Yourgrau (Episode #142)

The media seems to bombard us with stories of how bad it is “out there” and it would be easy to think that anywhere outside our particular pocket of the country is a bit frightening. But our guest today, Sarah Yourgrau, spent time in 150 small communities across America as a producer on Mike Rowe’s uplifting series: “Returning the Favor.” On this journey, she learned things that blew her away with joy. Here are some surprising stories that build a perspective we can all celebrate!

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

Sarah Yourgrau is a 2x Emmy Award-Winning producer, storyteller and social anthropologist dedicated to building narratives that inspire social cohesion and more fertile common ground. 

Her experience and worldview all came together when she was chosen to produce Mike Rowe’s series “Returning the Favor,” where he tours the United States on a mission to uncover generous people making a difference in their communities and surprise them with a gift that helps them do more good work.

Sarah was the person who came into these communities cold, and spent weeks finding the key “givers and doers” who the show would feature. To do that, she had to be warm, approachable, curious and courageous. 

With over a decade of on-ground field experience, interviewing and filming within hundreds of diverse communities across America, Sarah has transferred her practical industry, anthropological and cultural knowledge into Common Ground Studios

CGS is a storytelling studio offering creative strategy, media production, narrative and conversation-design to help us more effectively communicate between each other. 

In this episode, we talk about all kinds of insights her journey has afforded her: helpful perspectives that we can all use every day to navigate our own circles with more hope and less fear. 

With her disarmingly connected style and knack for synthesizing the complex, Sarah’s uniquely humanizing approach surely energizes the entire production process—behind and in front of the camera. And that gives Sarah, and now all of us, a window into how similar we all are in our hopes and dreams.

Whether she’s journeying deep inside subcultures to host a viral docuseries with over 450 million viewers (Facebook Watch), traveling globally to investigate the most authentic cultural rhythms of wanderlust-inducing locations (Marriott Bonvoy), creating intimate connections through soulful and comedic interviews (Netflix) or speaking and facilitating with brands and organizations, Sarah’s grounded and engaging presence acts as connective tissue between her subject and audience. 

For today’s interview, her skill with storytelling enables all of us to feel like we were right there with her. Enjoy this fun hour, learning about what’s right in community after community in this country.

Show Notes

00:00 Preview

 03:10 Sarah Yourgrau

  • Sarah is a two time emmy award winning producer.
  • Sarah has a background in theatre and anthropology.

 04:51 No Mundane Moments

  • The pandemic allowed us to confront our mortality.
  • People started recognizing that the most fulfilling and nourishing parts of life are the everyday moments.
  • Sarah produced a series called ‘Returning the Favor’.
  • Returning the Favor had 145 episodes and over 450 million views.
  • While  filming Return the Favor, Sarah traveled the American landscape extensively.
  • A big part of filming a documentary is gaining enough trust with people for them to share their stories.
  • Sarah would go to these communities to build relationships in preparation for filming.
  • In meeting with different communities, Sarah recognized that we have much more commonalities than we have differences.
  • We don’t have enough pathways to meet each other.
  • Stories are one of the best vehicles to create inroads for us to understand people we might never meet.

 19:25 Community Change Agents

  • Return the Favor was about identifying people in different communities who were positive change agents.
  • The idea was to get the stories of the people doing good wok in their communities.
  • The idea was to approach people with the idea of doing a docu series about them.
  • The filming would culminate in a reveal when host Mike Rowe surprised participants with all the work that was being done to support and highlight their initiatives. 

 23:13 Break

 26:13 Gamifying Curiosity

  • Curiosity is the start point of genuine connection.
  • The power of language is the greatest amplifier into each others’ personal paradigms.
  • Sarah’s first goal in interacting with people is genuine connection and communication.
  • We are often talking over each other and talking around each other.
  • We don’t need to be threatened by someone else’s world view or lived experience.
  • We can have fun learning different perspectives.
  • Being curious about others starts with being curious about yourself.

 32:54 Assume We Know Nothing

  • CEO of Ocean Alliance Dr. Iain Kerr appeared on The Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast Episode 116 and spoke about a drone flying over a whales to collect whale snot when the whale blows.
  • Dr. Kerr talks about how little we know about whales based on the small glimpses we have of their lives when they surface.
  • We know very little about people based on the small glimpses we have into their lives.
  • Curiosity is an avenue for getting deeper views into peoples’ lives and build a reality that is much more reflective of the actual reality.

 37:06 The Most Authentic Version of Me

  • I am not attached to the person I was nor am I attached to the person I am, I am only attached to the most authentic version of me and that is always changing.
  • Our narratives about the world have to be flexible.
  • We lived in a time where all the assumptions that we thought were solid ended up shifting.
  • Living is  a dynamic act.
  • Our world is changing based on the stories that we are telling ourselves.
  • If we are intentional about absorbing more positive solution oriented news we can see our view of the world shift.
  • “ We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are” – Anais Nin
  • Growth require change.

 40:35 Finding Your Roots

  • We are not telling enough stories through the generations that give us a footing of where we came from.
  • Story is the thing that keeps us human.
  • Story has the most transformative power to expand our sense of possibility.
  • We live in the immediacy of now.
  • In focusing on the now, we sometimes forget that we are not starting from scratch.
  • We are contributing to a story whose end we may not live to see.
  • It is fundamentally story that gives us courage.

 50:36 What do you wish people knew?

  • How much we have in common.
  • When people reveal their real selves we find so much in common.
  • We’re missing out on opportunities to collaborate when we assume we’re different.
  • If we can replace anger and judgment with curiosity and inquiry we can open up whole new worlds.
  • We should visit spaces or communities that we think we don’t have a lot in common with.

 53:44 What has to happen next?

  • Common Ground Studios is a storytelling agency and a production house.
  • Common Ground Studios is built around the Oscar Wilde quote “life imitates art”.
  • Art has the greatest power to influence and connect.
  • Common Ground Studios is starting to work with brands and organizations to capture and share positive stories.

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