Contributor Guide – Pop-Up Magazine

What exactly is Pop-Up Magazine?

Pop-Up Magazine is a live magazine—an evening of new reported stories, photography, documentary film, radio, and music. We create all kinds of shows and experiences, but the typical Pop-Up show happens on a stage in a big theater, lasts about 100 minutes, and consists of a series of 10-12 short true stories, accompanied by photos, film, illustration, animation, and live music, followed by a fun after-party. Our contributors include New York Times bestselling authors; photographers who shoot for major magazines and exhibit work at top galleries and museums; Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers; prominent public-radio journalists; Grammy-winning musicians; and also a wide, eclectic network of emerging media makers. We do not record the show. You have to be there to see it.

We produce shows for big audiences—this year more than 20,000 people will have seen Pop-Up at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, and other major venues in Boston, Oakland, and Chicago. In 2017, Pop-Up will be expanding to other cities as well. We have also guest edited a session for the main stage at the TED conference in Vancouver, and collaborated on live multimedia performances with ESPN and Beck. 

Some of the nice things the media has said: ‘A sensation’ – The New York Times … ‘Beautiful’ – Los Angeles Times … ‘One of San Francisco’s hottest tickets’ – The Wall Street Journal … ‘Highbrow/Brilliant’ – New York Magazine … ‘A huge hit’ – San Francisco Chronicle

We’re currently putting together several exciting new shows, and we’re looking for stories. All work presented at Pop-Up Magazine is new or not yet widely published. A piece can be adapted from a big work in progress; or drawn from fantastic, unused material from some past work; or it might be new work produced specifically for the show. (Keep in mind: because the show isn’t recorded, presenting at Pop-Up Magazine doesn’t get in the way of publishing or airing the work later.) All Pop-Up Magazine stories are true, and most are based on reporting the contributors have done about the world around them. We generally don’t do memoir—not because we don’t like it, there are just lots of other wonderful outlets for live personal storytelling.

All Pop-Up Magazine contributors receive an honorarium, reimbursement for travel costs, and a big, warm crowd of adoring fans. Our contributors routinely say performing at Pop-Up is one of the most rewarding creative experiences they’ve had.

What are we looking for?

Pop-Up pieces typically range from 2-10 minutes long—occasionally we go longer. Nearly all contributors read their narration from a script. Pieces can be just talking, or talking with pictures, or audio, or film. They can include music, or props, or require audience participation. They can be cross-disciplinary—writers can show films, photographers can share audio stories—or collaborative—a radio producer can team up with an illustrator, a photographer with a musician. Pop-Up provides an ideal stage and supportive audience to explore work that challenges professional pigeonholing.

Here are some of the things we’re particularly interested in.

Here are some examples from past shows.

Short stories (2-4 minutes):

“Hacked!” – a short with images by a writer who became friends with a hacker who stole his Facebook identity.

“One Breath” – a 3:38-second film about freediving that was the exact length of a record-breaking dive.

“The Polaroid Kidd” – a funny story, told in photography and film, of what happened to the subject of a beautiful photograph immediately after the photograph was taken.

“New Wave Cinema” – a story about the first film ever made of surfing, in 1906 by Thomas Edison’s assistant.

“Icons” – A first public look at the notebook of Susan Kare, in which, decades ago, she sketched her designs for the original Apple Computer icons.

Short non-narrative pieces (2-4 minutes):

“Keeping Bees” – an amazing photo essay about bees, along with a 60-second time-lapse of the first 21 days of a bee’s life.

“Lost and Found” – interviews with Lost and Found managers at public and cultural institutions across the Bay Area gathering their funniest anecdotes of items left behind or reunited with their owners.

“Mr. Mom” – a funny demo of a medical device for expectant fathers that mimics the physical realities of being a pregnant woman.

“The Essay” – a renowned photographer shared a thoughtful and moving essay that had been written about one of his most famous photographs and sent to him in the mail. A recording of the essay was played, read by the author, a lifer in prison.

“You Are Here” – a sealed envelope given to everyone at the theater entrance is revealed to contain a braille map of the neighborhood. The theater lights go down, and the audience tries to find the theater on the map, while listening to audio of a blind scientist, the inventor of the map, about navigating a city without sight.

“Written Off” – audio interviews with actors discussing what happens when the characters they play on popular television shows get killed off, with behind-the-scenes photos and video.

“Assembling Tom Hanks” – a Pixar director took the audience behind the scenes to show the process of editing 13 seconds of Toy Story dialogue from an astounding number of takes.

“Winning Streak” – a reported, seven-point list on how to successfully streak a professional sports game, based on interviews with stadium security guards.

“Airsickness” – a 30-second selfie video made by a journalist while on a ride-along with a professional stunt-plane pilot.

Longer stories (5-10 minutes):

“Turn On, Turned Off” – a story with audio and film about the shortest-running television show ever, a show called “Turn On,” that was canceled before the end of its first episode.

“Medora” – an excerpt from a documentary film about what might be the losing-est team in the history of American high school basketball.

“Animal House” – a short story about a woman who is paying her way through college by working as a shepherd, with audio and illustrations.

“Notes from the Border” – a haunting dispatch from the border between the U.S. and Mexico told through the items left behind by immigrants, and accompanied by original music performed on instruments made from those objects by a composer/musician.

“Family Business” – a short reported profile of Dennis Rodman’s father, Philander Rodman, who runs a little-known burger joint in the Philippines.

“Leo Saito and Margaret Iyeki” – a mostly audio story about a community of Japanese-Americans interned during WWII who come together in a quest to gather ingredients for a wedding cake.

“Deadlift” – the story of a man in his 80s, a mostly sedentary intellectual his whole life, who becomes a world champion power lifter in his old age. Then the story takes a surprisingly poignant turn, and the hero appears onstage in a surprise cameo appearance.

“The Lookout” – a collaborative profile, by an illustrator and a radio producer, of a longtime forest-fire spotter, about to be replaced by satellites.

“Party Band” – The story of the official house band of the Black Panthers, accompanied by lost archival recordings and audio of the men reuniting for the first time in decades.

“Portrait of a Boom Town” – a photo essay and story of a remarkable, long-forgotten photo archive, discovered in the basement of a small-town portrait studio after a photographer’s car broke down, stranding him nearby.

“High Five” – a winding narrative on the surprisingly contested story of the origin of a gesture you’d never expect to start a fight.

“Pine Ridge” – a photo essay featuring work taken over the course of seven years on the Pine Ridge Reservation, accompanied by music sung by a friend from the reservation.

“The Livermore Lightbulb” – the story of the world’s longest continuously burning lightbulb, lit nearly continuously for 113 years, illustrated by a shadow artist.

“Bone Records” – a Cold War tale about Soviet citizens who smuggled and shared banned Western music on the only material available to them: used x-ray film.

“The Ballad of Kosher the Pig” – the story of how musician James Taylor’s pet pig killed author Michael Pollan’s pet pig when Pollan was a teenager. (We will occasionally feature memoir if a story is especially surprising or funny.)

“Add as Friend” – A military prison guard returns from Iraq and begins looking up and connecting with former detainees on Facebook, in hopes of making amends.

“Staying In” – in which we join a reporter who accompanies a couple on a conjugal visit inside San Quentin State Prison, and we learn it isn’t all just about sex.

“The Esprit Conference” – an excerpt from an upcoming documentary on an annual gathering of older transgender people—most of whom come from traditionally masculine backgrounds as cops, construction workers and firefighters—in the Pacific Northwest.

“A Drink With Louis”– a sound-rich story about Louis Armstrong’s massive tape collection—not just music, but recordings of his friends, his wife, and himself—that becomes a meditation on privacy, memory, and our modern impulse to document our lives.

Who’s been in it before?

Past performers have included writers such as Alice Walker, Michael Pollan, Steven Johnson, Rebecca Solnit, Jenna Wortham, Farhad Manjoo, William Finnegan, Daniel Alarcón, Jon Mooallem, Chris Hawthorne, Peggy Orenstein, Mary Roach, Jon Ronson, Dana Goodyear, William Langewiesche, Susan Orlean, and Yiyun Li. Filmmakers such as Alex Gibney, Steven Okazaki, Amanda Micheli, Lee Unkrich, Marah Strauch, and Sam Green. Radio producers Roman Mars, Jad Abumrad, the Kitchen Sisters, Tracy Clayton & Heben Nigatu, Joe Richman, Youth Radio, Starlee Kine, and Glynn Washington. Photographers such as Larry Sultan, Jim Goldberg, Autumn de Wilde, Richard Misrach, Trevor Paglen, Cheryl Dunn, Alec Soth, and Todd Hido. Artists and actors such as Beck, John C. Reilly, Sasheer Zamata, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the Kronos Quartet, and Charlyne Yi. Among many, many others.

Here’s how to pitch us.

Send a description of the idea (ideally a few paragraphs) to producer Haley Howle at

If the pitch is for a story, please describe the characters and tell us a bit about what happens and what you think it might all mean. If it’s non-narrative, like a list, let us know what kinds of examples we can expect and what they add up to. If it’s a photo story, share a few images. Same goes for audio and film.

Thanks so much. We’re really excited to hear from you.