It’s the middle of the night and an independent filmmaker is typing away on her laptop. That scene works splendidly, and the character that’s in there for that scene only is just off the charts. It’ll be a highlight of the film.
Cut to: twenty minutes later. She’s going to bed and thinking, if this film is a hit, there’s a chance for a sequel that focuses on that character. “Even twenty years later, like Trainspotting.” But that one character that’s only in that one scene could get that one very famous actor, and he may or may not want to wait twenty years. And he’s available right after you’re done with your shoot. So you don’t know what you’re going to do but you’re going to DIY. How about a web series?
And you know that entire backstory you wrote for your lead character that never made it into the film? How about you publish it? Sounds like you’ve got a transmedia universe on your hands, dear independent filmmaker.
Expanding the universe
“The universe is expanding,” young Alvy Singer says.
“The universe is expanding, huh,” replies the doctor.
“He stopped doing his homework!” interjects Alvy’s overwrought mother.
That’s a scene from Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall, which has little to no bearing whatsoever with our topic at hand, i.e. transmedia storytelling, except that yours truly really likes that film and, most importantly, your business is to be expanding your universe.
The first question is why. Why should you? You should expand your story universe because you’ve done your homework. The opportunities will arise when you’ve spent time with your characters, or you’ve crafted a back story, or you just see so many ways that the story could have gone that you want to explore those avenues.
If you want to to generate ideas, looking into what’s traditionally done in our business, you could think of the spin-offs you love. The important thing is that you bring something more.
Play to your strengths
More specifically, you should play to your core story’s strengths. If you spent time on character development and your character has become your anchor as a writer, expand your universe from there. And why not publish the short story (or a novel, let’s go crazy) as an ebook?
If your universe has a strong, idiosyncratic visual style, how about expanding into a graphic novel? You can also try a new medium, such as VR.
There are many ways to expand a universe. The important thing you need to keep in mind is that there is nothing new when it comes to story: human beings have been telling stories for millennia, and Joseph Campbell, Syd Field, Blake Snyder and many others have broken down story patterns you can rely on.
Star Wars is arguably the biggest contemporary myth, and each trilogy (that has been completed) follows the exact same beats of the hero’s journey. It has expanded in more films, spin-offs, comic books, merchandise and many more things powered by the engine of contemporary consumerism.
Harry Potter has been doing so in a more original way. Twenty years after J.K. Rowling published the first book in the original series (the core story) we’re still talking about it, not just because of the film adaptations, but because of the regular bombshells about characters that have been dropped. Then there was the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which has ticked all the required boxes to satisfy all the nostalgia we had for this universe.
Now, Fantastic Beasts is expanding the universe again, in a five-film franchise. The link of the new story to the core story is thin (the new lead is the author of one of Harry Potter’s textbooks at Hogwarts). However, everything has been done to ease the transition from one story to another: Pottermore, the digital expansion of the universe, has introduced the American Wizarding World, and the trailers for the film rely heavily on the beautiful, timeless theme of Harry Potter, composed by John Williams.
Granted, you may not have the means to expand your story on the scale of Star Wars or Harry Potter (who does apart from those or Marvel?) But you have a camera, a vivid imagination and faith in your story. There’s no stopping you now.
Your homework before creating your core story was also about finding your audience on social media, and interacting with them. Once your original idea is out, they’ll let you know what they loved. Rely on those tips. You can go with your gut feeling, but you have to be brutally honest about what works and what doesn’t. People on social media know how to be brutally honest. That’s the first-step to crowd-creation. Expand your universe. It’s all storytelling.
Do you want to try going into comic books or graphic novels? Try our introductory course.