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June 25 at 8:15am

This Is The Era Of The Storyworld

By Ted Hope

One-off film is a fool’s errand.  When the biggest challenge before filmmakers is not creating great work, or getting good work financed, but actually getting people to watch interesting and ambitious cinema, we must recognize that practices and processes must change.

As I like to stress, the only sane response to an overabundance of leisure time options in general and media in particular, is for filmmakers to be even more prolific and ubiquitous.  As a creator if you want to improve your chances of your work finding an audience you need to increase the opportunity people have to discover your work.  You need to have more work in more places.  You need to connect that work with multiple audiences and vice versa.  You have to also facilitate deeper engagement with that work and hopefully be able to sustain that work.  It’s a hefty order I know.

One-off film is what the film industry and culture has been uniformly based on, with the exception of Hollywood’s obsession with franchises.  Sequels and their ilk serve to increase awareness of that tale.  One film’s marketing positions the next in the series.  But these are just serials.  They are rarely multiple platform efforts, or if they are, the story and content is generally just repurposed for that platform, not respecting that platforms bring different contexts, audiences, and practices with them.

I look at storyworlds as multiple and cross platform plays, that allow for multiple forms of engagement, participation, collaboration, and even authorship. Storyworlds can apply to both fiction and nonfiction, and they don’t have to be consistently narrative.  They are perfect for this digital time when completion is yesterday’s way and today we can revise, re-iterate, and consistently experiment and adapt.

I recognize that many use “storyworld” as a term to sum up a more comprehensive narrative world, but I find it an apt term for cinema and its extensions that share a thematic but is spread across multiple platforms.  I find it a more audience-friendly term that transmedia or cross platform.  People don’t know what they want if they can’t define it.  They need a name they like to articulate their desire and I can’t picture people every saying with a straight face that they are looking to go deep into a transmedia experience.  Okay, “storyworlds” may not be much better, but they are preferable for me.  When I hear storyworld I see a sphere before me, not a line or an object but an entire universe, complex and intricate but yet a simple beauty.

My wife Vanessa Hope is also a filmmaker. When she was 18 she decided to move to China.  She studied the language.  She studied the culture.  She studied the politics.  For years she was an academic, doing a dissertation in anthropology with a focus on Chinese cinema.  After producing a couple of excellent films, both of which got into Sundance, she recognized the time was right to direct her own film, and of course she wanted to focus on China, and namely the effects of our diplomatic policy these last forty years.  It is not a small subject, nor an easy one to tell.  She had to follow many story lines, some that ultimately did not fit into the feature.  She also had to confront that the subject was in a constant state of change — yet she remained fascinated by this marriage of two nations that has profound ramifications for everyone.

Vanessa filmed and she filmed and she filmed.  She edited and she edited and she edited.  Neither one ever seemed like it would come to an end.  And know what?  I don’t think that it should.  Vanessa recognized that she wasn’t make a film.  Vanessa recognized she was building a STORYWORLD.  We may have two features.  We have perhaps as many as thirty online shorts to make.  We just premiered the first festival short, CHINA IN THREE WORDS, at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.  And we just launched what we hope to build into a collaborative web-based creative community on the subject ChinaUSA.me.  Right now, it is just a mailing list sign up, but we plan to evolve.  And can with your help.

To me, what we should be trying to make is not just features, but work that has multiple extensions, web series, festival shorts, and participatory/collaborative websites.  We should find things to build together.  Our work should continually evolve.  It’s form should be applicable to the platform it is on.  That is a storyworld.  That is storytelling for the time we are living in.  Let’s give it a whirl.

As we work to our goal, please let us know of any other Cbina/US themed content that captures this relationship at this time.  Thanks.
And for an initial taste, here’s the trailer for the festival short: http://vimeo.com/63940004

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  1. Liam Billingham / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    Hey Ted,

    I found your post inspiring and it’s definitely got me thinking about the direction I take my next few projects. Perhaps some of them can come away from the feature realm and closer to the ‘Storyworld.’

    I recently completed a short film called ‘Future Perfect’ as part of my graduate thesis. Future Perfect is about an English-as-a-Second-Language student from China who has to navigate his ESL school and NYC in general. I think it could have some relevance to the project above. If you’d be interested, I could send you a link. This is the website:

    Let me know, and thanks so much for your posts!
    -Liam Billingham.

  2. Stu Siegal / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    Hey Ted,

    If you’re not familiar with, you should check out Abigail Washburn, sounds as if there are some similarities between her journey and your wife’s. Here’s a link to her TED talk.


  3. Ted Hope / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    As me move forward with the ChinaUSA.me site Liam we will reach out. Thanks Liam. Sounds interesting!

  4. cj / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    It’s the quantum principle of superposition (being in one or more places at one time). As it applies to photosynthesis in plants, it applies to the consumption of stories by the audience. The energy (photons/story content) excites molecules inside a cell but follows different energy pathways at once to find the most efficient way into the reaction center, just as the same story might find it’s way into the reaction center and reach different audiences via the theater, live stage, the printed page or TV. Though our egos and hubris reject the notion, the greater audience absorbs stories and information the way purple bacteria absorbs light.

  5. Liam Billingham / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    Looking forward to it, Ted. Good luck with the site and the project!

  6. mc / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    Its a great name for a term that has been stuck with advertising definitions for too long and your wife’s project sounds awesome! Multiple story lines continually evolving is how we deal with the present moment so its the clear that this will be the future of film in my opinion. Good luck with the projects I’ll be sure to check in more frequently. cj love response regarding superposition, ego and bacteria – its this communities job to make the leap between the abstract theory here and turn it into evolution of the mind.

  7. mike vogel / Jun 25 at 8:15am

    It will be interesting to see how user generated content fits into the China in Three Words storyworld. I totally agree about feature films being a fool’s errand. So much effort is made to build awareness for an independent film and then the audience literally (and figuratively) walks out the door when it’s over. Projects like Vanessa’s have the potential to grow and adapt and bring people together in a way that a stand-alone film can’t. Good luck on this new adventure!

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