Practical Strategies For Developing Super Stories by Houston Howard

Marcus Swanson, Filmmaker/LA Film School Student: As we’ve been talking about transmedia and this idea about how to pull a bunch of stories from our story world, were do you look to craft that many stories out of one story world? What kind of techniques do you use to pull good stories out for all different platforms across your story world?

Marcus Swanson (left) and Sherrod Sloan (right)

Houston Howard, Transmedia Author and Instructor: So people can get the theory and be excited about the model. But practically, what are the strategies used to identify jumping off points in story that maximizes the transmedia model? There are a couple ways that I think are very easy to identify and one of them is unanswered questions. And so I think this is the easiest way to create transmedia opportunities. Identify unanswered questions in your script and in a movie, in a TV show (whatever it is) then answer them somewhere else on a different platform.

Take the classic example of PULP FICTION “What’s in the briefcase?” And if they didn’t answer it in the film (which I think was right for the film), it created a mystique around the film. But if today Tarantino launched a web series, or a comic book series, or a novel that was all about the briefcase and the guys who go to get the briefcase and actually reveals what’s in the briefcase, all of the sudden that is a tremendous incentive of me as a fan of PULP FICTION to go check that out.

In INCEPTION where you don’t know in the end where he is stuck in the dream or not stuck in the dream because he spins the top and they cut the film (it’s an unanswered film). And so if they answered that somewhere else in an app or song or something else, that’s a transmedia opportunity. I like to think back to Sophia Coppola’s first film LOST IN TRANSLATION and at the end Bill Murray whispers something into her ear and you don’t know what he says. That’s an unanswered question. And if 20 years or 10 years later (however long that film has been out) if they reengage the audience by whether it’s a love song that reveals the line. Maybe it’s an email that Bill Murray’s character sends Scarlett Johansson’s character that the audience is CC’d on that “Remember that time I whispered this into your ear in Tokyo?” That all the sudden is valuable for the audience. So if you go through a script, you can readily identify transmedia opportunities that you maybe didn’t know from the beginning of where did that character go when she went off screen? Why does he have a black eye? What’s behind that door? Where does that car go? What are these guys talking about? Like unanswered questions, you can probably find 15 in an existing script or pilot already. That is then a transmedia opportunity that you can split off and answer somewhere else.

Or if you’re creating or writing a script from square one with this knowledge you will naturally build in questions that you know you’re not going to answer until you release this other thing in a different platform.

And so a great example of that is when in THE FORCE AWAKENS in STAR WARS C-3PO has a red arm. And no one knows why C-3PO has a red arm, it’s an unanswered question. Well then Lucas Film released a one-shot comic book about C-3PO and how he got the red arm. It’s such a simple, stupid thing that is not rocket science. It’s like literally play on the curiosity of people, pose a question, don’t answer it, answer it somewhere else. It’s like ready-made transmedia in a box. J.J. Abrams called it Mystery Box, right? He sort of coined this term Mystery Box of the human mind will always want answers to questions. And if you just build in intentionally questions that you don’t answer in your script, answer them somewhere else, maybe not immediately, maybe wait ten years and wait until your feel like your audience is starting to wane and die out and this is a way to reengage them in a great way…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

Watch the video on Youtube here

Special thanks to The LA Film School for allowing us to film this video interview on their campus.

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