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STORYWORLD – THE MULTIPLATFORM, INTERACTIVE FUTURE

CREATE A WORLD … BEFORE THE PLOT
It begins this month, the first Storyworld Studio in Australia, where participants will learn about creating multiplatform, interactive worlds within which to tell their stories, taking screen content into the near future. So what is Storyworld?


The Studio is an intensive development program for interactive multiplatform stories, pioneered by Metro Screen and Mike Jones, winner of Britain’s ICTommorow Digital Innovation award for Film & TV last year. 

Participants will be guided through Storyworld design, rules and pressures taking point of view into account. Narrative adaptation, journey mapping and process will be explored along with Author versus Agency, role play and game mechanics. Practical demonstrations and expert advice on presenting and pitching rich creative concepts will see participants completing the studio ready to develop fully-fledged projects.

Exploring this concept deeper, we discover a wonderful irony. 


Expanding the world of Star Wars

See below - an edited extract from Collaboration & Developing Interactive Narratives: LUMINA Issue 11: By Mike Jones and Karen Pearlman. 
Lumina is the AFTRS Australian Journal of Screen Arts and Business. (Published with permission.)


Ironically, we will propose that the best process for writing for the newest form of screen media may be one that is older than either the model for TV or the model for cinema. Our combined theoretical ideas and practical experience suggests that the ‘dramaturge’ model that has been in use for over 250 years in theatre may be the best one for the development of interactive cross-platform properties. 

The Interactive Dramaturge in Theory
A dramaturge has a few key functions in theatre, including helping to draw out an articulation of the story spine, meaning, intention and vision for production,and then watching over that core idea as it is passed from collaborator to collaborator — writer to director to designer, for example — and interpreted by them. Theoretically this is very similar to the function of someone at the centre of a project in the interactive space. They must draw out an articulation of the core idea and story world, identify how and why it is interactive and then shepherd it through writing, designing, directing and implementation processes. Each of these processes involve key creative collaborators who may speak very different, discipline specific ‘languages’. The dramaturge’s function then, as it is in theatre, is to be across the languages of all the collaborators, and to guide the idea and storyworld through each aspect of creation, intact.

The Interactive Dramaturge in Practice
We will use Mike Jones’ recent experience at Portal Entertainment to unpack this theory of the ‘interactive dramaturge’ and see how it may work in practice, to see what the dramaturgical questions are, and why we think that Mike is a dramaturge rather than a story producer.

Mike’s position at Portal Entertainment is Head of Story, but he describes himself as an interactive dramaturge. He may or may not write, he may or may not come up with the original idea. But his function is to ‘wrangle it’ as a story producer would at a writers’ table into a written form and then to continue to wrangle it, guarding the centre of the idea through interpretation as an interactive property. 

Portal Entertainment describes itself, on its website, as, “a premium digital entertainment company that exists to create immersive experiences where the audience takes part in the story.” It specifically focuses on horror and thriller genres, and would like to, “create Vertigo for the digital age”, the theory being that if the innovative and inventive Alfred Hitchcock was alive today he would be working in the most cutting-edge media of his time: interactive media. 

The tagline ‘create immersive experiences where the audience take part in the story’ is a simple but effective way to describe what Portal sets out to do. It is also a descriptor that deliberately avoids any reference to technology or any specific media hardware. 

Portal is certainly engaged with developing its own technology systems for realising productions, but the core business of the company is delivering a horrifying and thrilling interactive narrative experience. So, the team has to deliver on the promise of engaging interactive stories. They can’t be interactive at the expense of being engaging and they can’t be engaging at the expense of being interactive. They have to be both.

Portal is a very young company still trying out models of collaboration, something that is likely to continue for many years. So far, though, the process at Portal has been for a team of writers to assemble around a virtual table — using Skype because the writers reside in various parts of the globe. The writers themselves are drawn from a range of backgrounds: novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, graphic-novelists, advertising creatives, as well as non-writers — psychologists and digital developers. Overseeing this team and process is the Head of Story, or ‘dramaturge’. The dramaturge stresses the importance of certain core principles about interactive entertainment, and navigates the process by working within them.

"The first principle is to focus on ‘World first, then plot’"

The first principle is to focus on ‘World first, then plot’. This idea puts the emphasis not on coming up with plotlines but rather on devising interesting and dramatically charged Storyworlds. If the world is so beset by pressures that it naturally spawns numerous potential plotlines then it has the basis it needs for multi-platform or multi-stranded narrative experience. If the team works from a single plotline or character then it may as well be writing a feature film — it will be limiting the potential of the interactive experiences and the multi-narrative
scope of the Storyworld.

The other core philosophy for the early stages of development is that technology is off the table. Ideas are generated in a technology-agnostic and platform-independent way. Portal aims to employ technologies as mechanics that respond to dramatic, narrative demands. Starting with the technology would railroad and restrict the story to fit what that particular technology can do, rather than the technology being deployed to service the story. For at least the first half of the writing process technology is left out of the discussion and focus is on a dramatically charged story world with broad character and dramatic potential. 

This is the fun part; writing worlds where each member of the Writers Table responds to an initial concept idea. That idea is, by design, simple, succinct, focused and open. A ‘what if?’ question, a given predicament, a moral choice that may be posed to a whole community or society. The round-table riffing that takes place is then carefully guided to be responsive to that instigating idea in order to generate a pressurised world that is exciting, intriguing and energised.

Published May 2, 2013

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Mike Jones


Karen Pearlman

Applications to participate in Storyworld Studio close May 14, 2013
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