Building a Storyworld Before You Make a Movie

What is a storyworld?

Building a storyworld prior to making a feature film means giving the audience a variety of entry points into the story so they’re already fans before the movie even begins filming.

Here are the storyworld elements we produced for Phrenic before writing a word of the film’s screenplay…

1. Introduce characters and themes

Phrenic began with seven three minute episodes where Alison Taylor is determined to kill her scientist husband. Either he’s been replaced by a human clone, or she’s an insane murderer. The episodes introduce key concepts of the movie, such as cloning and nanotransmission, as well as characters who will appear in the film.

2. Give the audience control

The Doll is a choose-your-own-adventure story with over 30 endings and words that change each time you read it. A “playable story” like The Doll immerses the audience into the world of the movie and connects them to that world by providing the ability to choose different narrative paths. You’re not just reading about a character, you’re making decisions as that character.


Read The Doll online or get the Kindle version.

3. Create an alternate reality in the real world

Life Identical is the frightening cloning and nanogenetics company that acts as a villain in the Phrenic movie. To bridge the gap from the story into the real world, we created the website, a LinkedIn presence for one of the characters, and a Slideshare presentation about how cloning will make us better humans.

4. Create an alternate reality in the storyworld

In a feature film, you typically have one tone that carries all the way through. A transmedia approach allows you to change tone to reach a different audience. The first seven episodes of Phrenic were dramatic narratives. We then created three straight-to-camera monologues with a conspiratorial tone to highlight the theme of enhanced synthetic humans.

5. Let fans become co-creators

We encourage fans of Phrenic to write stories or record video diaries from the perspective of an escaped clone. Anyone can become a co-creator on the Phrenic Theatrics page or record videos directly through the Phrenic iOS app. Fan contributed stories, like Can You Miss What Was Never There?, give the audience a chance to literally become part of the story by inventing their own characters.

Go Clone Yourself

6. Provide a mobile-specific experience

Is it possible to find an audience for your movie in the App Store? Thousands have downloaded our Phrenic app and over a thousand opt-in for Push Notifications. Instead of simply showing videos, our app has interactive content–like a clone scanner and talking doll. As we begin pre-production on the movie, we’re excited to explore ways to tell a story with Push Notifications–and eventually use the app to alert fans of local screenings.

Even if you don’t have a native app for your movie, make sure your film’s site is mobile optimized. If someone learns about your film from Twitter or Facebook, chances are they’re on a mobile device and they won’t be excited to pinch-and-zoom to read the synopsis.


7. Include the audience in the filmmaking process

When we announced the Phrenic movie, we also outlined ways that fans could contribute creatively:

  • Help us choose the title of the movie (hint: we’re not going to call it The Phrenic Movie)
  • Vote on naming the new protagonist (currently known as Heroine)
  • Contribute fiction or videos (go clone yourself here)

We invite fans to join us for every step of the moviemaking process: writing, funding, casting, location scouting, filming, editing, VFX, festivals, and more. The best way to not miss anything is to sign up for our Behind-the-Scenes updates.

Creating a storyworld during the pre-production phase of a movie may seem like a lot of work, but it lets you build an audience who know your characters and feel connected to your story–before you’ve filmed a single scene. And people who first learn about your movie by seeing the final edit will have a rich backstory to explore.

One thought on “Building a Storyworld Before You Make a Movie”

  1. This is great! Very inspirational to see the amount of effort put into doing just that — creating a story world for your audience. It makes perfect sense and I look forward to seeing the development of your world!

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