Creative Story Development 1 – Mobile/Web shorts

Development is a process of discovery especially in the early stages, what seemed like a great idea an hour ago when put to the test of a few simple questions may have some obvious limitations. The point is not that these limitations have been identified but that through the answers some new ideas, and approaches, to the material will have arisen, and these may well lead to a brand new idea which does work.

 “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” Ed Catmull

Obviously, a creator can, and in most cases should, undertake this early stage of development before they submit ideas to anyone else. However, in large agencies, and production companies, many discussions start with just an idea, and handling the development process so at not to lose any good ideas is critical to the success of the group, and any commitment to development spend.

Given that I have assumed that we are starting with an original idea i.e. not one adapted from another source e.g. true life, a stage play, etc., the frameworks discussed in these blogs set out to assess the full range of options open at this early stage of development. It is worth bearing in mind that at this stage taking an idea in more than one direction is often not only possible but often desirable, in order to arrive at a point where a genuine, well informed, decision can be made as to how best to take the project forward.

Six Frameworks

In this context the six frameworks outlined in this and following blogs are to help shape not only the idea but also the discussion of the idea, with your self, or with other people involved in the development process. These range from mobile phone flashes through feature film to large television series and serials.


Development Frameworks for Ideas

These development frameworks will provide you with a means of assessing your idea, and also point you in the direction of what you need to develop, change, or abandon at this stage. They focus on fiction projects, as the development of non-fiction is beyond the scope of these articles, but the principles outlined in the creative development process remain essentially the same for non-fiction as for fiction, at this point on the process.

Each framework addresses a series of basic questions, and is aimed to help you assess the potential of the idea with reference to particular screenworks. It is important to remember that an idea may not match up with all the criteria listed, or fail in its current form to meet them. This does not mean the idea should necessarily be abandoned. However, it does probably mean you should look to see what changes will be necessary, for it to work in the narrative format you have chosen for it.

Remember one of the most common mistakes is to attempt to force an idea into the wrong length, or genre, of narrative. It is at this ideas stage that this sort of problem can easily be identified, and resolved, before major work has been undertaken.

The First Development Framework

Mobile is now one of the major areas of creative activity and the following framework the first of five, sets out the essential questions needed when approaching mobile ideas.

The Mobile Framework

 Prior to mobile phones and Youtube, this was the very short film format – under two minutes – used by experimental filmmakers, animators and advertising executives to make an impact with a simple visual idea. This remains the essence of this type of project.

Flash is a name given to a certain type of computer-generated animation, but it equally applies as a description to the type of idea that this format requires. If the idea you have can be illustrated in one or two simple flashes of actions, or images, then it will work within this short screen format. The advent of very fast cutting also means that a great deal of action can be packed into this time frame, if the central character and the situation are easily grasped by the audience. For this reason most of the successful mobile and very short films or videos rely on stereo typical characters and situations, which then deliver a comic outcome or a huge surprise e.g. Angry Kid

The key questions for this type of narrative are – is the situation i.e. the setting for the action easily shown on a small screen; is/are the character/s quickly understood i.e. is their motivation for action easily grasped; is the final moment surprising or funny enough and finally is it original enough!

Is it original enough?

The latter point is extremely difficult to answer in this format owing to the volume of material that is now available via the web. The easiest way to check an idea in this environment is to view the top fifty similar length shorts on the main sites and see if your idea has already been done or something similar already exists. If it is not in the top fifty then it does not really matter if someone has done it before, as the potential audience will probably not have seen the earlier version anyway.

This point is one of the first critical aspects of creative development. Knowing what has already been created, and reached your potential audience, is essential to any successful development process. This work is often assumed by creatives to be undertaken by the producer or development executive. However, a creator needs to know this in order to avoid not only the obvious rejection by producers, who have seen or know of something similar or even the same, already having reached the planned audience, but also to avoid undertaking a substantial amount of work only for it to be rejected, apparently out of hand.

Clearly no one creator or development team can be aware of all the work which is in development, or has actually been uploaded etc., but once an idea has been formed it is wise to review the recent screen output which is similar to see what is working and what is not for your audience/s. The beauty of this early research is that it may also inspire new and better ideas.


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