Building a Creative Universe

After watching Donald Glover’s Guava Island, the songs featured in the movie sound different. Now, instead of listening to Summer Pack in isolation, I think about the scenes that featured Summertime Magic and Feels Like Summer. The visuals and the music complement each other, and feel like pieces of the same universe rather than independent works of art. Now, every song, still, and clip feels like a glimpse into Glover’s imagination.

This feels like the future of entertainment. Stories that are introduced through more than one medium, slowly unveiling the artist’s vision from different angles. When artists start with low-cost methods to introduce their worlds to an audience, they can scale up over time— aside from being a more strategic approach for early-stage artists, building a creative universe changes how creative teams are assembled, how stories are told, and how artists make money.

Teams. When you’re introducing a character or world through short-form content, you can keep the team lean. You can get away with only hiring for the most critical roles, shipping quickly, and learning from what you ship. It can take thousands of people a very long time to make a feature-length movie; it only takes a few people a matter of days to make a vlog or podcast. Artists can start small and scale up when they’ve found an audience for their work.

Stories. When your creative universe comes together over time, short-form content can provide context for the more elaborate projects. A blog could introduce ideas that appear in a book. A VR experience could let you explore spaces that appear in a movie. An app could let you interact with characters asynchronously. Each piece is developed in service of a larger story, and the creative universe evolves as the audience interacts with it.

Money. Multiple works of art means multiple opportunities to monetize. Artists can make money through ads, subscriptions, merchandise, or digital sales, all while continuing to produce more content. If your audience doesn’t care enough to pay, you can re-evaluate and minimize sunk cost. If your audience does pay, you can measure traction early and double down on what’s working. As the audience— and number of data points— grows, you can justify investing in bigger projects.

Stories told over time help creative teams answer a set of fundamental questions: does this narrative resonate with an audience? Are these characters appealing? Is this world engaging enough to continue developing? It takes years for world-class film and animation crews to answer these questions today. The future of entertainment is about getting to the answers faster.

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