Mae TidmanLCC 3257 – Global CinemaMay 3, 2010Prof. NavarroTerm Paper World Building as Global Cinema World building is something that has recently made it easier for films to havemore access to the world in an easily translatable and entertaining form. Over the span ofthis global cinema course, we have discussed what makes films global as well as what isglobal cinema. Based on our studies and class discussions, several tactics and approachesto understanding and critiquing world cinema have been considered. Out of these, I willdiscuss a few that relate to world building, including the economy of the productions, thedigital age and its affect on world building, as well as what world building has to do withglobalization. During and after that coverage, I will briefly describe some of the mostglobally successful franchises/worlds: the Star Wars expanded universe, The Matrixseries, and the 2009 James Cameron film Avatar.Intro to Global Cinema Before trying to discuss world building as global cinema, we need a quickintroduction to the general topics covered in this Georgia Tech course. First and foremost(yet continuing throughout the semester) we considered the question, “What is worldcinema?”. It is quite unarguably many things, and scholars use the phrase with variedintentions; however, for the purposes of this essay we can look at the definition provided
by Lucia Nagib in our assigned reading: “World cinema is simply the cinema of theworld. It has no centre. It is not the other, but it is us. It has no beginning and no end, butis a global process. World cinema, as the world itself, is circulation.” This is important when considering where this essay’s arguments are arrivingfrom and the intended meanings’ derivation. In Nagib’s essay, she is addressing whatworld cinema is as well as how it should be studied and analyzed. This definitionprovided has much to say about what we are talking about. World cinema is noteverything but Hollywood but rather more simply the cinema of the world, and itinvolves the circulation of not only film but also parts of the world through the film.Fictional world building is world cinema because it circulates easily and carries with itideas that can be related to any person or society. It is also world cinema because of howit ignites interest in people all over the globe who then get involved with the world andexploring into its depths.World Building World building is more than just filmmaking and franchising. The worlds aremore than just backdrops for narrative timelines; they are geographical domains that canbe used for new adventures and discoveries. The characters that are developed are ofteninconsequential assets to the world despite popular following; this is because the worldslive with or without the characters and are an interest of fandom in and of themselves.The plotline is also an add-on feature. Just consider Star Wars: is it about Anakin orLuke? Is it about becoming a Jedi or defeating the evil empire? Typically these kinds ofquestions can be found anywhere that there is a fictional world that has been built; a
whole page of questions was listed in Henry Jenkins’ chapter of Convergence Cultureregarding The Matrix series. Henry Jenkins, in that chapter and in his other writings, explores the idea of worldbuilding and its emotional potential for an audience, and how complex environments caninspire a plethora of emotional responses that in turn create foundations for compellingstories. He writes, “More and more, storytelling has become the art of world building, asartists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted withina single work or even a single medium. The world is bigger than the film, bigger eventhat the franchise – since fan speculations and elaborations also expand the world in avariety of directions.” This is a more-than-adequate summary of world building that I willdiscuss further. The most influential and important aspect of world building and its transfer toother cultures is that it has the potential to be remade or re-envisioned within anotherculture. The fan base is more important in these types of movies than any other becausetheir following is also what carries the film, content, and information across the Internetand onto the screens of computers worldwide, while translating the content for differentcultures. Not only do these fans spread and relate the content, they also evolve thefictional world as they explore the depths of the franchise. This participatory side of film culture and media culture in general has majorimplications on the future; one of which is briefly described in a Blog by Alex Leavitt:“Companies have already started to expand the experience of films, for example, byimplementing social media strategies to extend the characters interaction withaudiences.” Since audiences are so captivated and involved with the fictional worlds, the
next steps involve furthering people-media interactions and how people can use themedia for their own self-expression. Several authors on the topic, including Jenkins,pointed out that the current copyright and content-use laws are merely our reaction to therecent changes brought on by the Internet and will eventually smooth out into more user-friendly and logical policies. This transition we are in becomes more apparent on furtherconsideration of the plethora of fan-generated content and the massive impact suchcontent has had on the media industries, which is unfortunately out of the scope of thisessay. Another point to be considered is that world building can comprise theexperience, but only to the extent that audiences retain interest (Leavitt). In Leavitt’sBlogpost, he makes note that the Star Wars franchise is best explored in its engrossingStar Wars Encyclopedias. “World building, instead of actual construction, might better beunderstood as the completion of a block or field of knowledge in each audiencemember’s mind. Hence, different world will be built as audiences experience transmediain different ways.” This leads on to a discussion of world building as transmedia.World Building as Transmedia Developing a narrative that is capable of extending across multiple mediaplatforms involves creating the world as the main character, because the narratives arenot the story of a few characters but rather the story of a world. Special attention must bepaid to developing a stage upon which multiple storylines can unfurl while each storymust maintain the consistency of the world. The world must be so well thought out that it
is discoverable, which is precisely what will be done in the gaming platform if ittranscends to that medium. There are many potential capabilities with world building on multiple mediums,and it is hard to describe everything that is possible. However, I found Aaron Smith’sdescription to be adequate and thought provoking: “Transmedia storytelling involvesincorporating spatial structures into narratives to develop a storytelling environment. Inother words, by evoking the presence of a larger spatial structure in the narrative, aTransmedia story can support a near infinite amount of plots and characters… Thecreation of a vast and detailed narrative space, only a fraction of which is ever directlyseen or encountered within the text, but which nonetheless appears to operate accordingto principles of internal logic and extension”. Therefore, the consumers of the franchiseare aware that they are only seeing a portion of the actual world, leaving the rest up toimagination and potential fan products and resulting in a more immersive experience. There is a special relationship between what is shown and what is hidden so thatthe imagination transports the viewer or player into the fictional world, giving him or hera sense of being there or witnessing the events. This experience is created throughenvironmental details and textures that are in the background, like the clues hidden in TheMatrix trilogy and the unmentioned aliens standing in the background, which inducewonder. If the producers and directors can create a world that actively invites the viewerto explore, question, and create belief, then the fans will invest tremendous effort indeveloping a written understanding of the world, logging every detail in order to flesh outthe world and make it more real (Jenkins, Smith).
Economic Incentives World building invites and often involves franchising, which can be extremelyprofitable. Well-developed worlds can and have easily resulted in toys and toy sets,novels, video games, print media, and basically anything else worth buying. The StarWars franchise has made an estimated 9 billion dollars of revenue from its merchandise(Smith). In buying these products, fans are demonstrating their fandom and feeling partof the famous universe.Avatar Avatar is an interesting and most recent example of world building that has beenpopular all over the world. Its attraction was of course a result of more than just thefictional world that James Cameron created, but the vision he designed and the places hetook his audiences are important to the culture of the film. Henry Jenkins discusses thisfilm in a recent Blogpost on his website. He points out that in the decade it took Cameronto make the film he was able to think through every dimension of this world. It is acomplex model involving an awe-inspiring ecological and cultural system. He also had alanguage developed for the Na’Vi aliens, which is not uncommon for a fictional world ofthis scale (as seen in Star Wars universe and most other franchises about space andaliens). The film quite apparently focuses on issues and events that occur on a global orcosmic scale – a common thread in science fiction – that are easily translatable across thevaried cultures and politics of the real world. The events that occur on the fictional planetPandora are realizable no matter where the audience member is from, and the emotions
that come out of experiencing Avatar as a film, Pandora as a place, and the Na’Vi as aculture can be risen in any human who allows feelings to emerge. Jenkins also points out that the characters’ development is something that lacksdue to the complexities of the details of the fictional world, which is also something thathas been noted by critics; however, he says that fans who are interested in the world-building aspect of the movie do not care for this “flaw”. These types of fans are able tosee the characters as vehicles for exploring the world rather than for telling the story,especially when the story unfolds via the world. This is not to say that the Na’Vi are notwell developed, because they are certainly depicted in rich and vivid ways, drawing theviewer into the culture of their alien-people; but the other characters are less developedthan would be expected of a movie without a world. In another recent Blogpost by Henry Jenkins and his student Lifang He, theChinese Avatar fan culture is examined. Some, if not most, of these fan practices areglobal and not restricted to China nor Avatar; however, they are interesting to consider inhow Avatar as a fictional universe has drawn so many people in. Lifang He replies to areader’s comment that the Blogpost is to help readers see how Chinese fans understandthe movie and what they have done with the movie. So although in the next paragraph Isay “Chinese fans”, the text actually applies to most international and American fans. Avatar immediately developed a huge enthusiastic fan base in China as well asother parts of the world. China is interesting though because the media there is stillrestricted in comparison to American standards, and the Chinese experience an unequalinternational distribution that disrupts the flow of media. Despite these hurdles, Chinesefans are active in learning and understanding what is happening in Avatar through the
Internet and other new technologies, which are also used for self-expression andcreativity for contribution to the Avatar community. Interestingly enough, Avatar had a huge impact on the Chinese film industry bysparking an interest in the development of local filmmaking. A conference was held inJanuary 2010 to discuss how to improve Chinese movies, and it was appealed to theChinese government (through evidence of enthusiasm for Avatar) that China shouldsupport the production of non-reality films that the Chinese moviegoers desire but do nothave nationally. Lifang He concludes the Blogpost with a note that China’s transitionperiod will eventually lead to a more transparent and open political and social policy, andthere will be more freedom for movie production and Hollywood promotion. It isinteresting that Avatar had such an impact on China this year.Conclusion The future only holds more for world building and audiences can expect to seemore immersive environments like the galaxy far far away and the Matrix in which toexplore and indulge. There has yet to be a transmedia franchise to utilize the maximumpotential of world building by fans through the development of a story beyond thatcreated by the industry, which is something to look forward to in the future. As a last note, I would like to leave the reader with the thought that Henry Jenkinsleft me in his chapter “Searching for the Origami Unicorn”, that the children today aregrowing up in a culture of collaboration and exploration, and they are being prepared to“contribute to a more sophisticated knowledge culture.” What I have discovered through
this project is that we are certainly in a transitional culture, and what lies ahead ispromising for the intellect.ResourcesApperley, Thomas. "Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide." IE 07: Proceedings of the 4th Australasian Conference on Interactive Entertainment. Melbourne, Australia: RMIT University, 2007. 1-4. ACM Database. Web.Freeman, Luke. "Transmedia Storytelling: The Art of World Building «." Luke Freeman - Sydney/Vancouver Web Design, Marketing and Social Media Specialist. Luke Freeman. Web. <http://www.lukefreeman.com.au/papers/transmedia-storytelling- the-art-of-world-building/>.Jenkins, Henry. "Confessions of an Aca/Fan: Archives: Five Ways to Read Avatar." Confessions of an Aca-Fan. 01 Feb. 2010. Web. <http://henryjenkins.org/2010/02/five_ways_to_read_avatar.html>.Jenkins, Henry. "Searching for the Origami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling." Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006. 93-130. Print.Jenkins, Henry & He, Lifang. "What the Chinese Are Making of Avatar." Confessions of an Aca-Fan. 12 Mar. 2010. Web. <http://henryjenkins.org/2010/03/avatar_and_chinese_fan_culture.html>.
Kerr, Aphra & Flynn, Roderick. “Revisiting Globalisation through the Movie and Digital Games Industries”. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 9:2. 2003. Web.Leavitt, Alex. "World Building as Design: Exploratory Video Games." Convergence Culture Consortium. MIT, 27 Oct. 2009. Web. <http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/world_building>.Nagib, Lucia. “Towards a positive definition of World Cinema”. Remapping World Cinema – Identity, Culture and Politics in Film. Ed. Song Hwee Lim and Stephanie Dennison. London: Wallflower Press, 2006. 30-37. Georgia Tech Library Reserves. Web.Shefrin, Elana. "Lord of the Rings , Star Wars , and Participatory Fandom: Mapping New Congruencies between the Internet and Media Entertainment Culture." Transnational Cinema: the Film Reader. Ed. Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden. London: Routledge, 2006. 81-96. Georgia Tech Library Reserves. Web.Smith, Aaron. "The Art of Worldbuilding." The Middlebury Blog Network. 17 June 2009. Web. <http://blogs.middlebury.edu/mediacp/2009/06/17/the-art-of- worldbuilding/>.