Building software is no joke. It’s crazy how easy it is to have hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year of your life just drift away. It’s such an investment in time and money that you really want to be sure about what you’re building before you dive in. Like a story, the value is in the pre-production. Those of you who have hung around us long enough probably remember SMAPP, the Stillmotion App we came out with a couple years back. That was our first foray into the app space. While beloved by several of you, it was ultimately a failure.
It’s not that the tool itself didn’t work, or that people didn’t use it, but what killed SMAPP was that it wasn’t rooted in any sound business logic. It tried to be too many things to too many people. It tried to sell hour-long tutorials for $5 to $200 inside the app as its sole method of generating revenue and supporting future development. When that model wasn’t working, we released everything for free and let the world benefit as best they could from the content and tools.
But after already having $30,000 invested and having no solid business plan as to how SMAPP could generate revenue, we couldn’t support any updates, an Android version, and all the other requests we were getting. And so it slipped away into the night when Apple’s app store phased it out for being too long without an update.
So you may be able to imagine the hesitance and eye-rolling that I received after the Muse launch when I started bringing up the idea that we needed to develop yet another app.
At first the idea was shot down. A few weeks later when I brought it up a second time, it got a warmer response and was something we’d consider down the road. But as time went on, it kept becoming clearer to all of us that this really was the next step for us.
Why we needed to develop our own Storybuilder software:
Thus far the Muse storytelling process has made a really large impact on quite a few filmmakers around the globe. We have just over 2,000 Musers globally, with the process also being taught in a handful of colleges and universities. We even got hired to teach Muse to a group of creative directors at Apple (crazy, right?!?!).
That’s all super awesome but it’s also entirely focused on the teaching portion of Muse–helping others deeply understand story and empowering them with a process to tell stories with more intention.
But when it actually comes to using the Muse process for all of your stories, what do we give you? A printed workbook. Yep, paper and a pen. Imagine needing to get in touch with somebody and having to write them a letter…most of us have forgotten the art of handwriting (yet we send a hundred emails a day).
And when it comes to using Muse, what folks really need is a digital solution for building their stories. While you can use hacks with things like Google Docs, Evernote, and other such services out there, when it comes to actually building your story's structure, there just isn’t the right solution yet.
So problem number one is that there isn’t a strong digital solution for building your stories.
So much of the strength of the Muse process is that it gives you and your collaborators a common language and the same set of steps to work through. That can sound restrictive, but consider that the English language has only 26 letters in the alphabet, yet there is a seemingly infinite number of words and arrangements that come out them. You may decide that you want to make up your own characters and put them in your own order, tossing aside everything Webster suggests for correct spelling, but how effectively will this new word concoction of yours communicate your idea to another person?
Muse is based on the science of human connection. Applying the Muse principles helps you craft a remarkable story, much in the same way that you might be able to imagine a warm smile feeling more inviting to you than somebody screaming at the top of his lungs. There are more reliable ways we can communicate that will bring us closer to our audience.
Yet no matter how much science, data, stories, and evidence we share inside Muse, when folks go to tell their own stories they often start cutting corners. It’s not because they think it will get them better results. It’s not because they forgot what the proper next step was. And it’s not because they don’t care about their story.
Energy follows the path of least resistance. And so we’ll often naturally round a corner, skip a step, and do what we can do reach our goal in fewer steps.
Problem number two is that people often just want better results in less time.
And then we have those folks who look at the work we do at Stillmotion, they hear about several hundred thousand dollar budgets, or they look at an awe-inspiring passion project about a girl raised with elephants and they say, “Ya, but I don’t have those budgets, or those clients, or that opportunity."
That may be true, but I bet you still want to tell a strong story. Or, at the very least, you want to deliver your best and help your clients succeed. But sometimes the practicality of that means you really just have too much to do in too little time with not enough resources. I get that–I’ve been there editing all night in my basement with an edit backlog in the double digits.
What happens in those tight situations is that our motivation, inspiration, and our output all takes a nose dive.
Problem number three is that we need a solution that makes sense on small budgets, quick turnaround times, and with folks who really just need more time in the day.
And so we asked ourself, what if we could develop a digital way to build stories that enabled people to get better, more connected stories in less time? More story with less input–that’s truly a game changer. And that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do with the Muse Storybuilder.
Now, before we dive into what the Storybuilder is, let’s clear up a few things that it isn't:
- it’s not a tool to learn Muse or take the Muse course on the go
- it’s not a tool for creating shot lists and helping you during production
- and it’s certainly not a revival of SMAPP or anything you’ve seen there
The Muse Storybuilder is an interactive storytelling app to help from the moment you take on a story to the moment you're ready for production. It leverages the Muse process to enable you to get stronger stories, much quicker.
But you may be wondering, how can software help me tell better stories?
By leveraging the Muse storytelling process, each story you create is broken down into the 4 Pillars of story: People, Place, Purpose, and Plot. Each Pillar then has tools to help you maximize that portion of your story. In the end, use Build Mode to bring all of your elements together.
Here’s another way to think about it, and I’ll try to explain this in a way that makes sense even if you haven’t taken Muse: There are 4 Pillars of story and our goal, as storytellers, is to maximize each one in every story we tell. A story with weak characters will not be as effective as a story with strong characters. Makes sense, right?
Well when it comes to making a video, the functional units you're using are slices of both Place and Plot.
The simplest way to think of Place is to liken it to b-roll and think about where the shot is happening. Every portion of your story happens somewhere. In Muse we talk about the idea that Place is much more than you think and that there are several layers to it.
So in Soar, The Quadriplegic Who Reached For The Sky, the film opens up in Dave Jacka’s bedroom. His room is one of the places where the story is happening at that moment. And within that room we see him enter in his wheelchair and attempt to put himself to bed. That’s Place–simple enough, right?
But more than that, all of these places—everything in your story—is also symbolic in nature.
So while Dave’s bedroom is the Place, this whole scene represents his struggle. It symbolizes just how hard it is for Dave to do something seemingly simple, like putting himself to bed. That’s the Plot that lies underneath the Place.
Everything in your story communicates something to your audience. It’s there to communicate one small part of the larger message that your whole story is intended to convey.
Yet, the idea that everything in your story needs to mean something can be a scary one. For most of us, we haven’t really taken a deep dive into the symbolism behind all of our decisions and everything present in our videos.
That’s okay, storytelling is a craft and it’s one that you can spend decades continually learning and going deeper with.
But here’s the sobering reality: if you don't understand why each part of your story is present then—in many cases—there's little reason for it to be there.
[bctt tweet="If little thought goes into your story, there is little potential coming out of your story."]
And when your viewer watches your story, and so much of what you feature has little reason to be there—well then it should be pretty obvious just how deeply it will be felt. It should be pretty obvious how likely the audience is to take the suggested action, remember the story, and share it afterwards, in short, very unlikely.
So your story is made up of a whole bunch of places that all communicate a portion of the larger plot. It’s these small units of story that the Storybuilder software thrives on.
You start by adding the small units of your story. You can add characters, places, and specific Plot Points. Then you start connecting them together. You can connect the characters to the places and Plot Points that are relevant to them.
So Dave Jacka is a character. His bedroom is the place. And this struggle is the Plot Point. Within the Storybuilder we can connect all of these elements together and slowly, step by step, start developing the much deeper structure that every remarkable story has.
Like weaving a spiderweb, you’ll start connecting elements of your story as you're adding them. As you continue to build, these connections remain intact. Storybuilder reminds you they’re there so that you can make more intentional decisions and tell a deeper story.
Just as you would bring audio and video into a timeline in your favorite video editor, you can likewise drag these small units of story—the places and Plot Points—into a timeline to create your overall story.
As you add the elements of your story, the software provides prompts and reminders that lead to a stronger story. For example, as you add Plot Points to your timeline you’ll find that it is naturally divided into beginning, middle, and ending with the ideal 25-50-25 ratio structure.
As you dive deeper into Plot, you'll discover that there are several essential Plot Points—several key things that make up the bulk of your story's structure. Conflict is the most commonly talked about ingredient that goes into a plot. One key Plot Point is the moment your character runs into conflict, as is the moment that she chooses to take on that conflict.
As you add potential Plot Points to the Storybuilder, you can denote each one as one of these 6 Essential Plot Points. Now remember that these 6 Essential Plot Points are a great example of the Pareto Principle: 80% of the engagement of your story comes from just these six points, so it’s therefore critical that we choose them carefully. It's vital that we include as many of these six as we can, and that we put them in the right spot of our story.
In the Storybuilder, you’ll get a warning pop-up if you happen to be missing one of these essential Plot Points. Or, you can click to get a reminder of what each of these six are and why they are so important. And you can even click a button to toggle an overlay on your timeline and see where each of these critical points ideally goes.
These are just a few of the many small things built into Storybuilder that gently nudge you toward stronger story practices. We’re calling all of these little interactions story insights and you’ll find them throughout Storybuilder.
Okay, so this begins to demonstrate how Storybuilder helps us build stronger stories.
But what about the software makes the storytelling process more efficient?
For that, let me share a story of a film we’ve been working on about Jason Zook. Jason is an innovator and marketer, and he's a guy who’s made over a million dollars wearing other people's t-shirts, he’s sold his last name twice, and he recently sold his future (at $1,000 a pop).
While we were building the story, we had the director (me) in Australia and the producer, Annabel, in Portland. Annabel was able to take our pre-interview with Jason and add him as a character into Storybuilder. She added potential places for the story as well as all the potential Plot Points that she’d found. She could attach pictures, descriptions, and make connections between different elements.
We then scheduled a Skype call to build the plot together. Right there inside Storybuilder we started moving the elements around and discussing what we wanted as the Hook (the opening to the story), as well as all the other essential Plot Points. I moved elements around, talked Annabel through what I was thinking, and she offered feedback and asked questions (and given that it's Annabel, there were a lot of questions). Just thirty minutes later we wrapped up our call and had a powerful story structure in place.
It was a story structure that we both were pumped to get out and start filming. We had some holes in our story, and Annabel had a list of things to go back and research and figure out, but we were able to work on the same steps, use the same language, and quickly develop a strong story that had tons of intention in it.
She then went back and had another call with Jason, spoke with his partner Caroline, and did heaps of online research. As she did, she continued to add elements to the story which I could log in and see at anytime, as well as leave comments under any of the pillars of the story.
A week later we were getting ready for production and Annabel could then run the team through the story. She quickly showed them the story we were telling, who Jason was, and the intention behind everything. And it was done in a way that they could log in themselves, ask questions, and review anything at any time.
It was this perfect balance of not being overwhelmed with more information than needed, while also avoiding that complete disconnect that can occur when you film something without really knowing the character, or understanding why you're shooting it.
The shoot went smoothly. I was able to sit in the living room with Jason and Caroline and run them through their story right inside Storybuilder. They understood the story right away. At that moment we had buy in from the client, and we were all on the same page about what we were doing and why we were doing it. But wait, there’s more.
Then we get back and Jeremiah, our editor for The Remarkable Ones, was able to join the story and make a rough cut of the piece. I—the director—was halfway across the world and we didn’t speak a single word to each other before I saw a rough cut. He could look at what we’d built in Storybuilder and he just understood it all. He was empowered to do his best work and bring it all together.
We went from development to delivery in a fraction of the time—all while having the team share the same vision, remain connected to the story, and be empowered to produce, film, and edit with intention.
The aim is that you don’t have to take Muse to use Storybuilder. The goal is to have you be able to use the tool and get better results right away. But the truth is, we don’t know if we’re there yet. That’s a rather ambitious task and we’re constantly working on tweaking the user experience and story insights to provide just the right information, at the right time, in the right way.
We’ve had 443 Musers sign up to check out Storybuilder in our first private beta. Here’s what they had to say in a private follow-up survey.
If you’re curious about the price, we’re looking for it to be under $20 per month per user, with some great discounts for studios and teams.
If you're a Muser and want to register for Storybuilder you'll find out how to get access at the end of the Muse course (inside our online platform). We've got details and information inside of the documentary, commercial, and wedding versions of Muse–just check at the very end.
If you have any questions, hit me up below!