How to Build a Cinematic Universe WITH YOUR AUDIENCE (Part 1)
This summer marks 5 years since we opened up Justice For Hire as a SHARED cinematic universe that anyone could be a part of - a show produced with and starring our audience within a story world we built together. The cover image of this article is the content formula I made for this plan back in 2014, and the video below is an example of the grand result:
But WHY do this (I mean personally, not simply because community storytelling is the future of all media)?
Because I needed people to LOVE creating action scenes like I love it - because if you love it and I love it, we can do it together and I could stop feeling so ALONE in my creative journey. And since I KNOW I can make action, I needed people to know they could too.
AND WE DID IT, and it feels amazing to have a global community telling a story together! But HOW did we empower each other to create something like a movie or show together when no one - no studio or network or filmmaker - does that? I’ll tell you how it started…
Besides a phone, we didn’t have any tech back in 2018. All I had were ideas on what it would look and feel like if people stepped into their own characters within our story world, and a process for making that a reality (which is now patent pending). Given that JFH had a record-setting comic book series and previous films and videos that began when I was in high school (so it’s actually our 24th anniversary of JFH 🤯), I felt like finding a jumping on point in the universe timeline was difficult, so I decided on a soft reboot that would allow me to figure out later how to integrate all of the previous content. I thought if we had a single short video that shows a world with an app that’s like Uber for heroes - hire a hero or become one and get paid - people would be inspired by the idea. I remember being in NY holding my 3-year-old son as he slept the night before I had to fly him back to LA to his mom thinking that if I didn’t get up and write that script, my life wouldn’t change the way I wanted. It took me all my might to pull away from him at 1am and I wrote a 4-page script in 2 hours, sent it off to my cinematographer Somnang Vann, and by the time the flight landed, we were talking shooting locations and scheduling. 2 weeks later we shot our very first JFHSCU scene (Justice For Hire Shared Cinematic Universe) with a mix of people that were interested in the idea, including actors and non-actors.
The short was made, I cut a trailer within a few days, and we were almost instantly selected for the Urban Action Showcase (where we won Best Trailer later that year and have since become a regular partner of the event).
Next, we needed to invite people - anyone who so desired - to create with us. Since the premise of crowdsourcing heroes needed to have some humble beginnings in the JFH story world, I decided that we could have a meetup for heroes, film it as a backstory scene to the first short we made, and create new characters and stories on our phones with anyone who showed up. I promoted the event on Instagram and Meetup.com for the first Saturday in October 2018 and had a mix of friends and newcomers attend. That kicked off our monthly meetups that continue to this day.
Fast forward to us having our own app made by fellow cast members Andra Roxana Stanciu (our developer), Autumn Noel Kelly (our graphics), and Tommy Redis (our tech advisor) with support from our JFH App Test Team. We launched the app early due our first episode going viral on TikTok, which led to an overwhelming amount of content coming in.
Now, with hundreds of hours of footage from people all around the world, we are weeks away from the launch of the new season of JFH. I promise you’ll see how all of our work ties together cinematically in a way that I hope you’ll love as much we do.
Special thanks to our martial arts filmmaking homes, NY Best Kickboxing led by Sifu David Ross in NY and Shaolin American Self Defense Academy led by Sensei Donnie Jeffcoat in LA, both of whom have been instrumental in giving us a safe space to create and flourish. And to Ric Meyers, Demetrius Angelo, Telly Wong, and Jeff Gomez for their support of the development of our creative, community, and industry efforts over the years to help us get here. And of course, thank Y O U for helping to make this “crazy” idea a reality!
Here’s to many more years of JFH and more shows and shared cinematic universes on ReelwUrld.
If you find value in this article and want me to continue with a Part 2 in greater detail, let me know.