Creating a cinematic universe for your film is kind of a big deal. Every world has rules and codes of conduct that everyone has to acknowledge and follow. If those rules are broken, then the world falls apart. It can be easy to sweep those tiny mistakes or inconsistencies under the rug, but trust me, someone will notice. 

So how do you create a sensible world without limits? Zack Snyder sat down with Netflix Film Club to discuss how he builds worlds for his films. From zombie heist and superhero movies, Snyder emphasizes that worldbuilding is in the smallest of details, different perspectives, and playing with different ideas that flesh out a world that we would love to visit over and over again.

Check out the full video of Snyder and co-writer for Army of the Dead, Shay Hatten, discussing how they bring their worlds to life.

Create a world you would want to visit

To be real, our world kind of sucks sometimes. We watch movies to escape the world we are living in for a world someone else created. Not all of those worlds are fun and fantastical, but there is beauty in the details of all the worlds we see in film. 

Movies require a massive crew and cost a ton of money that a lot of us don’t have, but writing is a different story. Writing is completely free and costs only a fraction of your time. All you have to do is commit to writing out the world you’ve created in your mind.

Start by writing a good short story that is 10 pages, then keep writing and writing until your story is complete. The great thing about writing is that everything is up to you. You can always go back and make changes if you’re unhappy with the way something is in the universe you’ve created. All that matters during this process is that you’re creating something that you like and are proud of. 

When it comes to writing out the story elements, make sure they are working for the story, not against it.

In Army of the Dead, Snyder made sure to note that birds cannot be infected by the zombies because of their biology. The reason that the “bird rule” exists is so that the zombie outbreak stays within the walls of Vegas (at least for now). Honestly, we don’t need to understand why birds’ biology keeps them alive because it’s not important to the story, but the rule is a good one to have. It’s the little details that add depth to the story, and it’s always a great idea to think of the elements that could potentially expose a giant hole in the story. 

Whatever you create, you should make it as if there is a chance that you’ll never be able to make another one. All you’ve got is a keyboard, a blank sheet, and all the words in the world to reflect your point of view. 

Fictionalized history is the backbone of worldbuilding

Like our world, an imagined world should be grounded in some form of reality. That reality depends on what is happening in that world. For Snyder, superheroes, zombies, or a world where girls go into a different dimension when they dance alters the film’s world into a different shape than we are familiar with. 

Snyder’s superhero films have been criticized for their gritty and sadistic view on humanity, but that vibe makes sense in the world Snyder sees superheroes. If all the superheroes live in the same universe where Nixon is still president and being a hero means you’re still selfish and flawed, then it’s understandable why everyone seems a little on edge and worn out.

The fictionalized history can help the writer and the audience understand the world we are being thrown into. Watchmenand Army of the Dead establish the culture of the film through their opening title sequences. A montage of shots shows how the world came to exist in the state it will be for the entire movie. Not a lot of plot details are needed, nor does an audience need someone to tell them what we can see on the screen. 

Army-of-the-dead-opening-e1620933622599-1280x720Dave Bautista as Scott Ward in the opening scene of 'Army of the Dead'Credit: Netflix

Genre-blending can bring a worn-out genre back to life

Hatten, a co-writer with Snyder for Army of the Dead, said he found the entire zombie movie trope to be tapped out. Any time zombies are in a film, the story follows a group of people just trying to escape them. How do you breathe life back into a tired genre? Simple: elevate the dead genre by blending it with another genre. 

To create a fictionalized world, start by looking at all of the tropes within a genre that you are working with, then find a way to subvert the audience’s expectations. In Army of the Dead, Snyder thought about not only the human society outside of the walls but the society that exists within them.

Snyder understands the zombies in his world to have their own functioning society. They are the "pure" creature, free from the tropes that society puts on us to act in certain roles. The freedom mixed with power creates hierarchies among the undead that ultimately create an undead army.

By taking tropes and experimenting with the audience’s expectations of said tropes, a genre is twisted and can become whatever you want it to be. You have the power to alter how people react to the world you create by spending time developing the inner workings of the film’s society. 

See things from a different perspective 

Let’s face it. As humans, we have a limited perspective. We understand our world through unique experiences and our relationship to those moments. When creating a world for your film, you might not be able to see how the world affects certain characters or minor situations. 

First, it’s important that the actors can also imagine the world you’ve created. Once they can see it, ask them questions regarding what their character would do in a situation. An outsider’s perspective can open your eyes to another way of seeing the film’s world that you weren’t able to see before. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to look over your script, or even ask an actor a few questions regarding a scene that you would like a different perspective on. A little collaboration can produce wonders. 

A world has to start somewhere. Creating a world isn’t always easy, but there is always time to build up the environment brick by brick. Start by keeping that document open and ready for you to add more ideas to the world. Don’t be afraid to be experimental with the world either. New perspectives and genre-blending are the way of the future, and you could potentially create a new genre without even knowing it. 

What are you most excited to try when you’re building your next world? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: Netflix Film Club