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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Creating a Successful Web Series: I Want To Go to There...

My dear friend Michael Perri, talented writer, producer and mimic was nice enough to write something for us here on the Rouge Wave about creating a web series:


Picture this: Some of your coolest peeps are kicked back in your pad, yukking it up over brewskis or wine and something to nosh on. The conversation is free flowing and TAH-DOW! Someone yells out, “OMFG, that story is so freaking amazing I almost tinkled in my boot cut jeans!” Another one of your besties chimes in, “Ya dude, we like should totally film that and put that on the web... like a series!” Everyone pauses for a brief moment as eyes widen like y’all just invented a way to turn water into gin. You pop out of your favorite La-Z-Boy and declare, “THIS COULD BE THE BIGGEST WHATCHAMACALLIT THAT CYBERSPACE HAS SEEN SINCE AL GORE CREATED THE INTER-WEB!”

The allure to achieve long lasting fame through the Web is a powerful magnet. I am not talking about the 30 seconds of fame generated by viral videos like “The Landlord,” “Star Wars Kid,” or “Chocolate Rain.” I am talking about creating a viable online episodic series that people tune into each and every day.

With the millions of eyeballs gazing at LCD screens across the world and the potential for achieving inter-fame so high many ponder: What truly makes a great Web Series?

Blogs like Rougewave give words meaning; your Pod-casts give those same words a voice, while Vlogging (video-blogging) can even provide them with some kind of a face. Your choices are never-ending. Whether your web series is reality or scripted, it needs to have the right DNA to grow up big and strong, play in the big leagues and eventually dunk the ball.

But, the World Wide Web is still like the Wild-Wild West. Everyone is trying to mine for Internet gold. There are no barriers to entry and anyone can stake a claim. But can you harvest a juicy nugget and cash it in for fame and a new Aston Martin? I’m not going to bore you with the details of designing the site, fishing for ad dollars, tagging the site for searches... because without stellar content, a fresh hook and that uncontrollable variable of variables called luck - you just can’t be a success.

So what makes a great Web Series?

Goals: Whether your goal is to sell a boatload of advertising space or boldly go where no cyber-punk has ever gone before, make sure you have the target in mind so that everyone aboard the project is on the same page. It’s funny how many times I ask that question and people sputter out random thoughts instead of their mission statement.

Characters: Former NBC Chief Brandon Tartikov was a television executive credited with turning around NBC's low prime time reputation. He had a vision: great characters make great entertainment. The same holds true for cyberspace. Look at the top web series out there today: Ask a Ninja, Chad Vader, Dr. Horrible, Jesus People and my beloved Citizen Kate. They all are centered on a main character(s) that have a goal, whether it’s to answer your deepest questions through eyes of martial arts killing machine or meet Barack Obama - a strong proactive character with quirks and goals is certainly captivating.

Planning: You must put on your project manager cap or find someone who is detailed, task-oriented and cool under fire. As producer, you need to plot out the details of your shoot. Just like a full-scale production company, you’ll need to budget, hire, cast, procure, write and record. You may even get more bang for the buck if you prep and plan in stages. The biggest mistake people make is to try and do it all at once. Take your time.

Marketing: Word of mouth is still king. Within nano-seconds you can Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Text, email (or for heaven’s sake call) someone and share the funniest thing on the web. My inbox(es) were off the hizzy with the new Andy Samberg short minutes after it aired on SNL. So what if you don’t have Jamie Lynn Siegler or Justin Timberlake in your video? Use every avenue to let the world know your series has arrived.

Sales: Want to make money? Well, Veoh and Revver are some of the sites that will share advertising dollars with you. If all goes well and you’re thinking of trying to sell your series, all the networks have New Media groups or spinoffs for short form content on the Web. Disney recently launched Stage 9 in the hopes it could incubate shorts into movies or TV shows. But you’ll need an introduction. Why not try uber agent UTA’s spin off, 60 Frames? They develop, produce and manage new media clients and have one of the loudest mouths in the biz. You can even create series for mobile phones. Bunnygraph Entertainment specializes in bringing creative minds and product companies.

Crossover Appeal: If you want to move over to the heights of the TV plateau, you must ask yourself, “Could I really watch this on TV?” But, even that’s hard to gauge these days. Remember Quarterlife? (Sorry NBC.) Pretend you get to put a show on air and millions will watch. Look at “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or “Monster Garage.” Both pilots were shot on a dinky camera but both made it to series. Why? The idea had substance + awesome characters + a fresh hook...oh and luck...

Substance: Above all, your web-series must be about something. Then, how much substance is required for the Web? To just say your story must have a beginning, middle and end is not enough. It has to be UNIQUE! Is it timely? Is it provocative? One of the funniest things I have ever seen on the web was a short when a girl was enjoying an ice cream cone, then comedian Louis CK strolls up, steals it and then runs off to a nearby helicopter and flies off. All in 10 seconds. Never seen that before!

Okay. So, think you can beat the thousands of other people out there trying to create the next Chad Vader?

Ultimately, you have 10 seconds to grab some Web-surfer’s attention and up to five minutes to hold it. If your objectives are clear and your characters and story hook are distinctive, you’re well ahead your competition.

You have to have the patience, drive and creative fortitude akin to an indie filmmaker over and over again. Look what happened to Robert Rodriguez and P.T. Anderson after they wrote, directed and produced their movies. They tried, failed, tried again and succeeded. Don’t be afraid to try and try again to something sticks.

May the Web be with you...

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James said...

“Could I really watch this on TV?"

I disagree with this statement.

Web series are providing an outlet for types of entertainment that are specifically things that would never be on TV.

For the most part they are 5 minute shorts that people can watch at the office.

Think of who your audience is -- bored assistants and secretaries who may feel guilty watching a 45 minute TV program online, but people who have no problem taking 5 mins out of their schedule to kill time.

I mean, isn't that what the assistants' day is?

When shit is happening you have to be running at 200%. But when nothing is happening it's BORING! Web series can fill the void without having to commit an hour of your day to.

Again, think about ~~WHO~~ is watching these.

Anonymous said...

Hi James.. thanks for your response.. but, I prefaced my statement by saying:

"If you want to move over to the heights of the TV plateau, you must ask yourself, “Could I really watch this on TV?""

Meaning, if you want to try and sell this show or turn it into a television property or a movie.. one should ask if the content you've shot/produced is ready to go. Just like Sarah Norton's Keepitgreen.TV or CitizenKate.TV....

Sorry if it wasn't clear

Success past internet fame usually means turning your show into a prime time program...

Wouldn't it be great to just hand over the masters and collect you check?

Mike Perri