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Web Series: Four Things to Ask Yourself Before Starting

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I get many many emails every week about people who are wanting to make web series. They want advice, which I would love to give, but there’s no way that I can address everyone individually or I’d have no time to keep up with my own obligations. So I’m going to post an occasional blog on the topic, because it’s important to me to help people make their stories.

First Post: Four Things to Ask Yourself Before Making a Web Series

1. How is My Project Unique to the Web?

Web series are all the rage lately, and yet, ironically, many Web Video production companies have shut down in the past 6 months. Why? I think one of the reasons, besides money, is that they were trying to make TV shows on the web. Their shows can’t get traction because the Web needs a different kind of storytelling.

Every time I see a web series about some funny, attractive white people, or a slick glossy man-spy-caper, I roll my eyes. Why? I’ve seen that on TV. Or in movies. With bigger budgets, and bigger stars. The web should be the place to tell stories and present characters that haven’t been seen; to cast actors in roles that would never get hired by a network. “Dr. Horrible” engaged it’s audience in an revolutionary way. Why? Because no studio executive would have greenlit a 45 minute musical-comedy about a supervillan. No one. And that’s why people clicked. And purchased. Because they’re craving originality and waiting for you to give it to them.

And the uniqueness doesn’t have to be with story or character. There is no rule as far as length or format. There is an amazing freedom on the web, why not create something that is non-traditional? Non-linear plot, audience input? Anything you can think of, try it out. Break the idea of traditional narrative and at least you have something new to present your audience. And you might invent a whole new genre of storytelling.

2. How is My Web Series Unique to ME?

Those great words of advice “write what you know” have never been truer than on the web. If you worked for a mortician in high school, or were a gymnastics prodigy, please write about that. Don’t think along the traditional lines of what Hollywood will buy and what they force us to consume. Not everyone lives in New York City and is an ad executive with perfect outfits and $2000 hair extensions. Humanity is so much richer than it is portrayed in mainstream media, and the web is the place to tell those stories. Because no matter what the subject, on the internet THE AUDIENCE IS THERE.

3. Who is My Audience and How Will I Reach Them?

I think a key to web series, that builds upon points #1 and #2, is that trying to please everyone will never work on the web. The Guild is popular because we started in a niche and grew out from there. The internet isn’t TV: It’s 20 million channels rather than 200. If you can’t sit down and easily identify what kind of person will like your show and name 5 places that person might go to on the internet, you will have a hard time getting the word out, no matter how good it is.

Of course, getting the word out is one of the biggest challenges in web video. The traditional way to market a product is to think, “How can I force someone to buy/watch/purchase this?” Personally, I think the opposite works better, especially on the internet. When I wanted to get the word out about The Guild, I thought like an audience member. “If I were someone who would like this show, where would I be on the web? What would I need in a web site? What would encourage me to link it to my friends?” I wanted to make it easy for a fan to enjoy my show and remember to come back for more. At their convenience. What do you hate as a fan and an audience member? Do the opposite. I bet it will work.

4. Do I Know What I’m Getting Into?

Name five web series off the top of your head. Chances are those people aren’t making a living off their series, and if they are, it’s not much. Personal experience talking here. 🙂 Best advice I can give you, is to assume that your web project is a labor of love and your expectations will always be exceeded.

I don’t mean to be discouraging, but web video is a beast unto itself. Unlike TV you don’t get a hiatus. Web show exists 24/7 on the web and, as such, requires that much time to maintain. You will have to learn many MANY different skill sets, because there is no money to hire out the things you don’t know how to do. Along with Final Cut, Photoshop, After Effects, Excel, Powerpoint, WordPress, HTML, Garage Band, Music Editing and Composition, Production Design, etc etc I can come up with about 50 more skills that I know PASSABLY well, because at the end of the day someone had to do it. And it fell to me or my co-producer Kim Evey to get it done. (Hint: Video tutorials helped the most.) 🙂

Web video is still in it’s baby stages, and the big crossover that everyone is waiting for has yet to happen. Yes, it could be you. But at the same time, there is a good chance that very few people could see your video. You have to trust that that’s ok, because the confidence you get from making your own product is the most rewarding thing you can imagine. It helps you define who you are, who you want to be, and where you want to go. The internet is the Sundance of our time. Take advantage of it and don’t wait for permission to make your art.

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