Many people have asked me over the years for advice on creating a web series. After pondering all my different, random words of wisdom it became clear that one thing really brought it all together…
It better make your heart sing. If not- don’t bother.
The truth is, I never knew what to expect when I set out on this adventure. Hell… I didn’t really even know I was going on one. I knew I had a passion for writing and acting. I knew the kids in my after-school film program were one of the highlights of my week. And I knew that our concept was unique and interesting. What I didn’t know was that the project would reach anyone beyond the kids’ parents and friends. Lucky for me, I didn’t know how wrong I was.
In the summer of 2013, I was teaching filmmaking to a handful of tweens and teens in my community of Weehawken, New Jersey. They were eager and excited to “professionally” perform on camera scenes that were hand selected for them but also curious and intrigued by what happened behind the camera. Who called lights? Who called camera? Who called action? What did any of it really mean? Quickly and efficiently they learned the answers and more, thanks to hands on experience. When summer came, we didn’t think twice before setting out to film a three part, horror retelling of an old fairy tale.
We weren’t a production company (yet). We didn’t have fancy equipment or a long resume of production, but we had heart, some things laying around that we could put to use and a “can do” attitude. So, armed with a microphone taped to a painter’s pole and a DSLR, we completed the project.
This project would grow to be our muse. It spawned the concept for our series- modern, horror twists on classic children’s literature using real teens in the cast, crew and soundtrack. It was the starting point for the entire future of OSTSG and we make sure we don’t forget how it all started.
I won’t bore you with the details of how to physically create your series. The truth is, there’s plenty of information out there on no/low budget film production. Basic idea- camera, crew, actors, food- good food. Seriously. Don’t underestimate the importance of craft services. Hungry people aren’t happy people. You can Google the rest.
Instead, my advice stems from what is often left unsaid. Because the truth is, the dream of going out there and creating art is lovely, but it’s only half the battle. There’s so much more at play.
(1) Make damn sure you love it.
REALLY love it. Ally and Noah fromThe Notebook kind of love. Make sure you love it enough to take it on as a full time job- in addition to any other jobs you already have. In fact, love it enough to take it on as a full time job that YOU PAY to have. Because that is what it will turn out to be, at least for a while. Be able to picture yourself, sitting on your living room floor labeling thousands of lollipops for promotion, answering emails 24 hours a day, getting under three hours of sleep and watching that scene “one more time” to check sound levels (for the 400th time… literally). Now add to that an average of 30 more tasks and a deadline of yesterday. If that doesn’t scare you, proceed.
Pre-production and production of your series is what most people think of when they consider creating a series. You write the script, hire your cast and crew and find your locations. You complete production and sit back to look at your marvelous creation.
What people often fail to consider is how many other things you’ll have to do. More times than not, things like website creation and promotion often get overlooked. Getting people to watch your creation is a lot harder than you think.
(2) Have an insanely amazing support system.
Whatever the case may be, no one can do this alone. You’ve heard the phrase, “teamwork makes the dream work”? It’s never been more true than it is with Or So the Story Goes. I base 90% of any success we have had at this point on the fact that we have an AMAZING support system.
Each member of our team wears, at a minimum, 10 hats (as I’ve learned is often the case with web series). They work tirelessly to make things happen- often without nearly enough credit and always without enough compensation . They can go from acting in a scene one minute, to gelling a light for an interior car scene in the next. From picking up food for craft services, to dressing a set, to picking people up from the train, it seems they never stop.
Not only are they an incredible support system when it comes to pre-production and production, but also commit endless hours and energy to helping promote the show afterwards. They travel across the country to comic cons, festivals and more promoting and spreading the word. It really does take a village and we are lucky to have one full of so much love. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your project! Surround yourself with people that want the series to succeed as much as you do. I can’t stress this enough.
In addition to having amazing people working on the project, you need to be supported from the outside. As fun and amazing as it all is, it’s time consuming and your loved ones need to be on board or there could be trouble down the road. Lucky for me, my wife is the director, producer and co-writer of Or So the Story Goes. It’s a passion and a vision we share. Often times our lives become the series. Not a day goes by we aren’t discussing it on some level and planning for what comes next. This means we luckily find ourselves traveling and working together throughout the year. Thankfully, our series gives us more time together instead of less, but that’s not always the case and something to think about before you begin.
(3) Never give up.
We work with a lot of teenagers. If they have taught us anything (other than proper use of modern slang) it’s resilience. When we began, our series had plenty of problems. Our sound wasn’t as clear as we wanted, our photography wasn’t grand… but our story was well received, our potential was clear and we found a small but dedicated audience. It gave the teens and us something to be proud of. It gave us a reason to continue striving to be better.
With each season we have seen incredible improvements within ourselves and our series. In 2016, we became an official selection at Vancouver Web Fest and won an Indie Series Award. We were so proud of where we had gotten; but one thing became clear- we couldn’t stop and we couldn’t stand still. We knew we had to keep working harder to make OSTSG everything it could be. In fact, we are thrilled to say we just returned from Vancouver Web Fest 2017 with a win in Best Horror for last season, Sweet Truth, and can’t wait to see where our most recent season, Golden Rule takes us.
Our biggest problem was (and continues to be), as it often is in the new media world, funding. Before beginning production of Golden Rule we knew we needed to hire a professional Director of Photography to increase our production value. We held a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter and we somehow got incredibly lucky and found the perfect person for the job. He understood who we were at our core and seemed genuinely happy to jump on board to what I can imagine were less than dream conditions.
In addition to hiring a DP & Grip, we improved production value with new key locations and time committed to the shoot. We raised $10,000 in our Kickstarter campaign which was a lot to us, but not even close to what most people spend considering we had a cast of over 25, over 10 locations and a total runtime of 95 mins. That being said, we still didn’t have much of a budget, but we knew we could make magic with very little. We have always been incredibly proud of our ability to stretch a dollar and create more than seems possible with what little money we have. This season is no exception to the rule and the end result is our biggest and more impressive season, thus far.
I’ve found the web series world to be a massively inclusive community. We have been fortunate to have people take us under their wings, give us advice and most importantly- give us a chance to show them what we can do. This is probably the most important thing you can do—make genuine connections! Without them I don’t know where we would be.
There may be days where I feel I’m in over my head, trying to do too many things at once and yes even finding myself in hysterical tears over something as ridiculous as logo colors… But at the end of the day, Or So the Story Goes makes my heart sing. It makes me genuinely happy, even in the most stressful of times. It’s given me the opportunity to see places in the world I might not have seen otherwise, with people that have become family, sharing something that started as a simple after school project. As an actress, there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to play strong female characters and make a series with my talented friends.
The reason I’m constantly thinking about OSTSG and working on it is because I love it, with everything I’ve got. If you’re reading this, chances are you have that fire in you, as well- that passion that can only be quenched by getting out there and bringing your vision to life. If not… you might want to rethink it. But if this hasn’t scared you, if you do have the passion and the energy, then get out there! Give it what you’ve got. The simple truth is there’s no excuse not to try. Get your friends together, strap a mic to a painter’s pole, film something. You never know what might come of it. We sure didn’t…
Melissa Malone is the creator/producer/writer/cast member of the web series “Or So the Story Goes.” www.orsothestorygoes.com
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org