Alex Dobrenko - Creator / Writer / Actor / Anxious Human Bean - AMA!

(Alex Dobrenko) #1

Hey y’all - I made an interactive web series called “Distance” based on my own long distance relationship that’s available online now for FREE. The show’s about how technology both enables love and makes it real, real weird - misread text messages, bad wifi, totally not awkward cyber sex, and everything in between. Each episode is split into two halves - HERS and HIS - and the audience picks which side to watch first.

After shooting a pilot that we took to SXSW, NYTVF, and Seriesfest, we crowdfunded on Seed & Spark / raised private investment to shoot an 11 episode season, which we released last week.

Trailer -
Series -

Happy to answer questions about ANYTHING. Here are a few specific topics y’all might find interesting:

  • The process of creating a series from start to finish - pilot, festivals, pitching to networks and studios, fundraising, writing a season, shooting a season, releasing a season, etc
  • Growing an audience for our show before we ever released
  • Fundraising specifically, how to get investors on board for your series
  • Developing a non-traditional narrative that is specifically suited for the web, e.g. our “choose which side to watch first” approach
  • Anything else!

Alex is the writer and creator of “Distance.” He recently acted in “Krisha,” which won SXSW 2015’s Grand Jury and Audience Choice Awards before being purchased by A24 and released theatrically. Before that, Alex starred in the comedy-mystery “Arlo and Julie” which premiered at SXSW 2014 to rave reviews from Variety, BadAss Digest, Austin Chronicle and others including Wired Magazine calling Alex one of the “15 Most Fascinating Filmmakers and Stars at SXSW.” Alex has also acted in “The Program” starring Ben Foster, Lee Pace and Dustin Hoffman (Alex played Dustin Hoffman’s son - a personal dream come true), the indie comedy "Here We Are, and the horror comedy, and “Quaker Oaths” which premiered at Austin Film Fest in 2016. can also catch Alex at improv theaters across Los Angeles CA. He is currently taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Alex also retains an active role at Tugg, a film start-up based out of Austin.

We've got an AMA for that!
(Bri Castellini) #2

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(Bri Castellini) #3

Welcome, Alex! First question: when did you get into filmmaking, and into web series in particular?

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(sam lockie-waring) #4

woah private investment. i think you might be the first on this ama train to get that- congrats! would love to hear more about how you made that happen.

(Meg Carroway) #5

Hi Alex! Thanks for being here! Your show looks so cute! What was the biggest writing challenge of having both characters lead their own episodes/lives in your story?

(Jaime Lancaster) #6

Welcome from a fellow Anxious Human Bean!! How did you approach your crowdfunding campaign? For instance, what did you prepare beforehand and how did you portion out how you were going to run it?

(Alex Dobrenko) #7

Heya Bri! I’ve always been obsessed with tv and film, honestly. I moved to america from ukraine when I was 7, so US sitcoms were how I learned about how to be normal in America - Full House, Family Matters, Saved by the Bell, etc.

In college I decided to make a real go of it and majored in screenwriting, which taught me how to write (sorta). Then I moved to Austin, TX and was told that to meet writers, I should audition for things, just to connect with people. So I did, and because I didn’t really care whether I booked things, I started to book things :slight_smile:

And then I got deep into the Austin film scene until I realized there was a bit of a cap there, to what you could accomplish. So I moved to LA. My long distance girlfriend (the relationship Distance is based on) moved there too.

And once I got here, I realized breaking in via acting was v v hard. And I had always wanted to make my own stuff, so I thought, let’s do it.

Web series as a form came, as I’m sure is the case for many of y’all, after I saw High Maintenance. I was like ‘oh, web series can be actually good’ and can do things that other forms can’t. And so began my foray into the wide wide world of web series :slight_smile:

(Joseph Steven Heath) #8

As someone who was in a LDR (now married!), I am very intrigued by your show. I got a little teary-eyed just watching the trailer. Were you in a LDR yourself? Also, can you tell me more about the pitching process? How do you find people to pitch to?


(Bri Castellini) #9

Joe Heath, asking the real questions.

(Alex Dobrenko) #10

Heya! That was a real, real doozy with a whole lot of trial by fire learning. Big picture, I had to understand and build a narrative for how my investors would receive a return, which I developed broadly as “indie tv is a playground from which successful TV is born.” I cited the many examples - High Maintenance, Broad City, Downward Dog, Brown Girls, and others.

And then I had a lawyer come on to help draw up all the paperwork for how investors would receive a return based on their initial investment, etc etc etc.

I do think that one of the main reasons our investors decided to come on was that they saw the pilot, and they saw our success in the festival circuit. They knew, in many ways, what they were getting themselves into, because there was a tangible product / vision that they could see.

But boy oh boy was it hard.

(sam lockie-waring) #11

can you expand on this part? i think i speak for everyone when i say that while we might have all figured out a few crowdfunding tricks for up front funding, not a damn one of us can break even after uploading everything. maybe i’m a lone cynic but i kinda feel like i’m not

(Alex Dobrenko) #12

Great question! It was really the entire challenge of writing - we had to create two unique worlds, and two story arcs, and then understand how the relationship would interact with those two arcs.

We had an indie writer’s room, which was real fun. Ten writers were on the team, and each of them brought their unique voice to the show.

The key was really understanding who the two characters were - what did they want, what did they believe. What scared them? From there we built out their arcs, and then the interaction of their arcs.

We also had a central question to guide us - ‘who do I put first - me or you’.

And then obvi-town, a TON OF REWRITES

(Marc L) #13

Hello, Alex! I am also an actor looking to “break in” and I would like any audition wisdom you have accumulated over the years.

(Alex Dobrenko) #14


I owe so much of our crowdfunding success to the incredible team at Seed&Spark. They were so so so helpful, and supportive, and accessible. One of their biggest tips was to try and have 20-30% of the money committed before you even launch. That way, in the first 2-3 days, you jump right up to 20-30%. So I spent a TON of time before the launch reaching out to my close community of pals / people who I knew had a bit of extra income lying around who loved to support me / support the arts.

I also had a big picture strategy of who I would be reaching out to, and the kinds of posts we’d be making throughout.

So yes, a ton of planning.

I also secured the buy in of a whole lot of our creative team to help me push the campaign.

Though above all, Seed & Spark - they are heroes. Use them religiously.

(Meg Carroway) #15

How do you organize that kinda show on a place like IMDb? I know you had episodes labeled as “episode 1” for both sides of the story, but IMDb doesn’t really organize that way

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(Jerome Keith) #16

How was the process of running the writer’s room for Distance? Were you working with writers that you already knew very well or did you hire people on based on writing samples?

(Jonathan Hardesty) #17

cc: @Alex_Dobrenko I’m curious about this part as well, considering the medium of webseries is a risk for investment. What kind of return were they looking for and how did the show deliver on that?

(Anna Bateman) #18

Did you take many production classes in school, or were you pretty strictly writing/acting? Did you do any production-y things as well on Distance?

(Alex Dobrenko) #19

Finally, someone addresses the gorgeous elephant in the room, Lee Pace. Yes, he was very beautiful and very awesome. We shot in Austin, TX and he’s from Dallas, so he had his parents come to set. They were adorable. Dustin Hoffman talked to them and made them feel real lovely and wonderful. A warm memory for sure.

So glad you dug the trailer - check out the whole show :slight_smile: I think you’ll love it, if you were in a LDR. I based the series on my own LDR of 3 years. My gf Lauren, who produced the show, makes me say that it was LOOSELY based on us though, mainly because of the specifics of the cyber sex episode :slight_smile:

Pitching - I have an agent and manager (primarily for acting) who were instrumental in the pitching process. Especially in getting us into the rooms. But ultimately, everyone loved the show but didn’t want to risk it on a show with non-famous people. So I said fuck it, let’s make the show on our own.

(Jaime Lancaster) #20

That’s amazing!!! Kinda more related to the Anxious Bean solidarity we both understand… how did you wrestle that part of your personality when reaching out to strangers for money during crowdfunding and investing? I get really in my own head and have no idea why anyone real would care about me since I’m still new and have no, like, resume of previously successful work but I can’t GET that resume without at least some help/resources.