A guide to creating credibility before you have it
Making a web series is hard, but you know what’s even harder? Getting people to take it seriously. Even with the Pemberley Digital Emmy wins and the growing number of web series getting adapted for TV, we as creators are still fighting an uphill battle to get our craft any semblance of legitimacy. Are we even supposed to call them “web series” anymore, or is the sleeker vernacular “digital series” the new norm? I can’t keep up anymore.
But here’s the thing about “legitimacy” — it’s a fake concept. There is no central arbiter for what qualifies as legitimate or quality or important. It’s up to all of us to act as if we’re worthy of attention, until audiences and press catch up and realize what they’re missing. Today, we’re going to talk about a few ways you, right now, can fake it ’til you make it.
This puppy right here is the reason I can call Brains an “award winning web series” in all my promos
In high-fashion circles, having the most expensive Pradagucciglamour bag is a sign of status and guaranteed entry. In the film community, having laurels (those fancy leaves framing a film festival’s name ) fills that role. Of course, having laurels from a highbrow festival like Sundance or Cannes is a surefire rocket to the Hollymoon, where all the cool filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Ava Duvernay hang out. But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess they’re either too expensive to submit to or you don’t have high hopes for being selected. Not for lack of quality or ingenuity, but because those kinds of festivals have very specific things they’re looking for, and web series often cannot compete.
Don’t worry, because there are about a billion other festivals out there. Many even web specific! Just make yourself a handy dandy FilmFreeway or WithoutABox account (they allow you to apply to multiple festivals at once) and start submitting. Many festivals with web series categories are online ones, which don’t have physical events or screenings, meaning if you’re selected they’ll give you a page or a link on their website, but more importantly, meaning their entry fee probably isn’t very high. Submit widely, search specifically for places you can submit to for under five or ten bucks, and start collecting those laurels.
When your goal is to raise your profile, you don’t need to be precious about where the laurels are from. A stranger thinks you’re cool enough to include in a collection of things they like! And they’re going to give you a fancy picture you can put on promo images to make yourself seem more important! Win-win!
This is a gross business/advertising phrase, but in this context, what it comes down to is having a consistent “brand” for your series no matter where on the internet it lives. This means a couple of different things:
Episode thumbnails. Take the image above, which is, shamelessly, a screencap of the Brains YouTube channel. The episodes don’t just have randomly generated thumbnails; I picked the best screenshot from each image and then plugged them into a Photoshop file where I designed a common template around them. That way, if you see a Brains thumbnail, even lacking context or a video title, you know it’s a Brains thumbnail. It also makes it clear it’s a part of a series, not just a random vlog or one-off unscripted video.
Usernames. Social media can be a time suck, but it’s also one of the only ways you’re going to be able to market your series, so keep brand consistency in mind as you’re creating your accounts. If possible, try to get the same username on every platform, so that no matter what site a potential viewer is on, they can easily find you. For us, it’s “BrainsWebseries” on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, all the way down to the website URL. And remember best practices, because each social media platform has unique rules and benefits!
Imagery. As a corollary to the above points, make sure you have a consistent design or color scheme as you spread the good word about your series. Having a show logo is the first step, and make sure it’s iconic. A good logo should immediately identify you and your show, so a quick glance is all someone needs to make the connection. The color scheme should match the logo, or at least complement it, which you’ll then use for your thumbnail design, website, and other promotional images and content.
Taking a break from Brains for a whole section of this article might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Related: watch Relativity!
The Internet Movie Database has an air of legitimacy that even Wikipedia, my nemesis, can’t quite muster. It’s the site you go to whenever you’re watching an episode of TV and a guest actor looks vaguely familiar, or whenever you’re arguing with a friend about who directed “Scott Pilgrim vs The World.” And it’s surprisingly easy to add your web series to their directory. A few notes:
They don’t actually have a web series category, so just list yourself as a “TV series.” Not “TV Mini Series”, mind you, unless it’s a self-contained single season. If you want to make or will make or have made more than one season, it’s not a mini series.
You’ll need to provide them a link to a third party site to verify your project’s existence. This could be a link to your YouTube channel or even just a trailer for the series, a piece of press, or evidence of a screening. Keep in mind- “We do not consider links to Facebook pages, blogs, wikis, casting notices, Twitter or social network sites as suitable evidence of a title’s eligibility.”
Having an IMDb page will also make it easier to pitch your no-budget show to cast and crew — “I can’t pay, but I’ll provide food and IMDb credit!”
Getting press is a post unto itself (stay tuned!), but it’s important enough to get a section in this one. The first time my show got a third-party website to post about us, I shared it on social media with the caption — “someone other than me is writing about my show!” And that, my friends, is the point.
When faking your own legitimacy, having someone outside of your cast, crew, friends, and family posting about you is huge. Just like with a film festival acceptance, third-party press means that someone who doesn’t know you thinks you’re swell enough to include on their website or in their publication.
Because I’ve got a whole “press/press release” post planned for you all, I’ll keep this section simple: find other web series in your genre farther along in the fake legitimacy process and see which publications have covered them. Then reach out yourself, possibly even citing the other web series as precedent for your inclusion. “If you liked that show, you’ll like us too!”
Are you getting sick of my face? I sure am, but it’s part of my show’s brand now, so here we are! Now that you’ve got all those other things, you should make a website! While I personally suggest a combination of HostGator for hosting and domain purchasing and Wordpress for the actual design and content management, there are plenty of great free website options out there. My favorites are Wordpress (the free version), and Weebly, but if you spend a little time researching and designing, most can end up looking polished and professional.
Why a website, and not just a series of social media accounts with tight and consistent branding?
Organization. All your content and links in one place, where you have a bit more control over their display. Plus, having a press page looks very — can you see where I’m going with this? — legitimate!
Cast and crew photos. IMDb is great, but doesn’t offer much information, and if your cast and crew aren’t interested in paying the annual fee to add a photo to their individual pages, it’s not very helpful for identification purposes. With a website, though, you can add as many headshots as you want, visually identifying the beautiful and perfect people who helped make your show.
Professionalism. When you tell people about your show, how do they find more information? A website looks cleaner than even the best designed YouTube channel, and it will give off the strongest “legitimacy” scent to potentially snobbish viewers. Also, and most importantly, what sounds better — “you can find more information on our YouTube channel” or “you can find more information on our website?” Be honest.
Whether or not a web series appears legitimate comes down entirely to effort and arbitrary optics. If you are willing to put in the effort to build a website, an IMDb page, and coordinate the usernames on all your social media accounts, it doesn’t matter if your pilot has 300 views or 3,000,000. Well, it does, but the point is that legitimacy as a construct is largely, wait for it, a construct. And that construct may very well convince people to watch your show, so you might as well indulge it. Half of success is the appearance of success, so get to work, you successful web producer, you!