On the internet, it’s always rerun time. For filmmakers, this can be really useful, because your project’s success doesn’t live or die by its actual air date. Your content might be a bust when you upload it but may blossom after a few months. That’s why so many of our blogs and podcasts and webinars emphasize the importance of runway, “runway” being defined as how long you can stretch out the release of new content to potentially grant you and your project “liftoff,” or enough support to justify continuing.
But how long should you try to extend your runway, and how long should you continue to promote a project after it’s complete, or you’re out of money? To an extent, that’s up to you. For argument’s sake, and the sake of giving this article a focus, let’s assume a few things: 1, your project is, for all intents and purposes, complete; 2, it has not gotten you hired or gotten picked up for TV itself; 3, you want to make a career out of making more projects, and; 4, more projects can but doesn’t have to include making more of your existing project.
If your goal is to build a career out of your content, generally, you do want to give yourself and your project a chance to dig out of the void that is the internet, an internet where 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. So here’s what I recommend:
Phase 1: 0-6 months post-finale
As soon as a series uploads its season or series finale, a timer starts, slowly counting down the viability of the show being considered topical. While your project’s content may be evergreen, its very existence is only truly “newsworthy” within that first six months of finishing its run. This isn’t to say that you’ll never get a piece of press after that period, but your pitch will need to change from “new web series!” to “something happened to make this old web series relevant again!” More on that in Phase 2 and 3.
As far as things you should be focusing on during Phase 1 with that topicality in mind:
Press. Let’s just get this one out of the way. The job of a journalist, especially in the arts, is to report on new and exciting things as they’re happening, ie when they’re “news.” “A web series was released two years ago” isn’t news, the same way “Barack Obama was president!” isn’t news. We either already knew that or enough time has passed that it’s no longer relevant for an organization explicitly reporting on news. So if you’re in Phase 1, it’s now or never for your beautiful press release.
Film Festivals. Similarly, many film festivals have completion-date requirements so 10-year-old films aren’t competing with films made last year. Web series festivals tend to have more flexibility here, but being able to couple a new release, where you already have momentum, with the fact that your new release has a few screenings and festival wins under its belt or coming up, is extremely powerful. Better yet- attend!
Phase 2: 6-12 months post-finale
Your web series is no longer immediately topical as simply a piece of content that exists. But that’s ok! Even if your initial runway didn’t achieve liftoff, you can always reboot interest and expand your reach during this period where the show’s still fresh and likely still eligible for film festivals.
When thinking about Phase 2:
Thematic Supplemental Content. The best way to stay relevant and topical is to continue releasing content. Of course, releasing a new season or episodes isn’t always feasible, and besides, we established at the beginning of this article that you’re either done with your show or done for now. Luckily, there are tons of lower-impact (but still exciting for audiences new and old alike) options for thematically-linked supplemental content for your show. Check out our webinar on the topic or this eBook for some inspiration.
IRL events. Now that you’ve [hopefully] bounced back financially a bit from the throws of production, you can invest some resources into either traveling to events like ComicCons and other conventions related to your work or into setting up your own real-life events like screenings, panels, or something slightly more creative. Because you’ve got a completed show and some accolades from Phase 1, use that to promote to new audiences who need something to do away from their couches.
Phase 3: 12-24 months post-finale
We’re pretty solidly out of topicality territory here, so unless you’re genuinely planning on a new season, start thinking of new ways to repurpose old content.
Phase 3 ideas:
Crowdfunding campaign. If you crowdfunded initially for your series, enough time has officially passed to theoretically retap your audience (and, hopefully, tap new audiences for the first time). You could certainly crowdfund for a new season, but if that’s not something you’re interested in for the time being, consider crowdfunding for a screening tour, or distribution, or marketing. A crowdfunding campaign is a great event to market and build an audience during, and instead of spending money to generate buzz, you’re generating buzz with a profit!
Make a pitch deck. Be honest- you’d love to “go pro” and get picked up by someone with money. At this point in your show’s existence, consider turning it into a pitch deck for either a feature or a full-length TV series. Use every success the indie series has claimed as proof the concept has legs, use the audience data you’ve been gathering as proof of an interested demo, and use the fact you’ve already made something amazing with zero budget as proof you’re a talent they need to pay attention to. You might not have anywhere to hand this deck off to, but if you’re at a fest or a convention or a coffee shop and someone asks, you’ll at least be prepared.
Phase 4: 24+ months post-finale
This is what I call the “incidental” phase, because unless you’ve seen traction from buyers or traditional television, it’s probably time to consider what’s next. However, you still have a piece of work you’re proud of on the internet, so on an incidental basis, definitely continue to promote it if there’s an opening! Brains, my first web series, completed its second season at the end of 2016, but every once in awhile someone online is wistful for zombie recommendations or a new press outlet premieres looking for innovative found footage/women in horror series. If I see it, I’ll submit, but I’m not actively looking for those opportunities anymore. I can still monetize the work via Stareable Enrich, and I can still use the scripts and completed episodes as work samples in my portfolio, but my days of scheduling content to my Brains accounts are over.
Phase 4 isn’t a despair phase, it’s an opportunity phase. What can you do next that builds off your success from Phases 1-3? How can you use what you’ve learned, the audience you’ve fought for, and the connections you’ve made in order to create something new? There’s still hope the groundwork you laid will get you somewhere later, but two years after your series is over it’s time to move on to the next amazing thing.