Honestly, I love working with low budgets way more than I do with big budgets (but don’t tell any executives I’m pitching to about that…haha!). You have to look at a low budget as a puzzle and I LOVE solving puzzles. Everyone has resources in their lives so for someone just starting out, I say start with making a list of the things you have access to and seeing if there is a fun project to be made out of that. Because the other key to working low budget is that you have to be creating something you are truly passionate about, because if you’re not doing it for the money, you’ve got to be doing it for the love.
Jenni Powell (The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) - Emmy Award Winning Producer AMA
Thanks you!! Is there a part of producing you don’t like doing? How do you get through the boring parts of it?
The single most biggest mistake is thinking your project HAS to have Transmedia. And that if you just want to tell your story in a linear way with no transmedia elements that somehow that makes your project less valuable. So don’t force it! If you see some clear places where transmedia will enhance your story, go for it! But don’t feel any project is less valuable if it doesn’t include those elements.
So true! With that said, what would you say is the most effective (and easy-to-follow for the audience) way to incorporate transmedia elements into your story?
So this might not be that encouraging but I’m going to be honest…I actually didn’t enjoy working in reality TV and I don’t do it currently. BUT that was probably because I was never working in the story departments, I was working post-production but not in a creative department. I was never in a place where I could influence the narrative (for those thinking “reality TV has narrative?” oh heck yes it does) and I found that very frustrating. Which is why I left a producer level position in reality to start over as a PA in new media (that was the first job I held on lonelygirl15…I was their PA).
But if you are passionate about reality and you are on that path, then that is awesome and amazing and you should keep doing what you’re doing. And I’m still a voracious reality show fan and love analyzing and breaking down reality shows. I’m particularly fond of competition reality shows…Survivor is my favorite.
You kind of answered this, but I wanted to ask you about the different typical formats web series employ. Since Lizzie Bennet, vlog-style web series have exploded online, even branching away from literary adaptations. Do you think that trend will continue, and what do you think the next big trend will be in terms of digital storytelling?
The best way to start is with yourself. Build your social media presence honestly by hanging out in fan forums of things you enjoy and posting about things you enjoy. If you’re being true to yourself, others will see that and want to share back with you. And those are the first people who are going to see and be a fan of your work and it grows from there!
And I’m so happy you were inspired…please go out and make stuff! You can do it!
I definitely get that - this is exactly the reason I want to work in Story and I’m pursuing that path fairly aggressively. I can see how working in a non-creative capacity would be draining though. Wise words!
I can’t resist a good competition show either. Do you have any other reality shows you particularly enjoy?
He’s a 11 - 13 year-old (he was a rescue, so we don’t know his exact age) Rotweiller / Shepard mix. He’s just a big happy boy and I love him to the ends of the earth.
I’ve actually done it multiple ways depending on the story and the budget involved. With Lizzie Bennet Diaries, we talked a lot about the format and how to write it in a way that would be easily producible but not take away from the compelling nature of the content. We knew we’d be doing single locations, locked-off camera, so we knew the importance of getting an amazing Production Designer who could take a small frame and make it feel large and alive (the amazing Katie Moest) and we knew we had to cast actors that were comfortable acting in the vlog style and could be super compelling without relying on a lot of movement.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know the answer to this. I left Pemberley Digital between Emma Approved and Frankenstein MD (though I still did the casting for Frankenstein) to form my production company.
Have you made web series with your new production company? Which ones? (sorry I didn’t know that!)
ALSO! What is something you wish more new producers knew/realized about producing?
Oh absolutely! In fact, doing web series is a wonderful way to build up a screenwriting resume. Issa Rae, who is the creator of the web series Awkward Black Girl, was able to take her work on that series and ended up with a deal at HBO (Insecure). Video Game High School was independently produced by RocketJump and then they ended up with their own show on Hulu.
The key to this path would be patience and putting in the work. Both Issa and RocketJump produced A LOT of content before they ended up moving to larger things but it was totally worth it because the work they did and the audiences they built while doing is are the reasons they were able to get the attention of those larger opportunities.
hey jenni- thanks for speaking with us all today. what do you think most new web series creators don’t know/realize about social media? how can we be using social media more to our advantage? not transmedia- straight up social media from a show account or a production company or whatever.
Well, I’m not sure “easy” and “effective” can be looked at as one leads to the other. But the simplest transmedia element to incorporate that doesn’t cost any cash up front is to give your characters a social media presence. Those tools are free to use and you only have to keep in mind the “sweat equity” it costs AKA: how much time the person who is setting up and running those accounts is using up.
From there in terms of cost, building out websites set in the world would come next. Mr. Robot was very successful in doing this. If you have a company on the show, build it’s website. You then have to decide how intensive that website will be: is it just a landing page? Can visitors sign up for a newsletter? <—that one is important because that’s an opportunity to build up a database of people you can reach out to later about the project or even other projects you’re working on in the future. Data = power.
Awesome! It’s the last five minutes so I’m highlighting in yellow all the remaining questions to help you sort through them faster
My final question: What’s next for you?
To be fair, the vlog format web series excited long before literary adaptations. We were inspired by shows like lonelygirl15 to use it.
The trend I’m seeing is that any format you can use is being used and more formats are going to continue to evolve as creators continue to play in this space. And I mentioned before, people should be looking at places like SnapChat and Facebook as they are spending money on content. Super Short Form is coming but I don’t think anyone has cracked it yet.
I will watch any and all cooking realty shows. If they are ALSO competition, all the better! Chopped, Top Chef, and MasterChef are some personal favorites.
I also love Travel realty shows. I could watch any of the Anthony Bourdain travel shows all day long.
I have one in the pipeline that is unlike anything I’ve ever produced before. Unfortunately, it’s still top secret as we’re working out deals and such…
I wish producers advocated more for their credits. Oftentimes, people think it’s okay to use producer credits as leverage to get away with paying people less for the jobs they do by giving them a producer credit. I was naive about this process in the past and it unfortunately happened on projects I was one of the producers on and I didn’t fight it but now I do my best to not let it happen and I encourage others to not let it happen as well.