In late Summer 2014, we decided to make a digital comedy series about a support group for douchebags. We called it Doucheaholics. In Spring of 2018, we released our first season on iTunes and amazon. The season is comprised of six episodes, anywhere from 7.5 to 12 minutes. Why would what amounts to a little less than an hour of content take two and a half years to release? The actors, crew, family, friends, and even people from whom we rented locations were all wondering the same thing.
We could have released the series much sooner had we decided upon its completion we would put it out ourselves, either via youtube or vimeo uploads. Seemed simple enough, but once it was uploaded, then what? Who would watch it? Who would even know about it? How would we get the word out? With the constant barrage of content unleashed by the minute these days, we knew in order to have a successful launch, we’d need a strategy aside from ‘just release it.’ Sure, we could count on the aforementioned family & friends, cast & crew, and even occasional location manager or caterer to watch it. But–without offense to these beings integral to the show–we were aiming bigger.
Doucheaholics: Pilot Episode
Initially, everyone questioned our decision to take the series on the festival circuit. What purpose will that even serve, why not just do an instant release and get the series out there!? After a two and a half year festival run, over fifty awards and nominations, an eventual release on amazon and a top 10 shows debut on iTunes, we had our answer.
I’m pretty sure I’ve used my total allotted word count on just setting up the purpose of this post. So I’ll attempt to be as concise as possible when explaining the benefits of a festival run for a digital series, and what we learned on said run which we attribute our show’s successful release:
-As most digital content creators know, webseries are being recognized and accepted more and more by film festivals. These film fests/webfests and their workshops and panels were invaluable. Upon completion of our series, we didn’t have the first clue as to how to market and release our show. Most of the fests we attended were instrumental in teaching us the basic (and not so basic) methods and strategies for a successful launch, including intricacies of marketing and distribution. Without having screened at fests and webfests, we wouldn’t have had the toolkit to plan and market our release to an audience wider than just those in our production’s inner circle. Our marketing campaign, set in motion months before our release date, resulted in Doucheaholics landing in itunes top shows, top comedy shows, our pilot in top comedy episodes, and their ‘new and noteworthy’ section. No way we had the knowledge to execute such a successful release without having learned from countless panels with industry experts at film festivals.
Doucheaholics debuted on itunes on 6 ‘top’ lists
-Festivals allowed us to gauge audience reaction, and ended up helping us reproach some key moments in the series. We sat in screening after screening with different audiences and payed attention to the moments that got laughs, jokes which fell flat, and points which maybe weren’t clear enough for the audience to understand. We met and made connections with fellow filmmakers and asked for honest feedback about what was working, what wasn’t, and why. Some even became trusted collaborators to a point after the fest was over, we’d provide private links of the latest cuts so they could weigh in. There are at least a few points in every episode we attribute to audience R&D. Those ended up being some of the strongest moments, too. Had we released without a fest run, I truly believe the series would not be as solid as it ended up. Your fellow fest goers may end up almost as valuable as your own creative team behind your series. Which leads me too…
-Immersing yourself in a community of people trying to accomplish the exact same thing as you. How can that be anything other than an essential learning experience? When attending webfests, we’d network and mingle with hundreds of other people in the exact same boat. Some were first timers like us, finding their bearings in the crazy reality of what it means to be a digital series creator. Others had already released a series (or multiple series!) and were on their fifth or sixth seasons by that point. No matter what stage of the game everyone was at, there was knowledge to gain from literally every person we met. We received advice from peers, and learning the path of others who’d gone before us most definitely informed how we carved our own road to Doucheaholics’ release.
Doucheaholics actors Michael Fong, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Mitch Costanza
-The fest circuit allowed us to build a fanbase and awareness of the show long before we even figured out our release strategy. We didn’t have a big studio or big name propelling us to guaranteed success, we needed to cultivate that on our own. By screening for as many audiences and in as many locations as possible, by default we introduced our show to thousands of people. Since we’d only screen one or two episodes per fest, these showings served as sort of teasers as well. Can’t tell you how common it was for people to come up after a screening and ask WHEN and HOW they can watch the rest of the series. Some were such fans they were even begging to watch the rest as quickly as possible. I don’t share this to sound self important, but to show how easily you can generate fandom ahead of time which will pay off once the show is officially out. If you have a great series to share with the world and no network behind it, you have to make your audience aware on your own. Screening at these fests helps you find that audience, and when you do eventually release, they’ll support and help spread awareness for you. A huge number who not only ended up buying but also sharing Doucheaholics with their social media base were people who caught us at a film festival. It’s almost like crowd sourcing for brand awareness. On that note, just a fest screening itself is its own form of PR, since festivals want people to attend. So they promote their lineups to attract audiences. If you’re in that line up, you’re automatically getting word spread that your series exists.
Doucheaholics actors Jared Forman, Anthony Marks, and Mark Sho
-Finally, for lack of a way to say this without sounding like a…well, douche I guess…it‘s just cool to have your picture taken on red carpets, get interviewed, and win awards. But not only so you can post your humble brags on social media. It’s attractive to investors. People who give you money want to know it’s a worthwhile investment. If they see the razzle dazzle of your photos in front of a backdrop, it may assure them your project is worth funding. From an industry standpoint, networks, agents, and reps who could catapult your series from obscurity to your widest audience imaginable need to know getting behind you isn’t a waste of their time.The more you show you’re out there gaining attention and promoting your series, the more attractive you seem. All the photos and interviews end up comprising your media package which demonstrates willingness and knowhow to play the game. With all the content out there, you have to prove yourself your own built in publicist before expecting anyone else to take note. Standing out to those you want to be seen by requires an ungodly amount of hustle. It also requires approaching investors and networks already having a built in following. Your media package is proof of that preexisting awareness.
Series co-creators/ writer/director/actor Sean McCarthy & producer/actor Elizabeth Mitchell on the red carpet at HollyWeb Festival in Los Angeles
Winning the Audience Award for Best Web Series at Dances With Films Festival at the TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood
On the red carpet at ITV Series Fest in Manchester, VT
I’m willing to bet nothing I just said here is brand actually new information to anyone who would visit this site. We know the rules to indie filmmaking these days, and the crucial and arduous process of releasing, promoting, and finding an audience. Web series are a relatively new medium, but the same rules apply. Approach the distribution of your series the way you would with releasing a film. Work hard, educate yourself, learn from your peers, learn from those more experienced, become your own PR machine, and get your work in front of as many audiences as possible. Nothing is ever certain, but utilizing the film festival circuit for your digital series can only assure a greater chance at success with your eventual world wide web release.
Thanks for reading and hope you found something helpful and worthwhile here! Wishing everyone much luck with their creative endeavors (and festival runs!)
Check out Doucheaholics: Season One, now available on iTunes & amazon!
Download on either platform here!