What Advice Would You Give Travel Storytellers on Developing a Web Series?

(Erica) #1

Hello Everyone,

It was great meeting some of you in-person at Vancouver WebFest.

I’d love your input. I am giving a talk this Thursday evening to the BC Association of Travel Writers on ‘Developing Web Series Around Their Travels.’ In that bent, I’d love to hear what advice you would have to give them, as I always think talks are richest when you bring in a variety of voices and experiences.

Keep in mind, these are travel storytellers, so are more likely to create non-fiction series, but you never know, there are those fictionalized travel based series.

Given that, what advice would you give them on developing a web series?

If you happen to be in Vancouver on Thursday May 3rd and would like to attend, here is where you can sign-up: https://www.meetup.com/BC-Association-of-Travel-Writers/events/250319040/

Thanks for everyone’s input.

~ Erica

(Bri Castellini) #2

@SecretLivesPS @spectatorspork

(Erica) #3

Thanks Bri!

(James Boo) #4

Hi @EricaHargreave! It was a treat to see your work and meet you in Vancouver.

Three things I’d say:

  • Be clear about who the audience is and where they’re going to watch the series. If you can confidently answer these two questions, then it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to format the series and give it the right tone. If you can’t answer these two questions, then research programs that inspire what you want to make and see how they’re answering the questions.
  • Don’t let anything stop you from producing a pilot episode. But then let everything stop you from going further until you’ve taken the time to show that first attempt (even a rough cut) to some people and confirm whether what they see is the same thing that you see, where they’d look for a show like this, etc. Not only will this prevent you from going down the wrong path, it will likely start building your audience immediately, because anyone who likes what they see will want to stick around and see you incorporate their feedback into your next steps with the series.
  • If your series has a host, ask yourself what the purpose of the host is, and consequently how the host should come across as part of the program. If you intend for the host to be a proxy for the audience or familiar guide for the audience, then there’s another chance for you to figure out who that audience is.

I hope it’s a fun evening!

(Amen J.) #5

I would ask them to consider first and foremost why they want to tell the story via a web series format, especially since they are writers. What are the advantages of telling a story in a short form visual format that can’t be captured through writing and as James mentioned above, what kind of audience are they hoping to attract through this? Think about which platform you are going to use and why (goes back to who is your audience and where they find their information). Figure out how to use every frame and shot to keep your audience’s attention, especially from the very moment they click on the video - how can they use sound, visuals and text to capture that attention? And, don’t forget to close caption to make it accessible!

(Erica) #6

It was a delight meeting you too, James. Both Kelly and I greatly enjoyed the 1-minute Meals that screened at the festival.

These tips are great. I myself have a particular affinity to your 2nd tip, as that is exactly what we did, when so many people told us not to.

Definitely going to find a way to add these pieces of advice into the talk, with credit to you of course. If I play one of your 1-minute meals, as a part of that, do you have a preference as to which one?

(Erica) #7

The group started as a travel writers group, Amen, as many do around travel, but the reality is that it is a travel media / storytellers group with people that have worked in a variety of forms of media. And in this day and age when we are increasingly telling stories across platforms of media, we should never assume that if someone calls themselves a writer that they are not storytellers in other forms too. Take myself as an example: I have written for the web, print media, TV, theatre and education; I have directed to the stage; I have acted on stage and on camera; I have creative produced and produced for theatre and TV … and the list goes on. And as I look around at my colleagues both in the real world and digital world, most tell their stories to a variety of different mediums. It is why in my initial post I referred to the people I was giving the talk to as travel ‘storytellers’, rather than travel ‘writers’. At first glance as to who has signed up so far, it would definitely be more of the people in the Association that I’d term Visual Storytellers and Cross-Platform Storytellers.

These are some great questions and points that you’ve shared here, Amen. Thank you. I will definitely bring them up in the talk, and time permitting show one of your episodes of Secret Lives. Such a great idea for a series.

(James Boo) #8

Thanks, @EricaHargreave! I think this episode would be a good one to show. Here’s some context that could get people thinking productively about reaching the right audience without having to literally create it:

  • I actually did not follow my own advice of creating a pilot, because I had the fortune of having audiences already available due to my prior work as a food writer. But one reason I set the format to be a micro-doc series is so I could rapidly finish pieces and learn what I was doing well and what I could improve after each video was done. I ended up doing an episode every two weeks until I was done with 25 episodes, and really wish I had stopped at 10 O_____O. But once this first “season” was complete, I did make space to discuss with viewers and fans and used their feedback to sharpen up what made this show valuable: It was creating a more inclusive portrait of New York’s people than what was available on TV and even other web videos. This helped me pursue the right kind of stories for successive seasons, and the biggest immediate change was beginning to seek stories that had nothing to do with restaurants or selling people food.
  • I originally distributed this story on Serious Eats, a food blog with a national audience but also (at the time) a very strong local stories page, plus an entire sub-blog devoted to pizza. I also submitted this piece as a micro-doc to the NYC Food Film Festival, where it won “best super-short.” Later, the piece had a second release over three years after its original debut, under the Edible Manhattan brand – we used it as part of a “greatest hits” promotional run-up to the 3rd season of this series, publishing on Facebook (and by this time the pizzeria featured also had its own active Facebook page, too).
  • Throughout the lifecycle of the story I maintained complete ownership of the piece and granted non-exclusive licenses to each publication wanting to distribute it to their audiences. I still have the option to exhibit this piece through other channels if I see a good opportunity to expand its reach.
  • My series has no host or third-party narrator, because one major goal of the series is to give non-amplified voices in New York each equal space to speak directly to the audience (rather than be mediated by, say, a white guy “discovering exotic foods”).

(William E. Spear) #9

Erica @EricaHargreave - Please excuse the late comment. I get hooked on travel shows when there is a significant historical thread to the program. If the history still echoes today, my interest is stronger. Hope that helps and best of luck with tonight’s talk.

(Erica) #10

Oh James, I am loving you right now.

With everything you have shared here, you are making the talk I am giving tonight so much richer.

I will be smiling tonight, when it feels like you are in the brewery, giving the talk alongside me.

Thank you!

(Erica) #11

Love that, William. Thank you for sharing that - both as I will pass it along to the room tonight, and as it is something that I myself will return to and explore on another series idea that we are exploring at the moment.