What Is The Goal Of Your Web Series?

first-time-filmmaker
pre-production

(Bri Castellini) #1

You can’t have it all. The Stareable Film School blog has a lot to say about doing each part of production to the best of your abilities, but at the end of the day, unless you’re independently wealthy and a close personal friend of Lupita Nyong’o, you’re going to need to pick your battles. The best way to do so is to define the goal of making your web series and understand the priorities and sacrifices that come with that choice, as listed and explained below.

As always, I’m not saying this list is definite- everyone’s situation and opportunity is different, and maybe you’re the exception to the rule. However, we all need to accept that as indie creators, we can’t do it all, and in order to give ourselves, our teams, and our projects the best chance to succeed, we need to be thoughtful about the way we go about our process.

Goal: Gain an online audience

Prioritize: Story, multiple episodes, marketing, and base competency

Sacrifice: Long episodes, multiple locations, large casts, quick results

But Why? Gaining an online audience is allegedly (we’ll get to this) the biggest reason why people make content for the web, for good reason. An audience is validating, raises your profile to decision makers and industry connections, and might even help pay you to continue making the content you love. Building an audience is also incredibly time-consuming, and I’m exclusively talking about the work occuring after the project is already shot. Due to the amount of money and time and favors you’re going to spend just in the marketing phase, I recommend, at least for your first project or two, trading longer episodes with more locations and cast with more episodes, so you have more runway for your marketing efforts to succeed.

Of course, you also need to, as Snobby Robot puts it, ‘deliver the goods.’ So make sure your story is solid and your show is watchable on a technical level. There’s always room for improvement as your profile rises and your resources bulk up, but an audience has to start somewhere.

Goal: Sell concept to TV

Prioritize: Pilot, season screenplay, festivals

Sacrifice: Multiple produced episodes, transmedia, marketing

But Why? Let’s all be real with each other: when we say our goal is to gain an audience, what we really mean is that with enough attention we’re hoping to be the next High Maintenance or Broad City. Fair enough. But if TV is actually your goal, building an audience might not actually be the only (or best) way to get there. With a beautifully produced pilot, a solid season’s worth of scripts, and some festival acceptances, you might not be seen by everyone, but you’ll have a much higher likelihood to being seen by the right people. It’s rare that industry executives browse YouTube in their spare time, but they definitely send emissaries to festivals to check out the fresh meat pre-chosen by festival programmers. And when people with decision-making power do check out your work, they’re far more likely to consume a pilot then they are to consume a 30 episode season, no matter how great the episode 7 twist is. They’re busy people, so make your first impression count, because it’s likely all they’ll see.

Goal: Showcase [insert skillset here] for future employment

Prioritize: That skill, base competency, festivals

Sacrifice: Anything that doesn’t immediately serve that skill, marketing

But Why? Even writers benefit from a visual portfolio piece, and certainly cinematographers and actors and directors are hard-pressed to prove themselves without a visual component on their resumes. A web series is a great “show, don’t tell” tool- far more persuasive than spending five minutes explaining that your greatest weakness is that you work too hard. But if the point is to showcase your screenwriting, maybe don’t worry so much about lengthy establishing shots of the beautiful lake and a four-minute single-take tracking shot around the winding spaceship corridors. Instead, tell a great story with compelling dialog and submit to a few festivals in that category so you can add “award-winning” to the beginning of your role for extra resume/reel flavor.

Goal: Make money

Prioritize: Researching brands/partners, versatile script, pilot, marketing

Sacrifice: Multiple episodes, season scripts, full creative control

But Why? From what I understand, the few ways you can make money from a web series specifically (eschewing multiple revenue streams for the purposes of this conversation) are selling merchandise, finding a distributor that pays, setting up a subscription service for superfans (a la Patreon), or partnering with a brand. As such, similar to wanting to sell to TV, you should focus on an amazing first impression (a great pilot) and then building an audience around that content promise to leverage with buyers and distributors. Or if you want to go the true independent route and use that content promise to get people psyched enough to want to pay to make the rest of it, like the creators of Binge. In any case, make a single something great and don’t make more until someone gives you the money to do so.

Goal: Increase representation

Prioritize: Tropes research, base competency, marketing

Sacrifice: Large cast/crew, multiple locations

But Why? Often a project comes together because a creator gets frustrated with the lack of representation of some subset of humanity, like Gal Pals and lesbian representation or Sam and Pat Are Depressed and mental health awareness or Binge and people with eating disorders. The thing I want to emphasize here is that there’s a reason traditional media keeps telling the same stories- the people who want those stories have had more experience, have more power in decision making, and have the benefit of being seen as the default, so they don’t have to try as hard. One bad white guy action movie doesn’t immediately flag all future white guy action movies as not worth it, but we all remember the Sony hack and how long it took female superheroes to bounce back from Catwoman and Elektra.

As such, if your goal is to increase representation, you need to first, make sure your story avoids or recognizes certain harmful tropes for those communities, and second, make sure your series is good. Is that fair? Of course not. I wish we were in a world where subpar straight rom coms and subpar queer rom coms were judged with the same scorecard, but they’re not. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be thoughtful and watchable.

Goal: Tell a story you couldn’t tell any other way

Prioritize: Script, actors, project completion, base competency

Sacrifice: Marketing, quick results

But Why? There’s a difference between making a show and telling a story. There’s a happy medium, but if your main goal is just to tell a story, tell it! Don’t worry about the rest. It may take longer to get it right- it’s a passion project after all, and passion is rarely an efficient thing to chase- and it may not find a broad audience since the story, not the promotion, was the focus.

Goal: Finish a project

Prioritize: Finishing the project, scheduling in advance, deadlines

Sacrifice: Marketing, base competency, ambitious elements

But Why? Sometimes the best way to start your career or the best way to get your groove back in a period of artistic doubt is to just finish something. Maybe it’ll never see the light of day. Maybe it shouldn’t. But finishing something is as worthy a creative goal as anything else on this list, so give yourself permission to chill out. Just finish it, learn from it, and use it as a jumping off point. Rome and film careers aren’t built in a day, but that first day is still crucial.


Are there any goals I missed? Any misplaced priorities or sacrifices? Let me know in the comments!


The Biggest Mistake Indie Filmmakers Are Making
(Herman Wang) #2

For me, web series was kind of a de facto film school, since I started off with relatively no knowledge or formal education in that area. You can see the difference between my first and most recent seasons :slight_smile:

So less about showcasing a skillset and more about building one in the first place.


(Chris Hadley) #3

@Bri_Castellini @hermdelica The way I look at my experience making my series, I have several goals with it.

  1. To parody cable news and poke fun at its most common tropes
  2. To be able to produce work that I’ve written
  3. To showcase the talents of my actors and crew

I know I’ve wanted to incorporate character-based elements in the series, and I’ve conceived lengthy backstories for each of the three main characters. However, I now wonder if it would be best to downplay those elements (specifically the backstories) and have the comedy/parody be the main focus of the show.

It can still take place in the fictional setting, and the characters can have unique traits, but I wonder if I’m just cramming too much into it. I’ve even considered the possibility that the concept of the show itself is flawed, thus making me think it needs serious retooling or even re-imagining (turning it from a sketch/parody to a straight sitcom).

Regardless, making my show has been a real learning experience, and I will definitely apply what I’ve learned to the next show I do.


(Bri Castellini) #4

When was the last time The Late Late News uploaded an episode, out of curiosity?


(Chris Hadley) #5

@Bri_Castellini I’m embarrassed to say this, but the last episode of the show was uploaded in 2015. That’s primarily my fault, because of my indecisiveness in choosing story ideas, and in trying to get a consistent release/production schedule going. Then again, the usual production issues popped up - scheduling actors, finding a new space to shoot episodes, delays in scheduling shoots, etc. I did so many things wrong on this show, and I know I can do better.


(Bri Castellini) #6

That’s ok! And based on the goals you mentioned in your first comment, it seems like it might be best to just focus on stand-alone episodes to best feature the acting of your actors and taking them one at a time, rather than all at once. Sometimes it’s better to just finish something, even if it’s a small promotional video with minimal plot, and you’d be amazed how much momentum you and your team can get from that. If the goal is to feature actors and produce writing, going one at a time immediately fulfills both of those!


(Chris Hadley) #7

@Bri_Castellini Thanks so much, Bri! Really appreciate your suggestions and insights!


(William E. Spear) #8

Bri - Many of the goals you listed are what MELTDOWN and HOURS strive for. However, the primary reason for both is to educate about Lyme disease, the seriousness of the disease, the misdiagnoses which exist, and the consequences for patients. It would seem Gain an Online Audience is first and all others are secondary. Thanks. PS - Suicide is the number one cause of death among chronic Lyme patients. Nearly ten Lyme patients take their lives every three days.


(Bri Castellini) #9

Or perhaps “increase representation” is first, with audience as a close second? In either case, usually a combination of these goals is the way to go, with the understanding that some just aren’t compatible with what I assume the average web series budget is.


(William E. Spear) #10

How would you define “increase representation” for a Lyme series?


(Bri Castellini) #11

I’d define it as you’re looking to increase the representation and awareness of people with Lyme disease, because without increasing that it’s difficult to educate. I think it’s important for people to understand that “representation” isn’t just a buzzword for race and LGBT+ characters- representation is a broad spectrum of identities and diagnoses not often talked about in pop culture.


(Bri Castellini) #12

unrelated to this convo, The Outline just published an article on Lyme disease and I thought of you! Would be a good thing to share on social as part of the 80/20 rule- 80% posts shouldn’t be promotional :slight_smile:


(William E. Spear) #13

Thanks X ten. You nailed the intent for representation to go beyond race and LGBT. Best, . . .


(William E. Spear) #14

Thanks, again, for The Outline piece.


(Bri Castellini) #15

Of course!


(Dane Bishop) #16

Great topic, thanks for posting. But it does seem that seeking representation and making money are almost mutually exclusive. I was hired to direct a web pilot for a couple of theatre-trained women who were frustrated at their lack of film/tv opps. They had the acting chops but nowhere to showcase, and to make matters worse, they were middle aged. Still, they had an amazing and unique show concept. After a few shows, they ran into the same walls they encountered before they started their series.

In other words, the same people that you may court for a TV deal would have little to no interest in something “outside the box”. So I see a lot of web series basically imitating mainstream television.

Seems to me that going full indie is really the best option for an artist who wants to tell their story and make money at it, but as you mention, the concept and execution have to be at least watchable and somewhat entertaining to start, and you need to have to stamina to continue and develop an audience.


(Yard Lion Films) #17

For TellyMime, the overall goal is this:

  • To give an overview of how entertainment shapes our life

  • To find a voice for the voiceless

  • Have a different point of view surrounding pop culture.

In all seriousness, this series along with the other mime-style series prior was something I’ve wanted to see.


(Arthur Vincie) #18

Dude,

“to make matters worse, they were middle aged.” What exactly are you saying? What is “worse” here? What is it you’re trying to say? Is it worse because they’re women? Or middle-aged? Or both?

I recommend that you rethink, revise and resubmit.