9 Things Web Series Producers Should Know

9 Things Web Series Producers Should Know

We watch a lot of films and web series here in the Screening Room, but since we’ll never manage to watch everything, every so often we try to reach into the community and find out what the filmmakers and creative types who produce all of this great content are watching. While we’re there, we try to pick their brain about another topic near and dear to their hearts. This month we tracked down nine web series creators and asked them,

What is one thing you have learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started?

If you’re in a big hurry, scroll to the bottom for the readers digest version as well as the shows mentioned in this guide.

Mike Parker – College University Animator

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

Shorter is better. Granted, it should still be funny, but shorter is better for the web. When we started with College University, the episodes were epic. 10-15 minutes long. It offered a massive amount of freedom allowing us to put every joke we wanted in there. But for the web 10-15 minutes might as well be 17 hours. When we started Clock Suckers for CollegeHumor, we cut to the chase a lot quicker, put only the best jokes in there and just kept the pace faster and funnier. The result was episodes that ran 5-7 minutes and viewers were more willing to watch it a few times. Now we do viral one-offs for CH and everything is under 2 minutes and viewers watch over and over.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

I watch a lot of TV while I work, so my list could run on and on. But there are a handful of shows that I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to watch. South Park, classic Simpsons reruns, Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny, Family Guy. Mostly comedies, but I’m also a sucker for Lost and also a handful of cheesy dramas wrap up nice and neat in an hour. Oh and I also watch every single Charles in Charge episode every day.

As for independently produced content, it’s really anything on the web that makes me laugh. More and more comedy teams are able to produce amazing, high-quality content for next to nothing and put it on the web. My buddies at Team Tiger Awesome put out some hilarious and bizarre stuff and do it at a professional level. Same goes for the entire production team at CollegeHumor.

I’d like to see more web content producers get a shot at TV, but not just piled together in some sort of variety show. It’s already happening, but I think it’s just a matter of time until web content and TV content overlap so much that shows that started out as small web series will get opportunities to develop into full TV series.

[College University] [Our Review]

Rosemary Rowe – Co-creator Seeking Simone

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

Well, we got into it for the chicks and so far, that’s not working out. That would have been good to know FOR SURE.

Another thing we’ve learned is that even with the technological miracle of the internet, it’s still a challenge sometimes to do things long distance. Rose lives in Vancouver – Renee lives in Toronto – we co-produce the show. Between day jobs and the time difference, sometimes accomplishing basic tasks like shooting content for extras or kickin’ it in the editing suite or having a production meeting can get kind of clusterfuckesque if you don’t plan ahead. So you kids out there – if you’re planning to create a web series, try to make sure that your key players are all in the same geographic location most of the time. It will be easier! You’re welcome.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

Well, naturally we’re watching the other great lesbian web series out there, like BJ Fletcher PI, Anyone But Me, FEED, Plan V, which is this awesome web series from Argentina…and Venice The Series has lots of buzz going too, so we’re excited to see that when it comes out later this fall. Lots of great content! As theatre nerds, we’re definitely enjoying Exit Stage Left – as steampunk nerds, we’re looking forward to Riese the Series – as nerd nerds, we love The Guild.

[Seeking Simone] [Our Review]

Brad Jones – Writer/Creator The Cinema Snob

What have I learned about creating a web series that I wish I had known?

That there are far better sites out there besides YouTube to host your web series on. YouTube may be a decent starting point, I was certainly able to build up a steady fan base on there, but I definitely regret waiting 2 1/2 years to make my own website and move my material over to blip.tv. I really have to think Noah Antwiler for recommending blip to me. There’s a lot more freedom on that site, and it’s far less of a totalitarian dictatorship that YouTube. With blip you actually feel like it’s run by people who AREN’T out to destroy your work.

What am I watching?

Well I’m constantly watching movies in order to make Snob videos out of them, so any given day of the week I’ll have something in my DVD player like “Brazilian Star Wars,” “Massacre at Central High,” “Rock & Roll Nightmare,” or “Nudist Colony of the Dead.” But I’m also a huge exploitation fan in general, so really, good or bad, I love watching stuff like this in general.

My favorite director of all time is Bruno Mattei, and now that we’ve started The Bruno Mattei Show on the site, it gives me an excuse to track down some of his more rare flicks that I haven’t seen before. So I’m watching a lot more of his movies now too. A Bruno Mattei movie can more often than not cheer me up. As for other independently produced web series, I’m a fan of Jame Rolfe’s work, and Noah Antwiler of Spoony Experiment is probably the best adlibbed reviewer I’ve ever seen on the web. Look at his work on the “Transformers 2″ review, it’s nothing short of a comedic masterpiece of review/storytelling. I enjoy Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic, especially when he reflects back on something that I probably haven’t seen in 15 or 20 years. His show definitely brings back memories.

[The Cinema Snob] [Our Reviews]

Brent Rose – Creator of 50 in 50

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

I wish I knew how long each episode would take! Also, there are a lot of little technical details of Final Cut Pro (my editing software) that I only learned in the last month or so, which would have saved me hours of work, early on. I guess I also wish I knew that people would respond so positively, because I would have started trying to spread it around earlier.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

I have pretty fickle viewing habits. I’m a big fan of Derrick Waters’ various endeavors. I think Jon Lajoie has done a lot of really funny stuff, too. In terms of what I want to see: I want to see more good acting. There is so much wretched acting on the internet, when you come across something that’s well acted it really jumps out. In my book good acting and writing wins out over good “production values” any day. I don’t care how good your graphics are or how slick it looks, if the acting/writing is bad, you’re just polishing a turd. That sounded harsh. It’s true, though.

[50 in 50] [Our Review]

Sam Hoffman – Co-creator of Old Jews Telling Jokes

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

In terms of your questions – they are both challenging. The things that we have learned, over the course of this project, have been so manifold, from the technical and picayune (shoot two cameras instead of one) to the global (advertising doesn’t pay anything) that I can’t really say which particular one I wish I had known. I’m glad my/our ignorance allowed us to move forward as the process has been remarkably rewarding.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

My most favorite content of the past year was Kutiman-thru-you. Does that count? I really felt like I was watching something that had never really been done and that was combining the global reach of the internet with some seriously exciting talent. Eric may have some stuff to add here – he is more content savvy then I am.

[Old Jews Telling Jokes] [Our Review]

Heath Vinyard – Creator Of The End Result Web Series

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is about marketing and having a solid release schedule. Originally I shot End Result one episode at a time and then released them. That marketing strategy doesn’t work. You have to shoot them all at once, edit them, and then have a solid release for each that a viewer can count on. All this time you need to be marketing your series, attending mixers, putting out auxiliary content and keeping the viewers engaged through social media. Even if you’re doing a great ground breaking web series, it doesn’t help if no one sees it or loses interest due to a poor release schedule.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

Right now I’m watching for a few upcoming series that have a lot of potential and hoping they deliver. Mercury Men, Compulsions and Solo have really caught my eye and I’m really excited to see where they are going. They have a fantastic premise on each and their marketing and user engagement has been really good. They’ve managed to get press and talk generated and have no released more than a teaser for each. Exciting stuff.

Current series that have my attention are LUVumentary and Exit Stage Left. Both have my attention and I’m watching and waiting to see what they do next. Exit Stage Left is obviously well financed so it’s setting the bar at sometimes an unrealistic level for the rest of us struggling filmmakers. But with new heights brings new levels of creativity, and there are always ways around budget constrictions.

[End Result]

David Nett – Actor, Writer, Producer and Creator of GOLD

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

Wow. I guess I wish I’d understood the responsibilities I’d have in creating a community to watch the show, and just how much time and effort that would take. There’s a crazy amount of work involved in getting people to watch your show and then keeping in touch with fans (and critics). It’s at least as great an effort as making the content itself, maybe more. That said, I’m not certain what I’d have done differently knowing that, apart from warning my wife that I’d be deeply preoccupied for the next decade talking to a bunch of people I don’t actually know.

Oh – one more thing I learned near the end of Season 1 that I wish I’d have known all along: it is okay to ask for help. The worst thing that can happen is that people will say “no.” And, more often than you think, they say “yes.”

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

I prefer scripted narrative over hosted or reality content – that holds true for pretty much all media for me. I like the occasional well-made documentary, but I watch very little reality TV and read very little non-fiction. That carries over to the web. There are a few unscripted/hosted shows I watch, but not many. I’m a huge fan of anything with great writing, acting or storytelling. That’s what primarily draws me. The genre is, frankly, secondary. I watch a lot of short content as well as longer stuff, but my preference is longer content (stuff over 5 minutes), if the story warrants a longer narrative. I wish there was more well-written, well-acted drama out there. It’s hard, especially since so many creators are afraid of stuff that’s more than a few minutes long.

I like so much of the content out there, and I’m constantly being influenced by talented creators, many of whom I’ve the honor to call my friends. If I had to call out specific shows, right at this very moment I’m thoroughly enjoying season 2 of “the Crew” and “Legend of Neil” and eagerly anticipating “Mercury Men,” “Compulsions” and season 2 of “Anyone but Me.” But if I started listing all the shows I enjoy watching, this would get pretty boring pretty fast.

[GOLD: The Series] [Our Review]

Jonathan Nail – Creator of Solo – The Series

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

It costs twice as much and takes twice as long. When you sit at your computer and watch “The Guild“, “The Crew” or even “Safety Geeks SVI” you get lulled into thinking “Oh, that doesn’t look too difficult to produce.” But you never take into account the actual crew members needed to light, film, record sound, do makeup, edit and plan everything, much less feed everyone! We wanted the look of “SOLO – The Series” to be above and beyond the average web series – so that meant a quality camera, proper lighting equipment and the crew to make it look awesome. And quality, unfortunately, doesn’t come cheap or free. We borrowed a lot of equipment (not to mention everyone’s time) but there were still a lot of costs we didn’t expect.

And time is never on your side. Getting the shots you would like takes more time than you would realize. When writing the show I imagined the scenes in my head, and as I read the scenes on the page I thought “Oh, this won’t take long to film, at all!” I never took into account coordinating the setting up of lights, resetting the lights, actors going up on lines, technical difficulties, tweaking that performance to get the joke just right… You get the idea. What I thought would take 5 days to film two, 7 minute episodes is taking nearly 10 days to film. This also takes into account locations and people’s schedules. Again, cost enters into the picture. People will work for free, because they believe in the show. But we’re at the mercy of talented people booking paying work. We have to schedule around those bookings.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

The Guild, Leaving Bliss, EXIT Stage Left, Safety Geeks SVI, The Crew, 88 Hits and a scattering of others. I cannot wait to see The Mercury Men, which should be coming out soon. The story and quality of this series just blows me away. The director/creator makes me jealous with his creative talent.

[Solo - The Series]

Brian Wenrich – Producer of The Scare Game

Tell us one thing you’ve learned about creating a web series that you wish you had known when you started.

We ran into a small problem when we started making the series by alerting the people in the area that we were shooting that we were shooting in that area. Apparently the place we were shooting in was filled with older people that got really freaked out. They called the city and raised all kinds of uproar. We found out after talking to some people that we were better off not telling people we were shooting so there was no way they could raise a fuss. Lesson learned: it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

As a side note we actually heard from people after shooting how nice, quiet, and respectful we were in the neighborhood. So no matter what we left a good impression of film crews working in the neighborhoods
of Albuquerque.

What are you watching? What other independently produced content has caught your attention and what do you want to see?

Going way back Phil and I were both big fans of Kevin Smith and the ’90s indie film explosion. I was a regular chatter on the view askew message boards back in the day. As for right now Albuquerque is buzzing with this wonderful indie spirit. People are getting together and making some really fantastic work. Scotty Milder continues to impress with Trifecta+ Entertainment and Matt Page with RiffRaff Entertainment is turning out some great stuff. Also, nice indie projects are coming to Albuquerque to make their movie because it’s cheaper than LA. I worked as Prop Master on Easier With Practice, which took the Grand Jury Prize at Cinevegas and Best International Feature at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Speaking of the Edinburgh Film Festival some good friends of ours made Romeo and Juliet vs. The Living Dead in Albuquerque and it was at that festival. That was Third Star Films, the movie co-Written by Jason Witter (the Major) and Ryan Denmark, who also directed.

I’d like to see more people telling stories about themselves and their lives using what they already know and have. I think the audience has become most sophisticated and can recognize a good story when it’s being told to them without the need of an expensive camera or fancy sets. If you can properly get the story across with a digital camera and a work light go for it.

[The Scare Game]

Readers Digest Version

1. Shorter is better (5-7 minutes) beats out 10-15 in terms of willingness to watch.

2. If you’re planning to create a web series, try to make sure that your key players are all in the same geographic location most of the time.

3. Don’t rely solely on YouTube to host your content, there are other options available to you.

4. Understand that it will take much longer to produce than you think.

5. Shoot your episodes all at once and have a solid release schedule.

6. There’s a crazy amount of work involved in getting people to watch your show and then keeping in touch with fans (and critics). It’s at least as great an effort as making the content itself, maybe more.

7. It costs twice as much and takes twice as long as you think. Take into account the actual crew members needed to light, film, record sound, do makeup, edit, plan everything, and feed everyone!

8. Sometimes it’s better not to tell people where you are shooting, so they can’t raise an uproar about it.

9. Time is never on your side.

Other Shows Mentioned In This Edition

College University

Clock Suckers

BJ Fletcher PI

Anyone But Me

Plan V

Venice The Series

Exit Stage Left

Riese the Series

The Guild

Nostalgia Critic

Mercury Men

Compulsions

Solo The Series

Legend of Neil

88 Hits

Romeo and Juliet vs. The Living Dead

  • http://www.daveandtom.com/ Tom Konkle

    Jonathan Nail – Creator of Solo – The Series thanks for the Safety Geeks: SVI mention very gracious of you!

  • http://twitter.com/TemplateDigital Template Digital

    Its great to see a list of less main stream work being put together. I will be watching a few.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vincent.lowe Vincent Lowe

    …this was an exceptional survey of the field for webseries. Thanks to the contributors and to 93 Studios for pulling it together.

    I can't endorse the “better forgiveness than permission” school of thought. I've found that having a careful conversation with neighboring community members can be a powerful force in favor of a production — unexpected delays from roadblocks (or arrests) can drop an anvil on the toe of a series or episode schedule.

    I am in favor of creating as many allies as possible for a series. (Also, each of those people you enroll in the excitement of your production by getting their permission is a guaranteed audience member and audience magnet later down the road…)

    I love that EXIT Stage Left got so many nods from other series producers. It's good work and deserves the reputation.

    —v

  • sinohuihinojosa

    Very cool post, so many solid observations. I can't tell you how great it is to have our show mentioned along with the likes of the above high quality web series. When we decided to do EXIT Stage Left, it was honestly our first attempt at web television, creating a show that had more of the look and feel of a tv show but using the digital filmmaking techniques that we are so used to…

    …I also love that Heath wrote, “Exit Stage Left is obviously well financed so it’s setting the bar at sometimes an unrealistic level for the rest of us struggling filmmakers. But with new heights brings new levels of creativity, and there are always ways around budget constrictions.”

    Unfortunately that really wasn't the case, you will find the budget is right there in struggling filmmaker land, we self-financed the whole thing (no sponsors, but fingers crossed for season two) and while I am glad that it seems like we are setting the bar high, it has more to do with the fact that everyone who donated their time, expertise and energy to the project (no one was paid, yet), really had fun making the show a reality. I credit the cast and crew with creating something special and I am thankful that people are still discovering the show.

    Only thing I would add to your list of things to remember, is to manage a solid pre-production schedule: lock your locations, get discounts on food, rehearse, test your compression technique, create artwork/logos/imagery, get still photos and remember to have fun. If you plan in advance, the shoot will be a heck of a lot smoother, than if you don't.

    Sinohui
    Creator/Writer/Director
    EXIT Stage Left