Ross Brown teaches film students how to create great web series. That’s right, it’s not just for video game addicts and funny cats anymore — which of course you already know if you’re here. Web series have gone to college! Specifically, Chapman University in Orange, CA. His new book, Byte Sized Television, covers every aspect of creating a web series: from writing the script through production and post-production and how to market it.
CrewTide: How did you get into teaching film and web series?
Brown: I started at the bottom of business. I was on the set of a TV commercial, and they asked me to stand in for the dog in a dog food commercial. It was cheaper to hire me than a second dog, because they would have had to hire a second animal handler. Eventually I got into the directors guild, worked on movies and TV shows as an AD, but I always aspired to be a comedy writer. I’ve worked on various sit coms including the Cosby Show and Who’s the Boss, and I was an executive producer for about 20 years. Then I started teaching in the film school at Chapman University in California. In 2006 the dean asked if I could teach a class on creating mobile content, and I’d already been thinking along the same lines about a “Byte Sized TV” class. Based on the class interest in web series, I ended up writing the book.
CrewTide: A lot of your book is about writing the script — how important is the script in a successful web series?
Brown: I’m prejudiced – I’m a writer. I think you can’t make a good movie without a good script, it doesn’t matter if it’s three hours or three minutes long. All the other steps become important once you have a good scirpt — casting, editing, cinematography, music…but you have to start with a solid concept, a solid script. That’s what brings peple back week to week.
CrewTide: What are the key characteristics of a watchable/sharable web series pilot? of a season?
Brown: It’s hard to generalize. One of the great joys of web series is that you can create for different types of audiences. You don’t have to appeal to ten million viewers, but you must appeal to an audience even if it’s slim. If you write about plumbing parts, you’ll have a small audience. Your series could be about slackers or gamers who are forced to live with their parents — the key is to have relatable characters and situations. Comedy tends to work more strongly than drama on the web right now, but that could change.
CrewTide: What will make people more likely to watch non-comedy web series?
Brown: Yes, that will happen. The biggest change coming up is this: the flat screen device you watch traditional TV on will merge with internet acces in your house so you can filp back and forth between CBS and Crackle, HBO and YouTube. As that becomes the standard, people’s viewing experience will be blend of internet and traditional TV viewing. Then you’ll be in a physical setting more comfortable to watch drama. Short videos work for comedy, but not for drama. You need more time to get the audience invested in the characters, engaged at an emotional level — hunched over a laptop is less conducive than sitting on the couch.
CrewTide: What do you think about branded web series?
Brown: It’s the logical response to the fact that people have more ways to avoid watching traditional commericals – TiVo, Hulu, Netlix…advertsers are saying, “how do we get our message out there?” Embedding the brand message in entertainment is the new most effective way to do it. There will be huge growth in this business. Consumers respond when it’s genuinely entertaining and not just jamming a message down their throats. Look at the Old Spice videos, getting millions of hits. It was launched on traditional TV as an ad, but they created a great character, and great characters bring people in. They created a brand identity for Old Spice, an entertainment identity for the commercial, and they get their message out for free without buying air time when they went straight to the internet.
CrewTide: Who do you think are the big players in this space?
Brown: All the major media companies see this as the future and are testing it out. Traditional TV networks, movie studios, internet entertainment conglomerates like Google and Apple, they’re all looking at this because the more your TV experience merges with the internet, the more popular short form will become. Younger people have grown up on short form, they don’t distinguish between web series and hour-long dramas — they’re more willing to sample, more willing to and share branded entertainment.
Check out Ross’ great book, Byte Sized Television, to learn more about writing, producing, and releasing great web series.