I’ve been hitting the pavement in the independent production scene since 2008. I currently serve as the Manager of Brand and Community Relations for ZoomTilt and am obtaining my Master in Fine Arts in Media Art from Emerson College in Boston, MA. Below is a recollection of how I became a web-series producer and my opinion on the status quo of web television. My opinions are my own and do not reflect the overall opinion of ZoomTilt or Emerson College.
My first job in the world of production back in 2008 was with an independent, non-profit, production company that focused on women’s programming in New York City. Back than we received hundreds of feature film and play submissions from hungry, powerful, talented women writers. Our involvement with a winning 2006 Sundance Film Festival as well as our long list of female celebrity endorsements and our core messaging made this production company one that everyone wanted to be involved with.
However, we were just as broke as the hungry, powerful, talented women writers that sought us out.
True, there were a few celebrity writer/directors that were vying for us to produce their work. One well-known TV actress/writer and director in particular submitted three feature scripts to us during the summer of 2009. I wasn’t overtly impressed with her work. Three years later in 2012, one of her scripts that she submitted had made it to production and further than that into the Sundance schedule. As I predicted three years earlier, her work wasn’t well received, but it was still her film I was watching on the screen and not my former production company’s film.
The actress/writer/director in question had spent, seven – I repeat seven years, getting that script from paper to screen. And when I say it wasn’t well received, I really, really mean it wasn’t well received. One veteran producer I had breakfast with the day after its debut said and I quote, “I’ve never walked out of a Sundance movie till last evening.”
I moved out of New York City during the summer months of 2010 to pursue my graduate studies and re-evaluate how I was going to find my place in this business. In the fall of 2010, I embarked on executive and supervising my first web based series, a concept that mimicked that of Friends and Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and was the brainchild of a Boston filmmaker. I show ran the concept, built the production team, as well as the cast and tried to break the mold by keeping a TV standard for the series, releasing a 24 minute pilot online in late 2011.
I had spent about 9 months promoting the series before its debut. My knowledge and PR skills came in handy as did my social media accounts. The pilot episode at its length received over 24,000 views in just the first week.
But that was it. We only had money for one episode. How on earth were we going to continue this?
I’ll admit I was slightly stubborn at the time. I wanted to present this power and stay firm in my decision to keep the series at television length. It wasn’t until one epiphany in the shower that it really hit me. “Don’t break the mold, follow the status quo – follow the rules.”
We than re-released the series into 5 parts. One “season,” when combined was now the length of a standard TV episode. And for the two years of work that it took us to film two “TV length episodes” I was able to say instead that I produced two seasons of a web series concept, ten episodes in total. The numbers in our new scenario just sound much more impressive. And made me feel slightly accomplished.
The success and buzz over the “Friends-esque” web-series led to the production of several short films that I produced as well as another web-series concept, this one though, was a competition based reality show that was shot and edited in a 7-day turn around period. We had established reality personalities built into the concept but alas did not give the series that much build up regarding our PR efforts and therefore received less views than we had hoped. We also faced the difficulty of having some production restrains. Here we were working less with quality and more with quantity and proof of concept.
This past year at Emerson College I began to wonder about narrative complexity. That little theory based yada yada that formulates why storytelling is effective, how it is structured and as a result resonates with audiences. Narrative complexity theories have since been translated into television and I figure that the same must go for web series content, right?
So, as I begun studying to understand whether or not narrative complexity existed in within web series I discovered a lot more than I expected. Or more correctly, I heard a lot of what I “didn’t want to hear.”
Realizing you made mistakes is never something easy to admit. However, it is important to realize the mistakes and grow, learn and move forward with them.
Looking back on my time working for the NYC based production company, as well as my time producing web-series and short films as well as my time at Sundance (and SXSW and CES and TriBeCa), I’ve learned one thing that I hope to leave you all with:
Be inventive. Embrace innovation. Think outside of the box.
Whether you are producing narrative content or running a small marketing firm. Sure, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but I believe that there is an overflow of what is out there these days and even those who are getting praise and recognition are not looking to alternative methods or allowing exploration of “finding the new.”
One thing is for sure if you are like me, interested in spearheading your own projects, take a moment to think about it? How has this been done before? Has it worked? I guarantee you that nothing that has been done under the sun – or made it to Sundance for that fact was simply out of “luck”.