Step 1: Writing it
by Bri Castellini
Congratulations! You’ve decided to enter the exciting and stressful world of independent web series! It’s not going to be easy, but it will almost certainly be worth it.
Naturally, the first step in creating a web series is writing the script. Maybe you already have an idea, or maybe you have a longer-form script you want to adapt. Maybe you aren’t sure but just really like the idea of spamming your friends and family with week after week of YouTube links. In any case, let’s talk development, and what you need to remember when making the plunge.
Remember that your audience is young. Most web series audiences are going to be between 14-30. That doesn’t preclude writing more mature stories about adults with adult problems, but it does mean your show should be relatable across generations.
You also have to remember to respect the medium. You can’t just film a TV pilot and expect it to succeed as a web series. You almost certainly don’t have the money, and there’s nothing worse than watching 30-40 minutes of a low-budget film project to then discover it’s only the pilot.
Plus, it’s not like there isn’t a wealth of good TV anymore. Give them something new. This could mean making the medium itself a part of the story — the massive success of vlog and found-footage series demonstrates how audiences have an appetite for new storytelling formats. This can also mean a license to tell a more intimate story with fewer characters, allowing you to double down on their development.
Finally, remember to embrace diversity. Hollywood can get away with its straight white male ivory tower because it’s detached from its audience, but you aren’t. You are directly posting and marketing your content on sites that are built on engagement and viewer feedback.
I’m not advocating for tokenism (where you insert a minority character for the sake of diversity), obviously, but if your show has a narrow traditional perspective, you should ask yourself what you’re really contributing to the conversation. Many people seek out web series explicitly because traditional forms of media aren’t giving them the representation they need; by writing for those communities, you can tap into a passionate audience that will embrace you
Now, with all that in mind, if you don’t already have a script, to adapt or otherwise, it’s time to get brainstorming.
Aside from general brainstorming methods that I’m sure have be written about to death at this point, the thing about making a web series is that, more than likely, you’re on your own. You’ll have little to no money, so the actual resources to make the series a reality will be limited as well. As such, a good brainstorming tool is making a list of all the things you have available to you: locations, cast and crew, equipment, props, wardrobe, etc.
Made your list? Good. Now forget about it for the moment. The best thing you can do in a web series script is to write the story you want to tell, production and audience demographics be damned. The only reason I made two seasons of my TVWriter™-approved series is because I was naive and had no idea what I was doing at first!
Writing within your means is all well and good, but you’d be surprised by what you can come up with if you ask around. It’s incredibly easy at the indie level to talk yourself out of stories or ideas because they’re “too hard” or “not universal enough,” but don’t let yourself fall into that mind trap. At the end of the day, you’re a storyteller. So tell your story and worry about the rest later.
That’s it for this column! Now stop reading and go write, and when you’re done, come back, because we are far from done. In the next few columns we’ll explore pre-production, the bare necessities of a no-budget film crew, casting, the full time job that is crowdfunding, the constant panic of production, endless post-production, and promotion.
Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker and the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.
And, before we forget, learn more about Bri’s video work HERE