So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 4

Hiring Crew
by Bri Castellini

You’re going to get sick of me saying this, but filmmaking is a collaborative process.

At this point in our “how-to” adventure together, you should have a script, a producer or two, a director, an organized script breakdown, and an idea of where you’re going to get the necessary cash. Now it’s time to build the rest of your team. This week, we’re talking how and who to hire for your crew.

On a no-budget production, crew is second priority to securing actors, but the more people you can bring onboard, the easier everyone’s job will be. And because having the same people behind the scenes the whole shoot isn’t as important as having the same actors on screen, you can be a bit more flexible.

You’re going to want to call on friends to fill out your crew, and that’s fine, but a few words of warning.

First, prioritize crew who already have access to equipment.

Hiring a director of photography (DP) with a camera is better than a DP without one, and hiring a lighting person with a lighting kit is better than your roommate from college who owns a table lamp.

Don’t just hire friends because they seem excited to help.

Only hire friends if they are a) already skilled at the thing you’re hiring them for, and/or b) clear on the expectations and responsibilities and ready to follow directions.

I don’t care that you’ve been friends since childhood — if your friend can’t do the job or won’t follow instructions, don’t hire them. It’ll just put undue stress on the relationship as well as the production.

Because a crew is a luxury for a no-budget project, here’s my entirely subjective list of essential team members for any production, regardless of budget:

  • Director. Obviously
  • Sound. Audible not-staticky sound is more important than having clear footage. People will forgive a grainy image if they can hear what’s going on.
  • Art director or production designer. You’ll need this person to decorate the set, keep track of background continuity if you’re shooting on multiple days, and organize props.
  • Production Assistant. More commonly referred to as a PA, this person is just the grunt worker, who goes on coffee or emergency duct tape runs, helps set up and break down all the equipment, etc. It beats having to send your director to buy Band-aids in the middle of a shooting day, and let’s be real – having a designated grunt person just makes everything run smoother.
  • Speaking of the Production Assistant: This is one of the most vital and, naturally, the most thankless jobs on a set, so if you don’t have someone happy to do it (usually someone younger than you, or a student looking for film set experience), rotate. It’s a humbling experience, and spreading that around might even raise morale.

If you happen to know more people, who have more skills, here are potential add-ons to the list above:

  • Director of Photography. This person controls the camera while the director controls the actors, allowing them both to focus on their particular roles more fully.
  • Script Supervisor. You know when you’re watching TV and the color of a coffee mug on a table changes between shots? That’s the mistake of a script supervisor, whose entire job is maintaining continuity so the production doesn’t look silly. Some things you just can’t fix in post-production.
  • Assistant director. These wonderful creatures keep track of the organization and schedule of the set while the director makes decisions and focuses on the creative side of things.
  • Hair and makeup. Most actors, even men, know how to do basic makeup so that they don’t appear greasy or unkempt on camera. That said, having someone doing actor makeup will save a lot of time, makes everyone look more consistent, and makes your production appear much more professional.
  • More about the hair and makeup person. This person can also be the one making sure eyeliner isn’t melting onto an actor’s face after hours of being directly underneath a really hot light. It’s amazing what you miss if you’re not looking for it, so having backup to look out for, well, looks, is incredibly helpful.

Of course, best case scenario is that you get to hire fifty different people who are all specialized in different parts of running a set, but reality might not be so kind. Different scripts and different sets will require different combinations of people, and at the end of the day, you’re going to need to figure what works best for you and your story.[a][b]

Now that you’ve built your behind-the-scenes team, it’s time to look in front of the camera. Next week we’ll talk actors, auditions, and good vibes.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as 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.

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 3

Money
by Bri Castellini

Money can’t buy you love but it can buy you camera equipment, fruit snacks, and fake gun props. Even the simplest project requires start-up cash, so what follows is an exploration of the most common financial options as you go forward in your independent filmmaking journey.

Option 1: Crowdfunding

Let’s just get this one out of the way. Crowdfunding is a full time job from the moment you think about starting a campaign to the moment you finish sending out the final perks. There have been a handful of massive success stories for independent, unknown artists, but it is by no means a sure thing.

General tips:

  • If you’re going to commit to crowdfunding, commit. Have a detailed plan for when you’ll update your social media with new pleas, when you’ll announce pertinent production information to backers, and when you’ll send out all the extra rewards for donors.
  • Pick the platform best-suited for your particular needs. My top two picks would be IndieGoGo, for their flexible fundraising option (meaning you keep any money you raise, regardless of reaching your goal), or Seed&Spark, for their filmmaker-centric platform, which allows people to “loan” you things like props, equipment, and locations instead of donating money for you to purchase them yourself.
  • Try to offer intangible but personalized “perks” for the different levels of donations. Things like social media shout-outs, a personalized thank-you video from the cast and crew, or access to secret behind-the-scenes material don’t cost anything to provide, which means more money from the campaign can fund the production itself.
  • If you’re going to offer physical perks, like posters or t-shirts, make sure you’re actually making a profit. If a poster costs $11 to print and $6 to ship and you’re only asking for $20, you’ll end up with $3 per poster for your production budget. Is that really worth it?
  • Build as much of your team, cast and crew before you launch the campaign, and insist that everyone involved. The more people you have promoting your campaign, the more likely you are to create a groundswell of support.

Option 2: Grants and Festivals

Another route might be to get funding from an individual source. While there aren’t many web-series specific grants, at least not in the US (yet another reason to move to Canada!), there are some, so get Googling. Plus, plenty of contests and film festivals have screenplay categories, so once you have a script, submitting it on its own might get you some cash or other prizes useful to production. You can also use those laurels when approaching other fundraising sources.

General tips:

  • Make an account on FilmFreeway or WithoutABox and start searching for screenplay contests. These sites make it super simple to submit to multiple contests and festivals without having to redo your application each time.
  • Figure out what sets your script or team apart from the crowd, because many grants have specific qualifications for consideration. For instance, are you a minority writer or director? Do you have a female cinematographer? Is your script about mental health, or does it promote a political cause? Are you a student filmmaker? Find your niche and work it.
  • Submitting to grants and festivals comes with an up-front fee, usually between $10-$60 per submission. Keep in mind that these can add up and don’t guarantee a return on investment.

Option 3: DIY

This route is isn’t mutually-exclusive with the other options. You should consider this to supplement funding or as a fallback fundraising method.

General tips:

  • Use your script breakdowns to make a budget template. Find price quotes for different props on Amazon, for different locations on Yelp, etc, and add it all up to give yourself an idea of how much you’ll need, best case scenario. Then do that same exercise but for the worst case scenario that still allows you to make your project.
  • Cut as much from the script as you can without sacrificing the story or the heart. We talked last week about all the “realistic rewrites” you’ll end up doing as you start to take stock of your available resources, and this is round two. If something can be cut, cut it. Sometimes this means whole episodes are either condensed, combined, or discarded entirely. Be ruthless, because you literally can’t afford everything you want.
  • Beg, borrow, and steal. Post on Facebook to see who in your existing network might have a fake gun, or a sweater vest, or an empty living room to loan you. If there’s a free option, use it. Those options might not always be the ideal ones, but they’re the cheapest, and if you’re smart, creative, and focused on your ultimate production goal, they’ll work just fine.
  • Don’t forget about the basics — food and water on set (a necessity whether or not you’re paying your cast and crew), transportation to and from shooting locations, and general contingencies.

Even the simplest, most straightforward production will cost you something, and it’s important to be realistic with yourself about what you can and cannot afford. In any case, you literally cannot move forward with your web series before knowing what your money situation is.

Now that all that gross finance talk is out of the way, it’s time to expand your team! The next two weeks will explore hiring the rest of your crew and casting the characters who survived your realistic rewrites.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as 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.

So You Want to Make a Web Series – 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.

OK, so not a web series – but a wonderful series of webs found at dreamstime.com


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