Must reading for those of us who are pursued by the “Make Your Own Web Series” demons. Which, in this day and age, probably could well mean us all:
by Maddy Kadish
For indie filmmakers, the challenges of creating a web series may be the same as for a short or feature – slim funding, a crowded market, difficulties in building an audience and limited path for pricing models. But digital content has its own set of demands and requirements.
Indiewire spoke with the creators of four web series about the unique skills and strategies it takes to get a web series off the ground. Here are their top six tips.
1. Brush up on your social media skills.
Kim Spurlock, director of “Livin’ the Dream,” a web series comedy that she created with her sister, producer, Mai Spurlock Sykes, ranked this first on her list of skills they needed to hone.
“Developing the social media and transmedia aspects that go with your production is vital to build your audience. We started these aspects early on in development,” said Spurlock. The sisters, having previously collaborated on shorts, ramped up their social media skills quickly when the comedy about a female director trying to make it in the industry in New York launched in July 2015.
“With a film at a festival, people are sort of trapped in their seats. Online, you have to work to draw viewers in to every episode, using keywords, great images, or behind-the scenes clips,” said Anne Flournoy, creator of “The Louise Log,” a comedic web series about a housewife living in NYC, now in its third season.
Creating a web series means not only developing the story, but also the website, e-mail lists and social media sites – all with a consistent theme – to increase the stickiness. Skills in data analytics will help to evaluate how the audience is accessing and clicking through the series. For some additional tips, you should check out the YouTube Creator Playbook.
2. Then, actually be social.
Talk to your audience wherever they are online. Make friends and plug into their networks. “Build a community of creators who are behind you whose work you truly admire and can support,” said Flournoy.
Generate ideas for events that could help to create word-of-mouth. “We have done some creative things, like organizing live events and harnessing issues related to the series, like how to live your dream and highlighting female directors,” said Spurlock.
Web series as a form can overlap with transmedia, a format where the story is told across various platforms. “Balance the biases of media and make them work for you,” said Jay Bushman, the transmedia producer and writer for the web series “The Lizzie Benet Diaries,” a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” “The Lizzie Benet Diaries,” which ran online for 100 episodes from April 2012 to March 2013, became the first YouTube series to win a Primetime Emmy when it won for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media in 2013.
With “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” Bushman broke the digital fourth wall by giving the characters Twitter accounts and having them tweet as part of web series plot. Then “fan-fiction” took on new digital meaning as fans tweeted back and created additional online content, such as blogs and their own videos.
3. Find ways to get to the point quickly.
Web series creators have a limited window to capture viewers. “Online you have maybe seven seconds to grab your audience,” said Flournoy. “Comedy lends itself to short form and pithiness,” added Mai Spurlock. “Timing is important with comedy. The rhythm and the impact of the script are always important, but particularly in this medium.”
Keith Josef Adkins, creator of“The Abandon,” a sci-fi web series about five African-American male friends on an annual camping trip; things change drastically when they receive news of an alien invasion. Adkins, who was a writer for the CW series “Girlfriends,” uses an ensemble cast to propel his story. “Part of my creative mission is to show the complexity in marginalized communities – the diversity within that community.