A Short History of L.A. BEER: The First Live Audience Web Series Sitcom

la-beer-new-brew

by Andrew Orillion

Last week, on May 11th, 2015 I became a part of making history. As a member of the team of independent writers/producers called The Grinders we released L.A. BEER: the first ever sitcom (think I Love Lucy or Big Bang Theory) Web series shot in front of a live audience.

Who knew this tiny project would grow to become something so big? L.A. BEER has been featured in Variety Tubefilter and The Video Ink. It’s the culmination of a journey that began over two years ago with group of people who had never met.

The Beginning

The journey to L.A. BEER began January of 2013, with an email chain in a Yahoo! Group dedicated to TV writing. The question was simple, “How long would you go on with your writing career before you gave up?” The question got over 300 responses and started a lot of conversations. One of those responses was from Sam Miller, a Writer’s Assistant for Desperate Housewives.

He had an idea: What if a small, but dedicated team of writers and industry professionals from the Yahoo! Group worked together on their own original Web series? Several of us responded and a few of us stuck. A staff was assembled including Sam, Greg Machlin, Jessica Kivnik, Chris Wu, Ali Chen and me — Andrew Orillion.

The First Pilot

L.A. BEER wasn’t always L.A. BEER. Originally named On the Rocks, we had duplicated the full-length sitcom structure. The show was a work place sitcom set in the Marketing Department of a liquor distributor. You can learn more about the making of On the Rocks at Snobby Robot.

We filmed a half-hour pilot for On the Rocks. It was our first attempt at shooting in front of a live audience, and we learned a lot.  While the live show worked well in front of a crowd, we discovered that the traditional half hour structure we had made wasn’t translating to the Internet as well as we’d hoped. Even after dividing the show into short segments we learned that they were too TV for the Web and too Web for TV.  So we knew we’d need to make some adjustments, but we had a show!

Kickstarter and the Redirection to L.A. BEER

Using the pilot as proof of concept and ability, we launched a Kickstarter campaign in late 2013 and raised over $25,000. Crowdfunding, especially in today’s jammed market, is its own full-time job. Our best advice is to have a realistic goal and to prepare a group of donors to contribute on the first day before you officially announce it. This strategy helped us get on the front page of Kickstarter and boosted our support.

With the campaign finished, we began 2014 with an honest evaluation of On the Rocks. Even the most successful sitcoms; Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, adjusted course after the pilot and we were no exception. We still wanted to shoot the show live, multi-cam style (four cameras filming at the same time), but we knew a lot of changes had to be made.

First, we studied successful Web series. We noticed that the more popular Web series, such as The Guild and High Maintenance, were narrowly focused and took place in micro-worlds. So, we tweaked the premise and made the new show about the craft beer scene in Los Angeles. We also shifted to shorter content, three to five minute episodes and renamed the show L.A. BEER.

L.A. BEER Was Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

For the next few months we had writers room meetings – at a Hollywood Denny’s – twice a week. By June of 2014, after more story meetings, drafts and cups of coffee than I care to remember (our waitress, Heather, knew our usual orders by heart), we were ready to start production on the next round of episodes.

We got our original cast back together and were able to add people to our production team. Doing a live-audience, multi-camera show requires a sizable crew. In addition to directors, we needed a lighting designer, a full camera and sound crew, a costume designer, set decorators, caterers, and make-up artists. It was quite the undertaking. Fortunately, our producing writers have different skill sets and backgrounds. We aren’t just writers. We come from casting departments and lawyers offices. Some of us are script coordinators, actors, and military veterans. We tapped into all of our different networks to get the right people.

We built a set and filmed the new material at Keystone Art Space over the course of a long week in late August.  It was hot! We made numerous last minute adjustments, rewrites and jokes tweaks (sometimes between takes). Not all the material we wrote was filmed – It was a lot of material – so tough decisions were made about what to keep and what to lose. Production days are long and challenging – 12 to 14 hours every day – and did we mention it was hot!  (Try not to film in Los Angeles in August when temperatures get over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.) But it was worth every second. We got L.A. BEER made!

The Re-Launch

Following a much deserved break we began the post-production process in October of 2014. Unlike a major studio we didn’t have a staff of editors working around the clock. We had long back-and-forth email chains with our editor. When you’re doing short comedy, every second counts and everything has to be super tight. Throw in the multiple camera setup and you’re talking about a lot of material even when the segments were only a few minutes long.

It took until March 2015 to get everything where we wanted it. But the work wasn’t over yet. Now, we had to get back in the public eye.

With the valuable help of some marketing professionals and our own know how, we re-launched our website (labeer.tv) and our Facebook and Twitter pages. The coverage has generated even more coverage (see the articles from Vinepair, New School Beer and Cynposis.) Every article gets our project and our names out there for promotion so that more people will hear about it and, hopefully, watch.

It’s been two-plus years of work, not to mention all the years we worked separately, to get to this point. None of us could have done it alone. It truly was a team effort.