New media and traditional television have long been on a collision course, but it seems the moment of impact might have actually arrived. And there’s no better evidence than the 4th Annual Independent Television Festival, which brought together independent television producers and web TV creators alike, showcasing the best of both worlds side by side in an unprecedented manner.
“We started out as a television festival and were exclusively focused on broadcast television and finding new voices for that medium,” explained AJ Tesler, Executive Director of the ITVF. “And then somewhere between our first year and second year, YouTube became extremely popular and we realized that if we didn’t embrace new media we would become irrelevant very quickly.”
In ITVF’s second year, 2007, they included a web series competition held exclusively online through Azureus.com (now Vuse.com). The following year, web series selections graduated to actual festival screenings, and in 2009 web TV has taken yet another giant leap. In addition to competing in their separate Best TV and Best Web TV categories, web series entries are also vying directly against traditional television pilots for the honors of Best Drama, Best Comedy, Best Documentary, and Best Animation.
“We thought it was important to start showcasing Web TV in a real and meaningful manner,” explained Tesler of ITVF’s digital evolution. “We know the merger between television and new media is coming. We know that it’s all becoming one thing, not ‘new media’ or ‘television’, but just ‘media’.”
The awards ceremony, however, is hardly the only festival event where web TV has been put on an even playing field. Several of the discussion panels featured both old and new media professionals sitting at the same table. The Showrunners panel not only featured television writer/producers Mark Goffman (The Beast, Law & Order: SVU), Bill Kelley (Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live), and the duo of John Lehr and Nancy Hower (10 Items or Less, Memron), but also included Chris McCaleb, co-founder of the prolific web studio Big Fantastic (Prom Queen, Sorority Forever).
“Television and internet continue to become this weird amorphous thing where the lines are blurred,” commented McCaleb as he described the collaborative showrunning style he and his producing partners have adopted. “When we started we were kind of all showrunners. We did all the writing and all the directing and all the producing,” he said. “Our budgets are so small compared to television budgets that it really pays to have a wide skill set and be able to edit and put up a c-stand or take somebody’s lunch order and to not have any kind of ego about it.”
As the speakers continued it became obvious that regardless of the medium, all showrunning requires the same managerial skills.
“Nancy and I didn’t know what we were doing, so we just did it our way. We interviewed every single person on the entire crew,” Lehr said of how he and Hower also ran TV’s 10 Items or Less in a non-traditional manner, “I never really wanted to be a boss, but what really started to turn me on was creating an environment where everybody who is working with you is doing the best they can and flourishing in what they do well. An environment where they can all kick ass in their own way.”
In yet another embrace of the internet, all ITVF panels were streamed live for thousands of online viewers via Stickam.com. And even more proof of the convergence of new and old media was displayed on Monday’s “Web Television Day” panels (sponsored by Tubefilter) where several television and web speakers talked about their experiences moving back and forth between the two platforms.
“I’m doing less TV and more web now because the web is creative, you get to do what you want and you can do it immediately,” said Emmy-nominated television writer/producer Michael Rotman (Politically Incorrect, South Park), moderator of the Web TV Success Stories panel. “Web filmmakers can be their own little production company nowadays. You can make your own identity and not just be tied into one TV show you happen to be getting a paycheck for.”
“For us the goal is definitely to get into traditional media from what we’ve done online,” said web filmmaker Benny Fine on the very same panel. His partner (and brother) Rafi Fine explained that after amassing over 30 million internet views their motivation to move from new media into old media is mostly financial, “Even with our success, that we’ve been able to get the shows that we do hundreds of thousands of views, we’re still having to do four shows at once just to get by.”
Another Web TV Success Stories panelist, actor/producer Dan Levy said the idea that became his television pilot Long Distance Relationship, actually moved through three different outlets.
“It started out as a joke I did in my stand-up, and that was the idea [Crackle.com] liked best after I pitched them a bunch of other things that were actually thought out,” laughed Levy about the unexpected path LDR took from joke to web series to Sony produced television pilot. “I always knew I wanted to get into television, but I didn’t know that project would be my TV project.”
Abrams Artists digital agent Brandon Martinez best summed up the evolution of web TV over the past few years in his Let’s Get Digital coffee chat, “For a while digital was the wild wild west, but we’re starting to get to a point now where the roads are there, they’re just not paved.”
Although this year, the Independent Television festival has certainly put down fresh layer of asphalt connecting the traditional television industry to the digital highway.
The 4th Annual Independent Television Festival continues through tonight, with the Awards Ceremony at 8 PM at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, in West Hollywood, CA. Tickets for screenings and the Awards Ceremony and Party are available at itvfest.org