Creative freedom is a phrase we hear quite a bit when asking creators what drew them into these precarious web series waters. Sometimes the phrase comes off as if its speaker, once free from the inhibiting chains of corporate control, will be able to deliver entertainment’s much-awaited mega-masterpiece.
Occasionally, it’s a much more modest usage—one of the humble freedoms embraced by web series creators, like say, freedom from inflated paychecks. In the case of the recent relaunch of the series Showbizzle, it’s the admission that the web is a place to experiment. When the first attempt wasn’t working, shifting gears might be the answer.
When the scripted coffee-shop showbiz drama first debuted last fall, people weren’t sure what to make of the web series slash social network. A barrage of short (2 minute) one-way videos coming off as monologues were recut, trimmed down and even stitched together to make longer more developed episodes. Now several months later, the series has returned. New episodes are now averaging 15 minutes in length, and the number of supporting characters has been reduced to a more manageable two dozen from the original 43.
There’s really a number of stories behind Showbizzle. A successful TV veteran mentoring his daughter’s development as a writer in Hollywood. For Charles Rosin, who was executive producer/showrunner for the first five seasons of Beverly Hills 90210 (the original), there was the ‘A Ha!’ moment a few years ago when ABC put up episodes of LOST on iTunes.
“That really stopped me,” Rosin told me, “it was a clear indication from a major studio that the syndication model is not going to be enough to support television anymore.”
So when his 23 year-old daughter Lindsey started crafting her own career in television, Rosin did what any good father looking to impart his wisdom might do. He let her know that syndication won’t be the business model much longer and, like it or not, the internet would be ground zero for episodic television. That, and helping her get an original web series off the ground.
For Lindsey, who wrote and directed the series along with Arika Lisanne Mittman, there’s an air of authenticity in the project, as her opening voiceover as protagonist Janey could easily be her own words. “I’m an LA girl, born and raised, trying to break into the biz as a screenwriter,” the series begins.
“I have had so many friends who work in the business who tell me they have so many stories of their own to add or be told,” Lindsey noted. And watching the colorful Hollywood characters that somehow all seem to know Janey, the stories feel rooted in reality. Janey sits planted at her local coffee shop trying to bang out her first script while her fellow Hollywood friends drop in to chat up their latest drama.
For the relaunch, Lindsey recorded ADR of Janey’s brief reactions intercut into the conversations to make the oddly one-sided conversations less like straight monologues. There still remains a noticeable imbalance in talk time, and Janey still never gets any camera time, but Lindsey points out that the aim was to capture that moment in the conversation where the story begins, not the idle chit-chat.
Also modified was the site’s emphasis on the social network, which still exists, though isn’t the primary focus. The community site encourages viewers to submit their own video stories which will then be vetted by the community for inclusion on the Digital Showcase.
There’s also plans to connect with existing online communities of aspiring Hollywood actors and writers, like Actors Access, who’s members would probably do well to watch some of the “Inside the Bizzle” candid conversations with industry insiders like David Semel (House), Elizabeth Heldens (Friday Night Lights) and Ted Cohen (Friends) about “their careers, how they succeeded and their heartfelt advice for people getting started.“
Nailing the business model online hasn’t exactly happened yet, and the quest for mainstream sponsor dollars continues for the Showbizzle team. The first season is set to run for an ambitious 23 weeks, with a new episode out every week.
While the trying-to-make-it-in-Hollywood niche seems a bit worn on the web, Rosin notes that there’s broader appeal than just LA waiters. “What is universal about it and what is relateble about it is people trying to jump-start their creative ambitions, being at the bottom of the food chain and dealing with people who make those leaps difficult.”
Not every web series is a cut and dry business venture either. “One of the real motivations for me doing this was to put some fun back in the business,” said Rosin. There’s also a level of professionalism in the project, including paying the talent. “Every writer and every actor that worked on this got paid, that was very important to me,” added Rosin.
While they continue to seek sponsors for the show, either way the team plans to release the wealth of content they have racked up. There’s also talks of using the 141 two-minute videos for mobile distribution.
For Lindsey, her own writing career seems to be progressing quite smoothly so far, as she is developing an original dramatic TV pilot with CBS Paramount while continuing to work on Showbizzle.
Ed. Note: We weren’t able to embed the new, longer-form episodes due to issues with the video player. They can be seen at Showbizzle.com.