Ed. Note: This guest article is written by Rochelle Dancel, an independent content producer from London, England, and the Associate Producer of Canadian web series, B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye.
I’ve been wanting to write a series of how-to tips based on our experience of making, B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye, so we started reminiscing about what we wish we’d known before we’d started making our website. Having had the pleasure of connecting with many other web series producers online, I was curious, and asked them the same question, “What do you wish you’d known before you started making your web series?”
1. “Sometimes, angry people are just hungry.”
Rosemary Rowe and Renee Olbert, Co-Creators of Seeking Simone
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Let’s start with perhaps the most important universal truth in web series production. There is no point in assembling a cast, crew and equipment at a great location if you don’t have the snacks and drinks to keep them fed and watered; ignored, it’s the one thing that guarantees a bad and unproductive shoot, and it’s an expense often left out when budgeting and planning. From TimBits and sandwiches on the Simone set to carrots and sesame sticks on the Fletcher set, we have all learned to keep empty tummies and low sugar levels at bay.
2. “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, send emails, support other’s projects; you’d be surprised how many others out there are in the same boat as you and appreciate any advice or support you can give in return.”
Regan Latimer, Creator of B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye
You would think that a no-budget, no-cast, no-crew, no-equipment state of affairs would put people off. But, as all of us have discovered, when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Olbert and Rowe advise, “Ask for what you want. Because you might get it. When you have no budget, sometimes you might be shy to ask for things. But something we learned (and are still learning) is that it’s better not to waste time pussyfooting around. Just go for it!”
3. “I would have prepared by taking vitamins, going to the gym, getting an MBA and learning how to talk in PR.”
Susan Miller, Executive Producer and Writer of Anyone But Me
If you thought theatre or film school was education enough, producing a web series gets you a marketing and business school education entirely on the fly. Miller advises, “You have to get your schmooze on and walk into rooms and hand out cards and be able to describe your show in one sexy killer sentence.”
“Networking and marketing aside,” Latimer contends, “I’ve learned more about production, website building and digital formats in the past year and a half creating this series than I ever learned in film school.”
4. “I now know… to line-up back-ups for my back-ups.”
David Nett, Creator and Executive Producer of GOLD
The initial euphoria of officially announcing that you’re making a web series is often met with a flurry of excited volunteers. But, when your no-budget status dictates that you shoot around the day jobs and commitments of a few key people, you may find your cast and crew lacking. During the production of GOLD’s first season, Nett experienced, “A lot of drop-outs and last-minute replacements, and a lot of scrambling to fill gaps. I knew it would be rough, but wasn’t really prepared for the sheer amount of wrangling I’d have to do, during both production and post.”
A web series set is no place to be if you’re just dropping by to hang out. As Rowe and Olbert explain, “Working on a no-budget web series is like showing up to help in a flood. Everyone helps move the sandbags. EVERYONE.”
5. “I wish I would’ve known how to PROMOTE the show before we started making it.”
Robb Padgett, Creator of Life From The Inside
Without a doubt, everyone agreed that promoting the show and getting people to watch it is the steepest learning curve in web series production. Miller has learned that, “You have to reach out. To CEO’s and store owners and people walking down the street and sell them your wares and not be daunted.”
Latimer’s activities include, “Sending out to our mailing list every month, updating MySpace, Facebook, talking to people on Twitter, keeping editors in the loop.” Miller concurs. “You have to scour websites and blogs to find other websites and blogs to make connections.”
As with production, it has often been the kindness of strangers, the support of a community, or a lucky break that have enabled our shows to secure their followings.
“If it weren’t for the help of people like the producers of Break A Leg mentioning our show in interviews, and people like Sunny Gault noticing our show and profiling it on her old show Viral, we might not have ever gotten noticed. It took us WAY too long to do stuff like tell the good people at Blip.tv about our show. And they’ve been some of our biggest supporters of all.” Padgett recounts.
6. “[I] thought I’d have a finished product ready in two months. Oh, was this the underestimate of a lifetime.”
Justin Marchert, Creator of Big Bother
Web series production always takes a lot more time than anyone anticipates. Each three minute episode of Big Bother goes through 15 hours of editing and, “Consequently,” Marchert admits, “most episodes are finished the night before they’re released.”
Work doesn’t just end after your episodes are posted. Nett remembers, “I came into GOLD with a pretty decent shooting plan and a rough post production plan, but no real understanding of the massive amount of ongoing promotion, paperwork, decision-making and just plain grunt work that would continue not only after shooting was done but even after our Season 1 finale dropped.” Blissful ignorance, however, has probably advantaged many of us. “Having no idea just how absolutely all encompassing and life absorbing it would become is probably one of the main reasons Fletcher came into being.” Latimer claims.
Sleep deprivation, time away from our families and friends, stress, and no guarantee of an audience: so why do we put ourselves through it? Latimer explains, “There is so much freedom online in being able to produce the content you want to produce (without outside interference), and that is what is so attractive about it… and in turn worth the monumental struggle to get it done and out there.”
Top photo by Jonathan Thomas.