And now Part Two of “Making a Web Series” (if you missed Part One it’s right here)
How many episodes should I do? There’s a good deal of variation between how many episodes a season of a show might have, just like with TV. Ten seems to be a solid number. Six, I’d say, is the minimum. I wouldn’t go any more than twelve or fourteen. If you’re doing sixteen episodes, and it’s taking you two years to make, wouldn’t it be smarter to have eight episodes a year instead then? Regular quality releases, you’ll find, is better than quantity.
How do I schedule the production? With my first web series Normally This Weird (there’s two pilot episodes out right now, the rest coming this Fall), I made a dumb mistake. I thought the best way to do the show would be to shoot one episode a month. In my thinking that would be more accomplishable than shooting for a full week or two. Oh so wrong. That monthly task became a hurdle that sucked out all of our momentum. And what happened in consequence was that the show got put on hold. It’s much easier to do in one solid stretch, if at all possible. It’s also easier to get a crew to commit for a sprint of four days, maybe you can break the production of the series in half or in thirds, than little nibbles here and there for forever. With “Normally This Weird” we ended up shooting the season over seven weekends throughout the course of four months. But we weren’t releasing the shows while we were shooting (editing always takes longer than you think it will), and we were shooting the entire season all at once. We had all the episodes written, and like a feature film, we shot the show out of order. So one day we might be shooting the mad scientist’s scenes from Episode 3, 5, and 7. What’s the advantage of this? Well, it gives you the freedom in a given episode to cut to several locations that would otherwise be too taxing to if your shot episode by episode. This is what they do in The Guildwhen they bounce from one person’s house to another. That’s right, on that shooting day they filmed every flipping scene that takes place in that room for the entire season!
How often do I release the shows? Your priority, like TV, is a regular release schedule. Weekly installments gives your audience a chance to tune in. You miss a date and you might be toast. Has that ever happened to you? You miss one week of a TV show that’s become part of your routine … and suddenly … it’s not part of your routine anymore. So what’s a good way to keep your release schedule from missing? Have most of the shows edited before you release. Give yourself the time you need to put the shows together, don’t rush them out, and then you won’t be treading water each week to finish the next installment.
How do I promote it? If you’re making a web series you’re going to feel like you’re spending 20% of your time making the show, and then 80% marketing it. It’s, frankly, exhausting. But necessary. Again, I’m no expert, but here are some of the things I’ve learned … Make teaser posters. Make a trailer. Make more than one trailer. Start a facebook page for the show. Be active on twitter. Get involved with a local band. Contact bloggers and news sites personally that line up with your niche. Don’t spam the airwaves with the same content over and over again … free content is always the best form of advertising. Release behind the scenes featurettes. Think of fun ways to actually interact with your audience … With our show “Voyage Trekkers” we hosted a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story on our facebook page. Each night our fans could vote on three choices on what happens to the crew for a whole week. Join local filmmaker groups and tell them about the project.
And there’s no way you can do it all on your own. Your cast and crew can also help spread the word. They’ll repost news about your show on their facebook pages to their friends. Go to a local comicon as a team and promote your web series in costume!
How do I make money from the show? Ah the big question. There was a “web series bubble” a few years ago, at least here in Phoenix, when every filmmaker was developing a web series. It was the big new buzz word. But when they realized that there’s very few ways of making money on a web series, the bubble burst. It’s very likely, and it’s just something that you’re going to have to come to grips with, that you might never break even. You’ve got a product that you’re giving away on the web for free, and like TV, the way to make real money (besides the odd T-shirts or DVD) is ads. But advertisers will only pay out if you’re getting a ton of hits. Sites like Atom.com finance shows because they get all the traffic … and them getting lots of traffic means more ad money.
It takes a certain kind of crazy filmmaker that’s okay with that. If you’ve made short films before it’s the same thing. You do it because you love it. You can still make some money, or if you’re lucky you can get some one else to spring for the show, but it’s a long hard walk if your goal is to become a profit-generating business. The major web series do make money, but you can’t bank the farm on achieving that same level of success. So if you’re okay with that, then awesome, let’s keep making some great shows!
Next week I’ll wrap up with discuss the more esoteric questions of “Why” you want to make a web series.