Webseries: What NOT to do.Posted: September 14, 2011
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but with good reason. Webseries have taken a break to feature writing, ad writing, novel writing, video game writing, and of course, vacation. But as we sweep back into Fall next week with the official kickoff of the New York Television Festival (in which my pilot “Powerless” is a selection!) it seems an excellent time to talk about the web again. Especially because, within the next month, I will have some extra-special news and quite possibly the launch of something very cool that I’ve been working on for a long time.
Anyway. I recently was talking to somebody who congratulated me on my many successful webseries (his words, not mine). I nodded my thanks, but then started to reflect on my career. I allowed myself a brief moment to accept that I had had some (small) successes on the web. But more than that, I had had tons of failures. And that’s okay. Repeated failure is the only path to success, after all (unless you’re born Kardashian).
But I realized that I do probably have a wealth of knowledge about webseries. Specifically, what not to do. Take the following list to heed. I have made almost every single mistake on here.
If you want your webseries to be a failure:
Don’t promote it. Sit and wait for people to write about you. Don’t bother contacting blogs or press directly – surely, they’ll find out about your show on their own. If you manage to get a little bit of press, pat yourself on the back and consider your job done. No need to compile your press into a package to send out as PR; everyone will remember that one article in AM New York a year from now.
If you must promote it, promote it like a movie. Spend six months just driving people to a splash page and a teaser trailer, with the inability for them to watch anything but that. Keep information sparse! The buzz will create itself. And then, when the show comes out, put all of your dollars and energy into that first week. As opposed to four or five weeks in, when audiences can come and see more of your work in one place and get hooked. Really, this is just like the movies. It’s all about opening weekend.
Don’t build a specific audience. Don’t bother reaching out and finding your audience; let them come to you. After all, your show is good, right? Not like the rest of the crap out there! Well, you can just sit back and relax and trust in the fact that the cream always rises, and if you pop your show up on YouTube and send a link to your Facebook friends, that’s enough. It’ll definitely always snowball and go viral from there. And if you have a niche show – like, say, about people from Johnstown PA or the Renaissance Faire – don’t spend time figuring out where people in that niche congregate online. Don’t reach out to webrings or Facebook groups that your audience frequents. Don’t target people on Twitter and get them to tweet about your show. Just post and pray, baby!
Do everything yourself. Dammit, you’re good enough to write, direct, produce, star, edit, compose music, design the webpage and plan the launch party. Just because that kind of raging egoism is usually the kiss of death for a movie or TV show doesn’t mean it’s the same online, right? You don’t need any help. Besides, other people will just screw up your vision. Who cares if by spreading out the workload, you create a tight-knit family who will all work tirelessly to push your show. This is your show, after all. You could probably hold the boom while doing all the above too, because a sound man is expensive. Speaking of…
Don’t worry about sound. Sound men cost money. So it’s not even worth asking. Don’t post an ad seeing if anyone will work for free. And if you can’t find someone, don’t dig deep and find $200 to pay them. Just use your on-camera mic and relax. Because no one really listens to the sound anyway. As long as the writing is good, who cares, right?
Don’t worry about writing. It’s just the internet. People want flashy-flash, zombies, a hot chick, and cats. Just give ’em that.
Don’t worry about lighting. It’s a small screen! That means you can make do with an incandescent bulb, especially if you’re shooting on a DSLR. It’s much better to just shoot it and get it done. Grips and gaffers and lights are for TV.
Just cast your friends. For whatever parts you’re not going to play, of course. Because all your friends are actors, deep down. Even if they’ve never acted before. They just “have it in them”. So don’t hold auditions. That will be a waste of your time, and you definitely won’t meet new people, expand your circle, and find better options for your show. Your web series should be first and foremost a showcase for you and your roommates.
Totally lie about your content. Does someone in your episode say ‘it’s hot out’? Is it a woman? Then grab a screencap of someone in a bikini (doesn’t even have to be her!) and title the episode HOT GIRL TAKES IT OFF. Believe me, you will get people to click. And then when they do, they will totally be won over by your snappy dialog and your well-formed character arcs, and they will forget all about the fact that they were searching for boobs. They’ll be so impressed with your witty lie that they’ll share with all their perv friends. And it absolutely won’t get you any flack whatsoever from fans!
Disable comments on your homepage. You don’t really want comments anyway. They’re nasty. You don’t want people telling you your writing sucks, or your show isn’t funny, or listing the things they’d like to do to a particular actress. And besides, spam. Approving comments is a chore. And if in the process of stifling that stuff, you also stifle legit fans who want to be part of a community, want to spread your show, want to feel like they’re crucial to its growth, or God forbid, want to start their own conversations on your site… well then, so be it. It’s worth it not to have to read criticism.
If there’s money, spend it all on production. And the launch party, of course! Do not under any circumstances keep any for promotions or buying banner or Facebook ad space to publicize your show.
Put all your emphasis on the screening. Once you watch your first episode in a bar in front of 20 people, your job is done. You’ve worked hard. Now’s the time to kick your feet up, pat yourself on the back, watch your friends laugh or cry, hopefully at the right places, and let the ensuing ripples take the entertainment world by storm. Because nothing spreads a web video like a bunch of people standing around chitchatting, not in front of a computer.
Follow everybody’s lead. There’s a show about World of Warcraft players, and there’s a show about Dungeons & Dragons players, and there’s a show about Dungeons & Dragons characters, but there’s no show about World of Warcraft characters!!! That’s clearly an oversight that you must correct. Because the internet is just like TV, only with nichier topics.
Autotune it, just because. Instant hits!!
Ignore copyright law. Use any old music or film clips you want. No one will care!
Don’t get releases for locations or people. There is no possible way this could ever come back to haunt you. Not even if you try to release DVDs.
People are really impressed with Streamy awards. This, obviously, speaks for itself.
You don’t need to know Wilson Cleveland. Or Paul Kontonis. Or Dina Kaplan. Or Josh Cohen or Jenni Powell or George Strompolos or Amber Lawson or Kathleen Grace or Marc Hustvedt. All those people are optional.
Don’t make season 2. This is a biggie. If you have a show that’s a success, by any measure you choose to define success, be it monetary, artistic or buzz-related, than stop after Season 1. Better to quit while ahead, right? Better to not keep posting episodes. Maybe you’re tired, maybe you think your fanbase will be content with what you’ve already made, maybe you want to focus on other projects. All good reasons to give up! Forget all that hogwash about shows really finding themselves after the first season.
Stop after one series. The way you build yourself into a brand, the way you build yourself into a personal mini-empire, is by doing one thing, and one thing only. Don’t make spinoff series. Don’t jump at an opportunity to do something different, or to help with someone else’s series, or to shoot a music video. You want to be known as that guy who did that one thing, even 5 years after the end of its run.
Always remember: your show is just a calling card for TV/Film. If there’s one thing that big-time Hollywood people are impressed with, it’s webseries. It’s a well known fact that when staffing writers and directors and actors, everyone from J.J. Abrams to Robert Zemeckis goes surfing through the latest webseries and finds the best diamonds in the rough. So, feel free to make one or two episodes and call it a day. They’ll get the idea; you’ll get the gig!
Always listen to the web network. If you get your show on a portal, capitulate to everything. If they don’t want to publicize your show, then don’t you tell anybody either. If they want to cut all the jokes so that it’s a dry 2 minutes when you wrote it as a hilarious 5, fair game. Better short than funny, I always say! Oh, and make sure you sign a contract granting them exclusive rights.
Always listen to your agent. If they won’t take the time to set up a meeting for you, then, well, it’s probably because they know it won’t be worth it for you. Not because they’re too busy dealing with celebrity clients and people already working in TV. And if they don’t want you to do a deal because there’s not enough money in revshare/mobile licensing/what-have-you, even if it will give you a ton of eyeballs and new fans, it’s not because they won’t make their money – it’s just, you know, not worth your time.
Always listen to your sponsor. If you are integrating products into your show, then by all means: take every bit of advice from the ad agency or the brand as gospel truth. Because ad agencies are creative geniuses, and brands always know best. Absolutely get rid of every edgy bit of dialog. Absolutely agree to throw your plot out the window to squeeze in a product. Absolutely agree to drop the product name wherever you can. Remember, you are no longer creating a piece of art or entertainment – you are in the business of shilling for Expedia.com.
Never listen to your fans. After all, this is your show and your story. If you are lucky enough to get fans, that must mean you are good enough to ignore them. If they don’t like your favorite episode, then clearly you have stupid fans. Post something they’ll hate, just to spite them. They’ll be back.
Okay, I think that about sums it up. Anything I forgot, ye veterans of the web video world?