Everyone has been discussing web distribution since my first Sundance Film Festival in 1996. I swear! There has been a panel on alternative forms of distribution at nearly every Sundance for the last fifteen YEARS. Serious film producers would always turn up their noses and say disparaging things about web content.
“No one is making any money at it,” they would sniff. “No serious filmmaker would consider such a thing.” After 15 years of promoting and prognosticating, it seems like Web Phenomenon is finally here.
At last year’s Power Premiere, I met the delightful Susan Miller. A terrific writer with a boatload of credits, she talked about her web series ANYONE BUT ME. It sounded like a fun concept and the series is now heading into its third season. It has over 4 million views worldwide and has been awarded with: 4 Streamy Nominations & Best Actress Win; Webby Honorees for Drama & Writing; 4 Indie Soap Awards; AfterEllen’s Visibility Award.
This last weekend, Meredith Baxter mentioned her latest acting gig. The web series WE HAVE TO STOP NOW with Cathy DeBuono and Jill Bennett. Two therapists on the verge of divorce discover the relationship book they co-authored is on the New York Times bestseller list. A reality show/documentary film crew moves in to capture the “magic” that made the book so successful. Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer starred as their distressed therapist in season one. Now, Meredith Baxter is joining the cast for season two, as a rather odd therapist who doesn’t want the clients to talk too much during their sessions.
You may recall I was the production manager on a feature film called GIRLTRASH: All Night Long that Angela Robinson, Alex Kondracke and POWER UP developed from a Showtime web series. To understand more of how that series became a feature, you can take a look at the GIRLTRASH Blog to get the inner workings of that process.
Jamie Lieberman (Alec’s girlfriend) went to school with a bunch of people at Emerson (in Boston). They developed a web series that has now been picked up by Warner Brothers. Starring a bunch of young unknowns, DOWNER’S GROVE is a funny slice of life in a boring, small town.
There are a lot of plusses to making your own web series.
Webisodes tend to be short. Three to six minutes in length. You don’t need a huge budget or massive time commitment to put them on. You get to create your own characters in their own world. You don’t have to wait for a production executive to give you the green light. Since they tend to avoid risky projects, you can go out on a limb and prove the merit of your idea. Web series tend to build rabid fan bases that become their market for future stories. I have noticed that many web series reach out to their fan base for funding. Some sell subscriptions to support the series. Others get traditional advertisers to back their projects.
The biggest negative to a web series is the one faced by everyone in this business. Being wildly successful is a long shot. You have to invest a lot of time and money and creative energy in a project that may not go anywhere. If you’ve got a great concept and can serve a loyal market niche, you can have a life devoted to creating stories you love for people who greatly appreciate them. And, if you’re really lucky, they may catapult you into the big time.