Web series are pure pixel-drenched awesomeness. Who can argue with that?
All you need to do is press play, whether you're relaxing on your couch, under the desk at a boring meeting, on the treadmill, or sneaking an episode in bed without your partner knowing. A lot of times the content is free and accessible worldwide, and web series often represent characters and story-lines you won't find on conventional television sets.
I was driving a friend back from a cast and crew wrap party for a web series I developed, and after watching the trailer on his phone in the car, the first words out of his mouth were, "So are your episodes gonna be longer this time?"
This is not the first time any of us web series producers have been asked this question. This is something we get asked all the time.
By web series, I'm specifically talking about digital content that's independently produced, with a coherent story-line, decent visual and audio quality, legal music, and a hired cast and crew who aren't just relatives and exes.
So why can't we just do what Orange Is The New Black does and make each episode an hour long? Or at least half an hour? Why can't we just write a few more pages and have the camera roll a bit longer, wouldn't it be so easy?
The short answer is: money. But since the short answer is boring and hollow, here's the real low down on what it takes to make an independent web series.
The truth is, as indie filmmakers, we probably already wrote way more pages than we can afford to shoot, and we've significantly slashed scenes, locations and even characters, just to be able to afford making the web series at all.
There are a few things you absolutely must have when you're filming any content. A camera, lights, a sound recorder, microphones, a script, actors, locations to shoot in, a crew to operate all of the equipment, and food to sustain yourselves during the shoot.
This should already make your budget calculator feel overwhelmed.
Now when you're working on an indie film set, you will sacrifice a lot and cut all corners possible just to make the shoot happen. Keep in mind that this a barebones production I'm talking about, and not a Hollywood set. There are no actor's trailers here, no chauffeurs, no personal assistants, and no Starbucks pop-up locations onset (yes, Hollywood movies do that.)
The crew is hired for next to nothing, and sometimes will completely volunteer their time if they can afford it. But since they are talented professionals themselves, they will inevitably book paid gigs during your small production, and will have to drop out. After all, you cannot blame professionals who score actual paid gigs in an industry they are trying to survive in. This goes the same for actors, of course, and is a fiasco if you've already shot a few scenes of a certain character that now needs to inexplicably disappear.
Equipment is gathered from polling the crew, and seeing who has what in their closet at home. You collect as much electrical collateral, lights and microphones as you can, and then rent the rest that you need to properly light the scenes and record the audio. Of course the buy-and-use-and-return method is sometimes practiced in the indie world, but not on my sets. Well... not anymore (Circuit City's demise effected me a lot as you can imagine, what a fantastic return policy they had.)
Securing locations is always fun. Let's say your scene takes place in a cafe or a bar or a hair salon, all of these locations are businesses, and so they will ask to be compensated for any time they need to close their business just so you and your crew can shoot there. Sometimes you will have to haul in your crew at 4am because you cannot afford to pay the owner for normal business hours. Late-night shooting is cheaper in this case, but your cast and crew will resent you for it, so make sure you do this towards the end of a shoot (that's a tip from me, to you).
You can always borrow a location from friends or family, and that's why you see a lot of web series taking place inside homes or apartments. When your friend's in-laws show up unexpectedly, or are simply tired of a group of fifteen strangers plodding around their house blowing out fuses, things start getting messy.
In desperate situations, locations are even stolen. I recall I snuck in the whole cast and crew onto a job site once. I only found the hidden security camera after I shot in the location, and I lived in fear for weeks after that hoping I wouldn't go to jail. You'll be happy to know I avoided the slammer, but I'm sure the security tapes would've made for an awesome behind-the-scenes video.
All of this isn't even taking into account what happens after your shoot. The editing of the footage, fixing the color, syncing and cleaning up the audio, and adding music which needs to be purchased (after all, the musicians are trying to make a living as well).
So you see, even trying to squeeze a few more minutes into an episode will cost us filmmakers an immensely disproportionate amount of money and time, as much as it aches us to cut our work short. There is nothing more we would love than to give audiences what they crave, and that is more quality content.
There is a reason why they call it 'movie magic,' and that's because we strive to make it so easy for a viewer to press that play button, enjoy what we've made, and never even hint about the months of sweat it took just to produce a single episode. We want it to look effortless.
That's also why, by the way, you see an increasing amount crowd funding campaigns saturating your inbox and social media feeds. Independent filmmakers are hoping that there is finally a way to sustain themselves without having to beg, borrow, or at the very least, steal.
Before I end this, I do want you to know something very important. As a filmmaker, there's no better feeling than pressing the shiny 'upload' button and immediately having your work blasted out to an audience. No distribution company, no middleman, no executive telling you to edit your favorite scenes out. Just pure, direct, unadulterated connection between viewers and your content.
That's why we keep doing it, and that's why we keep coming back to you. We hope you think of us when you press play, and let us know you connected with something we've done. That's the fuel for our drive, and the reward that makes it all worth it.
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