This article was co-authored by Chris Hadley, who writes for the online web series magazine Snobby Robot, and for the film music magazine Film Score Monthly Online. In addition, he is the writer/creator of the cable news satire/parody THE LATE, LATE NEWS.
Part 2: Finding an Audience
In the first part of this 2-part series, we discussed the inspirational and creative aspects of making an indie web series. In Part 2, we discuss some of the business and promotional challenges.
While studios seek to reach the broadest possible audiences through mainstream movies and TV shows, web series like Broad City co-star Arturo Castro's Alternatino (backed by the resources of Comedy Central), and actor/writer/producer Rob Michael Hugel's indie comedy I Hate Being Single, provide their creators with several major advantages. Among them: the chance to produce and distribute content for their targeted audiences, including themselves.
"When I make I Hate Being Single, the demographic is me. I want to make something that I find funny and interesting and good, whatever that means. If there's people out there like me, then hopefully they will find it too," Hugel says. "A studio project is probably going to put more energy into pleasing a certain audience, which could be smart, but can also be disastrous for a story."
Most importantly, Hugel feels that his ability to tell his story on his terms through I Hate Being Single gives him, and his series, a significant edge. "I think the fact that I am the sole creator, and I am a regular accessible person (not a celeb, not a studio), hopefully makes me stand out," he says. "It's not anything I have control over. I just do what I do and hope people will find me. Of course I try to market, network, and social media the best I can, but there's really no comparison to what a studio can do with a marketing budget."
Like Castro with Alternatino, Hugel says that when it comes to getting people to watch I Hate Being Single, the best kind of promotion is one that no network, studio, PR firm, or any amount of money can match. "I just try to make the best show possible with what we have access to. Word of mouth is my best friend. No, word of mouth is my oxygen!"
Just like any movie or TV show that has won fans over the years, web series also have the same power to attract new viewers - regardless of how long they've been online. Combined with the chance to display the full extent of a filmmaker's talents, the exposure that comes with making a web series provides all those on both sides of the camera countless opportunities for career growth.
"I really love that I have work out there and at any time, someone new can discover it. Even stuff that is now 4 years old still gets people to reach out sometimes, and that's really awesome," Hugel says of I Hate Being Single. "It's been my calling card and a credit to show that, yes, I do this (writing, acting, directing), and it's a great conversation starter to find out what I can do next."
Besides the tremendous creative freedom provided by doing episodic content online, Hugel feels that doing a continuing web series, as he's done with I Hate Being Single, can provide filmmakers with benefits that go far beyond the story-based boundaries of, and brief film festival exposure that comes with, making short films.
"If you make 1 short film and release it, that is how your work will be judged. It will stand alone, maybe be seen in some festivals, can be put on your reel or submitted as a sample of your work," he says. "A series on the other hand, is more enticing to the public. It gives the characters time to grow, and the show can expand the world. You can think of new ways to tell the story over time, and improve the things that didn't work in previous episodes."
Compared to short films, the episodic structure of web series like Alternatino and I Hate Being Single provides their creators with infinite opportunities to build upon the stories and characters featured in them. "The fact that it (I Hate Being Single)'s a series, rather than a one off, makes it an open ended project that I can keep adding to when I feel inspired to, or when I have resources," adds Hugel. "Above everything, there is also the complete creative freedom to do and say whatever I want, and to tell the story exactly how I feel like it should be told."
Regardless of if it's a studio or indie series, or just how many production burdens are eased by having a large team on hand, Castro says there are still some important aspects of the process that are always present. "The content and vision remain very similar. The hope is that you find your voice early on, and then having backing only accentuates it and gives it a larger platform to play with. You create the world of your show in both instances in basically the same way."
While the dream of having a web series become the next big sensation may seem like a long way away for many creators, Castro and Hugel have some important advice for those who wish to create one; advice obtained through their own experience as actors and filmmakers. Because there are so many shows out there, Castro says that staying true to yourself, believing in your own abilities, and making something that no one else can is crucial to web series success.
"Be unapologetically yourself when coming up with your show's concept. I feel the same way about producing as I do about acting. You can't go to a company, or an audition expecting people to tell you who you are, or what your show is," Castro explains. "There are so many people doing what we do, that the only way you're going to stand out is by bringing something personal to the table."
In fact, Castro adds, bringing that personal touch to a web series, and having respect for the viewers, will win over both audiences and production partners alike. "Networks respect that because what we're all ultimately trying to do is reach an audience, so when you write from a true place, people will identify with it, no matter how outlandish your concept is. Treat your audience with love and truth, and both they and the networks will notice."
When it comes to other important parts of the web series process, like crowd funding, social media and publicity through news sites like Tubefilter, Webvee Guide and Snobby Robot (which I write for), Hugel cautions: "Don't let it (crowd funding, social media, press outreach) distract from the work (of producing and creating a web series) itself. Work hard and something will come back around sooner or later."
So, are web series the new indie film? Both Hugel and Castro emphatically agree: it is. "It seems like indie film used to be the only avenue for young filmmakers to be discovered and now there are so many options," Hugel says. "Because web series can be spread out over time, it can be more conducive for putting together stories on a low budget, and spread out over a wider time frame, rather than the intense pressure of an indie film being made typically all at once."
"It definitely is, because there is no censor between your voice and the audience. You don't depend on a studio releasing your project in order for it to be seen. It is such an exciting time for filmmakers," adds Castro. "It's also made the term 'filmmaker' less exclusive, which is fantastic. I believe everybody has the potential to be a storyteller. I mean, we all are in one way or another. Now, thanks to web series, we get to amplify those voices, and give so many more people a chance to express themselves. It's a very exciting time."