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 1: Inspiration and Creation
It has always been difficult for film-makers to break through. But recently, Hollywood has brought their talent to the small screen, resulting in what many feel is now TV's second Golden Age. Shows like Netflix's House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black and Amazon Studios' Transparent (all on streaming services) make it more and more challenging for new talent to get noticed.
At the same time, there are many more actors and filmmakers who, while not quite as famous, are already taking advantage of the Internet to create and distribute their own content. With more actors and filmmakers turning towards producing, writing and starring in web series, it seems that web series are the new "Indie Film."
To gain some insight into this phenomenon, I talked to Rob Michael Hugel (I Hate Being Single) and Arturo Castro (Alternatino), both veterans of the web-sensation-turned-Comedy-Central-series Broad City. In part one of this two-part series, Hugel and Castro discuss the challenges and successes they've enjoyed while starring and producing their own series on the web. In part two, they give advice to filmmakers who want to make episodic content of their own.
Having premiered in 2012, and now in its second season on YouTube, the critically acclaimed, award-winning, independently produced and distributed I Hate Being Single stars Hugel as a young twenty-something on a journey through the ups and downs of life, love and adulthood. Hugel worked as a writer, director and editor on the web version of Broad City back in 2010, before Comedy Central picked it up as a series.
Comedy Central's newest entry, Alternatino, is fronted by Castro (also currently starring in Broad City as Jaime, a drug-dealing gay roommate). The 3 episodes posted so far on CC's web site feature Castro playing multiple characters in a series of memorable sketches that poke fun at many aspects of Latino culture, while seeking to defy the stereotypes and misconceptions that have been associated with Latinos in today's society. Three more episodes of Alternatino are soon to be produced.
Inspiration is key when it comes to creating a movie, TV show or web series. For Castro, it was the chance to fight the all too negative perceptions of Latinos in today's society through the power of laughter. "Alternatino came about because I noticed there were a lot of misconceptions about Latinos in the media, so I decided to dispel ignorance through the best tool available to me, and that's humor," Castro says. "There are too many shows about what makes us different between cultures, so I created a show about what makes us the same, what we laugh at."
The opportunity to defy Hollywood's expectations of Latino characters is another significant reason Castro created Alternatino. "I got tired of auditioning for drug dealers, so I'm creating a space where people get to play against type. Hopefully, Alternatino will help pave the way to seeing a Latin doctor on TV, and that it has nothing to do with the story," Castro adds. "Our new reality is that you cannot put people of any culture in a box. We're finding ways to express our variety through the show."
For Hugel, his inspiration to make I Hate Being Single came from a combination of time spent working on the web version of Broad City, his desires to grow as a writer and actor, and, most of all, his ambition to tell a story that he could identify with. "I began my show coming out of collaboration with another web series (Broad City) where I handled more of the production side (directing, editing, and some writing). I Hate Being Single was my chance to tell stories from a personal perspective and oversee the entire process."
"Until that point, I had very little experience in writing, and I had some experience acting, but not as a lead character," says Hugel. "This was a chance to finally say, 'okay, this is all you, and if it's not good, you can only blame yourself.' Thankfully it was good (good enough for the 2011 New York Television Festival's Audience Choice Award)."
Castro's experience on the set of Broad City benefitted him immensely as a filmmaker. "Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (Broad City co-stars/co-creators) are two of the kindest, and most productive human beings you'll ever meet. Watching them juggle so many responsibilities at once has really been an inspiration as a filmmaker," he adds. "Everything I know about how to navigate this business, I've learned from them. I couldn't have asked for better teachers."
For Castro, the advantages of partnering with the network known for The Daily Show, Key and Peele, Broad City, South Park and The Nightly Show are evident in every aspect of Alternatino's production. "They (Comedy Central) have a great eye for story. The executives I've worked with at Comedy Central across the board are incredibly funny, and very supportive," Castro adds. "They help you hone your voice and the tone of the show, and their experience with comedy has been an invaluable learning source for me."
Even though Alternatino is produced and distributed by Comedy Central, Castro's cast and crew work hard to keep the indie aesthetic prominent in each episode. "My writing team and I will always have an indie heart. That's where we came from, so that's the base of everything you will see. Some of the shots we have in Alternatino are clear examples," says Castro. "Normally, a TV show would follow some very clear story driving shots. Sometimes I just want a shot of a door, because it feels artistic and it seems really funny to me."
Not every independent web producer has the cooperation of a major television network. For most independent web producers, the struggle to get their work noticed is compounded by the difficulties most face when working alongside major studios, networks and outside production companies. Hugel, who has produced and distributed I Hate Being Single without the backing of a studio or a network, discusses how the hierarchy of big production companies makes it hard for a filmmaker to even get a project from script to screen.
"Any production company or studio is going to have more than one person making decisions. Especially as an unknown creator with no major credits, there's a long line of gatekeepers to go through to get even a pilot produced," explains Hugel. "That means the story could change drastically through the process."
I HATE BEING SINGLE