I used to say, "Every actor should produce his own Web series." I don't say that anymore, as it now seems almost every actor in Los Angeles is!
But if you're an actor or writer with a gay story, the Web is the best place to tell it. There's no censorship, other than YouTube's general rules against nudity. No network will tell you to water the characters down or make it more palatable for straight audiences.
When I created Old Dogs & New Tricks three years ago, I'd never produced a Web show before. I had no idea what to expect. Despite a very steep learning curve, it's been the most rewarding creative experience I have had. It's completely changed my life and given me a "profile" in this town that I never had before.
It is exhausting but so worth it. In my three years of writing/acting/producing/show-running ODNT, I feel as though I've earned a master's degree in show business. You will never work so hard, but you will never learn as much. You'll also have newfound respect for writers, producers, editors and actors.
Here's a list of dos and don'ts for producing your gay Web series.
- DO have a good, strong idea for a series. Make it something you can see only on the Web. If it could be on TV, try to sell it there. (Our show is about four sexually active, middle-aged gay men. Try pitching that to a network!)
- DO solve as many problems on the page before you schedule that shoot. Get the script as tight as possible before you even think about shooting. Combine scenes, eliminate fluff, consolidate supporting roles. Have a table read so you can hear the script aloud.
- DO keep the story moving in your script. Eliminate needless entrances and exits, and begin a scene right before the characters begin saying what they need to say in the scene. You don't have a minute to spare. (My rule of thumb is: If its neither funny nor advancing the plot, cut it.)
- DO hire the best crew members you can find. (When I first moved to L.A., I purposely did a lot of student- and master-thesis films at USC. I figured that maybe someday one of these kids would be in a position to hire me. Well, it hasn't worked out quite like that, but I had a stable of talented filmmaking friends to select from when the time came.)
- DO your homework when casting. Web series are short. You don't have time for subtlety. Hire actors who can "fill in the blanks." And talent isn't the only requirement. Are they also social-media-savvy? Are they hardworking, able to roll with punches? And if you're doing a gay series, ensure they don't have any "issues" about the subject matter. (For example, a supporting actor decided after our first season that he wouldn't do overt gay material in the second season, despite having read both seasons before committing. Needless to say, that actor is not around for our third season!)
- DO make a creative crowd-funding campaign (unless you're a trust-fund baby!). Find ways to stand out from the crowd. Offer interesting, fun perks to your donors.
- DO network with other Web-TV professionals. The Web industry is one of the most supportive in all of show business. Don't be competitive. There is room for all of us.
- DO your research. Find and watch as many Web series as you can. And not just the good ones. You learn just as much, if not more, by watching the ones that don't quite work.
- DO search Facebook for groups that might be interested in your show. If, for example, your show is about a gay schoolteacher, join like-minded groups on Facebook, and then share your show with them. There is a Facebook group for even the most obscure interests. (But establish contact before posting on their page!)
- DO look for free ways to publicize your show. Look for "ad trades." (We have a banner ad for the gay dating site Daddyhunt on our home page, and they have ours on theirs.) Be creative.
- DO engage your audience. That's one of the biggest differences about a Web series. You have to communicate with and cultivate your viewers. You will find that some of them are so into your show that they will become a part of your "team."
- DO be flexible. If you're working with good actors, chances are they will get other jobs that occasionally conflict. Roll with it. If you aren't paying them, you can't expect them to say no to other work! (I'm proud that my cast is in such demand -- it means they are good and attracting new viewers with each "outside" project they do.)
- DO find a good IT person. Trust me, there will be times when you'll need one!
- DO try to cast "name actors." Soap-opera actors in particular have very loyal fan followings. Cast a daytime star and you'll be amazed!
- DON'T post links on others' Facebook pages without permission! (When we were raising funds for our third season, the producer of another Web show -- someone I'd never had an exchange with -- posted a link to his IndieGoGo campaign as a comment to my post about our campaign. Very bad form -- looks desperate, too.)
- DON'T offer so many goodies in your fundraising campaign that you end up in the hole when production has wrapped. Make good on your promises at the end of production!
- DON'T be shy. You'll need to pitch your show to potential investors. You'll have to appear on as many radio talk shows as you can. Get used to selling yourself as well as your show, because it will never stop.
- DON'T try to create a show to sell to a network, land a production deal or snag a new agent. Tell the story that's in your heart. Again, if your story can be on TV, then go there.
- DON'T wait till you have a pilot in the can before you start hyping. Create a Facebook page and Twitter account for the show. Start hyping your show before it's even shot.
- DON'T take everyone's advice. Find one or two people whose opinions you value, and ask them for feedback on your script. But don't feel obliged to accept all suggestions. This is your story, and should have your voice!
- DON'T listen to people who say "a Web series doesn't have to be as good as a TV show." It's your choice. Do you want to sink to the lowest common denominator, or would you rather hear folks say your show looks too good for the Web?
- DON'T talk to a celebrity's agent or manager, if you can avoid it. When agents don't see dollar signs in their eyes, they will brush you off. However, if you can somehow reach the actor you want directly, chances are they will at least be interested, if not say yes! (Facebook and Twitter are a great tool for this!)
- DON'T cut corners with the sound department. Most will watch a good show with good sound and less-than-perfect visuals. Not so when its the other way around. Strive to sound as good as you look!
- DON'T submit to everything. Be selective, do your homework, then associate only with organizations as professional as you are! (Don't bother with that East Coast-based Web-TV "award" that is decided arbitrarily by one person, not by a panel of judges. Avoid festivals that insist you not submit to other fests within so many days or miles of their festival.)
- DON'T be ignorant. Observe your team in action, and learn as many new skills as you can. You may have to step into other production roles occasionally, and you'll want to feel confident.
- DON'T get an attitude. No matter how successful your show becomes, never start acting like a star. It's still a Web series, considered by many in Hollywood to be the lowest form of entertainment. Find satisfaction in being a minor cult figure.
So what are you waiting for? Get on that script! And send me a message if you have any questions! Good luck!
Leon Acord's Web series, Old Dogs & New Tricks, begins its third season Wednesday, Nov. 12, at odnt.tv.