I guess this flips screenwriting to a more literal term than ever before…considering now your writing will never leave the computer screen. That is, unless your audience upgrades to stream videos straight through their TV.
Now that we’ve shot our pilot episode for our webseries, I decided to step back a moment and read all that I can dig up about writing for the internet. Needless to say, I still need to finish the full script for the series. Procrastination is my ultimate enemy when it comes to writing screenplays.
I’m reading a book called, “The Script Selling Game: 2nd Edition” by Kathy Fond Yoneda. It has a new section in the 2nd edition about writing for the web, specifically for web series.
Laurie Scheer says, “The Web audience has a much shorter attention space. Anyone who wants to write Web content has to understand the web audience wants convenience…they want everything in short bites or segments.” What a straight forward and awesome quote to sum up everything you need to know about writing for the web. KISS works here too…keep it simple stupid. Very few hunt for videos online to sit around and watch on their computer for 30 minutes or an hour like they would for television. Not to mention, you have to consider that a 30 minute TV show is actually only 22 minutes. Those breaks in between allow us to get up and do something else that our mind won’t stop pestering us about. Think about how all of us joke that we’re all a little ADD. Our busy lifestyles are flooded with media that pushes us to be scatter brained. Think about how hard it is to convince yourself to sit still for a long period of time…and when we’re talking about 10 minutes watching a single video on the internet, it feels like 30 minutes. Just something to think about when deciding how long to make your episodes…
I’ve been watching a ton of webseries to get to know what’s available on the internet. One thing I’ve noticed is that if I don’t like it within the first 10 or 15 seconds, switch. Onto the next one. Hook your audience, in some form. Many times awesome opening graphics will hook me into at least watching the first 10 or 15 seconds of live action videography before I switch. BUT, if there are opening graphics, and they are terrible, switch. Those first 10 or 15 seconds are SO important when hooking your audience. It is much simpler for me to move on than to sit around and watch another 15 seconds to give it a second chance. There are no second chances on the internet.
In the book I am reading, they discuss the structure of a webisode. “Each webisode much have the following: A beginning (set-up), A middle (conflict or challenge), and an end (in a comedy, it is usually a humorous resolution to a discussion or situation; in a drama it is generally a cliffhanger designed to have the viewer return for the next installment). It is important to remember that the web audience wants to forget where they are and wants to be taken somewhere, even if it is just for that small amount of time while watching a webisode or short. This is what separates a successful web series from being no more than simply random video.”
The book relates the relationship of strong character development importance for a television show to that of a webseries, “…having interesting characters with a unique, quirky or outrageous point of view is every bit as important to a web short, and especially a web series over the course of a season.”
Other points made in the book for writing suggestions are: Comedies are generally less expensive and time consuming to stage and shoot than dramas. Typically webisodes are restricted to one or two scenes that usually take place indoors or a public place that is free to shoot in. They lack large crowds, complex action scenes or battle scenes due to budget. Watch a ton of webseries…good and bad…to get a feel of what works and what doesn’t work. Most successful shows have their own unique pacing and rhythm. Look at webseries to understand their device or hooks. Also ask yourself, what isn’t our there? What needs to be said that isn’t on the television?
Some more suggestions are think economically when you write. What do you have access to? What does your family or friends have access to? Ask local businesses to sponsor you by asking to shoot at their location after hours to not disturb business, or ask a local boutique to supply clothing for an ending sponsorship credit. Go for product placement. Youtube has a partners’ program that you can easily sign up for to earn some kind of money for your viewership. It may not pay your bills, but it may pay for your some of the props in your next episode. Announce on facebook or craigslist for local actors that will work for food and credit only. Go for a kickstarter if you have enough of an online following or media exposure.
Something that I had not considered is, how many episodes should a webseries contain? This book suggests between 8 and 12 episodes, which seems reasonable. If you are releasing them weekly, that keeps you at the same pace as any television show. Something my company has been considering is whether we should shoot the first four episodes, air those to see how they do, and then continue filming the rest after the first two or so air. The only problem with that idea to me is what if…and this is considering the fact that everyone is working for free….we can’t get everyone to get together to film in time for the next one to air. Then all of a sudden we don’t release a week. There goes our viewership!
As of right now, this is how we are working our plan: We shoot on Sundays. We now have the pilot episode shot, and are planning on shooting a couple other videos (separate from the webseries) and a commercial in September. By that time, we should have the pilot episode in its finished state. While we are busy filming the other episodes, we can send the pilot episode to people we believe will give us a truthful critique. IF they like it but say, “I’m not intrigued enough to watch another episode” or “I don’t know that I would remember to watch the next episode next week” then we will drop the show, air the pilot and move on to another webseries. BUT IF people love the idea and are eager to see another episode, then we will go into production for the rest of the fall to finish out the season. As soon as all of the episodes are finished in post, we will air it online with as much media coverage as we can muster. We will even try to figure out if we should have a premiere in a theater or some other idea that we can muster out of our crazy minds. As you can tell, our distribution phase is still in the making, which is why we have several months to prepare it.
And just to say this ahead of time, we are not making a webseries with the future outlook of money. We are making it to establish our company’s abilities at visual storytelling and solidify our team. We see this as the perfect way to start it all. If you are creating a webseries, ask yourself why? You should have a better reason than money or getting discovered. Yes both can happen, but setting your expectations a little lower will help you from getting crushed or give you an uber amazing surprise if it does happen. A web series can be a great calling card. It can be a huge inspiration for yourself to get you out of the drab work of your 9to5. If you have spent countless hours and years working on other people’s projects, here ya go! Webseries it up! It can be the perfect way to learn for a cheap budget. It can be a great way to create a demo reel for yourself for raising money for a future project. Webseries can be great….use them wisely. The best thing you can possibly do as a filmmaker is get out there and make something.