A question I'm asked frequently, especially in recent months, with what seems like an abundance of new web series, is what I think makes a good web series.
My response is always the same: it's really not all that different from asking what makes a good film (or TV show). I think the same things that attract us to movies and TV serials are also what attract us to web series - story, script, acting, directing, cinematography, editing, etc. The usual stuff.
It's all subjective, isn't it? What I'm attracted to wouldn't necessarily be universally attractive.
I think knowing who your audience is, as with filmmaking and TV content producing, is key. Know your audience; know what they like; and give them what they want. Forget the other groups of people who don't immediately take to your series. If it finds its audience, and they support it, you've won.
The one thing I'd say, that I think many will agree on, is how long each episode of your web series should be. I get tons of them emailed to me every week, and share one or two, here and there. And I can tell you all that I'm most likely to watch those that are short - in the 5 to 10 minute range; or take an average - which comes to 7 1/2 minutes per episode. That's your sweet spot I'd say. Anything pushing past 10 minutes, is probably in danger of losing eyeballs.
Ignore those voices encouraging you to make your episodes longer; Don't do it! Make each episode short, memorable, and keep audiences hungry for more, from one episode to the next.
If you absolutely MUST make each episode 15 to 20 minutes (or more), make sure you have something so riveting that it keeps audiences engaged the entire time.
But, my suggestion would be to stay in that 5 to 10 minute range.
Another suggestion would be to test the waters; as in, create a few episodes to start, instead of shooting, editing, scoring the entire season of episodes (assuming you're taking that route), before unveiling the series, only to see it die very quickly, due to a lack of audience interest and/or awareness. And then you find yourself stuck with another 10 already-made episodes still to be released; money already spent, time already invested, but little seen in return.
This isn't a steadfast rule; but it's the approach I'd take. For example, I'm actually developing a web series myself (details will come eventually) - a 10 episode season. But, my plan is to produce the first 3 to start (that's the number of episodes I usually give TV and web series to decide whether I'll continue watching them; I figure that by the 3rd episode, I should be able to make an informed decision on how I feel about a series; it's worked for me in the past, and continues to do so). And then I'll release the first 3, likely spread out over 3 consecutive weeks. And I'd say that by the end of the first week, I should have some idea of what audiences think of it, and even more of an idea by the second, and definitely by the 3rd week, at which time I'll make a decision as to whether it's worth it for me to invest more of my money and time in producing the rest of the series.
There might be a brief hiatus between the 3rd episode, and the 4th, but I do plan to write all 10 episodes first; so the scripts will be done and ready, and it'll be a matter of going back into production to shoot the rest.
Easier said than done, and you run the risk of your audience forgetting your series, especially if the hiatus is a lengthy one. The simplest way to solve that is DON"T LET IT BE A LENGTHY ONE!
Planning is key; be prepared to go into production by the end of the second week, after episode 2 has aired, if you feel that you've got something, and audiences are digging it.
And if you've read my 5 tips for penning scripts for lo-budget/no-budget filmmaking, you'll know that I definitely have all those suggestions in mind, as should you, since most of us are working with very little money.
But, to wrap all this up, on a slooooow news day:
- Keep each episode short, 5 to 10 minutes long, or about 7 1/2 minutes.
- As with filmmaking, and TV series, the same rules for engaging audiences apply: story, script, acting, directing, cinematography, editing, etc. And knowing who your target audience is.
- You can do as I plan to do, which is write the entire season first, but only produce the first 3 or so, and release those, preferaby on a weekly basis, but prepared to produce the rest, if the first 1, 2, 3 are successful.
Those are MY suggestions, based on what I've seen, heard, read, experienced, etc. Others might feel differently on any of these points, and that's just fine too.
And once again, here are my 5 Tips On Writing No-Budget/Low-Budget Feature Screenplays. Although we're talking about web series here, the thinking is really the same. Just apply these rules to web series production.