Here are eight things that Cameron Carlson learned at The American Cinematheque's Monday panel on web series and emerging trends in online content development. Instead of giving up on Hollywood after pursuing conventional career routes, the intrepid panelists took their chances on the web. Videos after the jump.
1. When your career stalls, do it yourself.
Other than distributors Jim Burns (executive producer, FearNet.com) and Amber J. Lawson (comedy publisher, Babelgum.com), the panelists talked about stalled careers as actors or filmmakers. They weren't getting anywhere, until they decided to produce content for the web. It helps that most knew talented actors, DPs, writers, and editors in similar straits. Fortunately, it worked out for them.
Mark Gantt revitalized his acting career by producing his own web action series The Bannen Way. Gantt offered an analogy that summed things up for the other actors: "I had my foot in the door and people were at the party saying 'Hey come on in,' but I was like 'no, I gotta be an actor.'" He appeared in a Sundance short, and knew industry people, but finally his agent told him he wasn't going to get any auditions. That's when Gantt decided to take charge.
2. During a guild strike, start a company.
Peter Hyoguchi was approached by other writers during the writer's strike to establish a venue that would empower displaced wordsmiths; his company Strike.tv garnered an Emmy nomination for Imaginary Bitches. Hyoguchi remembers finding frustration as a writer. "A lot of us want to be storytellers and not story writers." That's when he went off to produce "mini-docs" syndicated for mainstream news outlets, which, as far as he could tell, were the first web series.
3. Embrace technology.
The advent of digital video is an opportunity, pointed out Hyoguchi. One of the driving forces behind web content is emerging technology.
4. Make more content for less pay. The audience had one thing on their mind: Money. They asked about cold calls, hard numbers, if it was possible to make a living wage, and target markets. The panel answered repeatedly: "We're still trying to figure it out." There is little money to be made in web content: you might be able to pay the rent. Drama 3/4 Productions' David Fickas observed that his branded videos for Grape Nuts, if financed on a advertising payscale for television, would have earned him $300 million.
5. Settle for internet break-out exposure.
Gantt is in distribution talks for his action film, while Hyoguchi is adapting shows for television. Gantt produced his own action short a la BMW's The Hire. Now he's finally getting attention from agents. There's a gold rush on, and according to Brady Brim-DeForest, CEO of Tubefilter, "You want to sell the shovels."
6. Don't be a perfectionist.
One questioner asked about quality of post-production: If you can't control the monitor, phone, laptop etc., how good do you need to make it look? "As good as you can," replied Illeana Douglas. "The days of the cat chasing the laser are over."
7. Build brand loyalty.
Online video can be creative, branded and self-produced. Lawson's Babelgum and Burns' FearNet offer specific consumer-oriented content. They serve distinct communities, trying to build brand loyalty while maintaining quality production. As one panelist said, "if you go to an agent with a project hitting two million people, they'll ask who those people are." Niche content is therefore more likely to interest advertisers. FearNet knows its viewers are horror fans. That might explain why it has deals with Comcast, and is working on a linear channel.
The other model was branded content. Douglas' webseries Easy to Assemble was picked up, by Ikea, for a third season after getting over 6 million hits. Douglas had been struggling with TV pilots until she realized that she could make money from branded content.
8. There is no successful and secure distribution model.
Advertising money is waiting for bigger numbers. Now is the time to start selling shovels--or invent one that sells itself.
Easy To Assemble: