A web series is a great way to make a project for yourself without the time and expense of a full feature film. How do I know this? Because I made one.
A few years ago, my friends and I created a web series called Acting School Academy. The show was about an out-of-control acting teacher and his students. It was loosely based on our experiences learning the Meisner Technique.
- We got a couple million total views on Youtube.
- We were named one of the “Top Independent Favorites of 2009” by GigaOM online. (We were right behind the very funny ladies of Garfunkel and Oates, who now have a show on HBO.)
- We had positive reviews in the NY Times, USA Today, Current TV, and other media outlets.
Anyway, enough back-patting. Let’s get to these web series tips. And I should note that most of the tips are the OPPOSITE of what we did—experience is sometimes the best teacher. If I had to do it all over again, here’s what I’d do:
1. MAKE IT CHEAPLY
Unless you’re getting sponsored by a major studio or brand, there is NO MONEY in making a web series. So don’t sink a ton of money into your project expecting to turn a huge profit.
(Note: You CAN make a lot of money on Youtube, provided you get a ton of views. But if you look at the top independent Youtubers, most of them are making one-off comedy sketches or just playing video games.)
And there’s really no need to spend a lot of dough on a web series, anyway. DSLR cameras are fantastic these days (and comparatively cheap).
Ways to keep the project under budget—
- Few locations. Preferably FREE locations.
- Shooting outside, during daylight hours.
- Few props, stunts, or special effects
Theoretically, you could borrow a camera, call in some favors, and make your show for absolutely nothing. If you have friends who are directors, editors, actors, and writers—they might be willing to work on a project for free if it doesn’t take much of their time and would make a good addition for their reel.
Where you DO need to spend money is sound. Unless you’re friends with a fantastic sound mixer, pony up the cash for a good sound person. You definitely want to get it recorded and mixed properly.
2. ONLY USE A FEW ACTORS
Here’s one we didn’t follow. In Acting School Academy, we had ELEVEN main characters, as well as a number of minor characters and extras. That’s a lot of people to feed.
In addition to the expense, it’s also a pain to schedule. We had some scenes where we needed to have a couple of dozen people at a location.
Instead, try shooting with a cast of 3-4 people. Or if you have more actors, only have 2-3 of them in a scene at any given time.
3. SHOOT QUICKLY, RELEASE SLOWLY
This is another rule that we definitely violated. In addition to the main eight episodes, we shot NEARLY A HUNDRED ancillary videos. Music videos, commercials, vlogs—it was crazy. We ended up shooting off-and-on for over a YEAR to get all of the videos done.
Plus, it was a nightmare for Ian (our director) to edit all of that footage.
To add to the fun, we were releasing videos every single day. This made it tough to establish a rhythm and get the word out.
If I had to do it all over again, it would be a MUCH simpler process. Have your 5-6 episodes shot over a few days and be done with it. Then you can release each episode once a week and build your audience.
4. STICK TO ONE OR TWO PLATFORMS
In addition to Youtube, we had our show on Funny or Die, Blip.TV, Koldcast TV, and a number of other sites. But the vast majority of views came from Youtube and Funny or Die.
5. BECOME A SAG-AFTRA NEW MEDIA SIGNATORY
When you have a multi-episode web series, you can make it a SAG-AFTRA project. That way, you’ll be able to get union actors for your project. And if you don’t already have your SAG-AFTRA card, it’s a great way to get one.