How to Create a Great Web series

As the opportunities for new original works by new talent dry up on TV and in the independent film sector the use of the Web Series is coming back into fashion as a means of finding an audience, generating funding, and promoting an idea to the mainstream media.  With Youtube, Vemeo and Amazon offering distribution, while digital and phone cameras prove anyone can shoot for the Web, and crowdfunders Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Crowdshed provide funding options,  the opportunities are there. The question is how do you make a successful one?

First – some history

Web Series have been around a long time – over fifteen years, it has been dominated by small production teams, but has attracted big players in the past (Michael Eisner – Prom Queen) and still does (Bryan Singer – H+). In the US it has launched TV series (Broad City) and won major awards (Burning Love – Emmy award winner).  In the recent past it has been used by many big brands e.g. Intel & Toshiba (The Power Inside) to promote themselves.  Web Awards have become part of the UK’s Independent Film Awards since 2013, and though the hype may have died down since then the opportunity for new talent, and original ideas remains.

So how do you make a web series?

The principle stages of this can be found on numerous website so here are two – and  The keys points to take away from these sites which impact on the choice of idea and creative activity are:-

1  Have  distinctive central characters;

2. Start with a plan for the whole series;

3. You need screenplays which work in episodic ways;

4. Keep it short per episode – under 6 minutes;

5. Know your audience.

For notes on how to write a series see the blog by Issa Rae, the creator behind The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 15.47.45Looks easy – so what are the common mistakes?

Creating strong central characters which do not relate to the key audience – people tend to like watching people their own age.  Children and teenagers may aspire to be older, but like watching their own ages, or only slightly older, trying to achieve this.  Even in animation the characterisation reflects the age of the audience. Failing to use humour to its best effect either the characters are not funny all the time in a comedy, or the oneliners, or comic actions, are not sharp enough to grab people’s attention.

Failing to have two central storylines which can be developed in an episodic way and successfully concluded by the end of 6-12 episodes (the normal length of first time series).  This is not as easy as it sounds. You need to have cliff-hanger types questions posed by the last moment in each episode to ensure people will wait for, and return to, the next episode.  These active questions are vital to episodically structured narratives.

Working in a very short form e.g. 90 seconds may be the best way to start, as sampling on a video channel and watching on mobiles is often initially the way  web series are discovered.

Recognising who your potential audience is vital to success.  Once you have an idea think through who might this appeal to. If you know your characters this is a strong indication of the age range of the people who may watch the show. However, it may also be the case that you want to appeal to a particular TV channel or production company, in which case you need to look at what they want to do and who their audiences are.

Be Original and Have Something To Say

Even if you do not make any of the common mistakes you may still fail, because the work is not original enough, or have something to say. Originality is about looking at what is already out there and making something different. This may stem just from your own experience of life or from research.  The key is to look for that thing, those elements, which make your work stand out.

Having an attitude, something to say, will come through in your work. If you are only making something because you can, with no commitment behind it in terms of challenging someone or something then this will show through in the writing and the finished work.  If only because you will not have put the extra time in to make the episodes the best they could be.

Many people start to make web series because they think it is fun, a good idea, a way into the media, a  launch pad for their career etc.. However, none of this makes for a good web series.  It is the commitment to make a great series, which has something to say to its audience/s that ultimately makes for a success.

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2 Responses to How to Create a Great Web series

  1. This article was quite interesting. I am going to read more on your blog. Thanks for sharing.

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for the comment, always appreciated. Let us know what you think of other blogs, and please join the site if you have a creative idea you want to develop.

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