So You Want to Make a Web Series – Step 1

Writing it
by Bri Castellini

Congratulations! You’ve decided to enter the exciting and stressful world of independent web series! It’s not going to be easy, but it will almost certainly be worth it.

Naturally, the first step in creating a web series is writing the script. Maybe you already have an idea, or maybe you have a longer-form script you want to adapt. Maybe you aren’t sure but just really like the idea of spamming your friends and family with week after week of YouTube links. In any case, let’s talk development, and what you need to remember when making the plunge.

Remember that your audience is young. Most web series audiences are going to be between 14-30. That doesn’t preclude writing more mature stories about adults with adult problems, but it does mean your show should be relatable across generations.

You also have to remember to respect the medium. You can’t just film a TV pilot and expect it to succeed as a web series. You almost certainly don’t have the money, and there’s nothing worse than watching 30-40 minutes of a low-budget film project to then discover it’s only the pilot.

Plus, it’s not like there isn’t a wealth of good TV anymore. Give them something new. This could mean making the medium itself a part of the story — the massive success of vlog and found-footage series demonstrates how audiences have an appetite for new storytelling formats. This can also mean a license to tell a more intimate story with fewer characters, allowing you to double down on their development.

Finally, remember to embrace diversity. Hollywood can get away with its straight white male ivory tower because it’s detached from its audience, but you aren’t. You are directly posting and marketing your content on sites that are built on engagement and viewer feedback.

I’m not advocating for tokenism (where you insert a minority character for the sake of diversity), obviously, but if your show has a narrow traditional perspective, you should ask yourself what you’re really contributing to the conversation. Many people seek out web series explicitly because traditional forms of media aren’t giving them the representation they need; by writing for those communities, you can tap into a passionate audience that will embrace you

Now, with all that in mind, if you don’t already have a script, to adapt or otherwise, it’s time to get brainstorming.

Aside from general brainstorming methods that I’m sure have be written about to death at this point, the thing about making a web series is that, more than likely, you’re on your own. You’ll have little to no money, so the actual resources to make the series a reality will be limited as well. As such, a good brainstorming tool is making a list of all the things you have available to you: locations, cast and crew, equipment, props, wardrobe, etc.

Made your list? Good. Now forget about it for the moment. The best thing you can do in a web series script is to write the story you want to tell, production and audience demographics be damned. The only reason I made two seasons of my TVWriter™-approved series is because I was naive and had no idea what I was doing at first!

Writing within your means is all well and good, but you’d be surprised by what you can come up with if you ask around. It’s incredibly easy at the indie level to talk yourself out of stories or ideas because they’re “too hard” or “not universal enough,” but don’t let yourself fall into that mind trap. At the end of the day, you’re a storyteller. So tell your story and worry about the rest later.

That’s it for this column! Now stop reading and go write, and when you’re done, come back, because we are far from done. In the next few columns we’ll explore pre-production, the bare necessities of a no-budget film crew, casting, the full time job that is crowdfunding, the constant panic of production, endless post-production, and promotion.

OK, so not a web series – but a wonderful series of webs found at dreamstime.com

Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker and the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.

And, before we forget, learn more about Bri’s video work HERE

Happy Valentine’s Day from TVWriter™!

©LanierPrintables – https://www.etsy.com/listing/266413235/love-card-printable-valentines-day-card

Binge-Writing Together Ain’t Bad Either!

Why You Need a Mentor

Extremely valuable advice for anyone embarking on a new career. Yep, even writers…honest!

by Eric Ravenscraft

Having a mentor is a great way to gain experience and knowledge that’s not easy to gain from formal education. Ironically, getting the most out of your mentor doesn’t come with a handbook. So we wrote one.

 Of course, you may wonder why you need a mentor at all. Simple! You don’t know everything. Sorry rebellious youth. The truth is that most people who are just starting out don’t really know how to get what they want and even fewer know how to ask for it. Finding a mentor in the field you want to pursue is a great way to learn the necessary skills and career paths you need.

Choosing the right mentor is the most important part of getting the most from one. A good mentor can teach you how to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. So first, ask yourself what you want to do. Want to write a book? Start a business? Learn to code? The best mentor will be one who knows how to do what you want to accomplish (and, ideally, has done it successfully before).

Of course, what you want to accomplish doesn’t have to be limited solely to a job. Being a manager is something many people can do. Being a good manager is another thing entirely. A good mentor shouldn’t just be one that knows more than you, but one that appeals to you. Try to imagine yourself in the position they’re in. If that’s an idea you’re okay with, move forward. If you dread the idea of becoming the type of person they are, keep looking. Becoming successful and being miserable aren’t intrinsically linked….

Read it all at Lifehacker

Empty Promises: My experience submitting scripts to Amazon Studios

LB’S UPDATE 4/15/18: Looks like Amazon has thrown in the towel on even pretending to be considering work from newbies. Here’s part of an email on the subject that I got yesterday:

Hi Larry,

As we have grown and evolved over the last several years, we are making changes to our website and closing our open call for script and concept submissions. As of April 13, 2018, we are no longer accepting submissions. Submissions received will continue to be reviewed and evaluated by Amazon Studios and will be available on our website until June 30, 2018. Thank you all for your contributions.

Amazon Studios Team

And now, on with the original post:


empty promises

by Lew Ritter

For those of you who have dreams of writing the great American screenplay, getting scripts into the hands of agents/managers can be a daunting challenge. Unless you win prominent screenwriting contests or get a referral from a known Hollywood contact, most agents or managers are simply not interested in reading your work.

The rise of the Internet has led to the creation of several websites where new and inexperienced writers can post their screenplays. Inspired by the success of Netflix, Amazon.com was looking to enter the movie business and established Amazon Studios to produce movies under the Amazon brand.

Imagine my excitement learning that newbies like myself could post scripts on the Amazon Studios website. They offered a forty five day evaluation period for your script. If they liked it, they claimed they would be willing to pay a fee to keep it posted on the site. It sounded like a good deal. Perhaps lightening would strike.

Enter John Brown

My first screenwriting project was a historical drama about the infamous 19th Century Abolitionist, John Brown. It was based on a book entitled “To Purge this Land with Blood.” written by Stephen B. Oates, a noted civil War Historian. Brown was the leader of the anti-slavery raid at Harper’s Ferry. It ignited the American Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history.

When I contacted Professor Oates, he was delighted that someone was interested in trying to make a movie about Brown and the Abolitionist movement. In the past, he had received overtures for a movie about Clara Barton, a Civil War nurse, but nothing ever materialized.

I thought that it might be the subject of a very provocative feature film. In the late 90’s, I had watched several historical movies on the TNT Network about Teddy Roosevelt and San Juan Hill and the San Patricio battalion. a group of Irishmen who fought for Mexico during the Mexican War of 1846. I hoped that television or movies might be receptive for this material.

Not surprisingly, I discovered later that wasn’t the case. Hollywood considered historical movies too expensive and the market for them too limited. Lincoln was a rare exception because director Stephen Spielberg was the driving creative force. The average movie goer is fourteen to thirty years old and wants to see the latest version of a comic book character, not historical docudramas.

I decided to tempt fate by placing the script on the Amazon website, where Amazon provides a method for adding graphic images to help promote your script. It also gives you the option of keeping the script private or public. Making a script public allowed readers on the site to read and comment.

I had read a number of submissions on the site. Some of the ideas weren’t bad. One of them envisioned Ben Franklin as sort of a Revolutionary War James Bond fighting the British. Others lacked even the basics of screenwriting technique. I figured perhaps if my script made the cut, it might have a good chance of getting optioned or at least getting some money to be developed into a “Notable Project” or perhaps even land a spot on the “Development Slate.”

After forty five days, the evaluation period was over and I received a simple, terse email stating that they were not interested in the script. There was no reason given. Short and brutally to the point.

Disheartened, I submitted the script to another Internet website called Junto Box Films. It was a website run by veteran actor Forest Whittaker, who allegedly was looking for material. Again, there was no fee or charge to place the script on the site. You were allowed to have others follow your project. If a lot of people appeared to follow the script, it might generate interest in the project. I even received several emails from other writers there suggesting that if I supported their project, they would reciprocate and support my script. A sort of screenwriters Quid Pro Quo that struck me as ethically challenged.

I read some of the scripts on Junto Box. One was about kids living in a ghetto housing project. I read the first twenty or so pages. One of the characters was killed right at the beginning of the script. I sent the author a suggestion in an email. I suggested that it made sense that the murdered victim be a friend of the main character. I received a terse reply that the death had no relation to the main character. Why do that? No relation to the story? This was a mistake from Screenwriting 101.

At the end of the forty five days evaluation period, I received another Dear John email that the material did not match their current development needs. I realized that perhaps John Brown deserved to be put back in the filing cabinet for another day. The script needed more work to turn the script into a viable spec script.

Conclusion

My big disappointment isn’t that I haven’t scored on the sites, it is that none of the projects I’ve seen featured on them appeared to be the work of an amateur AKA unknown writer. And the TV series and features promoted prominently on Amazon all appear to be the work of established writers. Perhaps, as Amazon Studios expands and starts to produce major film releases, several of these amateur projects will be perceived as viable and become more visable.

I have the feeling that although there is always the possibility that lightning will strike, most Hollywood executives don’t have the time or energy to go diving into the shallow end of the script pool searching for the rare gem. Despite the lure of the Internet, what show business often refers to as “the money” seems dedicated to following the time-honored path of sticking with known creators, lovers, and friends of the family.

 


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Dennis O’Neil: The Return of Doodyville!

NOTE FROM LB: The Howdy Doody Show was my absolute favorite when I was a kid. So much a favorite that I remember sitting on the floor and watching it one day when I was four years old and praying to you-know-Who that I would never get any older because I knew that when I did I wouldn’t love Howdy and the gang anymore. Some people say I never did get any older. Maybe there really is a God.

That's Howdy in the middle, for those who are not of a certain age
That’s Howdy in the middle, for those who are not of a certain age

by Dennis O’Neil

Our man Thunderthud was called a “chief,” but he wore only a single feather on his head instead of the fully-feathered bonnet we were used to seeing perched atop guys who answered to “chief” in the cowboy pictures I saw before you were born. The (if I may) chief is most notable, not for something he wore, but for something he said. This was “Kowabunga,” sometimes spelled “Cowabunga” and used mostly, if memory serves, as an expletive you could say freely in front of your church-going grandma. Some of you – most of you? – thought that Kowa/Cowabunga originated with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of movie and comic book fame. Sorry, but no.

Beginning in 1947, Chief Thunderthud dwelt in Doodyville which, in turn, was located in midtown Manhattan in a studio owned and operated by The National Broadcasting Company.

He wasn’t necessarily lonely, there is Studio 3B. Doodyville had other inhabitants, some of them marionettes, such the town mayor, Mr. Bluster, a strange beastie known as Flubadub who seemed to be a mashup of eight different animals and, of course, Howdy himself. Human beings also called Doodyville home. There was the chief, and another member of Thunderthud’s tribe, Princess Summerfall Winterspring who was sometimes called Judy Tyler and who later made a movie with Elvis Presley. (Presley wasn’t a puppet, either.)

And there was Clarabell the Clown, who spoke only three words in the show’s entire run and who communicated by blowing a horn and whose favorite prank was squirting seltzer into somebody’s face. That Clarabell! What a hoot! Though maybe I should mention that he was amale hoot, despite the name.)

We’ve saved the best for last. I refer to none other than Buffalo Bob Smith, who did a lot of things including but not limited to emceeing the proceedings, interacting with the studio audience, and – here comes a surprise – supplying Howdy’s voice. Bob wasn’t a ventriloquist the way, say, Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist, but who cared if his lips moved when Howdy talked? As long as a camera wasn’t aimed at him during Howdy’s chat, nobody except the kids and other performers and technical people knew exactly where the words were coming from. And did they care?

Why all this Howdy stuff now? Well, Howdy’s coming back! He’ll star in a Fourth of July video marathon that will incorporate old shows and new material, and maybe serve as a pilot for similar excursions into Doodyville. Which prompts us to ask: If Chief Thunderthud and the lovely princess were debuting today, would they run afoul of the defenders of political correctness? Will the antics of the Chief and princess, which could be seen as racist lampoons, be shown on July Fourth? Should they be seen as racist? I don’t know.

Final question: why? Has the world been yearning for a return to Doodyville?


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.