Laura Conway on Web Series: Whatever You Do, Don’t Be An Asshole

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ah, the second chapter in Laura’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit.

by Laura Conway

The first thing I do is accept that I won’t make back a single penny of what I’m going to spend and be OK with that. Then I find some cash.

One way to find financing is by telling as many people as you can about the project. Network like crazy. You will find people who want to help you. Unless you’re an asshole and nobody likes you. The road of life is lined with bridges.

For the first episode, the advantage in finding donors is that you’ve never asked anyone for money for a “film” project before. The disadvantage is that you’ve never done a “film” project before. So finding big investors is unlikely, but do you really want a big investor for your first attempt anyway? If it comes out badly, you’re screwed for next time.

For The Vamps Next Door, I personally asked my friends and family for donations. Even my elderly aunt, who didn’t get it, and my uncle, who I hadn’t seen in years. Since I’m not an asshole, they both happily contributed. My parents felt sorry for me and a little guilty too, so they contributed the most. LOL. Tragedy plus time equals more cash for my comedy. My friends contributed small amounts and I used my own money for the rest. (I tried IndieGoGo once and it was a total waste of time.)

Having blown every budget I’ve ever made, I think it’s best to figure out how much money there is to spend first, and then make the budget fit into that amount. I’ve found that for about $1500 I can make a decent, nothing fancy episode like this one in 1 day. Keep costs in mind when you’re writing the script. It’s hard, but if you’ve got no cash, the script shouldn’t have expensive props and wardrobe that you don’t already own and no expensive locations. Sometimes actors have their own props and wardrobe and if you’re not an asshole, they might be willing to share.

For a Vamps production, I do almost everything myself (for free): props, wardrobe, production schedule, call sheets, camera operator, production design, and editing… the advantage is there’s a lot to learn (fun!) and the disadvantage is there’s a lot to learn (oh no!), and it shows, especially in the earlier episodes.

The following items are not DIY and should always be part of the budget: (More on assembling a crew later.)

1. Sound Recording – the fastest way to screw up your episode is with bad audio. In the LA area, there are professional audio people looking for side work in between their high paying gigs. I find them on I budget $200 / day.
2. Make up person – I budget $200 / day.
3. Performers: Sure, actors are used to working low budget shows for free or for “deferred payment” (more on deferred and SAG later) but I always budget something to pay them. Actors bring my characters to life and I feel they deserve to get paid. I budget $100/day or more if I can afford it.
4. Insurance: Do you feel lucky? When I’ve got 2 actresses running down the street with real medieval weapons and nobody dies, I do feel lucky.

I almost always get insurance even though I’ve never had to use it.

I invested $900 in a Canon DSLR and I learned how to use it. Vamps Next Door co-creator, Phil Ramuno, the director, also has his own cameras, so I don’t need to budget for that.

Locations can really blow the budget, but if you’ve got well developed characters you can drop them into any setting, so try INT. HOUSE. A house is the easiest location to find for free.

If you can shoot in your own house, that’s the best way to avoid the stress and expense of damaging someone else’s house. For Season 1 of Vamps, one of the actors got his parents to volunteer their house for free. When someone does that, it means they probably never had a film crew in their house before. They will be anxious, unhappy and tend to kick you out before you’re done. And if it’s a friend, she could turn into an ex-friend. Sad, right? Now I always shoot Vamps in my house.

Another possibly free setting is an office if that lends itself to your story. On Vamps Season 1, we got an office location for free from an actress in exchange for giving her a small part in an upcoming episode. Bartering. It works. Of course, we had to shoot from 10pm til 2am, but like my dad always says, there ain’t no free lunch.

Hard Way Lesson #2: More is not always better. If you take a look at this episode from my former web series, AGELESS, you will immediately notice its production value is much higher than The Vamps Next Door. Yup, I went crazy, spent too much money and it looks better than it needs to for a web series. I should have made AGELESS for way less money, but the extras I got were an actual cinematographer, an actual production designer, an entire camera crew, fancy equipment and professional coloring. And I have to admit, shooting on ice was pretty cool. But what made it worth it was the education I got about the different parts of a real production.

These days I stay in my budget, except when I’m props shopping and absolutely must have… not one, but TWO bloody, dead bodies. One was dismembered…

Stay tuned for the next chapter on working with directors.

Read Chapter 1 HERE

Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.

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