EDITOR’S NOTE: Here it is. The third chapter in Laura’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit The Vamps Next Door.
Man Up, Kid Cause This is Gonna Hurt…So Good
by Laura Conway
Deciding to make your script into a web series means it’s no longer just about you, it’s about a collaboration with others. If you’re controlling and obsessive over your writing like I am, let me warn you that the first time is going to hurt. (but no pain, no gain)
Before any casting is done, find a director because directors need to be a part of the casting process. Unless you’ve got experience directing, I don’t think you should direct your own episode. It’s harder than it looks.
On The Vamps Next Door, I was lucky to work with veteran sitcom director, Phil Ramuno. I didn’t have to find him and I did not hire him, we already knew each other and we became co-creators. We find the same things funny so that usually works out great.
Phil is as close to a mentor as I’ve ever had. Thanks to Phil, I learned how to stage a scene, frame a shot, position the cameras, give actors notes, and the basics of 3 camera sitcom. If you’re making a comedy, check out Phil’s book, The New Sitcom Career Book
I’m going to use a different web series, AGELESS, as an example here, because for that web series, I had to actually go out and find a director to hire. There are new directors, student directors and commercial directors, who are willing to work on low budget projects.
I found director Montana Mann just by Google searching new female directors. I emailed her about AGELESS, explained the budget and attached the script. Since it’s a low budget job for them, it’s best to attach a script (that they will love) at the same time you’re disclosing the not so great pay.
It’s important to hire a director who gets your vision. Montana thought the script was hilarious and she also had a vision that I really liked. Here comes the hard lesson about establishing a director-writer relationship for your web series production.
It’s not just a director-writer relationship, it’s also a director-producer relationship. It’s your money and your project, but at the same time, the director also has a vision. Agree in advance on what the combined vision is and then it’s the director’s job to make that vision happen.
It’s tricky as fuck and I don’t know what else to say except watch and learn. I studied how these directors work and next time I’m going to try directing myself…
It’s important to have a pre-production meeting with the director. Go over the script and be sure to participate in creating the shot list so you can work out any conflicts in advance. During this meeting, be the producer first, writer second. This meeting is your chance to explain your vision to the director and any specific, must have shots you want before production day.
Once the camera’s rolling, it’s the director’s set and the director’s choices. That drives the writer in me crazy, but on shoot day, that ship has sailed because stopping production to add a new shot, make a change or have a disagreement adds time and money that a low budget production does not have.
It was day four of AGELESS production when I had a mental breakdown.
I hadn’t listened to more experienced people who told me I wrote too much to shoot in one day. Why? Because I couldn’t bear to cut anything from my precious script. Around 2pm, the director and I realized there was no way she was going to make her day, meaning there wasn’t enough time left to shoot everything on the shot list.
She had no choice but to make the call to cut part of a scene.
My favorite part, by the way.
I was devastated and was sure that without that scene, the episode was going to die. It was hard, but I did the only thing I could do. I trusted Montana to do her job and ran off to cry in the restroom. What she cut was a fight scene between two gangs of elderly people in a nursing home where they clobber each other with canes, walkers, prosthetic limbs, etc. Funny stuff.
Sure, she was right, and the episode played just fine without it. But I still miss that fight scene. See if you miss it too by clicking on the video at the top of this page.
Hard Way Lesson #3: If I had listened and rewritten the script into something shorter before we shot OR budgeted more time for what I had written, I might have been able to save that scene. It’s better to control the outcome in advance than have a breakdown when it’s too late.
Now I’m telling you what I wish someone had told me… Remember you’re the producer. Unless you’re co-creators, the director works with you as the writer, AND also for you as the producer. Listen to the people who know more than you do but don’t get insecure about what you want. You don’t always have to agree or follow their advice, but if it’s your first time doing this, they could be right. It’s that whole “wisdom to know the difference” shit… and I still don’t always get it.
Working with directors was a little stressful and out of my comfort zone, but I’m grateful for the chance to study two talented directors at work. I learned a lot from them.
Stay tuned for the next chapter on my favorite thing ever… Casting.
Read Chapter 1 HERE
Read Chapter 2 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.