Things I Beg Web Series Creators To Please Do and/or Not Do

As one of the Executive Board members for the ITV Festival (for whom I also originally wrote this blog, which you can see a duplicate of on their website), one of my responsibilities was to vote on the winners of specific categories. This year, I was one of the EBMs (what we call ourselves when we meet in our underground castle) to vote on this year’s comedies.

I don’t often get to watch a lot of web shows because, unfortunately, I just don’t have enough time between writing, working and meeting in underground castles, so watching 15 or so series in a row was interesting for me.

First of all, there was a lot of good stuff.

Second of all, there was a lot of not-so-good stuff.

The main thing that I noticed is that many creators tend to make the same mistakes. Mistakes we’ve made (and still try hard not to make!) over the many years, and mistakes that, I think, when fixed, really help raise the overall quality of the production.

So, without further ado, my blog titled: Things I Beg Web Series Creators To Please Do and/or Not Do

I’m not great with titles.

Here we go.

1. Please stop… the city montage transitions. This is not a necessary element to your series. We don’t need to see cars driving by and people walking on the street. We especially don’t need to see this 8 times in a 7 minute show. The street montage has been done to death by television for far too long and, if you’ll notice, most series don’t do it anymore. It’s a tired technique and feels slightly off-putting in a new genre. Yes, sometimes it helps a transition, but mostly, it makes your show feel like Dharma and Greg. Stop it, please.

 

2. Please stop… the drum roll to a scene. You know that moment when a song finishes and the drummer is like, “I’m going to finish up with a groovy beat, man?” And then you put that drum into your show, usually after a particularly enthralling street montage, and then as the drums hit and end, you cut into the action? Stop doing that. It makes your show feel like a 90s sitcoms. I should not feel like I’m watching Saved by the Bell when I’m watching a show in a genre often referred to as “new media.”

 

 

3. Please… audition your writers. Audition your writers like you theoretically audition your actors or hire your crew. If you’ve never written before and think, “I have a fantastic idea. I’m going to write a full series because ANYONE can write!” then you’re setting yourself up for potential disaster. Or, at least, a bad series.

Writing is tremendously undervalued in entertainment. I’m not sure how that happened, considering our art was built around brilliant writers (for what is theater, and of course, film, without Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Tony Kushner, Shakespeare and others) but at some point, everyone decided that writing is easy and hey, they’d love to show you the screenplay they just wrote that’s in the trunk of their car and is formatted in Wordpad.

Writing is a craft. Writers take years to perfect it and “perfect it” is a strong word, because I think good writers never stop learning to write. Just like most people who make a show don’t say, “And I will be the director of photography!” when they have no idea how to turn on a camera (yes, I know, some do, but they are wrong), someone who has never written shouldn’t decide he’s going to write an entire series.

As a producer and creator of a series, you should love your show, respect it, and find a voice that can bring it to its maximum potential.

 

4. Please… get a sound guy. Or a microphone. Or just put a lot of time into your sound. This was our problem when we started Break a Leg, and it’s a major issue in many of the series I saw. The problem with bad sound is that it can completely ruin all the other good elements – acting seems worse, writing seems worse, cinematography seems worse, so on and so forth. I completely understand restrictions, but be aware of those restrictions when you’re shooting. If you don’t have a great mic, don’t shoot outside, don’t shoot in echo-ey buildings, find places that optimize your sound. It really goes a long way into strengthening the look and feel of a show.

 

5. Please… get a funny editor. If you’re doing comedy, you need a funny writer, you need funny actors, and, equally as important (and sometimes more important) you need a funny editor. Many-a joke is not only fixed but made in the editing booth. An editor editing comedy must have impeccable timing, they must know how long to wait for each beat, they must know when to cut out to a wide because it’s funnier, and, most importantly, they need to know what’s not funny so they can chop it out of there.

Having a funny editor is almost as important as having a funny writer – so when you’re hiring one, make sure you see their comedy reel.  A slam-bam-sexy-reel might be pretty, but it doesn’t mean he can make you laugh.

 

6. Please stop… with the long opening intro.  I get you want to introduce all of your actors. I think that’s great. I’m a huge proponent of giving everyone due credit. But, can you do it quickly? Unless you’ve got big name actors that will make us go, “ooh, really?” your intro should quickly explain the story in 15-30 seconds (less, less, less is the mantra) and go on to the far more important part of your story – which… is your story.

 

7. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, cut. Writers, cut your scenes, editors, cut them too. Web shows already have the unfortunate problem of being forced to be short (for some strange reason), it doesn’t help when you have a 6 minute scene in a 7 minute episode that takes place in the same location.

In a screenplay, a scene should be no longer than 3-5 pages. Sometimes, sometimes you can push it to 7, if it’s climactic or you’re Quentin Tarantino and think that every scene should be 25 minutes long and then everyone should die at the end.

A screenplay, though, is 90-120 pages long. A web show is, at its best, 10 pages long. Create movement, create a sense of story, don’t stick us into one location and make the same joke over and over again.

A very wise man once told me to know when to kill my babies. I’m pretty sure he was talking about my dialogue and not my future babies, and its good advice.

Much like a good joke, a good comedic scene is told fast, hits hard, and moves on before you can stop smiling.

—-

…and those are the things that I noticed. By all means, don’t feel like you have to listen to me – in the end, I’m another douchebag making stuff and while we’ve had success, it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to anything I say. But I have been doing this for a good while now and, having made all of these mistakes myself, I feel like I have at least some kind of advice to offer.

But again, I’m still some guy on the Internet.

What’s more important is that the work is ever growing and ever getting better, and I applaud every single person who picked up a camera and took the step to make something.

I very much applaud the effort; I think you should all be proud of yourselves. But I think you should be proud of yourselves for a minute or two, and then I think you should watch your project and say, “How do I make this better?” and do that, infinitely, until you’re dead or have gone insane.

Good luck and good job.


Length Really, Really Matters; And Other Suggestive Reasons Why the Web Show Should Be Longer

I think we’re here. I think it’s time. I think we’ve grown up, tuned in, changed perceptions and revolutionized. I think it’s time for us, as viewers and creators, to be able to watch and make a web series that’s longer than 7 minutes.

Here’s the thing.

I think the short-form content thing is  a product of how this whole thing started, which is — before video hosting sites could support high-quality video and before people started watching actual television online. Then, it made sense. This was the YouTube stage,  when we had to get people’s attention and get them used to watching actual entertainment on their computer, and so, we started them off with a small dose (sketch comedy, kittens), then, when they were hooked, slowly increased their hit (Break a Leg, The Burg, Same Has 7 Friends, We Need Girlfriends, The Guild, etc.), and now… well, we’re in the same place.

For the last three years.

While people are watching more TV online, while Hulu is gaining popularity with a mainstream audience, we continue to make videos as if our viewership is still watching them through grain-filled goggles, as if their connections still can’t support high-quality video, as if every sign wasn’t pointing to web TV growing at crazy rates.

But Yuri, you say, stats show that people stop watching at around the 5-7 minute mark. This drives me a little batty. First of all, correlation does not mean causation. That is, just because people stop watching at the 5 minute mark, doesn’t mean that the reason they stop watching at the 5 minute mark is because they only have patience for five minute content on the internet. It could be that they don’t really like the series. Hell, it could be that the series is just plain ol’ bad.

If I had to bet a ruble, I would say that TV has the exact same issue. I’m sure people tune out at the 5-7 minute mark when they’re not into a show. TV is just as ADD as the Internet — why is clicking to another tab easier than pressing “up” on your remote control? Why do we keep insisting that it’s harder to get into our “style” of entertainment? It isn’t. Hell, if anything, it’s a little easier.

The other thing is — the sample size isn’t big enough to make such strong, blanket statements as “no one watches long-form content” because, frankly, there aren’t that many great shows.

Oh, it’s gotten MUCH better. I once wrote a blog about the death of the web series, using, admittedly, hyperbole to suggest that we needed much higher-quality content if we were to compete against TV and if this thing was to survive and flourish. I arrogantly think I was proven right after Bannen Way and a few other shows popped up, showing us that we seriously had to raise our game to actually get funded. And we did. Web shows are getting significantly better.

But, like with all entertainment, there’s a lot of bad in the good. The problem with allowing everyone who has a camera to make a show means that the majority of those shows won’t be very good. That’s just the nature of the beast, and that’s fine. The main issue is that it pollutes the sample size and gets people to say strong, generic statements like, “Nobody watches web shows that are longer than 7 minutes.”

All that aside, I think the short length hurts the growth of our industry. I think regular viewers see a 7 minute series and think, “Eh, it’s just a web show.” There’s a negative connotation there and I think, honestly, a mainstream audience that’s used to watching longer content on television would find it easier to watch something of a similar length online. It’s habitual. They’re used to stories being told in those lengths. Yes, those are limits made by TV because of ads, etc., but you know what? We’re still growing, and if we can use some of the habits formed by TV to get viewers to start watching independent content, then great. We can start pushing them out of their comfort zones when they’re hooked on our worlds.

I recently did a poll on Facebook and asked:  “Would you be more inclined to watch a high-quality, extremely well-shot, -scripted, and -acted web series if it was longer (22 mins)? Or shorter (7 mins)?”

The majority of respondents said 22 minutes. A few even added “60 minutes” as an option. Only 8 chose the shorter version. This isn’t proof of anything — I’m not suggesting I’m a statistician by any means — but it does suggest that the average, mainstream viewer (which most of my friends are — there’s hardly a web show watcher among them) is ready for longer content online.

They just need someone to make them something good online.

I think we’ve all done amazing things with the current length constraints. I think people are getting good at it and I think we’re squeezing every ounce of story, character, plot and all else out of those minutes. I think we can still do better. I think we’ve still got to keep raising our game. But I do think that we’re ready to take our shows to the next level.

So, here’s what I think we should do.

To those creators who are venturing forth to create their own series on their own buck — here’s a challenge for you. Make a 22 minute series. Start changing perceptions. We need trailblazers and it ain’t easy being one, but, well, we need you. I know it’s hard. But for the people who ask us how we’ve managed to survive and make money in this space for over 7 years — we started by making a relatively good 22 minute series. I’m just saying.

To those creators who have a proven track record and budgets — start pitching longer content. We’re trying — I’m not sure if it’s working yet, but eventually someone will take a risk. The more established creators do it, the more the people with money will start listening — we ARE the professionals here, right? We’re the ones who gave birth to this space, let’s keep maturing it.

To the brands, agencies, agents, networks and everyone else who has money and is looking to make a splash on the market — I know it’s scary and I know this isn’t exactly the best time for it but, won’t somebody, anybody take a risk?

Our quality is there, our talent is there, our drive is there, so let’s stop giving ourselves time constraints and continue pushing that envelope.

I think we’re ready… and I’ m the guy who said the web series is dying.


The 3rd Streamy Awards: The Most Important Thing for the Web Series Since Ever

I started creating content for the Internet roughly six years ago — in Internet time, that means I’m a grizzled veteran, wounded from the many cuts of a completely bi-polar medium.

I’ve seen web shows live and die, I’ve seen the “next big thing” turn into the next “absolutely nothing,” I’ve watched as creators struggled for years and then suddenly struck gold. I’ve seen our budding little world gain media coverage and I’ve seen it grow at an unimaginable rate. I’ve lived through every theory, every analytic, every douchebag with a blog predict the future of the genre with absolute certainty and then get proven wrong a couple of months later. I’ve seen my own company grow at dramatic rates and I’ve eaten food bought by the penny that was earned by making a web show — a concept that seemed like happy magic unicorn land only a couple of years ago.

In short, I’ve seen a lot.

And I think the 3rd Streamy Awards are the most important thing for the web series since ever.

Potentially. Hyperbolically.

For those of you who haven’t heard the news: the Streamy Awards are back, and now they have a new partner: Dick Clark Productions. Which, if you don’t know them, is a small, Ma and Pa production company that produced tiny little award shows like the Golden Globes. The production company and the guys behind the Streamys hope the partnership will not only help the show reach a much, much bigger audience (with a potential TV deal, which I believe DCP is looking for) but also add legitimacy to a genre begging for it.

And the latter point is really the most important point. As far as we’ve come as a genre, we still have far to go. One of the main issues with getting a mainstream audience to watch web series is that the mainstream audience doesn’t trust web series.

You know when you tell someone that you make shows or movies, and that someone isn’t really privy to the business and isn’t really aware of your life, and their response to you saying that is something like: “Oh, I’d love to see your little show!” ..and they say it with that annoying lilt that implies you’re just adorable for owning a camera. That’s the kind of thing that’s hurting us. That’s the kind of thing that’s more prevalent than we realize, and that’s the kind of thing we need to desperately fight.

Right now, there are, in my humble opinion, several ways to fight it:

1. Much better web shows that can compete with TV, if not necessarily with production values than writing, story,acting,  etc.

2. Longer episodes (that’s another long bloggy rant that’s a-comin’).

3. Celebrities in the series.

4. An award show that’s worth a damn.

#4 might seem a little shallow. I know, I know, let the work speak for itself, etc. etc., sure. But this really help in two ways.

The first thing (I really like lists, don’t I?) is that it firmly suggests that the things made by independent creators are good enough to be nominated alongside professionals. Vlad and I were nominated as best writers and lost to Joss Whedon (I’m okay with that) and Mark Gantt and Jesse Warren won like every award last year (I was shocked that Mark won best supporting actress), and sure, the Bannen Way was funded by Sony, but these guys hustled and made this show with blood and sweat. They’re indie creators and they competed against pros and won. That’s important. It gets people to trust us. It stops people from thinking we’re making home movies and legitimizes our work.

The second thing is, without a doubt, shallow. But I think it’s kind of important.

Hollywood brings with it an intoxicating glamour. A lot of that was built on the shoulders of people like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, and so on, but it’s there and people love it. There’s a reason there’s six hundred celebrity gossip magazines. People, for whatever reason, eat it up like delicious cake. As a genre, I feel we’ve followed a similar trajectory to television. Our silent films were the sketch-ey, short YouTube videos. Our talkies were the first few web shows that gave our genre life. Our color talkies are our scripted, funded web shows. I think our next step is to enter the public consciousness, to become part of pop culture, to, for lack of a better word, glamorous.

We all believe what we’re doing is the future of entertainment, surely there’s gotta be some glitz to that. We’ve got to get our own Hepburn’s and Sinatra’s, we’ve got to have parties that matter and award shows that the whole world wants to watch. Why? Because we’re in the business of entertainment and fame, and hate it or love it, we need it to keep succeeding and growing.

If it brings bigger budgets and, more importantly, bigger audiences, I’ll play. I’ll be Frank.

As it stands now, I think the Streamys have the best chance of raising our profiles both by showing the world we can compete with pros, but also by showing the world we’re not just kids with cameras, but beautiful, talented people who make amazing art. Shallow? A little. But if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be in make-up for an hour before we went on camera.

Yes, the Streamys were not good last year. Talking to those guys, they seem well aware that they made a mistake and are working hard on trying not to make it again. As I mentioned in the NewTeeVee article — they’re allowed a sophomore slump, and as prominent members of our world and, in general, extremely good and smart guys, we can give them another chance. God knows, we’ve all screwed up royally on things we’ve made — we can forgive them just like our viewers forgave us.

What I’m having trouble understanding is some of the extremely negative things coming out of some people’s mouths (or, I guess, fingers) about this. First of all, kudos to the Streamy guys for staying out of the mudslinging, I really applaud that. It’s classy and I hope they stick to it.

Secondly, really? This is a bad thing? Having a huge, television production company basically say: your genre is important, meaningful and can and will be on the same level as TV is bad…? Let’s not kid ourselves, here. As fun as circle jerking is, we need the world to get used to watching our shows, not the people in our community. The other festivals and award shows are great, but none of the same size or credibility as the Streamys. They have real potential to put us in the limelight, to say — hey, see those guys nominated? Yes, there are a lot of names you know from Film and Television — but those other nominees? They’re independent creators and they were good enough to compete with the likes of Paramount, NBC, whatever. That, that is an incredibly important thing to push the web show further.

For those of you who are saying this is going to be a celebrity love fest — there is that fear, yes. But frankly, if we want to be taken seriously, we should be able to compete with the big boys, right? So instead of being frightened and screaming about how unfair life is, we should grit our teeth, raise our game and loudly scream, bring it on, bitches.

To the Streamys guys: you know the stakes here. You’ve got a huge stage now, you’ve got a huge opportunity, in my opinion, to raise the profile of what we’re doing even higher. With Dick Clark Productions behind you, you can honestly be one of the best things that happened to this genre. But you have to nail it. That means: get some amazing writers on your staff. Writers who know this space, who live it, who breathe it, but who are writers. Not YouTubers, for the love of God, but actual, talented, TV-quality writers. Make every presenter hilarious. Show people that the web has talent. Nail this thing, and let’s hope it blows up the doors that are finally starting to inch open.

To the detractors: Criticism is good, it’ll push all involved to create something great. Jabs and insults are the weapons of idiots (see what I did there?) and none of you are idiots.  Criticize, sure, but be helpful. Support. Let’s get our heads out of our asses and realize that anything that gives credibility to what we do helps all of us.

So, let’s applaud the effort of the Tubefilter guys and let’s hope and pray that they don’t just do better than last year, but that they absolutely kill it. Let’s hope beyond hope that not only does it give a bit more credibility to our genre, but that it’ll make people want to be a PART of our genre. That the new wave of actors and writers will come to Hollywood to be in web series. That little boys will dream of being me and little girls will dream of being Mark Gantt.

Let’s show the world how good we’ve gotten, how funny we are, how talented, how outrageously attractive. Let’s get all glitzed up, win some awards, and get a little further in taking over the world.


Leap Year, Episode 9 - Fun Facts!

It’s that time again! Episode 9, “Kind of a Genius” is out and it guest stars one of my favorite people and improvisers, Mr. Dustin Toshiyuki as Glenn Cheeky.

Also, Guy Kawasaki himself guest stars.

What I’m saying is, it’s a really good episode.

So, without further ado, the video:

…and now, fun facts!

1. There are TWO references to Break a Leg in the first scene. The first one is a large wooden sign behind the armoire, that reads, “SWAMBLER CITY.” This is the name for an old abandoned cowboy town set that was used in the fake, in-world Break a Leg show, “Swamblers.” It’s also one of my favorite set pieces we’ve ever made.

The second reference is a little more blatant. Glenn Cheeky’s shirt reads, “Mint?” Dustin Toshiyuki’s character in Break a Leg was named, “Mint” with an ongoing joke of people questioning him every time he introduced himself. It went like this:

“I’m Mint.”

“Mint?”

“…like the ice cream.”

Or…

“…like the condition…”

Or..

“…like… the mint..?” (with a cut-away of the San Francisco Mint).

Just a little “thank you and keep watching our stuff” for our Break a Leg fans!

2. Glenn Cheeky is in part based on David Karp (founder of Tumblr) and in part on other very young, very successful business people. Dustin, of course, brought his own very unique and hilarious twist on it.

3. Bryn’s headphones have two skulls drawn on them. The drawings are done by one of the Producers and our editor, Dashiell Reinhardt, and is a little homage to one of my (and his) favorite games, Monkey Island. The skull vaguely looks like “Murray” the evil talking skull.

Furthermore, much of Bryn’s costume was made by Kristen Gallup of KrakenWhip Designs (www.etsy.com/shop/krakenwhip). Our wardrobe stylist, Daniela DiIorio found Kristen and she was great in giving Bryn’s goth look a much more unique, personal touch. All of the jewelry is Kristen’s too, my favorite necklace the one in this episode, which is a metal heart with a spike hanging next to it.

4. Dustin, Daniela and I have acted together since college. Dustin and I have been best friends since high school and the three of us performed in my very first one-act play, Courting 101 (now that it’s published, they’re even listed as “original cast” in the script book). I love acting with those two and I love writing for them — their timing is impeccable and even though we shot this well into the night, they still kept nailing every line.

5. The music in the second Glenn Cheeky scene is an old Finnish song called Ieva’s Polka.

This was a really popular Internet meme for a while and was also the intro song of Break a Leg. After Break a Leg got a bit bigger and we sold it to FOX Italy, we had our resident musicians (Vlad and Monica, as well as the great Hugo Martin and his crazy talented brother, Angus) recreate the song in their style.

So, this is the third Break a Leg reference in the episode. Why so many in this one? Because when you’ve got a genius improviser in Dustin Toshiyuki, who was one of the more beloved characters in Break a Leg, starring in this episode, you just have to throw in some extra references for the fans…

6. We knew that at some point, we were going to be filming with Guy Kawasaki. The thing we didn’t know was when. He is, after all, KIND of a busy guy.

We had finished shooting on, I think, a Tuesday, and got the call that Guy was available to film… on Wednesday. The thing is, the scene scheduled the next day (the one with Kim and Drew) had to be shot on Wednesday, as Kim was leaving to go back to LA (remember, we shot this in SF). Our challenge was: how do we get Guy into a scene with Jack and Scarlett, when the scene is actually supposed to take place in a park (or street – somewhere public).

I ran home after the shoot and re-wrote the scene to be what it is today. Credit our exhausted actors who had to re-memorize, and credit Guy for being absolutely amazing in letting us shoot at his house (which is beautiful and is littered with hockey pucks, which I love. There was also a train running behind it, and I’m going to just assume it was Guy’s personal train). Guy pretty much wore that smile during the entire shoot and was just obviously having a ton of fun filming with us.

The Jackie Chan line is Guy improvising, by the way, so once he’s done with this whole ruling the business world thing, he’s going to take over film.

7. The shot of the soccer ball flying over my shoulder and breaking the vase was an insert (shot a few days after the rest of the scene) and was not only my last scene, but also the last scene of the entire show.

8. I love the scene with Rachel and I in bed because I think it feels very… honest. Which is surprising, considering moments before Rachel said I wasn’t hip (and I politely reminded her that I did, in fact, know who Wale the Rapper was) which continues to hurt me, even now. My other favorite Rachel moment is the mysterious Minnesota accent that comes in on her last ‘adventure” line. Rachel is not, in fact, from Minnesota., but every single take had that accent, so we went with it because maybe RACHEL isn’t from Minnesota, but Lisa obviously is.

9. I really like the music in this episode. That’s it. Just sayin’.

10. Again, because we forgot to mention them in the credits like absolute jerks, I want to point out the fact that Ieva’s Polka (credits song and second scene with Glenn) was made by Vlad and Monica Baranovsky along with Hugo Martin and Angus Martin.

I remember watching when they recorded that, and it was a little magical seeing four incredibly talented musicians play like 10 different instruments to create their own version of an old Finnish song. Things like that make me love my job.

Hugo, by the way, has his own website where he makes a song a day. If you’re a web creator looking for some fantastic music, Hugo’s here for you.

That’s it! One more episode left! This is the time you guys should all start commenting and begging for Season 2!

Thanks for watching!