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The Bitter Growing Pains of the Web Series

I was doing a film shoot with Mr. Mark Gantt, recently — Mark, if you don’t know, is the producer, star, writer and I think assistant gaffer on The Bannen Way. The Bannen Way, if you don’t know, is a Sony-funded web series, feature film, action-drama-comedy, all-around good entertainment and, oh, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure Mark was also a production assistant on Break a Leg, or something. I forget. I don’t talk to the crew.

Anyway, Mark, along with a few other Break a Leg actors (Alexis Boozer, Daniela DiIorio, Flynn Kelleher, Drew Lanning and myself) are all theoretically starring in a theoretic new series that is written by my brother Vlad and I and produced, as per usual, by him, me, Justin Morrison and Dashiell Reinhardt… you know, all of the same people who did Break a Leg and run Happy Little Guillotine Films.

Here’s my point. I’m talking to Mark about the web series community and I notice this odd feeling welling up inside of me. Part of it is attraction, because Mark looks like a rugged Tom Cruise after life really knocked him around, but the other part of it feels strangely like… bitterness.

Now, I’m not really sure where it comes from because I actually like everyone quite a bit in the community. Sure, I sometimes complain about them being guilty of over-pleasuring one another with their mouths, but I think there’s an amazing group of talented, innovative and unique entertainers who have been creating some fantastic stuff.

So, I wonder — why? Why the bitterness? And then I realized it.

When we started, online video was an in-between, a purgatory for filmmakers who hoped that a TV or film producer would accidentally stumble on their video while doing a sweeping search for porn, watch it, and then pay them millions to get it made. In other words, we all wanted to be the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia guys and the Internet was one way to get noticed but not the place where our shows would actually… survive.

Every moment of Break a Leg was a fight. We were the David against the no-budget, full-time job, no-real-way-to-make-money-like-this Goliath, who is way worse than the Biblical Goliath in that he comes with more poverty. And as we started getting more and more press and more and more attention, and people like NBC and CBS started calling, we had this feeling of… maybe..? Maybe?! MAYBE?!

…but no.

No one knew what to do with anyone online at that time. They still don’t. CBS Interactive called us because they wanted to fund a series for a very decent amount of money, and then in a week told us they didn’t, in fact, have that money (lost in their couch cushions or something). Other networks we talked to did a lot of, “Call us when you have something.” – “But we have a lot.” – “We have no money.” And for some bizarro reason, even though we were getting press in places like the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times, agents absolutely refused to acknowledge our existence (still do, in fact).

When Break a Leg ended, we were exhausted and a little jaded. Okay, a lot jaded. It took a good half a year to start up the optimism engines again, and then things started happening for us. This blog was a huge help (I know, I KNOW — I’ll write more in it!). Blip.tv was and is our main benefactor without whom we wouldn’t be anywhere. FOX Italy bought Break a Leg. And our branded entertainment campaigns started becoming bigger and bigger and culminated in the 7-Eleven Road Trip (again thanks to Blip.tv) — a new and different kind of branded entertainment beast.

In short, we’ve done well.

So, why the bitterness? Because, I now realize,  somewhere in the corner of my brain, near the part that’s responsible for hitting on women, I still think — after all we’ve done, why aren’t we on TV? This is JUST the Internet.

(The reason it’s in that part of the brain, by the way, is because being on TV makes hitting on women way easier.)

And as I realized that, I also realized what our job is, now, as producers of this content. If I — someone whose career has been made by online entertainment — am still not used to the idea that this isn’t Purgatory but an actual place where entertainment can live, then people who have lived and breathed TV and Film — networks, agents, producers, ad agencies — surely can’t even fathom it.

So, what’s our job? Our job is to not pigeon-hole ourselves the way that people tend to pigeon-hole online content — i.e. only 5 minute videos work, only sketch comedy works, only catering to one loud niche audience works, etc. – but to see this as our playground and to try, desperately try, to show that not only can we, the new breed of entertainment, create fantastic, innovative content on-line (short form and long, experimental and just plain ol’ amazing), but we can also get that content to sell and make money.

Because, we’ve grown up, as a community — I was bitter of the way things were, but that’s not the way things are. We’re at a different stage of our evolution in entertainment, we can’t just be satisfied to make things and release them and say, hey, that was pretty good, right? We have to think like businessmen as well as artists, we have to show that not only can we make great stuff, we can also sell it.

And once we do that, that’s when we reach the next level. Where online entertainment truly competes with TV in every capacity.

As for me and my bitterness. We’ve resolved the conflict. It’s a simple thing to realize — my whole life I’ve hated doing what I was supposed to do in a particular path. I never wanted to write spec scripts, beg for an agent and then be someone’s writing assistant on a terrible show — I wanted to do it my way and this is what we’re doing. This is the genre in which we’re playing, where  our successes and failures are solely dependent on our talent, hard-work, and ideas.

And you know what, bitterness? I’m starting to really like that.

(Okay, that’s it. More blogs to come — I swear, this time. I’ll be in Singapore all week next week and between the 18-hour flight and the fact that we’re doing a seminar on online entertainment and having dozens of meetings with producers/businesses in Singapore just has to be written about.)

Written by

I am a writer, director, producer and co-founder of HLG Studios.

11 thoughts on “The Bitter Growing Pains of the Web Series

  1. a. Finally a new blog to slake my thirst for Yuri news. That sounded disgusting, but I’m not deleting it. That’s just the level our friendship is on. Hope you can deal with it.

    b. SINGAPORE?! That’s so exciting! We really haven’t talked in forever.

  2. I can’t wait to hear about Singapore. It would be really cool if you recorded your seminar or something. (THAT’S how desperate I am for new content)

  3. I’m glad that you’re working through your bitterness. Maybe you can help me with a problem that I have?

    A colleague and, yes, friend (albeit, mostly online) is shooting a new webseries, and has actually shot some stuff in the city where I live …and I didn’t even get asked to be an extra.

    What should I do?

    Dissed In La La Land

  4. Great post. 100% agree. Over time, the line between TV and the Web will begin to blur anyway (both ways — 90% of network TV is already online, as we showed in our last blog post), but there is a lot the online series community can do to make it happen faster. This is a matter of when, not if.

    We at Clicker want to do our part to help move it along for all of you who are making this amazing content.


  5. Great post. It’s easy for us all to forget that we’re not in online purgatory – the truth is, everyone in traditional media is. (They’re just paid better for their troubles)

    Keep these posts coming.


  6. I’m bitter for completely different reasons. Maybe we can all conspire to have Mark Gantt locked up so there’s more women for the rest of us to hit on? Just a thought.

  7. I actually remember when my answer to the question: “So, what do hope to do with this? Get it on television or something?” changed from “that would be great” to “I’d like to be able to keep making webseries.”

    Consider the budget discrepancy to be the price of freedom. (though, I do wish freedom would get cheaper so we’d have more money left over to make the shows)

  8. Hi Yuri. Long time reader, first time commenter. Great to be here.

    Primarily, I’m a writer. And in recent years it seems a lot of writers have taken to the internet as a publishing platform that would, hopefully, get us to a more “mainstream” medium. It was a great idea until they stopped publishing anything that wasn’t a detective or a vampire story (but when they get to the detective-vampire or vampire-detective series, I’ll be ready for em). Now it is almost more logical for me to keep my words in a non-book format – publish them either through a website, blog, or through an e-reader market like Kindle.

    I recall when the Writer’s Guild went on strike a few years back and eventually the only stuff worth watching was what was being produced on the net. Shows like “Break a Leg”, or the mostly shameless “Quarterlife” series. Networks tried to buy up and broadcast some of these series – and when they aired they failed. Why? Probably because those who were interested in seeing content like that had already viewed it online and those who hadn’t were expecting something more in the format of television.

    I’d say, as far as programs on the internet go – keep it up, keep focused on this medium because THIS medium is far more flexible to work in than television. True, TV still gets more eyeballs, but the net allows you to be more creative and true to your art.

    Personally, my eyes look at a computer screen about 100 times more often than they do a television screen. Mostly because I have more control over what I want to see and when I want to see it. Network television nowadays, more often than not, sucks. Stuff I do want to see airs on channels like FX, Showtime and HBO – the riskier programs like Weeds and Californication and Archer. Yet, to watch these shows, you have to subscribe to a cable package.

    Why more programs like these aren’t produced for an online audience is beyond me. With online distribution comes more control over knowing who is watching, what they’re watching, more instant feedback and discussion of your content. Actual numbers are being applied to each episode, which advertisers love, rather than a mostly-arbitrary number assigned by Neilsen.

    Just some thoughts.



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