So you have the next best concept for a TV show but you don’t have any connections to Netflix or NBC. No worries. With YouTube, Vimeo, Funny or Die and host of other web platforms, you can still tell your story through the medium of film. However, even with the most entertaining idea, there are a few guidelines to follow:
1. Pique Interest with the Pilot
This is your chance to make a great first impression. The writing needs to be sharp and the main characters should be introduced. Make the elements of your show clear to the audience. A good pilot will demonstrate how your series will work. Will each episode be a single plot or will the next episode be a continuation of an open ended story? Your pilot can also be a selling tool if you do come into the good fortune of a network executive seeing your work. Pilots should illuminate that your series has longevity — the world you create can generate stories for years to come.
2. Write, Edit, Rewrite (include other writers)
You’ve probably heard this before but a script will not be written in one sit down session. You can start with an outline of the episode, writing how it will begin, the conflict and the resolution. From there, fill in the details of how it will flow from one scene to the next. Because this is a web episode, not a full length television episode, you need to get to the main action pretty quickly. One thing I like to do is sit down with 4 or 5 trusted writer friends and brainstorm the particular steps. On my own, I will write a rough draft and then come back to my brainstorm group and go over scripted lines.
3. Have a Table Read
Another great way to tighten your script is to host a table read. It’s best to have the actual actors there reading so you can direct them with their lines. At times you write something that sounds great on paper, but it does not have the impact you want when spoken out loud. In addition, your actors might come up with alternatives you like even more. Which leads me to…
4. Encourage Actor Input
I love getting to a table read or even on set and one of my actors asks if he or she can say a line they thought up or improvise on the spot. A different perspective can make a joke funnier or give a line more significance. Keep in mind, the improvisation should allow for the rest of the script to make sense. Also, there will be times you are steadfast on your line being read verbatim and that is okay.
5. Visuals are Important BUT SOUND IS EQUALLY IMPORTANT
Yes, those words are all in caps on purpose. Your audience can forgive a too dark picture but they will not forgive bad sound. I’m not saying strive for a grainy or shaky video. However, loud static, too low volume or cutting in and out will turn off your viewers quickly. Before you start filming, test the sound in the room where you are shooting. If there is too much echo, use a boom stand or get a boom operator so the microphone is close to the actors. If you have the money to invest, wireless lavalier microphones are great. However, you will need a multi-channel audio recorder if there is more than one person speaking.
6. Know Your Audience
If your web series is about millennials in the workplace, check out other successful web series for that demographic. See what they are watching and you will have a better idea of what types of humor or format they prefer. When you develop your niche, you will know more concretely how to market your web series. You should be able to name a few types of groups that would like your show and where to find your content. For example, for my web series Mile High Nancy, I reach out to cannabis outlets, mother blogs and groups and comedy platforms.
7. Think of Editing While You Film
Editing is a skill in itself and I recommend you find someone else to edit your work. However, if you do edit it yourself, try to have a few people watch it before you publish it online. Quick cuts work best with comedy. Have reaction shots to cut to (make sure you write that down in your shot list). Get a few close up inserts to cut to such as someone picking up a cup of coffee or just feet walking. These help when you go to edit and realize someone had their hand in a different spot when you are trying to piece together your scenes. Whoever is editing will love you if you make a shot list with the editing process in mind. And trust me, they will hate you if you don’t.
Finding locations, marketing, auditioning actors and a plethora of other factors go into making a web series. The above 7 are just tips of the iceberg. Hopefully, you will gain loyal subscribers and perhaps with enough views, your web series will be noticed by a major network. Until then, follow my advice and HAVE FUN. Seeing your story come to life is an exhilarating experience.