Whether you are a beginning filmmaker or a veteran producer, you will eventually bump up against the questions,
“Should I make a web series?”
“What are the advantages of making a web series rather than a short movie?”
“Can I shift my current movie project into a web series, and why would/should I do so?”
While movies are still the kings and queens at film festivals, over the last decade the genre of the “Web Series” had emerged, giving filmmakers and television creators opportunities to shift their material into an ongoing series of episodes. I have found that many projects CAN be shifted into a web series and there are many reasons to do so. But before you do, there are some questions you must ask yourself in order for the work of making a web series to be worth it.
How Into The Stories And Characters Are You?
The first thing to consider is how you feel about the project you are considering as a web series. Most producers produce movies based on a script that they like. Something drew them into the script or they wrote the script themselves because they were inspired to tell that story.
Often the producer can feel very enthusiastic about a project if it is a “one-off” or a movie that is going to be shot once and then done. Then the producer can move onto their next project.
A producer really needs to be in love with the characters and story in order to return to it for years and years, which is something that could potentially happen if a web series is created.
Think about it this way, often when a successful movie is created and a sequel is suggested. Sometimes the sequel is just as good, but often it is a limp-wristed attempt to cash in on the idea again. And while yes, cashing in is a good reason to dip back into a story universe, you as the producer need to feel a connection to the story for it to feel like an experience you want to have…. FOR YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS (potentially).
Do you like the script you have enough to invest a lot of time and energy into it in a way that could force you to skip other projects because your energy is focused on this project? If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t make your project into a web series.
Before we move on, sometimes the other thing that happens is someone approaches a producer with a story and they are asked to produce it as a movie and they find a writer for the project.
What Is Your Temperament As A Producer?
I’ve got to be honest… I love the short film format. I really do.
You get a nice tight script, set up a few days of shooting, a cast and crew that maintains high morale throughout the project because the shoot is shorter in duration, they are more flexible and problems seem easier to deal with… Everything just feels lighter and the speed of going from script to can is thrilling to me.
Because I know my temperament, I have been slow to produce a larger project. It just doesn’t appeal to me as much. I have worked on longer, feature film projects in departments other than as a producer and I don’t mind it, but the pre-production added to the months of shooting and post-production just seems onerous to me.
I mention this because I want to show the advantage of knowing one’s own temperament and interest in filmmaking.
Do you like weekend projects that look polished with some nice post-production by the end of the month? Or are you someone who immerses yourself in a subject for decades and can eat, breathe and sleep a storyline till the day you die?
Well… I exaggerate a bit with that… Maybe because that’s what it feels like to me.
But I would say that producers tend to be caffeinated short-attention-span multitaskers (that’s why we always have a ton of projects going on at once and love it that way) so if you start focusing on one of those storylines and really get into it, and HOORAY it takes off and your audience wants another 4 seasons, can you deal?
Let’s be honest about your script…
Are the characters deep enough to potentially have an arc over a time span of several seasons?
Most often what draws an audience in to keep tuning in (or logging on) is that they care and feel connected to the characters. And any television series or sitcom writer will tell you that even if the material is utter silliness, the characters must care about the characters and want to know how they will deal with different situations that come up in the storyline.
I learned about arc when I was in a class that required I make a “Show Bible” for the production. It was based on a short animated movie I directed and produced and had been planning to build out as a web series, and yet, when I was required to talk about what all the characters would be doing and what they would be dealing with at the end of season 2, and how they had shifted since the beginning of the series, I had to really think about it.
The movie I had made was pretty superficial (even though the comedy in it was based on aspects of my life that were actually quite painful and devastating to deal with). And in keeping with that tone of comedy and superficiality, I struggled to discover where all of these characters would be in Season 2.
But I eventually built out the story arc and character arcs and was able to complete the show bible.
There is an alternative to a character arc that is sometimes seen in episodics on television.
If you take an interesting character or interesting characters and put them in various situations each week, you can build a web series based on the variation in the storylines rather than the arc of the character.
As I write this, the character that comes up most completely as one that would not seem to have any depth but is just so interesting that he had an entire series AND movie, AND animated series made about him was Mr. Bean.
Here is a silly clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnemHuj5Fb0
Here’s the wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Bean
Mr. Bean doesn’t talk much, nor does he have much depth in terms of emotional life. He doesn’t have anything serious really happen to him ever. Yet the character is compelling to watch continuously because he is just so bizarre yet relatable.
This is a somewhat dated format, in that most shows these days have a least a little shift in the characters over the long term.
I will use cartoons as examples for this one.
In the old school Batman and Robin series, they were consistent from day 1 to the last episode. Nothing in their condition changed.
In contrast, if you look at the cartoon the Tic, at some point in the series someone takes a bite out of the moon, which is how the audience sees the moon from then on. You can tell if the episode is pre-moon-bite or post-moon-bite.
Is Your Script a Pilot (sitcom or drama)?
If you are already planning on producing a project that is meant to have a long-term arc and to be viewed in an episodic format for television, then maybe the web series would be a better way to show that off.
Often writers (including myself) will write sitcom scripts and shoot the script to get the attention of studios and get the project picked up (bought by one of the studios so that they can produce and air it on broadcast television).
This is how it was done long ago and is still being done.
But the viewership of traditional television had declined significantly over the last 20 years, in favor of platforms like YouTube, or online production companies like Amazon and Hulu and Netflix.
Television certainly still has views, but studies have shown that those that grew up watching videos on the Internet have continued to look there for their video entertainment rather than traditional television.
For that reason, creating a web series might be a good idea for your script, especially if you were planning for it to be an episodic show.
If you were planning to do a sitcom (traditionally about 22 minutes) or an hour episodic (usually about 45 minutes) see if you can figure out how to break each show up into bitesize, web-friendly pieces that stand on their own. You also might want to create a hook at the end of each web episode to encourage the audience to come back for the next episode.
Side Note: Episodic and sitcom television scripts tend to have a number of different storylines presented at the same time. It is a bit much to get into here, but here is a good link to find out more information about that: https://screencraft.org/2016/01/05/the-screenwriters-guide-to-formatting-television-scripts/
You will have to keep these interweaving stories comprehensive and coordinated when you break the full script into mini web episodes.
You can probably make your upcoming movie project or traditional episodic project into a web series, but before you do you really should analyze why you want to and your level of commitment to the story and characters. But everything checks out and you feel that it would be a fantastic format for your project, there are so many advantages to producing a web series that it is insane.
You totally circumvent the traditional universe of “Please pick up my show”, avoiding all of the Harvey Weinsteins or other icky (even financially icky) experiences that the movie business is known for.
If you build your own audience and your show has a following, you can either monetize it yourself or get it picked up on better contract terms, both of which will work better in your favor than if you just hand them over your pilot episode for viewing without any following.
Also, because the episodes for Internet viewing are traditionally shorter than the half-hour/1-hour cookie-cutter television format, you have the flexibility to tell the story in the time the story requires. And if your budget is small, you can keep those episodes short, while taking advantage of the fact that you have a full season of scripts that you have broken down as a producer and can now save money shooting out some required locations and characters for a full season which will save the production a lot of money and time.
But most of all, the web series opens up the script to a number of possibilities that might not be possible with a finite short movie or feature movie experience. And if you think your script and your interest in the script you are producing is worthy, I wholeheartedly encourage you to shoot it as a web series rather than as a short movie.