CHARTING YOUR OWN COURSE
My co-producer and I went to an amazing new media marketing and producing conference this past weekend with superstar content creator Issa Rae and her creative team. We learned so much, and it made me think about how important it is to have a plan for your web series before you invest the time in writing potentially dozens of episodes.
You wouldn’t set out on a road trip without consulting Google or your GPS (or even something as archaic as an actual MAP, would you?) And you’d obviously want to have some destination for your trip. Are you driving to San Francisco, San Diego, or Lake Tahoe? You’d need to map out a different course for each destination, so you don’t get lost and end up stranded in the middle of the desert, wasting time, money, and resources.
Well, think of the production of your web series as a road trip you are embarking on. It may be a short one, a day trip to the beach to dip your toe in the water. But it might be a long haul, across the entire continent, with many hills, valleys, and potholes along the way. You don’t want to end up in Florida if your goal is to be in New York. So you figure out your path before you even begin.
Likewise, I want you to plot a course for your web series well in advance of production. Think about: where do I want this web series to take me? Is my goal simply to have fun? Or to be creative and feel more in control of my artistic career? Or to use this as part of my professional portfolio as a writer/director/producer/actor? Am I trying to build an audience so I can monetize my content on YouTube and maybe even sell the series? Do I want to be a digital content creator, or is my true ultimate goal to be on the writing staff of a TV series, or to write for film, or theater?
Life is too short to spend a lot of valuable time on things that don’t help you get to where you truly want to go. I myself have been incredibly guilty of taking on projects to keep busy, make connections, or as favors to friends, and have found myself drained and resentful over time because the project didn’t move my career forward in the direction I wanted to go.
When I embarked upon creating my web series, Split, I decided that, for once, this project was for me. Not to help a director friend or an actor friend, but to help me get where I want to go. I thought about my goals. I want to be staffed on a drama (or dramedy) television series. I want to be a showrunner someday of a series that I create. So I’m going to take that dream and live it now. I’m going to create a series and executive produce it, and build the skills that I will need to reach my goal someday, rather than continue to execute the vision of others.
I decided it was time to be selfish.
When I sat down to write, I thought, what do I personally enjoy watching on TV? What would keep me tuning back in for more? What would I be excited about writing? When it comes to TV, what are my so-called guilty pleasures? I did NOT think about – what is hot right now? What do other people think I should write? What do my friends/parents/significant other think I should do? What are other content creators doing?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your due diligence and know what other series are out there. But you should strive to find your own unique voice and to make sure that your series serves your passion and your career goals.
MARKETING AND BRANDING
It’s important while you begin to outline and write your episodes that you think about the marketing of your series. That is, what potential audiences are you thinking about as you write? What kind of people are you hoping will respond to your message? What sets your web series apart from the pack; what is it that will make people choose you?
In an earlier article of mine, we talked about theme and how your web series needs to be about something. It needs to appeal to an audience that can relate to your story. Yes, you are writing your project for you. But at the same time you want your message to reach other like-minded people.
In my web series, Split, we explore many different themes that can appeal to niche audiences. Recovering after divorce, looking for work in a down economy, mental illness, mother/daughter relationships, peer pressure, and teenage sex, to name several. These themes all have potential audiences that we can tap into.
Now is also a good time to think about your brand and what your graphics and artwork will look like. What is the tone of your series? Fun, light, goofy? Or dark, mysterious, foreboding? What experience should people expect while watching your series? Clearly people watching The Big Bang Theory are going to have a different experience from those watching Breaking Bad. What would you like the audience to be thinking/feeling/experiencing during and after watching your series? Are you imparting a message or belief, or are you simply trying to entertain?
Use social media to your advantage and start building an audience right away. You can create a Facebook and Twitter for your series in development, put up some basic artwork, and start getting the word out, so that by the time the series is ready to launch, you already have a built-in audience who has followed you along the way.
I know I’ve given you a lot to think about and a lot of questions to answer. However, it’s better to answer them now when you haven’t yet invested much in your series, than to have to answer them months and thousands of dollars later, when someone raises their eyebrow and says, “I don’t get it. What’s your series about? And where are you going with this?”
- More Writers on the Web articles by Rebecca Norris
- Breaking & Entering: Great Writing – A Love Story
- Writers on the Web: Developing Web Series Ideas, Part 1
Tools to Help:
- Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless
- Monday Morning Editor’s Picks: Tools for TV Writing
- Inside Story by Dara Marks