WRITERS ON THE WEB: Getting Press For a Web Series

Rebecca Norris is a writer, producer, web enthusiast, and creator of the award-winning web series Split with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Follow Rebecca on Twitter at @beckaroohoo

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AltRoboCongratulations! At this point in our web series journey, you’ve written, shot, and edited your web series, and are ready to start getting the word out. Now the challenge: get people interested in your series. But how does one go about getting press for a web series and attracting an audience in such a saturated market?

This next series of articles will explore the various ways in which you can build your fan base, including getting press coverage, marketing on social media, buying advertising, and entering web and film festivals.

One of the best things you can do to build heat for your series is to get some coverage from blogs, magazines, and newspapers before you launch your first episode.

I had the opportunity to chat about this with the guys behind one of my favorite web series blogs, Snobby Robot, an online trade-style magazine that covers web series, showcases talent, and educates on how to succeed in new media. Creator Erik Urtz and writer Chris Hadley are also web series producers themselves and have a lot of valuable experience to share from the trenches.

Additionally, we invited MartinJon Garcia, creator of the web series Our Cultural Center and one of Chris’ creative collaborators to chime in on his experience creating and marketing his series.

Rebecca: Erik, what inspired you to create Snobby Robot? What does Snobby Robot do for content creators?

Erik: Snobby Robot has been a real evolution. It started as a creative outlet for myself on Tumblr. I had really wanted to get back into writing and technology and entertainment are my two favorite subjects. It wasn’t all that long before I found myself writing about web series and the indie transmedia movement. Ultimately writing on the subject got me back in to filmmaking. Meeting so many new talented creators has opened a lot of doors for me creatively and I took advantage of my new situation to start trying my hand at helping produce content.

I actually wrote with a lot more detail on this subject on our website ‘About’ page.

Snobby Robot exists as a promotional tool for independent creators just starting to get their feet wet. Most creators simply know that they want to create something. They have ideas, they have heart and now they have the means to actually put interesting work together. Unfortunately most don’t really know what to do with it, they don’t know where it can take them or how to get there. One of the major issues is that, as a still forming industry, a lot of those questions have murky answers – there is not necessarily an obvious path.

One of the biggest hurdles creators face is creating legitimacy, it’s all those little things fully professional productions have to convince people to watch. So many of us started out with the assumption that if we make it people will watch, but the truth is, getting people to watch is a lot harder than making the content in the first place.

Snobby Robot’s goal is to help creators to understand the need for creating a marketing plan and the steps they can to take to promote a professional outward facing image, all while doing the best we can to help in that process.

Rebecca: Chris, what inspires you to write for Snobby Robot, and how did you get involved with the site?

Chris: I’m inspired by the stories of web series creators who managed to really buck the system, and to produce the shows they wanted to without having to wait for permission. That’s the real spirit of the industry today, in that there is a whole new generation of storytellers who see the immense and enormous creative opportunities provided by the web.

As for how I got involved with Snobby Robot, Erik saw some scripts that I had been working on and was very impressed by my writing. He had an opening for a position on his site, and once he offered it to me I was honored to have accepted it. Even more, I was honored and thrilled to have been asked. Erik is a great guy, extremely talented, hard working and dedicated (as I am) to seeing people succeed in new media.

Rebecca: What are some ways in which web series creators can effectively market themselves and their series?

Erik: The most important thing is to strongly define your audience, and research ways you can reach them. The more specific you can be the better. Think like a business. If you haven’t defined a goal at the start then you will fail.

Chris: Obviously, media outreach through sites like Snobby Robot is just one way that they can do that. It’s very important to let people know that your show is online, and that your show can easily be found amid the vast landscape of the web. There are other news sites and blogs that every web series creator needs to use, not just ours.

Press releases and interviews are key towards the success of that outreach. Also, fan interaction through social media (Facebook/Twitter pages), blogs and video blogs (or vlogging) are a great way to build and maintain a fan base for your show. Of course, none of that will matter if you don’t create quality, compelling and entertaining content that people will want to watch. That’s true in mainstream TV, and especially in online web series.

MartinJon: Knowing the audience is very important but reaching out to the community and involving others can always help marketing because the more people that are invested at the off the more voices will be reaching that many more people.

Rebecca: What do you think are some mistakes that web series creators make when reaching out to you for reviews and press? How can creators pitch more effectively to a site like yours?

Erik: I don’t think creators have a good idea about just how many other creators are out there. This is a global movement, and we get submissions from all around the world. There are just not enough hours in the day to be able to write about every single show that crosses my desk. So I would say the biggest mistake creators make when reaching out is assuming that their show should be our priority. If creators understood that we are only able to cover a small percentage of shows I think they would put a little more effort in, and their submissions would feel significantly less self promotional.

Creators looking for press should put themselves in my shoes, as an editor. Become familiar with the content that we post and see where they might fit in. When contacting us make the angle easy for us to find. Everyone has a story, so it’s tough to sell me on your logline alone; it’s the story behind the story I’m interested in. Our readership is skewed towards other creators, so what do you think they would find interesting about your show? Most importantly, keep at it – get my attention. Don’t just email me — tweet me, post comments, share articles, become a part of the community. We seek to help members of the community first, not those just eager to self promote (even if we all are).

Chris: I’m not quite sure if I’ve experienced any creator making a mistake when pitching to Snobby Robot, but a few things that creators can do to be more effective when they talk to us would be to provide us with as much information as they can about their shows, i.e. a synopsis of the storyline, a press kit, cast and production team photos, etc.

I’ll say, though, that during the interviews I conduct with them, much of the insight and background they give me about how their shows came to be is quite interesting, and also fascinating. There are so many diverse things, people and events that I’ve learned that has played a part into the development of their shows, and especially, in their growth as filmmakers.

Rebecca: How soon is too soon to start contacting press? When do you think is the appropriate time in the production process to reach out to reviewers?

Erik: It’s never too early to contact the press – and better too soon than too late. I find creators have a harder time promoting their work after it’s all been released, so try to create a build up to that big launch day.

I think creators should have content in the can when seeking out reviews. Most want reviews for what they have already released, but reviews for future content feel more effective. People want to know what they are going to watch before they watch it, so give them that.

Chris: From my experience, I would think that the best time to contact media outlets would be when your show is close to being released. Once you’ve got all the post-production completed, the cast set and the episodes locked, that (IMO) is the best time for you to let people know that your show is coming.

Rebecca: Tell us about each of your web series and where we can watch them.

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Erik Urtz’s series “I Don’t”

Erik: I have helped produce two series now, first I Don’t, an unromantic comedy about why you shouldn’t get married or have kids can be found at www.idontseries.com. The series finds ‘Alex’ on the cusp of popping the question to his beautiful girlfriend ‘Helen’ while at dinner with his family. What follows is a dark, comical yet honest debate on the merits of marriage in our modern society.

The second is Laps, at www.facebook.com/lapstheseries, which is an expanded film adaptation of a web series I covered early on in the history of Snobby Robot. The story follows an overweight and out of work cartoonist as he loses 65 pounds at the local track. Can he keep his vices at bay for a second chance at love or is he just running in circles? Laps is currently in post production. Both projects I worked together with writer / director Chad Diez whom I met through Snobby Robot.

Chris: My web series The Late, Late News is a satire of 24-hour cable news, and some of the more sensationalistic tendencies of round-the-clock news coverage. Sure, there’s a lot of it that’s politically driven, but it’s also a lot of hype over often inconsequential stories, and contrived left/right shouting matches done just to achieve journalistic “balance.”

The first episode (6 total for this season) premiered this past September, and all episodes will be seen on www.youtube.com/TheLateLateNews.

Within the world of the series, though, it’s about an old school, Cronkite-esque newsman named John Jacobson (played by James Chillingworth) who’s alienated a lot of people due to his ego. He’s rubbed people the wrong way one too many times, and he’s been consigned to a low-rated overnight newscast that’s pretty much the bush leagues for a reporter of his stature.

From "The Late Late News"

Chris Hadley’s series “The Late Late News”

He’s got to cover stories on subjects that don’t really matter, interview ridiculous guests who show a complete lack of expertise on major news, plus he’s got to work with two inept young reporters who just want to see themselves on TV.

There’s the handsome, yet womanizing, fun-loving foreign correspondent Albert Andrews (played by Manny Fajardo) and beautiful, yet inexperienced former beauty pageant contestant turned journalist Jenny Taylor. It’s pretty much like the broadcast journalism version of purgatory, and the only way John can break out of it is to overcome his ego and work with what he’s got.

MartinJon: I’ve produced two series–in Our Cultural Center, the main funder of a non-profit art center dies and the founder brings in her profit driven ex-husband to keep the doors open, now they have to work together again. You can watch Our Cultural Center here.

My other series is ChicagoArt, a series of interviews with artists, gallery owners, and people involved in the business of the arts in and around Chicago. Check it out here.

Rebecca: What inspires each of you to create your own work?

Erik: Although I have yet to put anything out on my own, I have been inspired by all of the amazing creators I’ve had the opportunity to work with or cover over the last couple of years.

Chris: In the case of The Late, Late News, I’m clearly inspired by how ridiculous the news media can be, especially cable news. I’ve seen so many ridiculous “debates” that degenerate into shoutfests, and overblown coverage of stories that really aren’t important in the long run.

The idea was inspired by an incident last year on MSNBC, when Andrea Mitchell’s interview with a former U.S. congresswoman on the NSA spying scandal was interrupted by “breaking news” coverage of Justin Bieber arriving in court after getting arrested for drunken driving. After hearing about that, I gradually developed the idea.

Rebecca: What are your goals with your series, and with your careers professionally?

Erik: My goals with Laps and I Don’t have been primarily to gain firsthand experience with production and marketing of series. Specifically I’ve sought to continue to grow an audience for the future. We are hoping to parlay that audience into a feature film version of I Don’t in the near future.

Professionally I have been doing freelance videography and photography while working in graphic design and marketing. My long-term goal is to be able to dedicate myself to helping creators to create, market and grow their audiences full time.

Chris: My goal with The Late, Late News is to make people laugh, and possibly to help change the way viewers look at cable news and the overall state of today’s news media.

There’s still a lot of good journalism and storytelling being practiced online and on TV (PBS’ Frontline, Al Jazeera America, BBC, etc.), but it often gets overshadowed by the ridiculousness. Of course, I’d love to expand the show beyond 5-minute webisodes, and maybe make it a full half hour show for Netflix, Hulu, etc. or any other streaming network.

Professionally, my biggest goal is to continue to do quality work through my screenwriting and my coverage of web series, to entertain people through The Late, Late News and all future projects I take on, and to inform people about just how great web series are for Snobby Robot.

It’s been a real honor to write for that site, and I’ve learned so much from the great people I’ve talked to. I’ve also gotten to see many of the best shows produced and written on any medium.

True, there’s a lot of great episodic content on regular TV, but there’s so much more that’s waiting to be discovered online. Of course, not every show is top quality, but I hope that Erik and I can help people know where to find the best of them.

Our Cultural Center logo

MartinJon Garcia’s series “Our Cultural Center”

MartinJon: It is hard to say I have always made “stuff” and that is a life goal for me it gets me out of bed and gets me doing. My series’ and career goals change often, I am currently looking at the possibility of doing a feature-length documentary, but again that is by no means an end point goal. I very well may not be involved in production in 5 or 10 years I would be happy to be but there is no goal to be.

Rebecca: If you had it to do all over again with Snobby Robot and your respective web series, is there anything you would have done differently?

Erik: Hard to say. There are definitely things I would have liked to go differently, but there is little in terms of realistic changes I would make. It would’ve been nice to have a $5 million budget for Laps but… so much for realistic. Shooting a 130-page script on less than $10k is just as difficult as it sounds. It’s really a $100k movie made with $90k in favors and tradeoffs. As much as I am a fan of long form content with great characters and a great story, my official position now is for creators to make the absolute best thing they can. If you can only make five minutes of amazing that is what I would do.

Chris: I don’t think I would have done anything differently with Snobby Robot, but I can say that there are some things I wish I had done differently with The Late, Late News. Looking back, I wish I could have made the decision earlier to delegate parts of the production to others.

I was taking on so much by myself in the run up to the first episode. It was very intimidating, the scripts I wrote were always changing due to the news itself, and the task of just trying to do everything on my own production-wise was too much. Even the kind of news covered in every episode changed, and I decided to come up with episode stories that wouldn’t appear dated if viewed long afterward.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed and honored to be working with, as well as learning from, great people like Rafi Najeeb (my co-producer), plus our main cast (Chillingworth, Fajardo, etc). MartinJon taught me a lot about writing effective comedy for the web.

I wrote a 3 episode arc for OCC’s second season (pending the success of its crowd funding campaign). Martin’s friendship, encouragement and guidance really helped me become a better writer. Our actors in episode 1 of TLLN, David Tatman and Ian Smith, contributed memorably to it through their talents and performances.

I’m also honored to be writing with Matthew Barnard, another great guy, amazing actor/writer, and web series creator (Spin the Bottle). His contributions will also enhance future episodes of TLLN. In addition, I hope to collaborate with yet another talented friend, Dustin Street (writer/creator of the web series The Stranger) and to have him add his editing skills to the remaining 5 episodes.

TLLN is truly a collaborative effort that could only be made possible thanks to the web, and I feel that’s what will ultimately make it a success. My lead actor (Chillingworth) is based in Toronto. Najeeb, Fajardo, and Tatman are based in Baton Rouge, where I’m located. Garcia and Smith are in Chicago. Barnard’s in L.A., and Street’s based in Erwin, TN. I thank them all for their continued support, encouragement and friendship.

MartinJon: Everything I have done helped me get to where I am and although I know a lot more now than when I began I do not think I would have done anything differently, moving forward I will but every experience I have had in the making of my series’ has been wonderful even the more difficult challenges.

Rebecca: Any advice for first time content creators looking to produce their own work?

Erik: Have your long-term goals in mind. Create a style that is uniquely yours and focus on growing your following with everything you do. Your following is your leverage in the world of entertainment and growing it takes time.

Chris: My advice – take as much time as you need to make your show the best it can be, whether it’s casting, shooting each episode, editing, sound, all the technical aspects. Of course, it all means nothing without a great script. You have to write it, and then rewrite it again and again until you feel it’s the best it can be and no better, no matter how many drafts it may take.

Get feedback on it from people you trust, both with the script and with every cut of every episode (before it’s posted, of course). They may pick up on things you didn’t notice before, and they may point out how you can make it better.

That’s my experience with TLLN. No matter if it’s a movie, a TV show or a web series, it all begins with and hinges on a great script. If you’ve got that, then you’re ready to bring it out into the world.

MartinJon: Just keep making and stop doubting.

Check out Snobby Robot at: www.snobbyrobot.com!

Watch Erik, Chris, and MartinJon’s series!

I Don’t: http://idontseries.com
The Late, Late News: www.youtube.com/TheLateLateNews
Our Cultural Center: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5ObqV53xa_YBO4jzzgRBjgn5mag9inQ7
ChicagoArts: https://www.youtube.com/user/chicagoarts

ws_webseries_smallGet more web series advice in Rebecca Norris’ webinar
Writing the Web Series

3 thoughts on “WRITERS ON THE WEB: Getting Press For a Web Series

  1. Rebecca NorrisRebecca Norris Post author

    Hi YoungActorsProject–

    To answer your questions, one of the ways that creators can get views is by getting press early before their launch or just after, when no one knows about their series yet. Some newspapers and online magazines/blogs were kind enough to give my web series press when it first started and didn’t yet have any views, so I like to return the favor.

    I firmly believe that the beauty of web series is that a show isn’t a “failure” if it doesn’t have 10 million views. Not every show is going to catch on to the masses–some do, but most don’t–but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a quality or worthwhile project. But even shows that do catch on to the masses generally take awhile to get there. There are few web series that are an overnight success; it takes a long time and a lot of effort to build an audience, particularly in today’s saturated market on YouTube. Sometimes producers create several web series before one of them hits.

    In the series of articles I’m focusing on right now, I’m starting out talking to respected online magazines that review web series and can give a series the boost it needs to get started. Later, I’ll be interviewing publicists who can talk about getting a web series out to the masses. But a web series should have a little steam behind it (some views, festival appearances, awards, nominations, a little press, etc.) so that a publicist has something to work with rather than starting from zero. The creator needs to do some work first before hiring a professional, in my opinion.

    Stay tuned for interviews in coming months where we’ll talk about hiring a publicist to help get your work out to the masses.

    Rebecca

  2. YoungActorsProject

    This confounds me. I keep thinking that the web series mentioned here must be successful – otherwise why are the creators being interviewed. The Late Late News has less than 500 views in about 5 months! Spin the Bottle has barely cracked 200 views on its episodes! I think a lot of the vlogs and blogs and festivals that promote web series are read/viewed mainly by other web series creators – and those creators are mostly interested in promoting their own shows – not genuinely interested in yours. The real question for me is how to get the show out to the masses not just the niche subculture of fellow creators – that’s where the shows can succeed.

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