Continuing my series on PR and getting press for a web series, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to interview the talented editorial staff behind the popular web series magazine, WebVee Guide: Jeff Siniawsky, Susan Siniawsky, Kyle Price-Livingston, and Eli David.
In the coming months, look for more interviews with press outlets and publicists, who can help guide you in how to get your series out to the masses before and after your big launch.
Rebecca: Tell us about the origin of the WebVee Guide. What made you decide to devote your site to web series?
Jeff: I discovered web series in the spring of 2008. I saw an interview Veronica Belmont did with Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh at SXSW in which they talked about The Guild. I had never heard of a web show before and I was intrigued enough to check out the show. I found The Guild as a podcast on iTunes. I was hooked immediately, totally taken by how clever and funny the show was, and fascinated with the bite-sized episode format. So, I started looking around for more shows and next came across Break A Leg and then Goodnight Burbank. The problem I encountered was how do I keep finding good shows like these to watch on the web.
Eli and I began to kick around some ideas and we initially conceived of WebVee Guide as like a TV Guide for the web, with features in front and a show grid on the back end. Eli and I, along with Larry Pres Watts, began to watch shows and write reviews, which we stashed as we tried to figure out how we would present them. Not having solved that challenge, we put the project into mothballs until the fall of 2012.
At that time, Eli brought Kyle in and we began to put things together. Our first feature/issue would focus on shows and creators honored by the Streamy Awards in February 2013. We missed that target date, but realized that instead of randomly watching and reviewing shows, each week we would have a theme such as horror, comedy, drama, sci-fi, and select shows that fit that week’s genre theme, or focus on shows selected for festivals. The first festival we covered was UK VidFest in May 2013. Focusing on genres or themes was borne from necessity to help us make sense of all of the wonderful content that was being created. Themed weeks, and now themed days, are a major part of what people expect from WebVee Guide.
We expanded beyond reviews immediately to include video interviews, which have evolved to become our audio podcasts and, now we’ve also added Kyle’s Profiles. What’s been important for us is our coverage of web fests. We’ll be attending 8-10 of them this year. We’ve also developed the WebVee Guide No-Name Game Show which we plan to make a regular feature on the site.
Kyle: Well, there are two schools of thought on that. The first is that back when I lived in Florida, Eli and I had worked on a couple writing projects together. He knew I loved writing and the internet. Although I had moved to Colorado by the time things really got going, Eli, Jeff and Susan brought me on board to write, edit and help develop the site.
The second, more interesting one is that we had intended to create a site that compiled cat pictures, but while walking home from a planning meeting late one foggy night, Jeff was attacked and bitten by a radioactive Felicia Day. At first we thought it wasn’t too serious, but then he started losing track of huge chunks of time. Some mornings he would wake up to find fully written series reviews on his laptop but no memory of how they got there. So we figured we’d just roll with it.
Eli: The site was Jeff’s idea. He and I shared an interest in web series for several years before he approached me about developing the site in 2011. Jeff’s goal was to create a space to further promote these series in the style of a TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly. Both of us felt that much of what we watched on the web was more entertaining than most of the shows on television and we noticed much of the television we did like becoming increasingly available on the web.
From there, I developed specific concepts (writing formats, weekly themes, story topics, etc.) for exactly how to promote the shows and compiled a list of several hundred web series to write about so that we had a strong stockpile of written content with which to launch. Jeff, Larry Watts (one of our staff writers) and I combined to write around 50-100 reviews before our launch.
Once I realized that I might not have the time I’d like to devote to the site and that I didn’t much care for my own non-fiction writing, I asked Kyle to be our Editor-In-Chief. Kyle’s a good friend (and a snazzy dresser), and he and I had already worked on a few projects together, so I knew he was a strong writer with a unique knowledge and perspective of the entertainment industry. Once we had Kyle, we finished organizing all of our material and launched into cyberspace.
Rebecca: What interests/inspires you about web series?
Jeff: The sheer creativity without big budgets. There is brilliance being expressed in this space.
Susan: I love that I can watch an entire season of a web show in the time it takes to watch one show on network or cable tv. Binge watching is one of my great delights.
Kyle: I think it’s the inherent freedom and anarchy of the web world that really attracts me. There are some wonderful shows out there that simply couldn’t exist in any other environment. The rules for successful TV and film development are well established and totally discouraging to creators without money or connections. That just isn’t the case online.
Eli: I work in web production, so I have a creative and professional interest in them. I think there’s an incredible amount of space and autonomy on the web which has allowed some wonderfully talented people to showcase their work and find their own audience without the censorship and time restrictions of network TV. And it’s exciting to be a part of a burgeoning medium as it continues to define itself.
Rebecca: When should web series creators start reaching out for press? What’s the best way to get reviewed by the WebVee Guide and other outlets?
Jeff: Create a good show. Our reviews are positive because we only post reviews of shows we like. We are not inclined to be critical of someone’s hard work. We understand the effort and love put into creating a show and we don’t want to diminish that by a bad review if we don’t like a show. So, we try to avoid shows that miss in one way or another. We’re the guide to what’s good.
Susan: Good question. I have bookmarked several series that, even after several months, only have trailers, but those trailers look so good I can’t wait to see the show. There are a couple of shows I can think of that I’ve waited a year to see, and even though they haven’t yet released a season, they’ve created a buzz by frequent social media posts, photos, and teasers. As far as reviewing a show – we do like to have several episodes, preferably an entire season to review.
Kyle: It certainly doesn’t hurt to reach out early in the process, but try to make sure you have at least something to show people, whether that’s a trailer, concept art, a crowdfunding video, etc. I just did an interview with a creator who is making an animated show, only none of the animation has been done yet. He sent me photos of the voiceover sessions, cast pics, and arranged an interview with himself and one of his actors, and that was plenty. You CAN reach out before finishing the show, and you CERTAINLY need to have started your press outreach by the time you launch.
Eli: Press can start as soon as a trailer is released. WebVee Guide runs a “Today’s Feature” video that often features trailers for upcoming series. Plus, those of us that run the site are always happy to get an early look at a new series.
As far as getting reviewed by WebVee Guide (and, for purposes of this answer, I’ll assume other outlets), the best way to get our attention is through social media. We usually engage those who engage us. Also, we must have seen the show (at least one episode) to review it, so either it has to be released or we need advance screener. We like screeners. (Though we have nothing against released shows.)
Rebecca: Susan, how do you personally find out about a web series, and what makes you want to review a particular one?
Susan: I find many of the shows through social media, primarily Twitter. When a series follows us I’ll take a look. When a show contacts us directly, whether on twitter, Facebook, or email, I will always check it out. I make note of ones that have enough episodes (preferably a season) to review. If a show only has a trailer or a few episodes, or if we’re backlogged on reviews we’ll use it as a “Today’s Feature” (which changes every day).
I’m not the only one who finds the shows. Everyone has input when they come across a show they’ve found and think should be reviewed.
Rebecca: How do you think web series creators can increase their chances of finding an audience in such a saturated online market?
Jeff: That’s the gazillion dollar question. I wish I had the answer. I’d quit my day job. I don’t think it’s one thing. I think a show creator must realize that marketing the show is part of the small business they are running. Building an audience is not just a matter of views, but also of engagement with the audience. I think some of the things Rochelle Dancel did for Producing Juliet, the Cast Conversations and asking people to submit their own stories of the theatre, were brilliant in not just developing an audience, but in engaging the audience, making them feel invested in the show. Essentially, a show should strive to build its own community.
Susan: Use social media. I can’t stress how important this is. Interact with others, don’t just post a link to your show. Follow people on twitter, Google+ and Facebook and comment on their posts. Join creator groups on Facebook to promote your work. The web series community is incredibly supportive. Contact press directly via email or social media with show clips,sneak peaks and press kits. A press kit can be as simple as a description of the show, its creators and actors. Enter webfests: you never know who’s watching the selection lists.
Kyle: I think being active on social media is a big help (and by active I mean you should be Tweeting/Facebooking every day). Another great way is to get involved with some of the creator groups that are popping up all over the world. LA, London, New York, Seattle, Seemingly-Everywhere-In-Canada, all have groups of creators that support and promote each other’s work. If you’ve got a genre series, reach out to blogs and channels who have a similar audience. Also, submit to festivals. We write a ton of pieces about shows we find through festival nomination lists, and even if you don’t win, involvement is usually good for some social media interaction.
Eli: Establishing visibility in the marketplace is necessary to increase the chances of finding an audience, and targeting specific markets and viewers with an obvious interest in the show’s content is a good place to start. This includes sending press materials to sites and blogs covering topics relevant to the show in addition, of course, to sites focused on web series (like WebVee Guide). Targeting broader sources won’t hurt, and contacting a large number of sources obviously increases chances for exposure. But while exposure from a broad source may provide a noticeable one-time viewership spike, aiming for niches and common interests increases the chances of viewer engagement in the form of likes, comments and subscriptions, all of which are highly valuable in terms of both return viewership and internet visibility/searchability. And, if posted on a niche site with content besides web series, the show will be highly visible to the site’s readership, as videos in general are the most visibility-enriched content on the web.
Social media engagement is another great way for a show to increase visibility and find an audience. Simply posting on such resources equates largely to shouting into the void. But by responding directly to followers, liking and favoriting other posts and series, and joining existing discussions, a show can greatly increase its visibility. It also needs to post original content to these resources, but by engaging others, creators will find that engagement returned on their own posts. These engagement totals and responses often indicate a certain interest in and loyalty to the show while increasing the searchability, and thus, the visibility of the show itself.
Also, when engaging through social media, show creators should keep in mind that many folks in the web series audience are creators themselves. If a creator engages another series, they’ll usually find the favor returned (within reason). Often times, finding an audience on the web can be accomplished by finding someone willing to share some of theirs.
And, because the web is indeed a saturated space for all types of content, venturing outside the medium can be extremely beneficial for a series. Live promotion at festivals and conventions (when possible and affordable) can deliver audience directly to a show by allowing creators to interact with potential viewers face-to-face.
Rebecca: Are any of you web series writers/producers yourselves? If so, where can we watch your work?
Kyle: Eli and I worked on a web series together that may or may not ever see the light of day. I do have a webcomic called Adventure Team Alpha that I post periodically at a site called Rare Earth Comics. Fair warning: It’s totally, deeply insane.
Eli: I am. I co-produced 3 episodes of Producing Juliet as well a new review series called We Like to Watch with Ari and Tamara, both helmed by the amazingly talented team of Tina Cesa Ward and Allison Vanore. Producing Juliet can be found at producingjuliet.com, Blip.tv and JTS.tv, and both shows can be found on Tina’s YouTube channel, TheWPC (Ward Picture Company).
I also produce much of WebVee Guide’s live event coverage (with the amazing and talented Daniela DiIorio), all of which is available on the WebVee Guide YouTube channel. Other than that, I’ve produced and appeared in some sketch/parody stuff, made my own (unreleased) attempt at a series (which Kyle helped to co-write and produce) and I co-wrote, exec produced and appeared in an unauthorized short based on a comic book series called Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness that got pulled from YouTube but is probably still watchable somewhere (crazy kids with their pirate downloads and their torrent sites and their Dan Fogelberg).
Rebecca: Do you have any advice to give web series creators to inspire them on their journey?
Susan: Do your research (Marx Pyle’s book Television on the Wild,Wild Web is a great resource). Explore every avenue to get your show made and presented to the public. Join creators’ groups in your area or online. Go to web fests even if you haven’t submitted your series. You’ll be able to network and learn from the panels presented. Work with people who are like minded. Don’t give up.
Kyle: Advice-wise I would say: there is room for everything on the internet. There will always be someone who wants to see what you’ve made. Don’t stress about how to find your exact target audience, or exactly what platform to use to host your videos, because nobody has solved that mystery yet. You have a vision for a show, and, while there’s no guarantee of success for any series, your best chance is to make your show as good as you possibly can. Go! Make shows! You can do it! You’re the best! [Cue Rocky’s Theme].
Eli: Lots, actually.
- Save your money. You will need it. Possibly to continue eating and sleeping indoors.
- Make sure your scripts are well written. The quality of ideas and concepts is subject to taste; a properly written script rarely is. Don’t assume you can write one because you can put fingers to keyboard. If writing isn’t a strength or focus of yours, consider seeking help from a more talented, dedicated writer (and be honest with yourself about your ability). Even if you are a good writer, double check your format and structure against other examples. And make sure your script is finished prior to shoot. There is no nuisance more avoidable than writing and shooting on the fly. I know much of this should go without saying, but I’ve been surprised before.
- Be mindful of the sacrifices you’re making. Producing and promoting a web series is a months-to-years long process and chances are high that once you start production, other parts of your life will receive significantly less attention. Some won’t receive any at all. Make sure you’re aware of what will be affected and inform any third parties (family, friends, employers) how they might be affected.
- Be the last person to leave the set (and anywhere else you may find yourself working). I know this sounds like generic business advice, but if you’re going to helm your own series, it’s a job requirement. Your series primarily relies on you for completion, and staying until the end is the best (some would say only) way to ensure satisfaction with your production. It may also inspire others to do the same, engendering camaraderie amidst a shared work ethic with hours spent together; y’know, the stuff that makes projects special and memorable and all that.
- Choose your hires and those with whom you work carefully. Base your choices on skill, enthusiasm, and appropriateness for the project. Look for all three qualities, not just one. Bring on people you can trust without having to look over their shoulders. Do not work with a pain in the ass, regardless of any prior relationship or perceived talent. Remember that this is your creation; you deserve to get what you expect (within reason) from those helping you bring it to life.
- Trust your cast and crew. You brought them aboard for a reason; respect them and let them do their jobs. Meddling and micromanagement often slow production and kill on-set morale in the process. Let everyone on set know exactly what you expect them to do and then give them enough space to do it.
- Be patient, and be prepared to be patient. You will get frustrated. You will get angry. You will want to yell and swear and kick things. You may even want to break things and hurt people (DON’T DO THIS). Breathe, take five, and always keep in mind that it will end and your frustration will pass.
- Speaking of patience, be especially patient with any volunteers. Be mindful of their time as you will likely need to work with and around it. If everyone on the project is volunteering, prepare to go out of your way to accomplish this (in addition, of course, to producing your series:).
- Don’t hire your friends (in most cases). Let them volunteer if they’d like to help. If they do, do not overtask them with responsibility and be mindful of their time. Carefully judge any exceptions you might make to this and proceed with caution should you do so.
- Promotion can often be as much of a grind as production, so manage all expectations, including your own. Be as realistic without being cynical. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a production, especially if it’s your first, but regardless of how happy you are with your results, you probably won’t be an instant sensation. Even folks regarded as “instant sensations” like Felicia Day and Freddie Wong put in years promoting their work while consistently creating and releasing new content to achieve the viewership numbers they enjoy today. Don’t take this to mean that no one wants to watch your show, and don’t become disheartened if early viewership numbers aren’t what you’d hoped.
- Realize that you’re in an incredibly crowded space but that, with well-targeted promotion and an entertaining show, you can expect people to watch and enjoy your series. And they will. And with continued release and promotion of content, you can expect that number to grow over time.
- Read Yuri Baranovsky’s columns at WebVee Guide. As a pioneer of the medium, he has far better advice to distribute than I do. He’s also funny and a heck of a guy.
Jeff: If you keep making good shows, I promise we’ll keep paying attention.
- Read more articles by Rebecca Norris
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- Balls of Steel: Jane Espenson Takes on the Web
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