Since we’ve been on the subject of web series festivals and awards shows lately, I thought, dear readers, you’d like to hear directly from the horse’s mouth about what judges are looking for.
I’d like to start off this series of interviews with Jonathan Robbins, Executive Director of the IAWTV Awards.
In addition to being in charge of the IAWTV Awards, Jonathan is a web series creator himself, of the groundbreaking femme fatale web series Clutch, which won him the 2014 Indie Series Award for Directing, as well as being a Streamy and IAWTV nominee, and Webby Honoree. He is also co-executive producer and director of the spy-thriller series Asset, shot in Prague, which recently won Best Thriller at Vancouver WebFest.
Jonathan is also a working actor; he plays Nathan (aka Dad) in the internationally successful web series Out With Dad, and Bruce in the Sci-Fi series Haphead, for which he received double nominations at the 2015 IAWTV Awards. Jonathan has moderated and participated in panels at events such as Marseille WebFest, San Diego Comicon, LA WebFest and for George Brown College.
Rebecca: What is the IAWTV and what does it do for web series creators?
Jonathan: The IAWTV (International Academy of Web Television) is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering opportunities for web creators through education, awareness and community. We have relationships with many of the web series festivals and awards shows who offer discounts to our members, have writers meet ups and networking events, online fireside chats, and of course host the annual awards show.
Rebecca: Can you give us a brief history on the awards show and how it has evolved into the show it is today?
Jonathan: The IAWTV was at one time the voting body for the Streamy Awards. The organization felt that they should be going in a different direction than the Streamys and as such, separated as our own entity. Over the 4 years of running our own awards, which has been called “the Emmys of the web” by Vegas Seven Magazine, those directions have begun to define themselves. With the Streamys focussing largely on YouTube personalities and social media outlets such as Vine and Snapchat, and the IAWTV Awards primarily honoring scripted content and the associated crafts, there is clearly a need and relevance for both to co-exist. In 2014, the IAWTV partnered with NMX (New Media Expo), who produced our show for the first time in Las Vegas, then during CES. In 2015, we moved with NMX to the NAB Show, also in Las Vegas, where we will return for 2016.
Rebecca: What does the IAWTV look for when going through submissions? What makes a web series or show stand out?
Jonathan: Judging to determine the nominees is currently decided by a third party jury. Members of the IAWTV appointed Jury Chairs for each category, who sought out qualified individuals to determine the nominees in that category with a mandate of diversity. Award winners were then chosen by the membership of the academy. So it is difficult to say what is particularly being looked for, but from my perspective, what I can see is that shows who have strong technical execution and a strong story or concept do the best. There are of course exceptions, and a new Micro-budget category was added last year which is designed to give a home to those who had to do a lot with little. Our website (www.iawtv.org) contains lists of previous nominees and winners with links to the shows, so you can see for yourself what rises to the top in each category.
Rebecca: Is there anything a web series creator can do to increase his or her success when submitting? Any pet peeves that should be avoided by entrants at all costs?
Jonathan: I have two pieces of advice when submitting to any awards show: A) Make it easy for the judges. Give notes as to what to look for if possible. For example, if you have a stellar five second f/x sequence that is seven minutes into your episode you submitted for Best Visual F/X, note that, so that the judges don’t miss it. B) Bad sound kills everything. Even if an actor’s performance is top notch, if the sound clips or the dialogue is hard to hear, a person judging will be distracted or turned off by that and miss the performance. If recording good sound is not possible for you, find another way to tell the story such as without on screen dialogue.
Rebecca: What’s the most rewarding thing about being the Executive Director of the IAWTV awards?
Jonathan: When the awards finally happened, having everyone in one room, and knowing that thousands of people were sharing the experience online, made it all worth it. Second to that, seeing that there really is no other show like ours. The Indie Series Awards are similar, but unlike the ISAs, we are not specifically celebrating indies, but honoring studio and indie talent together alike, and as well we include several non-fiction genres.
Once again, there is certainly a home and a need for both shows, and I personally have submitted to and attended both of them.
Rebecca: What advice would you give to web series creators who are just starting out? What can they do to make their work the kind of quality that will impress in web festivals and awards shows?
Jonathan: Further to the thoughts about the need for good sound, I would say the best thing you can do is know your limitations and your strengths, and then use them each to your advantage. A stunt coordinator once told me that a successful stunt is two things – safe, and believable looking – if either of those things fail, then so did the stunt. As I learn myself, I try to apply this to all of my filmmaking. It doesn’t matter what you had planned, it only matters if it worked or not. If it didn’t, be it because the location wasn’t convincing or that an effect doesn’t look realistic enough, then cut it, and find another way to tell the story.
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Writing the Web Series