WRITERS ON THE WEB: Web Series Festivals – Indie Series Awards

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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ISA founder Roger Newcomb

Continuing our series on web series festivals, I’m thrilled to share this interview with Roger Newcomb, founder and producer of the prestigious Indie Series Awards. I have personally attended the ISAs when our lovely lead actress Lisa Roumain was a nominee for Split, and it was by far one of the most fun and professionally-run awards shows I have been to.Before founding the ISAs, Roger first launched We Love Soaps, a blog dedicated to championing serialized entertainment.  In 2009 a companion web series, We Love Soaps TV, premiered, featuring celebrity guests such as Susan Lucci, Olivia Newton-John, Anthony Geary and Kim Zimmer. He currently co-hosts entertainment news series Serial Scoop Now.

Roger is also a writer, filmmaker, actor, and web series producer, having produced two seasons of Emmy-nominated The Bay, and was executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie. He has also made acting appearances in web series such as Imaginary Bitches and Empire.   Recent film appearances include the documentary Soap Life, ruminating alongside Agnes Nixon and Eileen Fulton, and James Franco’s indie feature, Francophrenia.

The Indie Series Awards are about to embark upon their 7th year, and have relocated from New York to Los Angeles and the historic El Portal Theatre.

Rebecca: What are the Indie Series Awards, and how did the show originate?

Roger: In 2009, I was coming off having written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, as well as two indie audio dramas that got some attention, and serving as Editorial Director for a blog titled We Love Soaps where I was meeting a number of indie web series creators.  Their stories reminded me of my own–putting a big chunk of my personal savings into the productions, and struggling to get attention for the projects.  The number of web series was also growing and our readers weren’t sure which shows they should check out.

To address all those issues, I came up with what was initially called the Indie Soap Awards.  The response was overwhelming that year, and it inspired us to continue and create a really nice live ceremony and red carpet for the indie community, a night these incredible creators making wonderful shows for very little money could shine.

We eventually renamed the show the Indie Series Awards (always The ISAs) and are now in our seventh year.

Rebecca: What does the ISA committee look for when going through submissions? What makes a web series or show stand out?

Roger: We get fantastic submissions from all over the world, and many of our categories are broken into comedy and drama, much like the Golden Globes or Emmys.  We look for shows with great production values, unique stories, top-notch casts and amazing performances.  And they are found in abundance!  Every year the overall quality as a whole improves and I find myself blown away during the submission process watching show after show full or original concepts and things I have never seen before on TV or the Web.

Series can stand out in a number of ways, from having a distinct look and feel (sets, costumes, etc.) to telling an original story.  Our team members are pretty much chained to our desks for three months watching the submissions and not discussing as a group until the very end of the nomination process.  Then we have a fabulous time getting together and reviewing our scores, finding out where we agree and disagree, and reliving all the wonderful moments that made us laugh and cry.  Whenever a show makes me feel something–whether I’m laughing at my screening or fighting back tears–I know there’s something special there.

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?

Roger: In our process, producers can submit up to three actors in each category, and many do.  So just speaking mathematically, you probably have a higher percentage chance submitting in the technical categories your show excels in.  For example, there may be a thousand actors submitted in a category but only 500 directors.  It’s very inspiring to watch these series but narrowing them down to the six nominees is always tough.

I would also recommend submitting in as many categories as you can.  Two of my favorite series last year submitted their casts in the best ensemble category but none of the actors individually in the acting categories.  Both probably had a chance at acting nominations. This really isn’t a pet peeve because I understand the cost limitations, especially for indie producers, but a number of submissions tend to focus on the “glamour” categories–best web series, writing, directing and acting.  I’m always bummed when watching a show with a great score or production design that didn’t submit in those categories.

Rebecca:  What’s the most rewarding thing about running the ISAs? Have you seen some of the winning or nominated creators go on to great things?

Roger: There is so much that’s rewarding about the ISAs!  It’s a lot of work and we are pretty much exhausted by the night of the ceremony, but we have the best speeches!  To sit in the audience and have a creator, actor or crew member from one of these great series get teary about how much being recognized means to them makes all the hard work worth it.  These people create magic on a shoe-string budget much of the time and I am thrilled we can, in some small way, give them a special night to shine.  We have been told more than once that being honored by the ISAs inspired a show to continue production, and that means more to us than I can say.

Every year we have a mixture of well-known celebrities and people less known but who are all doing fantastic work.  What happens every year is the recognizable names sit in the audience, watch the clips during the ceremony, and leave impressed with the indie artists that flew in from Maine, D.C., Toronto and all over the world.  I love having a celebrity ask me to introduce them to an “unknown” indie producer because they were blown away by the work they saw on the big screen during the ceremony.

One thing that happens every year at the ISAs is great networking among web series creators which leads to future collaboration.  We’ve had so many cases where, as a result of networking, an actor was cast in a different series, a crossover event was written, or producers collaborated on a new series.  It’s all about their talent but I’m always happy to find out it was our event that brought them together.

Winners from every year of the Indie Series Awards have gone on to bigger things, from Craig Frank at the 1st Annual ISAs, Liza Weil the second year, Sebastian La Cause the next, and on and on.  When someone asks me how the ISAs compare to other web series awards shows, I say that we are the only one that is completely focused on independent productions and, obviously I’m biased, but I think we have the best winners.  I can’t stress enough how talented these people are, and hope we can continue to grow and help give them an even bigger spotlight that they have earned.Rebecca: Can you tell us a bit more about We Love Soaps and how the site works with or assists web series creators?

Roger: We Love Soaps launched in 2007, and our sister site, Serial Scoop began in 2013.  Supporting indie artists is one my personal passions, and that extends to our entire editorial staff.   In 2010, my husband, Kevin Mulcahy Jr., also launched the Indie Series Network, a non-profit dedicated to creating and celebrating excellence in Web content that prioritizes artistic merit and social messaging.  Through all these avenues, we do things like conduct interviews, post press releases, promote via social media, conduct a weekly web series poll, and connect producers with each other; basically, anything we can do with our resources to help, we are happy to do.

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?

Roger: When I made my very first indie film, it had some sound issues that I wish I could have changed later.  That was probably the most common issue we saw when we first launched the ISAs in 2009.  Production values overall have gone up tremendously since then, and so many people have great cameras these days, but bad sound can turn off potential viewers as much as anything.  So invest in sound!

I guess my biggest piece of advice would be to find out what else is happening in the web series space.  Check out the shows that are winning awards and getting attention to get an idea of what you consider to the “best” and strive for that.  Attending events like the Indie Series Awards where you can network with other creators is also invaluable.  You’ll make wonderful new friends, get some great advice along the way and network with the stars of the web space.

Submission Dates:
Early Entry Period: September 10-30, 2015ISA7-2
Regular Entry Period: October 1-November 30, 2015
Extended Entry Period: December 1-31, 2015

Eligibility:
Web series must have three three NEW episodes within calendar year 2015.
Submit your web series to the ISAs HERE!
Check out the ISAs online at indieseriesawards.com
Follow the ISAs on Twitter – @ISAwards
Follow the ISAs on Facebook!

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

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