Writers on the Web Wrap-Up: LAWEBFEST 2014

webfest 2014 postcardI’m taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a Writers on the Web Wrap-up of last week’s Los Angeles Web Series Festival (LAWEBFEST). (Try saying Writers on the Web Wrap-Up five times fast, it’s fun!) It’s not a film festival, but a web festival: five days in late March devoted entirely to celebrating the art and craft of web series creation.

If you’ve ever wondered what a web series is, LAWEBFEST will answer that question for you in short order. (Ironically, while at the festival, my boyfriend, who has watched me work on my web series Split for the last two years, asked me, “So, what the heck is a web series again? I still don’t get what it is.”) While not 100% mainstream yet, web series are becoming more and more popular by the day, and more and more writers are jumping on the self-producing bandwagon. After all, if it’s always been your dream to create television, why wait, when you can do it now?

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Festival founder Michael Ajakwe presenting at the Awards Ceremony

LAWEBFEST was conceived of five years ago by Emmy-winning TV writer and web series creator Michael Ajakwe, Jr., who saw a need to celebrate the abundant creativity found in this unique art form. The festival has grown from a small gathering in a 99-seat theater to taking over the entire second floor of the Radisson LAX hotel, with over thirty panels and workshops, as well as screenings of a record 319 official selections. LAWEBFEST also generously gives away hundreds of awards–choosing to honor Outstanding Achievements by a number of web series rather than limiting the awards to “Best Of.”

I’ve had the good fortune to attend quite a few film festivals with my work, but found LAWEBFEST to be tops in terms of networking, making new friends, and finding artistic gems I didn’t yet know about. I had the chance to get to know many amazing artists from around the globe, including Jeff Burns of Super Knocked Up (New York state), Brighton West of Vancouvria (Oregon), Jason Leaver of Out With Dad (Canada), Maria Albiñana of Sin Vida Propia (Spain), and Martin Jon Garcia of Our Cultural Center (Illinois). I also had the honor of being introduced to a number of great new series, including Shadow Bound, The Gambit, 240 Reviews, and many more. 

TV Network Fellowship panel at LAWEBFEST

TV Network Fellowship panel at LAWEBFEST

I also had the honor of participating on the Covering the Web panel, where along with panelists such as Stephanie Carrie of LA WEEKLY/The Tangled Web We Watch, and Jeff Burns of Super Geeked Up, we talked about how traditional media reports on web series, and gave advice about getting press interested in covering a series.

A unique thing, among many at LAWEBFEST, is that the panels are not only reserved for authors or experts or industry players.  There are several “How We Made Our Web Series” panels featuring entrants from the festival talking about the trials, tribulations, and successes in their web producing journeys. It was refreshing and inspiring to hear the stories of other content creators working in the same trenches as me. Additionally, there were a number of helpful, high-profile speakers from Fox Digital and Warner Bros. Digital, as well as the WGA and CBS, ABC/Disney, Warner Bros., and NBC Writing Fellowships, speaking specifically to creators who want to cross over into traditional media outlets.

What? What? We won an award!

What-What? We won an award!

Standout moments included the opening night dinner with E! Entertainment co-founder Larry Namer, who was at the advent of cable television in the 70s/80s. He spoke about how back then, people called cable TV “new media,” and had no idea what to do with it or how to turn a profit from it. Here we are once more at the advent of another “new media,” which people are again trying to define and monetize.  It gave well-needed perspective to the vastness of the web space, which can seem like a virtual wild west at times.

The Awards Ceremony, which went quite long at about 5 hours, was still fun and inspirational, and it was a treat to watch many of my new friends take home numerous awards for their work. (Split won an Outstanding Achievement Award for our musical score by the fabulous Matthew Head. Congrats, Matt!)

Superstar content creator Issa Rae at the Closing Day Breakfast

Superstar content creator Issa Rae speaking at the Closing Day Breakfast

The closing day breakfast with content creator and actress Issa Rae was also a highlight; hearing her speak about her journey to internet stardom and a development deal with HBO was both entertaining and enlightening.

My only constructive criticism of the festival would be from an organizational standpoint–with so many selected series, and large audiences for the special events, there were issues with crowd control as well as starting screenings and panels in a timely manner. However, I believe as the festival continues to grow and evolve, these issues will be resolved.  I’m so glad to have attended and have been selected to the festival, and I’m looking forward to attending LAWEBFEST 2015!

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