New opportunities for screenwriters: The web series…
March 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
The proliferation of new media has created another opportunity for aspiring screenwriters to begin a writing career in the newest distribution model of entertainment. Every studio and network is developing content for the web and working in this new cyber world is akin to riding into the new frontier of the Wild West. The entire business model is still new, un-chartered territory as the major players try to figure out how to turn it into a successful revenue making business.
The recent democratization of filmmaking has certainly helped the ability for anyone to create content and put it up for a global audience. The same problems remain as with any new distribution mechanism—how to harness the awesome power to connect people on a global scale and how to drive traffic and find an audience. The axiom remains true, just because you put something up on the Internet doesn’t mean people will watch.
What’s the great news for aspiring screenwriters? Content is still king. In this Wild West of online entertainment, a web series is a good place to hone your skills of storytelling and actually get involved with big players who are small players on the web.
In addition, a web series must tell compelling stories and entertain to find an audience—perhaps even more because the episodes are under ten minutes each. Much of the new investment in these shows involves “Branded Entertainment” and the money comes from advertisers that pay for the production costs of a show based around their products. The attraction for an audience to watch comes from the well-known actors, directors and writers who create a series that may run only eight episodes for its season on the internet.
Yet, it’s been difficult for TV networks to crack the secret code of how to develop original programming that works as well online as it does on their network. The upside for the studios and networks is they have a laboratory to “incubate” series ideas and have the sponsors pay for the budget. If the web series is a runaway hit, the network can push the idea over to their network division and develop the web series as a television show or movie.
What does it mean for the aspiring screenwriter? It’s fertile ground to find opportunities to become a writer on a series or even create content of your own. You’ll find the money is not great, but you’ll have to weigh it against the opportunity to work with some top people whom you might not be able to work with otherwise.
I recently experienced this scenario when I was involved with developing a web series—an original project from a well-known TV actress who already had the idea, a treatment and the players involved. A mutual friend brought me on board to help shape the treatment and create new ideas and the actress and her team loved my contributions. My work on the series development was purely on spec, meaning I did not get paid, but the players were actors whom I would have never worked with at this point on any of their network television projects.
Again, most of the work you will do on developing a web series will probably be on spec, until the show has an actual budget and they pay you to write episodes. The web series I worked on fizzled at the studio for reasons out of our control, but I was able to open a new avenue of contacts for possible future work with some well-known players.
I’ve come across many actors who have web series development deals with studios, networks and production companies. It’s an attempt to gain control of their careers through creating original content—projects they develop, act in and produce. After the Writers Guild Strike of 2007-2008, the studios and networks cleaned house and dropped most of their in-house development deals with actors, producers and writers. The industry filled the void with online entertainment development and it’s no surprise to find so many actors with a web series development deal. I recently had a pitch meeting with another well-known TV actress who has a web deal at a production company and was looking for a vehicle to star and produce. She really liked my idea and sent my pitch document to her manager and her other potential co-star to read and we’ll proceed from there.
These opportunities are great for the screenwriters. It opens a door to pitch ideas to those who have deals and you can work closely with them on creating specific content. Again, the money is little or nothing to start, but invest as much time as you are willing based upon the players involved. It’s worth your time dealing with a well-known actor and forming a working relationship that could lead to other projects. During the process, always be a professional and don’t allow anyone to take advantage of you—or your precious time. Any work other than crafting a short treatment and doing revisions is asking for too much. If they want you to write spec episodes, tell them you’ll need some level of payment. If episodes need to be written, it’s a sign the series is fully developed and moving toward production. It’s time to get paid for your efforts.
Take some time out and watch various web series and study the structure and arc of their season. You can find dozens of series on sites like Crackle, Hulu, MySpace, and The Web Series Channel. Many of the studios and networks craft these web series in-house as a result of their rigid guidance from their sponsors for branded entertainment. In addition to your feature scripts, feature pitches, TV scripts and pitches, add a few web series to the mix. You’ll have a diverse and well-rounded offering to any agent, manager or talent. Craft a few pitches for web series and maybe even write one episode from your own pitch to have in your screenwriter’s arsenal.
Also you should write your own web series and post it on the internet. Why not? No one can stop you and it can showcase your talent or brilliant idea. Make it easy and develop an idea that doesn’t take a big crew, lots of actors or locations. Focus on the storytelling and writing. Also make sure your sound is superb. I’ve seen too many web series that look great visually, but the sound is horrible. If you can get the visuals to look professional you should also do the same with the sound. It’s vital.
Remember this last nugget of advice—if you pitch a web series you created and it’s picked up for development, make sure you retain some control and stay on board—especially if the show goes on to development for broadcast network television. Your entertainment attorney will surely help with this and it’s a perfect time to retain the services of an entertainment attorney to protect you.