Last Friday budding directors, filmmakers, writers and creators were guided through the steps of developing their skills for the screen, on a number of panels at the Emerging Writers Festival. The day was organised and moderated by digital content creator and entrepreneur Beatrix Coles.
Melbourne WebFest Director Steinar Ellingsen — who created the award-winning documentary web series The Inland Sea — and comedian Kate McLennan — co-creator of Bleak: The Web Series, which is an Official Selection at MWF 2014 — were panelists.
Ellingsen and McLennan provided personal insights and key knowledge into not just making a web series, but charging through everyone else screaming “Look At Me!” on the internet.
There can still be some confusion over what a web series is — despite the name being rather self-explanatory. A web series is a series made for the internet with crucial differences involved in production, cost, time and, often, theme.
Web series are typically shorter (although screen content is generally getting longer on the web), they involve relatively small production teams and cost far less to create than your typical show on HBO.
But most importantly they are original. And just because they are made for web on a budget relatively lower to a commercial TV series, doesn’t mean it has to be cheap.
“With Bleak, we really wanted to create something that’s well-written and that looks and sounds great,” said Kate McLennan.
She added that a crucial element of a web series is they allow for creators to have “complete creative control.”
After being rejected by multiple TV stations for similar ideas, McLennan and her partner Kate McCartney decided to get together and branch out on their own. They created Bleak, a four part series about reaching your 30s and realising that life has “shat on your face,” as McLennan said.
McLennan stressed that you need to work with what you have and get over the beauty of television. Making a web series is a craft that needs to reward the creator most of all, there is no knowing how far it will go, it may go no where at all.
“Own your content, have a plan and decide what message you want to communicate to your audience,” she said.
The success of Bleak was a product of the “snowball effect of social media,” says McLennan.
Eventually the two Kates started a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, and within a day they had reached their target, and ended up getting double the amount they were asking for.
“Our project was dead in the water after being rejected by so many programs, but then it came full circle just through making a website. You’re not beholden by timelines, you have complete control over your ideas,” says McLennan.
But, she adds, it’s hard work. And success often depends on being consistent and having a constant presence.
“You have to constantly be updating, retweeting and commenting. It’s fun work but it is also endless work,” she says.
The topic changed towards distribution and discovery once your series has been made. While the internet can be a great discovery platform in its own rights, it can be difficult to cut through the constant noise.
MWF Director Steinar Ellingsen said this is one of the reasons festivals are so important.
But why, you may ask, should you enter a web series festival when the content is already available to watch on the internet?
“Festivals give creators acknowledgement for their work, whether that comes in the form of screening series of giving out awards. But, more importantly, festival provide a forum for dialogue, sharing experiences, comparing notes — in short, web series festivals are about networking and accelerating creators professional development.”
It was Ellingsen’s first-hand experience from LA WebFest that opened his eyes to the importance of festivals. He said that despite the web being a networked medium, being a web series creator can be a “rather lonely experience at the best of times.”
The hardest part of making a web series comes after the fun of planning, writing and filming. Promotion, social media and trying to gain attention become a full time job.
“That’s what blew my mind about LA WebFest… I discovered a non-stop networking orgy with panels, workshops, round table discussions and awards.”
“You really have to respond to every interaction, be honest and accommodating and build your real-life network, because navigating social media can be very hard,” said Ellingsen.
“While digital connections can be useful and important, it remains that the bonds that we create and develop in person are likely to be stronger and have longevity — even in the online space,” he added.
— The Emerging Writers Festival ends on June 6.
Rachel Clayton is in her third year of a Media and Communications Degree at The University of Melbourne. She was born and raised in New Zealand but now calls Melbourne home. Rachel is passionate about finding stories and seeking the truth and has had work published in Broadsheet and her University magazine.