The Lowdown on the Short Form from Three Nominated Series
Creating content is more democratic than ever, but it also presents new challenges. So how do you get your project seen in such a crowded field?
PremiumBeat gathered creatives from three successful web series to offer some insight into getting your projects in front of the right audiences and helping them go viral: Cameron Watson, creator of Break a Hip, whose star Christina Pickles is nominated for an Emmy; Tara Platt writer and star of Whatta Lark, 7 IAWTV nominations (winning best actor for Christopher Graham); and the dynamic duo of Roni Geva and Margaret Katch whose show, Ctl Alt Delete saw an Emmy nomination for Naomi Grossman as actress in a short form comedy or drama series.
PremiumBeat: Given the enormous access filmmakers have to affordable equipment and rapidly growing distribution options, there is so much more competition for viewers. How have you all managed to get your shows seen? Did you have a marketing plan in place before you even went to production?
Cameron Watson: We just made the decision to make a web series, and we set off to do it. None of us had done a short form show before, and we all just put our heads together and figured it out. Maggie Biggar, Steve Cubine, and I had made a pretty big independent feature together several years ago, so we know how to be scrappy and gutsy. And we had the incredible talent of Christina involved, so we were ahead of the game just coming out of the gate. We knew we would have to rely heavily on social media to promote our series, and we have done just that. It really is the “wild, wild west” out there with so much content, no rules, and tons of platforms. You get to make your own way. That is a good thing for creatives, but also overwhelming and sometimes [feels] like a cork in a giant ocean. But, like the cork, we keep floating along and never go under.
Tara Platt: Wonderful question. Actually, I am sorry to say we didn’t head into things with a marketing plan in place, which meant we had to play catch up while we were in post. That isn’t to say it becomes [an] impossibility, just that having a clear plan for the distribution before even finishing production would have made things enormously easier and likely faster from shoot to screen. We were thrilled to get to partner with Revry and then later release on other platforms including Amazon. But I think that it is definitely a key feature in creating and producing a show — how to get it seen . . . and, realistically, who is watching it once it is out in the world. Are you hitting your demographic? Is there resonance? No one will go to bat harder and with more passion for your own projects than you will, so a large part of the job is getting other people excited about what you have created. It is your job, really! We have been working really hard to get viewers for our show. I, of course, wish we had even more eyeballs on it, as we are all immensely proud of it, but I’m thrilled with the response we have had, and humbled and honored by the festivals we have been official selections in (like the prestigious Bentonville Film Festival), and the seven current nominations from the IAWTV.
Roni Geva/Margaret Katch: EPIC SHARING. We have shared it on our personal Facebook pages/Instagram/Twitter daily. We also joined a lot of relevant-to-our-show FB groups and shared it there. We have asked friends to share the video. We’ve learned as much as we can about the FB algorithms (which change weekly) and have tried to use that to our advantage.
The truth is we did not have a marketing plan in place before we went into production, we just jumped in. Then, as we started releasing it, we realized we needed a plan. Our main plan was releasing the show on FB so that people could:
1) Share it
2) Boost it / advertise it
3) Comment (which increases the post’s visibility on other people’s timelines)
Then, we hired a PR company to help us get the word out on the show — and that’s how we got coverage on Bust/Ms./Buzzfeed/Tubefilter, etc. Then from that coverage, we get the WashPo article. All of that also increased our views.
PB: With so much content out there, what do you feel are the most important elements for success when crafting a web series?
CW A good story. Period. About a good relationship. Complicated, complex, and from the heart. All any of us want to watch is a relationship unfold and entwine. You can get bogged down checking out everyone else’s content and trying to navigate the terrain, but it is better and more freeing to focus on your own story and tell it from your heart.
TP: I think that is really tricky, as many humans are in the world, there are that many potential options for taste, but I think you have to create something you care about first and worry about the response as a secondary element. If you simply set about to make something people will like/respond to, you have missed the opportunity to enjoy your creation. You have to be invested emotionally (whether that be purely the fun of it/entertainment creation or the necessity to tell a certain story/have your voice heard on a passion project). There are a million different reasons for making content, but you have to be clear with yourself why you are doing it, and make sure you accomplish that goal — do you feel you achieved what you set out to achieve? What have you learned? Numbers can be great from a metric standpoint, and of course there is always the end game of metrics/cost ratio, but you also want to have achieved your artistic vision while maintaining your creative soul.
R/M: In our experience, it comes down to 3 things:
– Make good work — well-written, well-acted (super important), and well-produced.
– Pick a topic that you are wildly passionate about because you are going to be talking about it and promoting it nonstop.
– Think beyond your first idea — the world has lots of web series about roommates or struggling actors . . . what stories are not being told?
But above and beyond anything else — make good work.
PB: What is the end game for you? Is a web series something complete, or are you hoping to move it to a network? There is only so long you can fuel the ship on your own and maintain this level of professionalism.
CW: It is incredibly fun and exhilarating on this level, but also exhausting. We want to continue to tell the story of Biz and Wincy forever. And we will. But we would love “help” telling the story now. By that, I mean support both financially and creatively, whether that be a network or a platform that would support us.
TP: I think it depends entirely on the project. Some titles are perfect creations as web series and should remain so, and we have a few of those in our catalog. Other times, it can be a great jumping-off point in spinning out into a film or even more of a television series. You have to know the best delivery device for the story you want to tell. Not every story warrants a feature, while others yearn to be explored in series form.
With [Whatta Lark], I am not quite done with her yet. I don’t know if that means another season on the web or other digital platform to explore the storylines more thoroughly or a feature to get more of a meal of it at once and come to some resolution with her. I strive to achieve excellence in all of my projects and you are right, there are limits in trying to self sustain for infinite periods of time, but there are many options of how the next chapter can look. I am all in favor of taking some pitch meetings and seeing how we might be able to collaborate with a larger production company to continue with the world and characters. We still have so many ideas for these characters that I would love to be able to keep them alive in either a series or film.
R/M:The end game is to move this show from web to full series, to have a half-hour show on a platform like Netlix or Hulu or Amazon — or even HBO or Showtime.
And we will keep on keeping on until.
We are using Broad City as a model (not for the content, but for the progress): a successful and well-received season 1, a more professional and more “namey” season 2, and then a sale to a bigger platform.
PB: Cameron, Break a Hip has been nominated for an Emmy for Best Short Form Series and Best Actor for the luminous Christina Pickles. That is pretty much the top of the mountain for artists — to have their material recognized by the Academy. What advice would you give to filmmakers to give them the best shot at that opportunity besides the obvious “cast Allison Janney in a supporting role?”
CW: Just to be clear, Christina is nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. . . . It really is a dream come true for “our little show that could.” Christina is a beloved icon on TV, and this is her seventh nomination. She has never won. I want more than anything for this to be her time. She has had a career that spans decades, and to finally win for an innovative, new world, independent category would really be something. It would make Emmy history, really. Someone who made her mark in the heyday of TV dramas then legendary comedies now wins for a short form web series. That’s pretty special.
PB: Clt Alt Delete deals with subject matter most won’t touch — but to me, it’s not the edgy shock of “abortion comedy” but the fact that the storytelling is so tight and clearly from Namoi’s nomination, the acting is stellar that makes the concept fly. What do you attribute to the success of the show?
R/M: First of all, thank you.
We think it’s a multitude of things:
The fact that the stories are all based in truth is a huge part of our success. They are relatable human stories and the comedy comes from humanity rather than from bits being shoved into the story to try and make it funny. Obviously, we are wildly lucky to have the cast that we found — they are all profoundly talented and took our words and, again, made them so incredibly human and relatable.
We also know that we had an extraordinary crew putting all of this together (both in production and in post). This is a labor of love with many brilliant minds coming together to very carefully tell this important story.
Finally, we think the world is ready for this show in this particular and careful iteration of it. Only three out of every ten Americans want Roe v. Wade overturned. That means that 70 percent of Americans are okay with Roe v. Wade — maybe not for themselves, but for others. Media has always been at the forefront of changing hearts and minds — our show is simple, direct, and full of love. It’s earnest, and people respond to that.
PB:Tara, It’s so cool that you use the way the web works to tell the story in vlogs — it’s an economical way that works well in the storytelling. How much of that was artistic choice, and how much was because of budget?
TP: Thanks! It was very much a conscious choice, and both elements played a part. I knew the constraints that we would be working with financially in an effort to make a show that we could shoot affordably but still highly aesthetically. So I worked with our amazing writer Danielle Evenson to craft the story by working with the vlog aesthetic from the beginning.
So it was always written with vlog in mind for season one, but with the hopes that if the show got its feet, we may be able to take the ladies off the webcam, so to speak. Then our stellar director America Young took the reins and helped the delightful and divine Christopher (Christopher Graham is Whatta Lark) and me tackle the work during the rehearsal process to keep the work you see on screen within the constraints of using the “to camera” approach while still feeling alive and real.
PB: Anything you’ve learned on this journey that you wish you had known before you began production?
CW: To just keep going. Like Biz. Just get up, and go outside, and do what you have to do. Raise money, write scripts, hire fabulous artists to surround you and great actors and a loving crew, and feed them all well!
TP: I think it just solidified what I already knew. Work with great people, and it won’t be work at all. Each and every member of the team was so phenomenal, and delightful and creative and talented that it elevated the entire production to a whole other level. With something as collaborative as filmmaking I believe in the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, and you definitely want to be elevated. So work with people who are the best at their job, and you will all shine! And of course to add to your initial question . . . do try to plan ahead for the end game before the game begins.
PB: Finally, Roni and Margaret, most marriages end in divorce and those include sex! How do you make a creative partnership work?
R/M: We put the work ahead of our egos. It is more important to us that a joke lands, that the story is clear, that the shot gets done before the day is over, than that either of us gets a fancy credit. And we certainly lead our sets to work that way as well, which reduces conflict.
We are wildly respectful of one another and over-communicate our feelings, our desires, our frustrations, and our needs to each other.
We also have just slightly different artistic sensibilities. Roni is more broad and bright (think traditional sitcom) and Margaret is more subtle and subdued (think more modern shows like Catastrophe or Transparent). The complement of our two styles ends up creating something that we both get so excited about.
And frankly, because we are so excited to make the work be the best that it can be, and because we trust each other, we always approach the other knowing that she has best intentions and then build from there.
We truly believe that we make good work individually, but that each other’s particular touch on our collective work elevates it to a level we could not have found on our own.
Cover image via Tara Platt.
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