I've been writing about web series for almost four years now, and I've seen a lot of them. Mostly I've seen a lot of bad ones.
That's because making a good web series is just as hard, if not harder, than making an independent film. Why harder? In addition to getting the basics of production right and crafting an engaging story (which even TV networks have a hard time doing), indie TV creators also have to forge individual distribution and marketing strategies, design websites, merchandise and build audiences. In short, they have to take on responsibilities that in traditional film and television are more often handled by established firms. Contemporary web TV is only a few years old. Everything is new.
Where can you learn to make a web series?
Already there are plenty of classes available through formal institutions and groups, but they are all located in New York and Los Angeles. Perhaps one of the best known is Frank Chindamo's class at the University of Southern California, which has helped launch a few successful projects. David Title, who has developed programs for MySpace and Comedy Central, has a class at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. Jorge Rivera, who has written for a number of prominent indie web series (East WillyB, Lenox Ave) teaches web and TV writing at Brooklyn's Steiner Studios through Long Island University. Thom Woodley, one the space's veteran producers (The Burg, The All-For-Nots, Greg & Donny) teaches it at the School of Visual Arts in New York. There are workshops and meetups like BigScreen LittleScreen (Los Angeles and New York), Tubefilter's meetups (Los Angeles) and the Web TV Workshop (Los Angeles).
But what if you're not in Los Angeles or New York? Or you can't afford one of the options above? Or want web series-specific help?
That's the niche scrappy newcomer CreatorUp hopes to dominate.
CreatorUp: Cheap, Online Film School?
CreatorUp is a very new start-up from USC masters grads Michael Tringe, Sara Akhteh and Xiaoyu Hugh Hou. Debuting late last year, CreatorUp has a small but growing roster of classes from heavyweights and up-and-comers in the independent television market.
The idea behind CreatorUp came after the graduates found themselves with a prestigious degree from USC but in significant debt and without certain, basic knowledge of our fragmented, new media environment.
"There are a lot of things that are not taught in film schools," Tringe told me in an interview.
After graduating, Tringe went on to work for leading traditional and new media firms CAA, Vuguru and Blip, getting an inside look at the independent film and digital economies. He and his friends decided to make an "open-source film school," or, at least, film school at a dramatically lower price point.
CreatorUp is not for everyone. The courses currently available are mostly for beginners, perhaps for intermediate producers who have made a film/series without much success. CreatorUp would benefit amateurs more than producers who already have decent/successful projects under their belt. If you're a first-timer who knows the basics of on-set production, but need help with crafting stories and marketing plans tailored to the web, there are some classes for you. Of the nine courses planned, some are more specific and might benefit those producers with basic on-set skills and with specific aims like using green screen, or mastering genres like "Funny or Die"-style comedy or horror.
CreatorUp gave me access to two courses to review the site: "How to Prep Your Production," taught by Generic Girl creators Steve Wasserman and Victor Solis, and "How to Distribute and Cash in On Your Web Series," taught by Tringe.
Here's how it works. Students pay-per-course. Courses range from around $30 to $60 and 70 to 120 minutes of video content broken up into chapters and episodes. Each class is organized into two to four chapters, and each chapter has about five episodes, each under around 10 minutes, that breaks down the information into detail. Each episode gives students a task to complete, detailed below. CreatorUp also has interactive "labs" organized on Google hangouts for those who want live feedback and more personalized guidance. For now, those labs are free, and are led by experts in the indie TV field -- check out this upcoming one with Dan Williams, the creator of sci-fi series Asylum, which sold to BET.
Visit page 2 for a breakdown of the benefits and cons of CreatorUp.