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Can Web Series Creators Turn Their Work Into a Career?

Can Web Series Creators Turn Their Work Into a Career?

When Netflix is a leading Emmy contender it looks
like TV has been completely disrupted.

Thanks to subscribers, Netflix is already HBO. It
can pull together generously budgeted dramas, something most other
networks like YouTube, who rely on advertisers, don’t have the money
to do.

But as multiple critics
and scholars have pointed out, Netflix’s dominance in
top categories overshadows the truly innovative work of short-format
producers. The television Academy
has honored web series for years but with minimal promotion. The bright
young talents working in the indie-friendly format have been largely
ignored by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the other big networks in their
original programming strategies.

Undeterred, indie TV creators, armed with critical
cachet and devoted fans, are taking on bigger projects.

Staying Indie While Raising Money for a Web Series

Take Adam Goldman, creator of “The Outs,” which I named one of
the best web dramas of 2012
. Goldman is currently
$60,000 into a $165,000 Kickstarter campaign for six, twenty-minute
episodes of his new show, Whatever this is. No stranger to Kickstarter, Goldman and his team raised over
$20,000 for “The
Outs.” This time he wants to shoot it faster and with an appropriately-paid
crew. Two episodes are already shot, and the first premieres next week
at a sold-out screening at the Knitting Factory. Most of ‘The Outs” key talent is back, including cinematographer Jay
Gillespie and leading man Hunter Canning.

“That was really everybody’s passion project,
and nobody got rich off ‘The Outs.’ Nobody really got paid for ‘The Outs,’ at all,” Goldman said during an interview at
Tom’s Restaurant, featured in “The Outs”‘ “Chanukah Special.”

Whatever this is follows three twenty-somethings struggling
to make ends meet in New York City. Sam (Canning), and Ari (Dylan Marron)
have moved to New York to become creative professionals. But after three
years they are still living job-to-job.

“There’s a lot of media about people our age
who have safety nets…but we wanted to do a show about people without
safety nets,” he said.

Lisa (Madeline Wise) rounds out the cast as Sam’s
girlfriend, a teacher looking for a summer gig. After getting rejected
by Starbucks — “even Starbucks doesn’t want to hire you anymore,
unless you want a career at Starbucks” — she becomes the caretaker
of a lesbian couple.

Every other episode, the rent is due. Ari and Sam take
jobs — “Real
Housewives”- and “Top Model”-like shoots, a Rebecca Black-style music
video in Westchester — to get it paid. Goldman wanted to keep the plot
as close to the real, increasingly
unequal, New York as possible. In the script it says:
“their apartment is small and cluttered and not in a cute romantic
comedy way.”

“We wanted it to be about economic survival in
New York. In the same way The Outs is about a breakup, and that doesn’t sound like an
interesting show,” Goldman said. “If it’s dinnertime before
your rent is due, and your rent is $900, and you have $901, then you’re
going to split a Cup of Noodles.”

Pitching Web Series for Big Media (With “Indie” Stuff On the Side)

Not every creator is focusing on the web series genre.
Morgan Evans — another Indiewire favorite — is using his hiatus from writing on “Best Week Ever”
to secure financing for a feature film loosely based on his show, “Untitled Webseries.”

“You could see it as an extension of it,”
said Evans.

Evans’ latest short-format series, “Teacher’s Lounge,” premiered this month on MTV.com,
and he’ll be directing another show soon. While he wouldn’t disclose
details of the deal, he said, “it was nice to be able to make a show
and get paid for it.”

In Evans’ “It’s A Hit,” a young bike messenger falls for an older woman
who coaxes him into killing her ex-husband. The messenger hires a hit
man, thinking he can do the job, only to find out the hit man needs
a hit man, and so on.

The script is done, he said, but fundraising as a
working writer has been a challenge.

“I’d much rather go to the studio system and
just sell the thing that gets shelved, take the money from that and
pay for it myself,” he said.

“But then it’s like, ‘OK, then write a $500 million
movie…that you can’t make.'”

Using Web Series to Secure Financing For a Small Feature

For much less, Evans could shoot it. Desiree Akhavan,
co-creator of the Vimeo-approved web series The Slope, just finished shooting a micro-budget feature loosely based
on her character in that series. Appropriate Behavior, formerly “Disposable Lovers,” was shot over the summer in New York and
New Jersey, where I visited the team in Alpine shooting scenes of Nowruz,
the Persian New Year.

“Appropriate Behavior” follows Shirin, a young lesbian reeling
from break-up and searching for her identity. Capitalizing on renewed
interest in queer cinema
, British production company
Parkville Pictures financed the film for in the low six-figures and
used “The Slope”
as a big part of its case to investors.

“I was pitching ‘The Slope,’ more than anything,” said producer Cecilia
Frugiuele. “The tone of ‘The Slope’ is the same, but obviously it’s a different story.”

Akhavan would have never guessed “The Slope,” co-created with Ingrid Jungermann — whose post-“Slope” project, “F to 7th,” is great — would help finance her feature.
Connecting with Frugiuele as a new creative partner was a key catalyst.

“I definitely wanted to make a feature, but it
wasn’t with the idea that ‘The Slope’ would in any way be able to legitimize our work,”
Akhavan said with a laugh. “It was really shocking that ‘The Slope’ did well,” referring to its cult fan base and
accolades from Out and Filmmaker magazines.

A comedy about an Iranian-American lesbian might sound
niche, but Akhavan hopes audiences connect with the style of humor.

“I thought it was a straight comedy when I wrote it and then
in performing it it’s been surprisingly dramatic. I’m excited to share
this tone,” she said, citing ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ as inspiration, “which is absurd but
also really sad, at times.”

Parkville is exploring all exhibition options but
is particularly focused on direct distribution: selling to British theaters,
where its first feature, “Borrowed Time,” will premiere in September, and directly
to customers online.

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