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Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s How to Create Web Content That Will Build Your Career

Attention, Filmmakers: Here's How to Create Web Content That Will Build Your Career

Terence Nance burst into the filmmaking scene in 2012 when his first feature, the experimental narrative film “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” turned heads at the Sundance Film Festival that year. He is currently working on his second feature called “The Lobbyist,” but outside of conceiving and directing feature films, Nance also directs music videos and numerous kinds of web content with his collaborative producer Chanelle Aponte Pearson.

Read More: Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s How to Get Your Film Out Into the World

Last week week at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, Nance and Pearson moderated a panel devoted to web series, music videos and short form content. The purpose of the panel was to introduce the diverse group of up-and-coming international filmmakers to other ways in which they can use their skills. Nance and Pearson presented a multitude of mediums for filmmakers to create art and make a living. Here are some of their pointers for each of the different mediums:

Music Videos

Nance cited some recent music videos like “Until the Quiet Comes” by electronic musician Flying Lotus, directed by Kalil Joseph (which screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival) and M.I.A.’s “Born Free,” plus the classic, Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker,” as types of music videos that have successfully incorporated the artistic qualities of film into the medium. He suggested that filmmakers try to “transcend the idea of the music video into filmmaking,” he said.

When pitching an idea, Nance likes to include either a reference image or a YouTube link to another music video, not because he wants to suggest mimicking a certain style, but just wants to put a visual reference in his treatment. 

“I have no desire to communicate visually what the thing is going to be before I make it, because I think that’s why you make something, to discover what it’s going to be. Trying to construct something based on something else is going to be boring. It’s more like, ‘These look cool to me,’ to help them get the idea,” he said.

Nance also addressed the significantly decreased budgets that music videos have had to work with in recent years. “For somewhere between 10 and 30 thousand dollars, I try to make something that I haven’t made before and haven’t seen before and pushes the boundaries of what the form can be. I’m constantly trying to subvert the nature of what the music video is, for very little money.”

But Nance was strikingly honest about his work in the medium and how he got his music video gigs. “To be completely transparent, every video that we get is either a personal friend of mine, like my roommate, or a personal friend of my DP. So cold calling never worked once. Even people I’m one degree separated from,” he said.

“But this is a whole portfolio of work for artists that we are not friends with,” Pearson added. “We can say, ‘This is what we have done, just imagine what we can do with your music and your vision.'”

Documentary Web Series

Nance and Pearson collaborated with MOCADA, The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts in Brooklyn, to develop a documentary web series featuring local artists, business owners and institutions. Seeking out an organization with a need for video content is something that all filmmakers can try, the benefits of which will include increased practice, exposure and cultivation of other skills.

They also pointed out the incredible growth of Vice Magazine’s investigative reporting, online and television content in recent years as proof that short documentary web series are something that audiences are turning to as an alternative to traditional news programming. “This kind of content did not exist five or six years ago,” Nance said.

Comedic and Dramatic Web Series

Once of Nance and Pearson’s suggestions for creating a successful comedic web series was for filmmakers to simply create the things they’d want to watch. Pearson referenced Issa Rae’s comedic series “Awkward Black Girl” as an example of a web series that took an idea and turned it on its head. 

“For her she felt that, you have these shows starring odd and quirky lead female characters, so you have your Tina Fey on ’30 Rock,’ you have Zoe Deschanel on ‘New Girl,’ but she wanted to see someone odd and quirky that looked like her,” Pearson said.

As for dramatic web series, Nance and Pearson think that is a prime area for growth because the amount of content is so sparse. Dramatic web series may be what’s lacking in the medium; a hole that filmmakers can fill.

“I haven’t been able to identify many dramatic web series that have worked in the same way that comedic web series do, it terms of publicity or monetizing through crowdfunding platforms or through YouTube or other distribution platforms,” Nance said. “Comedy does better. It’s just the nature of the medium. Cat videos really define what people thought YouTube was for for so long, and I think it’s difficult to make the leap from watching a cat video to like ‘Law & Order.’ On the internet it doesn’t really compute. It will start to. I think we’re in a transition period.” 

On the subject of timing (how frequently to release an episode of your web series), Nance and Pearson are on board with the idea of releasing it all at once, and for free but only at first.

“Our opinion is, put the episodes up for free,” said Pearson. “Let people know that the content exists and get them to love it. They’ll want to support, to tell their friends. Build the audience so that you can do crowd funding to be able to raise money for the second season.”

One audience member expressed concern over that approach, citing piracy issues. 

“I personally think that it’s all good,” Nance said.”If somebody sees it, they saw it and you won.”

“An extra person saw what you’ve created!” Pearson added, positively. “The nature of revenue in media is just so fragmented, maybe it comes in the form of finding your episodes. Maybe it comes in the form of somebody seeing it and wants to fund your next project. Or recommending you to somebody for a gig.”

Nance then recalled the story of someone who had pirated “An Oversimplification of her Beauty” and loved it so much that he contacted him asking how he could send him $11. 

“That was cool, “Nance said. “But getting it in front of people is by far the most important.”

READ MORE: From Concept to Final Cut: 10 Tips on Making a Documentary

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