A couple months ago, I wrote a piece for Indiewire about all the reasons I decided to make my web series, “The Impossibilities,” rather than a feature film. Once the article went live, I was surprised and psyched by the number of web creators who reached out with questions about their web series. It became abundantly clear that there aren’t enough resources out there yet for this new field of independent filmmaking. There’s no manual. No masters degree you can get. Right now, our best resource is our fellow filmmakers.
In the last article, I talked about the how and the why of making a web series, but that’s just half the battle. How do you make your show stand out in a sea of content?
I crowdsourced this question to the creators of four independently produced online series, Ingrid Jungermann of “F to 7th” and “The Slope,” Drew Droege and Jim Hansen of “The Chloe Videos” and “Paragon School for Girls,” Hannah Cheesman and Julian De Zotti of “Whatever, Linda” and Moise Verneau of “Money & Violence.”
Which platform did you launch on and why?
Drew Droege: We just did YouTube. We weren’t strategic at all, which, in retrospect, I think was a good thing. We had no idea the videos would be such a hit. We just made what we thought was funny and put it on the most accessible site.
Jim Hansen: I launched “Chloe” on YouTube. At that time it was the only platform I knew of. Once we had so many subscribers it only made sense to stay with that platform.
Hannah Cheesman and Julian De Zotti: We launched on YouTube. The platform definitely has its pros and cons, but with YouTube, you just have access to way more people, a bigger audience. Plus, our new social sharing technology embedded in the player on our website allowed for YouTube viewers to share seven second clips instantly via Facebook or Twitter [this technology was developed by Secret Location is and not yet commercially available]. However, you don’t get the same HD picture quality as Vimeo, and I feel the audience is more specific which can sometimes be easier to find. Vimeo has more of a cable palate for narrative-driven storytelling that embodies our show more appropriately than YouTube.
Ingrid Jungermann: First season was Vimeo, second season was YouTube. Depends on what you want out of your show. I think I should have chosen one or the other and stuck with that. Splitting it up meant splitting the viewership. I personally prefer Vimeo because I like the look and I don’t like advertising. But if you want more eyes, you’re into annotations, etc. and you know you will make content in between content, go with YouTube.
Moise Verneau: We launched our web series on YouTube. We landed on YouTube because we found it to be a very popular platform that our core demographic would be familiar with. One of the pros of using YouTube is the ability to share your content to other social platforms. A con is that you receive only a small portion of advertising dollars.
Did your actual audience differ from your intended audience?
Drew Droege: When I first played “Chloe” on stage, I bombed so hard. I mean, zero laughs, except for one stifled judgmental “oh my god this is so awful” giggle. So I always have that experience in the back of my mind with her. I didn’t want to make videos- it was completely Jim [Hansen]’s persistence that made them happen. I thought 12 of our friends would watch the videos and say “cute.” So… Yeah, I’m surprised every time someone compliments me on them.
Jim Hansen: Our intended audience was probably just our group of friends. I think we were surprised when it starting moving out side Los Angeles!
Hannah Cheesman & Julian De Zotti: We thought our audience could hit a number of demographics — firstly, Linda is a bit of a high concept web show, so we were hoping it would appeal to people who like high concept TV (Mad Men certainly comes to mind in terms of a period show), but also to people with a nostalgic feel for times past, as well as people like us who appreciate good storytelling with great characters and an incredible look/likeness for the times. We’re still working on finding our web audience, but the staggering festival and critical love has been immense and, frankly, unexpected. You never know what is going to happen to your work when you send it off to sail the seas, but we’ve been floored by the acclaim the show has received and the positive reviews, awards, and buzz.
Ingrid Jungermann: I knew we would have “The Slope” people stopping by. I also knew we had the LGBT community. I was surprised that YouTube analytics showed a 60/40 women/men split, which is really cool. I knew the “Ingrid” character has a universal struggle in that she’s trying hard and fails, so it was cool to see the stats reflect that.
Moise Verneau: I wanted it to appeal to those who understood that type of life, but I also wanted to be a candid peek into this [urban] world for people outside it. If some people encountered these characters in real life, they’d cross the street to avoid them. I wanted to show us as people. Starting out, we thought that our audience would be between the ages of 14-35, but we were pleasantly surprised by how far the reach our show had actually spanned.
How did you target your audience? Did you reach out to media outlets directly or hire a publicist?
Drew Droege: Nope! None of that. We still don’t have a publicist or reach out to outlets. I guess we’d have more money or exposure or whatever, but I think it’s important to just do you and build it and they will come.
Jim Hansen: The Chloe videos “lucked” their way into the public eye. We have been picked up by various outlets that seem to like it, but I always wondered how they found it.
Hannah Cheesman & Julian De Zotti: We actually took a cue from feature films, and decided “Linda” should first travel to festivals. This was a great idea, because we got attention from around the globe, whether in Rome, Melbourne, New York, LA, Toronto, Vancouver and beyond. We didn’t have a dedicated publicist, but we certainly used the contacts and attention at web fests to leverage the show’s visibility wherever we could. Otherwise, yes — it’s been about reaching out directly and seeing what we could drum up, who we could get to watch the show outside of a festival’s captive audience.
Ingrid Jungermann: With “The Slope,” Desiree [Akhavan] and I worked really hard to find our audience. We made a spreadsheet with all the blogs, publications, etc. we thought would like the show. Then I carried that knowledge over and did my own PR for the first season of “F to 7th.” I hired a publicist for season 2, but the numbers didn’t change much.
Moise Verneau: It was pretty much purely organic. If you ask anyone how they heard about the show they usually say “a friend told me about it “and when anyone would ask “Is there anything that I can do?” we’d say “tell a friend to tell a friend.” We had 15-second trailers that we’d air weekly the day of each episode release, we’d show those on Instagram and Facebook – mainly Instagram. That was the biggest part of our marketing. By the time we got to Episode 3, it started catching on. People started posting catchphrases and making memes about the show. They were looking forward to it every week. [My managers Teddy and Styles] got us on Hot 97 and Power 105 [after they got involved around episode 23 or 24]. Before that, we were doing interviews for internet radio stations and they got us on the major platforms.
How do people hear about web series? Are there any curators of narrative online content?
Jim Hansen: If only I knew the answer to that! Perez Hilton was an early fan and really helped spread the word. We didn’t get YouTube views on those videos so I like to imagine that we have a lot more views than those on our page.
Ingrid Jungermann: Not for narrative content. For sketches, broad comedy, short content there are plenty of places like College Humor, etc. People are trying to curate narrative, but I don’t know anyone who stands out.
Moise Verneau: It’s crazy on the mainstream level, that there isn’t a platform to bring attention to these web series. It’s a great form of entertainment because it allows people to be really expressive because there aren’t the same regulations of network television. For “Money and Violence” a lot of the “mistakes” we made brought charm to the project.
Do you have any advice for web creators?
Drew Droege: Just do what you want to do. If you’re doing comedy, do whatever makes you laugh. Don’t worry about what’s popular – there’s an audience for anything that’s honest. Do not track trends or buy followers- it’s gross and will never ultimately serve you.
Jim Hansen: It’s easy and free to put up these videos, so just experiment. Be creative. Be goofy. I think the best videos are the ones not created to be popular but created from some novel or genuine idea.
Hannah Cheesman & Julian De Zotti: Assemble the best team you can, and cover each others’ blind spots. From the DP to your story editors to sound to makeup, just pile it on! Get people who are better than you, and then — stay true to what you want to tell, but always put audience at top of mind, too. Who are you telling this to? Where do they live on the web? We could have put more thought into that at the beginning stages, and have learned so much in this regard — so we humbly offer that piece of advice — think audience!
Ingrid Jungermann: Start to shift your talking into doing. Make something even if you are nervous or scared or lost. Start small and grow from there. Don’t wait for permission, especially as a woman. That is specifically a problem that happens with female artists. They don’t feel they deserve to be in the mix. Network so you can find your people. I don’t mean network in an obnoxious way, but I find that staying home watching Netflix isn’t a way to get your work made and out there.
Moise Verneau: My advice for web creators would be to think outside of the box and to tell your story from your own perspective rather than following whatever has become popular.