Friday, May 23, 2014
My Evolution to the WEB SERIES
Back in 2009, I was creating how-to videos released under my moniker "ChappyShowcase" which were videos about low budget film making. Although I released all kinds of videos in different genres, the how-to film making seemed to resonate more than any other types of videos I made. The economy had collapsed, video creators had no money, and low budget film making spoke to that. Consistently I found good feedback and people offering to pay me to make my "$30 Steadicam" for them; named after a how-to video of the same subject. I was not interested in doing this, but found it a pleasant experience to get so much feedback. It was amazing making a video rendition of a recycled design I had learned about nearly 7 years earlier back in the dial modem days of the internet. This single video got me more serious about doing more although I had already put out a few dozen videos scattered over a few months. After a few years of freelancing as a cinematographer/editor, as well as producing an exhausting amount of wedding videos with my production company, I was deeply affected by the crash of my video business in late 2007. I lost nearly all my clients, however took the opportunity to look for other avenues to do video. I recently had read about sites like Youtube, Metacafe, Revver, and Crackle in Videomaker Magazine. I had really wanted to tell my own stories, not work for other people, but this idea was kind of a dream. What had seemingly been good as a videographer, no longer existed in a flash so what did I have to lose? Up to that point Youtube and other "user generated sites" had only been around for months not years. These sites seemed to have a stigma of only containing crappy videos from amateurs. I remember the sentiment that respectable filmmakers didn't do that sort of thing. No one I knew in the video business was making videos and putting them up for free on these unique sites, I thought I might as well put up a few I had created since they had screened and then died. I put "Nerves of Steel" and "In Case of Emergency" up. Two films I had screened at some smaller film festivals. After figuring out a dozen "user generated" sites or so, I instantly loved the fact that there was immediate feedback and fulfillment from an audience. Before I had to find a place to screen a film and it could take months if not years to find a festival. By the time that happened, I may hardly remember why i made the film in the first place. What an amazing thing this "user generated online distribution" was for producers. I uploaded the same videos to all the sites and was able compare the views and reactions. Not only did I learn about what videos were most popular, I also learned the value of working with the right distribution partners. One week in the summer of 2008 I had the opportunity to film Streaming Media West at their annual conference which took place in Silicon Valley. This conference put together by Dan Rayburn featured one panel about a new thing called a web series. Show creators with titillating new brands included Rocketbook, and Political Lunch spoke about what they were doing. The market for such an idea was really immature, but the opportunity was good according to them. The web series was to be the next big thing in their estimation. The internet was the wild west where there were no rules to speak of. No technical specifications, no close captioning, no format restrictions, and the list went on and on. A video creator could do whatever they wanted and tons of sites like Youtube would host the videos for free too. This seemed to be a no brainer for me to experiment with more. I though more and more about producing a web series in 2008 after a year of distributing videos all over the internet. My documentary "Nerves of Steel" featured on Crackel for nearly a year, then ChappyShowcase became a partner producer with Metacafe. Shortly after that Youtube accepted my application to be a "producer partner" as well. These events really got my hooked into the possibilities of what a web series may present. Especially now that i had learned the value of intellectual property and money working for you and not the other way around. I felt a web series was a better idea because it was serial or episodic in nature. This sort of distribution approach could be a better way to build an audience. I experienced that my videos were often one-off and not serial even if some of them were getting pretty good hits. The one-off videos were not seemingly connected from one upload to another. Perhaps this gave my viewers no reason to necessarily check back in and watch new videos. One week I may put up a Samoan music video from a guy who had not payed me (so this was my way at some sort of monetization) for the work. Another week I may put up a grease monkey video of a time lapse car repair I did. Yet another time I would release a parody I made with my brother years earlier; shot on analog video. Although I did find many would simply binge view my content all at once for a day or two, a serial show may bring people back by the nature of the release and continual story forward. This could go on for moths, or maybe even years. More and more people (on Youtube especially) were starting to put out a web series of some sort. Some releasing a new episode once a month, or once a week, or even some did it once a day. Some years before all of this, my wife and I started raising guide dogs for the blind in 2002. Over the following decade we really started to enjoy it and couldn't believe how fulfilling it was to help other people. "Could we make a web series about this guide dog stuff?" We became good friends with the visually impaired partner who received our first guide pup Macklin. Her genuine appreciation and ability to raise her level of productivity in life was so apparent that it just smacked me in the face. "This is a whole new narrative world I have hardly seen in tv or movies" I thought. After a few days of talking about it, my wife Amie and I decided to give it a shot and make a web series. Growing Up Guide Pup was to be the name of the series. We really didn't have much of a plan as we decided to experiment and remove conventional production bureaucracy so we could move quickly. We had a new puppy arriving shortly. Two days after the idea, I already had camcorder in hand and was filming cause a puppy had become available. That first episode we decided to design a format that even the visually impaired could enjoy through colorful description. At first we focused on story, not production value. We filmed with a cell phone for the first time so we could get footage in the grocery store without a hassle. We focused on spontaneity and decided to keep the amount of oversight and cost to a minimum. My in kind equipment from my video business would be fine to make the series, and my prior online distribution experience with ChappyShowcase made me comfortable enough to move forward with a once a week video release approach. We released a video every week as our new puppy Ricki matured. Episode after episode we couldn't believe how fun the process was for us. We also got more feedback and appreciation than we had anticipated. We started hearing from people who lived in other parts of the US, and even other countries. The service dog school we were working with at the time caught wind of what we were doing and starting promoting our videos and writing blogs so get more PR for themselves. The next thing we knew, our series was not an experiment anymore. it seemed to be working as a moving story piece and the puppy appeal was undeniable. Our series was accepted in the New Media Film Festival in 2010 while we were still filming the first season about Ricki. This was about 8 months after we had started. It was amazing how fast things work with the internet. Before we knew it, we had made a relationship with Nylabone dog toys and did our first contest giveaway. After a year, we had several thousand loyal fans as we continued to make the series and grow our core followers of dog lovers, puppy raisers, service dog people, and the visually impaired. Eventually this landed us an invitation to screen our series at the first and still largest web series festival in the world. Its called the LAWebFest and was founded by Michael Ajakwe Jr. It rendered awards for many things, but most importantly "Outstanding Non-Fiction Series" two years in a row in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, we also received an award at CreaTV Awards in Silicon Valley for "Outstanding CreaTiVe Award Feature Winner" As of May of 2014, I am excited for the future and what it may entail. One thing is certain, the web series genre will be intertwined with us. Hope you enjoyed my story and evolution to the web series. For any filmmakers out there deciding to make a web series of their own. Don't let anything get in your way, because opportunity is upon you.