Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Create a Webseries or How We Created “OFF OFF”

Contributed by Stephen Bittrich.

Little tasks.  Big friends.
I would say that’s my secret in a nutshell.  That’s how the rather large and daunting project of creating Off Off, a webseries for people who never give up on their dreams was accomplished.
I wish the digital and Internet technology available now had been around 20 years ago … when all my friends were younger and little less jaded by life and the business, but then it wouldn’t be the same show!
Obviously you want to have the big dream, visualize the pie in the sky idea of what it can be, but “become rich and famous” is hard to check off on your to do list, and let’s face it, your series going viral would be a little like getting struck by lightening.
Little tasks bring you incrementally closer to the big dream. 
The first little task, the most important one is to write.  I’m a playwright/screenwriter, so that was something I was going to do myself, obviously. 
I’m a firm believer that it all starts with the story.  (Not just “idea” but “story.”)  That’s your foundation, so write the first season and have at least a good idea of where it’s going for three or four seasons.  Plan out way ahead, so you don’t write yourself into a corner. 
Some people say you should write only for what resources you have.  I think you certainly need to be very mindful of that, but allow yourself a few extra things that will take some work to find (locations or sets or costumes) as long as it’s adding to the story.  You want this to be special and look like some work was put into it!  Don’t just shoot your apartment.
When webseries first came out they were mostly 3-5 minutes of crude college humor, meant for a quick laugh, but now I see a lot of different lengths and genres.  The show SubmissionsOnly with the adorable and highly watchable Kate Wetherhead is about 22 minutes, the exact length, smartly enough, of a half-hour sitcom (without commercials).
Another task: find a location.  We thought we had a location, and it fell through.  But don’t give up.  Set your sites on one location.  Follow through.  If it doesn’t work out, on to the next location.  The next task.  Someone will say “yes.”
Task: cast the series.  You’ll be tempted to use your friends, and I think this is a good thing because you absolutely need your talented friends to pull this off for little to no money, but add some new blood in as well.  Cast SAG actors.  The New Media agreements with SAG pre-merger are doable and friendly to self-productions, and I assume the same will be true of the post-merger agreements.
Task:  director of photography.  What an important position!  I had an old friend from my Project Greenlight Contest days message me on Facebook (while I was talking the project up) and ask what he could do to help.  Turned out he had a Canon 7D (great camera – wonderful in low light), a DAT recorder, microphone, a few lights, and the know-how.  He could do a lot to help!  The digital cameras are so sophisticated these days that the lighting becomes less of a daunting task.  Get someone who really knows the camera to run it. 
With the digital technology such that it is today, you can even affordably edit yourself if you absolutely must with Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere.  I edited the first episode.  I’m hoping to hand that task off at some point.
The marketing campaign has its own series of mini-tasks – planning publicity shots or art (look beforehand at the sizes of images needed on various websites, so you can plan out dimensions ahead of time), building a great looking website (I happen to do this for a living), making cards to hand out, joining all the social networks, creating a youtube or vimeo channel.
At some point run a fundraising campaign on or
Bottom line is that you can do this for little or no money depending upon how many willing, talented friends you have.  Set your sites on little tasks and check them off one by one as you inch closer to your goal.

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