This year is my year of doing big, scary things I’ve never done before. In December, I remember walking home from class and thinking, “what challenges scare me?” I came up with two: skydiving and helming a web series.
Since skydiving is a perfectly rational fear I don’t want to tackle anytime soon, I decided to create my own web series. It’s a good challenge since I want to be a showrunner one day, and this experience will help me hone important skills, like serving some of the best crafty you’ve ever had in your life. (People who have had my chocolate chip cookies know what’s up.)
My web series is called Antidote 15, and you can read more about it here.
Before You Start, Study What Works
I’ve always been a fan of web series since I think they’re a great way to experiment with an extended narrative on a smaller scale. Since I believe in studying the craft before trying it, here are my favorite action and thriller web series I’ve watched and why I think each one is particularly good:
- The Booth at the End. The web series focuses on one guy at a restaurant booth who will grant your wish if you do what he wants. Study it for it’s crafty use of one location and ability to create good mysteries and characters on a low budget.
- H+. While this series is most likely more ambitious than most web series out there and has the backing of Warner Brothers and Bryan Singer, it’s still a good series to watch because it has a good hook, solid concept, and great ensemble cast. Another interesting choice made on this series: each episode is no longer than 5 minutes. The brevity makes it easier to watch on coffee breaks, although can lend itself to a choppier story. It’s an interesting choice to keep in mind.
- The Bannen Way. This is a fun con man series worth the watch because of its simple but stylish execution. Once again, probably outside most productions’ budgets, but still a template to look at nonetheless.
There are many more great web series out there to study before you make your own– but that’s for another post.
3 Phases of Web Series Pre-Production
Don’t get me wrong, I love Pre-Production. The quality of every project hinges on the question of ARE YOU PREPARED FOR EVERYTHING THAT CAN AND WILL GO WRONG ONCE THE CAMERA BEGINS TO ROLL?
And unless you’re some kind of pre-production superhero, the answer is usually no. Web series provide an additional layer of “fun” because you’ll have multiple episodes and shooting days to juggle.
1. Finish the scripts. All of them. I spent four weeks in December and January writing and rewriting scripts. I had already written Antidote 15 as an hour long TV pilot, so I had a considerable headstart, but I still wanted to make the scripts as perfect as possible so last minute re-writes wouldn’t interfere with the project. I also got notes from my producers and had other people give me revisions so that I didn’t miss any glaring character or logic problems. Since our web series is more of a mini-series (we’ve only got 5 episodes) the process went quick. Make certain your scripts are ready to go before you start, because the day before filming is FAR too late for rewrites.
If you’re like me, the writing process requires a lot of making episode and season timelines both on paper and in a script pre-writing software, like Page 85. Antidote 15 was an interesting challenge since the entire season takes place over 15 hours, and we needed everything to happen in real-time — but still move along quickly enough that the viewers stayed engaged.
2. Put together schedules. I have three separate schedules: shooting schedule, audition schedule, and pre-production schedule. It’s impossible to procrastinate when you have a deadline for casting, shooting, and marketing.
- Shooting Schedule. A basic shooting schedule will have locations, dates and times (that will most likely change to fit everyone’s schedules) along with which actors need to be available when.
- Audition Schedule. I scheduled four days of auditions and one day of callbacks for three roles we were casting for.
- Pre-Production Schedule. This is for my producers and I. We planned out when we were going to star the marketing campaign, what we were going to post on our social media sites when, and all the nuts and bolts of things like getting permits/sound equipment/meeting to talk about our favorite color of Jelly Beans (watermelon, obviously.)
Schedules need to be flexible, so make sure there’s some wiggle room in there before your deadline.
3. Filming logistics. Put together a budget, shot list, prop list, and storyboard. Find a producer who will keep you sane when you’re stressed and can’t find a boom operator to save your life, an assistant director to help you reign in the madness that are shooting days, and possibly someone to direct if you’re not inclined to do so yourself. Scout locations, figure out how to get permits, create backup plans, and do your best to visualize every scene of the first episode. Additionally, check each episode to make sure it’s feasible to film.
- A word on budget: you can stretch your budget a long way. We’ve got a total of $500 in our production budget that’s going towards crafty, parking for our actors and crew, props and other miscellaneous costs…. for all five episodes of the first season. This requires a lot of borrowing of equipment, figuring out how to get locations for free, and changing settings to make things cheaper while not compromising story. Knowing your budget BEFORE you start writing your scripts can help a lot in making sure you write a story that fits your limitations.
Great web series are made in pre-production! The more you can do now, the more smoothly your set will run.
Next time we’ll talk about casting and how to audition actors for your web series.
Until then, get some sleep. You’ll need it.