** I wrote this up for a class on the Business of the Industry at Loyola Marymount University. Basically, people would find out I did a web series and ask me about my experience because they were creating their own series. Hope this helps to everyone pursuing this endeavor. BTW, all this info may be out of date. All the numbers I had from my insider friend came from 2013. **
BEHIND THE SCENES OF 'LOS FELIZ'
“Los Feliz is a comedic web series following the misadventures of Fig and all the trouble he gets into when his best friend enlists him to help hide an affair from his fiancé. Trying to keep everyone happy, Fig quickly gets caught in a web of hilarious lies and cover-ups. Can he conceal the charade for long?”
That first paragraph is the ‘about’ on my about page for my first and only web series titled Los Feliz. I wrote a web series because I saw myself in a little creative rut and thought I should do something easy, which made me think of creating a web series. Note: It is not easy!
I love writing about people and their romantic relationships. Everyday people fall in and out of love everyday, so it’s entirely relatable right, but there are so many facets to that idea that you have to be specific.
One night I watched Manhattan by Woody Allen and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Not only was that a great film that I loved, but the setup is so genius to create a story from. Woody’s best friend cheats on his wife with Diane Keaton. When his best friend gets caught up with his wife, Woody pretends to date Diane. Of course he falls for her. Of course there’s drama. Of course it’s hilarious in every Woody way possible. So I thought, I could do this exact story, but in my neighborhood with characters and people that I knew in my life.
The next three weeks flew by as I wrote the first draft of eight episodes for my series. I was on fire with pages and thought I could just shoot this with iPhones because I just wanted to make something quick. It wasn’t until I gave it to my friend Kevin that he said, “This is good!” Which made me happy, but then he dropped a line that would change my life for the next six months. “I want to produce it.
I was a week away from production and I was in New York for the New Year. I get a call and I pickup. It’s from a California number. I pickup and it is a bank lender calling to say they would give me a loan. That’s how I paid for my first web series kiddies -- With a loan! $3500 big ones! I shot two weeks with that money. Insane when you think about that now right? It’s all possible!
Here’s how I did it. We shot with a friend’s Canon 7D, borrowed three lights from another friend, shot in my apartment as the main location, and showed up to every other location ready to run. That sounds dramatic because no one ever stopped me from filming anywhere. As for actors I got the amazing Wendy McColm on board because she liked my script. Other key roles were from the Upright Citizens Brigade. It helped that I previously took classes there and knew some people. Really the biggest expense I had was food. That was probably about $1500 in 11 days of shooting.
As for my crew, Kevin and I called in favors from our best friends. Everyone, as long as they were not working, wanted to help. From there it was just setting a schedule and executing the plan.
We had the whole script ‘in the can’ for about 4 months before we released any footage. I was trying to really figure out the best way to release it and actually was going to push it back to September or even around Valentine’s Day, but I caved. This is something I look back on as my first big mistake. Friends and crew wanted to see it out there and I actually really did to so we sped up editing and released.
It did okay at first, but it didn’t go ‘viral’. I think we peaked at about 3k views for our biggest episode, which is puny in terms of YouTube. So what mistakes did I make? Did I make a dud? Why wasn’t anyone watching my series?
WHAT I LEARNED
There are about 5 things to keep in mind when making a web series all of which I learned after making mine. Please if you are making or even thinking about creating a web series, take this advice. It’ll save you a lot of time and heartache. Not to mention cash.
1. Audience: Your current web presence is what you will use to get your content out into the world. The number of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat followers you have matter in this world. So if you haven’t started building that up, start now. A good goal is to have 10k followers in one of those arenas. You say ‘Sure 10k. I’ll get right on it!’ Then you flip me off. Truth is if you do get on it, you can get 10k followers. You just need to get involved in the community. That’s a whole other post so I’ll leave you with that thought.
2. Content: I know you are making a passion project, but it’s good to keep in mind who is out there watching web series. Physical humor, parody, video games, Pokemon (this is big), and satire all play big on YouTube. Figure out how your project is related to these topics and include it. (This info is from a friend that works on the inside)
3. Length: According to that friend that works at a major YouTube partner, at 2.5 minutes the audience all but clicks away. My web series averaged about 8 minutes an episode. By the time I was telling people to tune in next week, they were out of there. Speaking about length, the length for videos with the most million hits are 17 seconds. Shorter is better would be the takeaway here, but it’s also in the content. These are numbers that exist in this industry so please do not take this as rhetoric. You may be the one that breaks the trend. I’m just telling you what has worked.
4. Marketing: If you are starting out on your own without any subscribers or followers, you need to figure out how to market your content. A good rule is that you need 30% of your total production budget for marketing. On such a small project as mine was, that would be a little over a $1000 which would have little to no impact. In hindsight I should’ve had at least 5k to play for with marketing. When I say marketing, I don’t mean ads. I know a person that partnered his web series with a website. He paid about 6k to have it play on their homepage for 4 months. When he released his web series it garnered about 100k views. That’s what you need to get ahead. Thinking outside of the box and finding a place for your content to thrive.
5. It’s Yours: In the end your name is on it, so don’t cave to anyone’s wants, even yours. If you do cave, it's your own fault so don't blame anyone else, but you. You get the cool title of creator so you get all the attention for success and failure.
Come up with a plan that works to get your content out there to the most amounts of people possible and stick to it. I made the mistake of releasing too early. I gambled with my content and pretty much lost. Don’t let that happen to your project. You spent too much time and money to let that happen.