Personal Experience with a Web Series

27 Nov

So a friend of mine became involved in a web series project this fall. The collaboration was spearheaded by a guy who had an idea for a TV show. Rather than go about producing it the traditional way — write a pilot, find a director, find some money, film a pilot, hope it gets picked up — this guy bought a bunch of air time around 1 AM on ABC Family. This is the kind of time that is generally bought by infomercials and evangelicals. But this guy thought that if he could put his show on at this time, and get a cult following, then maybe the network would pick it up for real. They started filming.

The show underwent many changes over the next few months. It went from scripted to loosely scripted to unscripted. Several crew members quit. There was an incident in which no one was paid, and then there was a threat to pull funding, and it was all documented on the internet and in some major print publications.

But finally the show wrapped it’s 12 or so episodes and the creator sent off the footage he edited to ABC Family. ABC Family issued him a refund and stated that the show was rejected “because it did not meet our standards for programming for time buy purchases.” That’s basically like, saying this show was not good enough to be a late-night infomercial, which is really saying something.

So they released it as a web series. And now, according to the creator, it’s one of the top web series on Blip.tv (100 points if you guess what show I’m talking about, 1000 if you guess which actress I know) — so why was it not good enough for ABC, but WAAAY good for the internet?

In my opinion the ease of access has encouraged users on YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv etc to get pretty lazy. On the show I’m talking about, there are often out of focus scenes, bad camera angles, discontinuities. There is sound distortion. The sets lack detail. It is clear they are filming in one apartment but the narrative and a couch switch claim it to be two separate places. The same kinds of technical issues and lack of detailed work are found on many web series I have seen. They get away with using one camera in a fixed location (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) or flat out exploit low-quality cinematic choices (Between Two Ferns). These programs would likely NEVER succeed on a major network (with the possible exception of Between Two Ferns because it’s like… Zach Galiflanakis). Maybe they’d find homes on niche cable channels (like IFC or something, where the low-quality “choice” might be seen as “ironic”) but for the most part, real TV is way better than the web series. I think web videos are fun and easy to make, and with immediate feedback options? It’s so alluring. Your average joe on YouTube doesn’t really care if the jump cuts are awkward or the tripod is tilted. It has become part of the “genre” of web tv that it is a little (often very) shoddy.

I’m not amused and while I’m not saying I WON’T ever make or watch a web series, I sincerely hope their quality improves. Who would be entertained by or even be able to follow a complex show like 24 or The Wire if it were filmed in one room in someone’s clearly fake house that was out of focus and hard to hear?

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3 Responses to “Personal Experience with a Web Series”

  1. leemac113 November 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    I generally agree with your gripe with web series insofar as they are generally of a lower quality than television shows in terms of sound, camera-work, and generally in terms of style. I would even go so far as to say Between Two Ferns bothers me a lot more often than I enjoy it because of the low-quality nature you mentioned (although Zach Galifianakis’ embarrassment of major Hollywood figures is very entertaining). Still, I wonder if it’s fair to say that these problems are inherent to the genre. I think they certainly persist in most web series because, as you said, they are generally a step below what a network will accept and want to air. But it wouldn’t surprise me if soon more and more directors began to embrace the format because they wouldn’t have a major network to make concessions to, and as long as they could make some money from advertisements to help them to afford to make the series, I don’t see why they couldn’t make it good.

    • Eric Thurm November 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      I’m with Lee on this. I think the reason the quality of webseries tends to be lower is because, well, there are so many more of them. But I imagine looking through the hundreds of thousands of rejected screenplays and pilots that end up not making it to air would paint a similarly negative picture of “real” television. Allowing webseries to exist as a democratic medium means you get a lot more chaff. But some high profile creators have used the form of the webseries to do things they probably couldn’t have done on television, and even used the lower production values to their advantage. Take a look at Web Therapy (http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/), which uses the web conceit (like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries) to its advantage. While that ended up on television, it didn’t need to.

  2. kebullock December 2, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    I agree that the sheer quantity of web series probably contributes to the lower quality mostly because this causes difficulty in marketing the shows. So a smaller percentage will actually catch on and become popular. But I also recently noticed the lower quality of web series when I tried watching the web series spin-off associated with AMC’s the Walking Dead a few weeks ago. It became immediately clear that they added most of the effects in post (smoking buildings, flying birds, etc) which is ultimately much cheaper than they would have been in-camera. For this show it’s definitely not the case that the lower production value is due to financial or popularity concerns (The Walking Dead is currently one of the most popular cable shows on-air and the franchise can’t be hurting for cash). I’m pretty sure that networks such as AMC don’t have the same trouble that independent web series creators have when it comes to promoting their web series so why would they also choose create lower quality videos? It does make me wonder whether they chose create it this way just because it has become the norm for web series and they want to take advantage of the audience’s expectations for the quality.

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