Last year, when we officially announced that we were going to began filming our web series The Perfect Plan, tons of people started hitting me up with questions, asking for tips on how they could create their own web series…
That’s why I decided to put this “How To Create A Webseries Tutorial” together in order to help anyone who may be thinking about going down the web series road and could possibly benefit from the information.
Just a tiny disclaimer for you before we get started though: I’m an actor and not a super experienced director or camera guy.
Sure… I’ve been on a few big network shows as an actor… and I have created a bunch of my own YouTube and Vlog videos… but this was my first time ever creating a full season of a web series.
That said, I’m definitely no expert, but I do feel like I have learned enough from the experience to help others who are trying to get started.
I can honestly say it was not as hard as I expected, but at the same time it was every bit as hard as I expected.
I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but I guess what I’m trying to say is: getting started (the actual filming) is the hardest part.
It’s easy to sit around and “brainstorm” and come up with creative ideas… it’s the scary part of investing your own money and time and putting your career and reputation on the line by actually committing to the filming part of the process that’s hard.
At least it was for me…
“Am I Smart Enough To Really Do This?”
Of course, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent guy… hell I have an Economics degree and an MBA, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was a little nervous about donning the producer title for the first time because I had never done it before.
Sure, you can read all of the articles and talk to all of the experts, but at the end of the day you’re going to be doing this on your own…
…and if you suck… well… everyone can see your work right there on the screen, and that can be awfully intimidating and scary.
Not exactly the sort of thing you want.
I had no idea what I was doing at first, but there are millions of producers out there so it can’t be too hard to figure out, right?
That’s what I told myself at least.
Now, you may be thinking that I was meticulously outlining my web series master plan for years, and by the time I was finally ready I already had the blueprint…
Looking back on it now, I can definitely tell you that’s not how it happened… I never had a plan, this whole “create a web series” thing sort of started by accident.
Here’s how it all sort of went down:
I was working as an actor and making Instagram skits and YouTube Vlogs with my friends on the side for fun.
At first, the side hustle filming was a decent way of getting reps in front of the camera, practicing my acting, and developing characters while building my audience.
It was fun, easy, and there was basically no pressure involved.
Then, one day I was filming with a buddy of mine and we were talking about some of the shenanigans we used to get into back when we lived in Miami.
Boy, would those stories make for some funny videos…
It was really funny stuff… the type of weird and crazy stories you would only see or hear about on TV.
Now you just wait a minute…
Did you just say the type of stories you would only see or hear about on TV?
And then it came to me…
“We should create our own TV show!”
When those words came out of my mouth I sort of even surprised myself…
…and my buddy just kind of looked at me like I was crazy and said “A TV Show? Cmon man…”
He was right.
Who was I kidding?
It was a terrible idea.
How would we make it?
Who would even watch it?
How would we pay for it?
Back to the cubicle, Bro.
But then… for some strange reason… I couldn’t get this “create my own TV Show idea” out of my head…
…and it was getting to the point where it was consuming my thoughts all day, every day.
I was Googling articles.
I was writing down concepts.
I was meditating and thinking of even better concepts.
Problem was, I was all on my own and didn’t have a team to help me bring any of this stuff to life.
Then, one day I ran into another actor buddy of mine and gave him my hour-long, super boring monologue about how we needed to create our own content…
About how we shouldn’t be waiting around for someone else to give us a chance…
About how tons of people before us had already done it…
Why not us?
Why not us, Bro?!
Surprisingly, he didn’t think it was a crazy idea.
He bought it… he was in… and a few days later he introduced me to a few other guys who were trying to do the same thing.
Before we knew it we had a production team.
Holy sh*t, this is happening.
We were actually sitting at a real table, discussing the the super crazy idea of creating our own web series…
…and the weird part was, nobody actually thought it was crazy!
It was honestly a pretty exciting moment.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that all of us were fairly experienced actors and writers with credits.
We all had agents.
We all had created our own video content before.
We had all worked in TV and Film on various levels.
We were all pretty well versed with the production process.
Could we actually do this?
Could we actually make a real TV Series that people would watch?
We all believed that we could pull it off, even though we weren’t 100% sure how.
We all truly believed, even though we didn’t even have a conceptual idea at this point, much less a script.
None of that stuff really mattered to us though, because we all truly believed we could get it done.
Everyone was ALL-IN.
Then came the meetings.
We had meeting after meeting.
Then we had more meetings.
We had in person meetings and conference call meetings.
It seemed like all we were doing was just having friggin’ meetings…
…and while we did get a lot of stuff done in those meetings (script, casting, budget, creative direction, etc), after 4 or 5 months of “strategic planning” we began to realize that a lot of our “Big Hollywood Meeting” talk was starting to become inefficient and waste time.
It started to feel like we were just talking in circles, simply delaying the inevitable.
The big scary thing.
The SUPER BIG scary thing.
The actual filming.
Finally, one day we had all had enough… and we decided to say screw it, lets just start filming tomorrow.
We hi-fived and congratulated ourselves for being action takers… but a few hours after the meeting we realized that tomorrow was Christmas Eve.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve?
Out of all days, Christmas Eve decided to show up on the day we finally decided to film?
There’s no way we would able to get cast and crew all organized by the next day to film… most of them were probably out of town for the holidays or had other plans.
A last minute holiday shoot?
What in the world what were we thinking?
And so we agreed to push the shoot date a few weeks into the future.
Everything was finally set.
Holy sh*t… it’s happening.
Things are happening, again!
A Behind The Scenes Look At The Making Of The Perfect Plan
Before we get any deeper into the story, let’s go back to the very beginning of this journey.
Just like you’re doing right now, I was reading a ton of articles and was asking for advice from a few of my more experienced filmmaker friends…
…but early on in the process I began to notice that most of the articles never provided enough information, and a lot of my friend’s expert advice (even though very well intentioned) was just flat out wrong.
One thing you’ll have to keep in mind when you go through this process is that this new, streaming, digital media world is very new.
It’s very raw…
…and most of us have no idea where it’s headed, much less know how to dish out quality advice on how to attack it, especially since there are really no set rules for how to do any of this stuff yet.
That said, when you’re doing your research and asking around for guidance, a lot of the advice you’ll get is probably going to be very old-school.
There are still a ton of people out there still dishing out advice as if the independent TV/Film world hasn’t changed a bit in the past 10 years.
You’ll have certain folks tell you to “create your pilot on extended credit and shop it around at festivals” and others say “try to get a loan or grant to create your show and then throw your entire series on YouTube and if it’s good it will go viral” but none of these options are very practical or realistic.
For one, spending thousands of dollars on festivals only to hope someone takes pity on you and buys your series is a very expensive and risky longshot.
Secondly, the odds of getting a grant or loan are next to none, and the odds of your series going viral are arguably much less.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t decide to create a web series only to beg some some studio boss or investor to take pity on me and throw me a few dollars while they take full control of my vision…
…and if you’re reading this right now I bet you’re probably not too fond of the idea of spending thousands of dollars on festival submissions only to have to pray a distributor feels pity for you and offers you a deal.
Sure, this type of thing can pay off, but the chances are very slim, so this may not be a risk you are willing to take since you still have to pay for your web series to be made!
Pro Tip: The TV & Film industry has changed a lot over the past 10 years and many experts now argue that the Web TV business now works in the same exact way that traditional broadcast TV works.
One thing you need to keep in mind when you’re seeking out information that can help you get started is that many of the folks dishing out the so-called “expert advice” often go their whole careers and never end up filming anything themselves.
They seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of “ideas” and pre-production, and never ever quite get to the production (filming) part.
But you’re different, I can tell, and that’s why you’re here right now, reading this.
You could literally be doing ANYTHING else right now, but here you are… reading a long, boring, article about how to create a web series.
To be perfectly honest, I think that says a lot.
It means you have the passion to do it, as well as the willingness to learn…
…and I hope you are able to pick up a few tips here today that will give you the ammo you need to get it done so you won’t stay stuck in a vicious pre-production cycle of death like so many others before you.
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into the meat of this thing.
If you are completely new to filmmaking, the process is essentially broken down into three parts:
- Pre-production (the planning).
- Production (the filming).
- Post-production (the editing).
Each one of these parts is very different and can be an entire process by itself.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that if you screw up on one of these parts, it is very likely that at least one of the other parts will suffer as well.
That said, since you’re here reading this I imagine you’re still somewhere in the pre-production stage, aka the planning stage, aka the overthinking stage, aka the “can we actually pull this baby off” stage.
Also, I just want to point out AGAIN that I am not an expert source on this stuff by any means, what you’re reading here today are just a few tips that I learned during the making of my own web series.
Just a picture of me on our first day of filming, right before we started shooting.
Now, before you start to feel overwhelmed or start thinking that this may be too hard… it helps to keep in mind that we are currently living in the new, Golden Age of filmmaking.
These days it’s easier than ever for aspiring filmmakers like yourself to create content and get it in front of millions of people.
We have digital media companies and streaming networks buying web series concepts, we have access to digital networks like YouTube and Facebook where we can reach audiences in the millions.
We have access to new technology like iPhones and mobile editing apps, which make filmmaking easier and cheaper… and all of these factors have contributed to an explosion in the creation and popularity of web series over the past few years.
With all of the data trending positive, my buddies and I decided to jump in the mix and create our own series, and I’ve outlined below some of the things I learned during pre-production, working behind the scenes doing production, running the marketing campaigns, etc.
If you’re ready to dive in, here are my best tips:
1. The Script
The script is the most important thing. Everything begins and ends here.
Trust me when I tell you this, the quality of your script will make or break your entire series.
One of the reasons I’m going to really hammer this point home on you is twofold: (1) Getting top-notch talent attached to your show is a lot easier when you have a great script; (2) The quality of your show will improve 10 times over because when you have a great script because it’s also a lot easier to convince top-notch cinematographers and directors to want to work on your project (sometimes for free).
Note: The super obvious reason to also have a great script is because a good story is a lot more interesting to your viewers and fans than a boring story.
I’m sure you already know this, but as creatives it can be really hard to pass up the opportunity to be part of a great story…
…and if you have something good that’s relatable… something that’s compelling… something with characters that audiences will fall in love with, the rest is easy.
But it all starts with the script.
In the case of The Perfect Plan, we had some really great people develop our script who not only helped the original vision come to life, but added their own creative touches (we called it seasoning) to enhance something that was already pretty good.
When we reached out to the specific actors we wanted to cast and cinematographers we wanted to use, many of them hopped on board almost immediately, and they told us it was mostly due to the fact that the script was so good.
More Behind The Scenes Action From The Perfect Plan
It’s important to keep in mind that writing a script is no easy task… and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have to do it on your own unless you have a few writer friends you can reach out to for help.
For most of us though, we will have to go through a large portion of this process on our own, and it usually isn’t until you have a solid script or working concept ready that people will want to jump on board and help.
It’s very hard to get everything done, especially when don’t have a ton of money or resources to invest in your web series – and just thinking about everything you need to do and everything you want to do can be overwhelming…
…but I want you to forget about all of that for a second.
Forget about the money, the connections, the cast and crew, the director, the camera operators, the wardrobe, equipment, props, makeup, locations, permits, etc.
Forget about all of that stuff for the moment and focus on the story you want to tell.
At the end of the day, you’re a storyteller, so tell your story and worry about the other stuff later because sometimes a good story can solve a lot of those other problems for you… plus all of the worry usually only leads to overthinking and anxiety.
Ok, so now that you’ve decided that you’re going to focus on the story, there are several ways to attack your storytelling vision.
Remember, there is no actual “best way” to do this, the only way that’s best is the way that works for you.
That said, the suggestions I make in the post are based on my personal experiences and preferences, but what you decide on should come down to what works best for you and your particular series.
Here are my two favorite ways to attack a script:
Option 1: Write all of your episodes (6-12 typically) in advance.
If you are a seasoned digital marketer or an internet personality with a massive following, you probably won’t struggle too much if you choose this option…
…but as I’m sure you probably know, the digital landscape is crowded with tons of competition and it will be incredibly difficult to get eyeballs on your brand new web series unless you really know what you’re doing in terms of digital marketing and/or have a fairly large budget dedicated to your online marketing efforts.
The good news is, most indie web series (i mean let’s face it) are pretty awful… the stories are bad, the acting is bad, the camera and editing work is bad… everything is just bad. So if you can manage to create something decent you’ll at least have a solid advantage on that front.
The bad news is that even if you create something that’s pretty good, you’ll still have to compete with the amazing viral videos of frat bros setting themselves on fire while playing a video game and doing a voice over of the play-by-play.
If that wasn’t bad enough, it only gets worse from there as your web series will technically also be competing for views against the likes of Game of Thrones and other super popular network shows.
You see, there are only 24 hours in a day and people can only watch so much TV, so your web series will need to be good enough to pull them away from the stuff that they already know and love and get them to watch your show instead.
So just how can you get strangers to watch your new, unknown web series?
It all starts with a good story.
Here are a few things to help you get started:
– Do your research and know who your target audience is. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to reach a large, broad audience. Write something that will appeal to a single core group so it will have a chance to be a hit with that audience segment.
– Avoid creating unoriginal concepts like “best friends who are struggling actors in LA or New York” or “unemployed roommates” or anything along those lines. This genre is worn out and it may be difficult to get people to buy into this sort of concept again.
– Know where your audience hangs out (YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc) and develop content to fit that network. Every network is different and different types/styles of content will work better on some networks than others. Do your research and craft your content around that specific network audience.
For example, your Target Network Audience could be: YouTube, United States, Males, Age 18-30, African American, Comedy Fans, Mobile Users.
Pro Tip: Amazon Storywriter is a very helpful, free tool that can help you create your script.
Option 2: Write a treatment, not a full series.
If you’re approaching this from a business perspective (i.e. you’re not just in it for the art or the exposure), you’re probably not going to want to write all 6-12 episodes of your web series in advance without making any money first…
…doing it this way is just inefficient and one of the main reasons many filmmakers struggle to fund their projects or make any money from them.
If you’re going to run your production company (yes I said production company) like a business it means you have to start thinking like a business person, and the primary goal of a business is to make money.
That said, you are going to have to ask yourself if you’re doing this as a hobby (this is a very expensive hobby) or as a career (this is a potentially a very fun and lucrative career).
If you answered yes to the latter, you may want to consider writing a treatment and not a full screenplay.
For example, let’s say you want to create a comedy about people who work in an office. Your treatment could be based around the following concept: “What if we re-booted The Office but it was about black characters who worked at a major porn studio? What type of shenanigans might go down if Michael Scott was in charge of developing a new, bondage series? What would Dwight be doing? Kevin?”
The possibilities and storylines are endless.
Honestly, I’m already laughing… this concept could actually be really funny.
Remember, if you’re running this as a business, it usually means you’re not going to write a full screenplay until someone PAYS you to write it.
With that said, your next move is to start brainstorming and thinking about who may want to PAY YOU for this show to be made.
“People will pay me,” you ask?
Yes, my friend.
People will pay you to make your show for you.
Consider this: here in Los Angeles, there are hundreds of porn studios (yes, I’m sticking with my porn comedy concept) who may be looking to better engage with their customer base through a dramatized, fictional representation of the company.
Or, if you totally hate the porn comedy concept, imagine if Dos Equis made a show with 5-10 minute episodes starring The Most Interesting Man In The World. I’d probably watch it and so would you.
Pitching to brands and studios is never easy, but if you have a solid pitch that can answer the major question every brand wants to know “how many potential customers will watch this” you may be in the money.
Bottom Line: Start working on your script, but don’t expect to get a deal. While web series are a hot commodity right now for both distributors and creators, it is still very difficult to sell any series to a streaming service or potential sponsor before or after the fact.
There are a few success stories, sure, but most companies these days are interested in full ownership of a concept, not a pre-produced final product.
Most streaming platforms are interested in investing in your audience rather than season 1 of your brand new show, so if you’re just starting out, the most important thing is to focus on building your audience and go from there.
Once you have a large enough audience, you can then use your own money to create episodes (from your great script), demonstrate success with that audience (views, engagement, demographic data, etc) and document those metrics for the day you’re ready to pitch to potential sponsors/networks.
The Script Breakdown:
Now, you may be reading this and already have a script completed and ready. If that’s the case, congrats! A good next step for you is doing a script breakdown.
If you’ve never done a script breakdown before, what you’ll want to do is create a document that contains every element of your script, and use it as a guide as you move forward in the production process.
There are several ways to do this, but typically you’ll want to have a well organized document that includes characters, wardrobe, locations, props, etc.
Breaking down your script in this way will help you tremendously with scheduling and budgeting and can save you a ton of time and money in the end.
Pro Tip: Before you start submitting your work to agents, managers, producers, investors, etc, be sure to register your script(s) at the US Copyright Office and the WGA (Writers Guild) to protect your work and ideas in case legal issues arise down the road.
Lock In Your Cast Like A Pro.
There are quite a few different ways you can go about casting, but I have sort of a different take on this than most people for how to go about finding actors for your web series… especially if you’re funding this on your own dime and are interested in growing your audience.
If you’re a purist, you’re probably thinking “I’ll just cast the absolute best actor for the role and everything will be fine” but that could not be further from the truth.
If you were a big studio with a large marketing budget I would probably say, sure, that sounds like a great plan, but since you probably don’t have a couple million dollars lying around to invest in a marketing campaign, I suggest you attack it in a very different way.
Here are my two cents on casting:
1. Cast a mix of well trained theatrical talent along with an equal amount (if not more) of web TV celebrities. My general rule when creating streaming digital content with my own money is to cast not only actors who are right for the role, but also actors who can move markets.
We are no longer operating in the old-era… these days, many YouTube Stars and Weblebrities are taking acting classes, studying the craft, and cranking out high quality videos on a daily basis.
Also, most of them have very loyal fans and fan bases, often numbering in the millions of fans.
So how can you get a piece of that action, you ask?
Once you have selected a few prospects that may fit the roles you have, contact them and offer them a win-win situation where they have a role in your web series…
…which is a great opportunity to improve their brand, provide great content for their audience, and perhaps even land their first IMDb credit (if they don’t have any already)… in exchange for them doing promo about the web series to their audience and fans.
It is very important that you convince a few of these creators that it is in their best interest to join your cast (as mentioned before, this will be easier if your script kicks ass)…
…because casting the right web personality can be THE sole determining factor in whether your web series is a massive success or just another obscure video that gets 50 views, half of them coming from you checking to see if the video views went up, and the other half coming from your mom.
Trust me, if you can team up with just one major web celeb, it can literally be the cornerstone of your marketing efforts, so carefully consider who you cast… think about why you’re casting them, what they bring to the table.
Note: when it comes to creating great, web-based content, I would argue that many YouTubers may have a higher utility value than traditional actors when it comes to certain projects.
2. Make a list of all of the web TV celebrities who you believe will be capable of performing the roles you need cast who have large audiences (and the target demographics) that will appeal to the networks and advertisers you’d like to pitch to, or have the audiences that would be interested in watching your new series.
Things you should consider:
1. The combined audience size of the talent across all social networks.
2. The demographics of those audiences.
3. How well that web TV celebrity can pull off the role in relation to what they can deliver in terms of eyeballs and recognition to your project.
Trust me, there is no point in investing a bunch of money, time and resources into a project that only 7 people (including your mom) will watch. Sometimes you’ll need to make a trade-off.
Remember, actors are very easy to find… there are literally millions of them out there… so if your top candidate turns you down, don’t stress.
There are a lot more just like them who have the exact same audience. One of them will take the role, and your show will probably be just as good.
Pro Tip: For web series and online content, the networks, advertisers and investors typically care more about the demographic reach of the talent, not the actual talent themselves. You don’t need to stress over attaching any specific “name” from the digital world to your project.
Once you’re ready to start casting, you can put up a casting notice on a few of the top sites like Breakdown Services or Casting Networks to find your actors. Just post a listing for your project, the roles, and request actors send in self tapes.
We followed this same exact strategy when cast for The Perfect Plan (you can check out our cast here) and were able to find a group of brilliant actors in a relatively short time.
3. Hire Your Crew
Once you have your main actors cast (or even your 1 primary actor) you’re probably at the point where you want to start bringing more people on board.
If you don’t have any filmmaking experience once you get to this step, you’ll probably want to find someone who has the experience you need and make them a producer.
Just make sure this person is someone you can trust AND someone you would enjoy working with long term.
When you go on a search for your producer, I suggest approaching it the same way you would approach dating. You’re looking for someone you would love to be around, someone who makes you better, and someone you would want to be with long term.
When you think about it… this actually sounds a little bit like a marriage!
Trust me, if you attach yourself to the wrong producer… aka someone you can’t work with… someone you can’t stand to be around… someone shady… someone lazy… someone flaky…
…it can and will make your life a living hell, especially if this producer is helping to finance the project.
So what should you look for in a producer?
A producers main job is to know the intricate details of the production process at every level and make sure every job gets done.
Since you are creating an indie web series you’re probably not going to be able to attract (or afford) a working Hollywood producer just yet (this person probably works at Warner Bros full time), but all you really need is someone who has a bit of experience in TV, film, or general business.
They don’t necessarily have to have held the role of “producer” at an actual company before, but they should know enough about the process to help your project run a lot smoother.
This person should be business savvy, offer unique perspective, provide creative direction, and recommend initiatives that will help your show end up becoming a massive success.
An ideal situation would be to have multiple producers, all with different skill sets and strengths.
Someone who has a large network of industry contacts… someone who is a financial backer… someone who is detail oriented and organized… someone who is great at budgeting and planning… someone who is good at marketing… someone who has on set experience.
You get the idea.
Hey, you may get lucky and find one person who can do it all, but these folks are usually very expensive and rare. Either way, your producer will be the engine that makes the project go, so you’ll want to bring them on board as early as you can.
Next step, hire your Director.
Now, unless you’re a director yourself (or have aspirations of becoming one) you’re probably going to need to find someone to fill this role.
Remember, there is a lot more to directing than yelling “action” and “cut” … being a great director is about visualizing every angle you need for each scene, setting up the shots, making adjustments, directing the actors, paying attention to pacing, making sure the transitions are right, communicating/leading everyone on set, and so on.
A director must be wise, knowledgeable, cool under pressure, and know the answers to anything and everything that may happen on your set at any given time.
This goes without saying, but being a director (and doing a good job) is no easy task…
…and it pays to bring someone on board who has the experience you need to bring your project to life and make it look professional.
So you’ve got a producer and a director, now what?
Ok, now that you’ve got all your key people on board, it’s time to schedule a meeting, review the script, and go through the breakdowns together.
It’s usually at this point where the people you brought on board who have production experience will really start to show their true value.
These folks should be able to tell you why certain locations may not work, why various props are unrealistic or may not make sense, which part of the script may need rewrites or adjustments, as well as provide strategic guidance in many other areas.
The educated alternatives they offer should help you save time, money, and help you pull off your creative storytelling vision a lot easier.
Now, assuming you’re working with a tiny budget, your production team should also sit down and go through your full script to complete “realistic rewrites” where you document the resources you have available and the reality of what you can actually afford.
Sure, you want to do that super badass scene where the missile flies through the air and hits the exploding helicopter, but do you really have $2,000,000 to just throw around?
Perhaps a more practical option would be stock footage that you can realistically plug into that shot sequence.
Or, for example, instead of renting out a full bar for a scene, perhaps you can use your apartment lounge area and make it look a little dark and smokey. With the right lighting you may be able to pull it off.
Remember, in order to get everything done when you’re balling on a microbudget, you’ll have to make compromises and that often means killing the “cool stuff” and settling for something more practical.
It can still be cool (if you’re creative), but your main goal here should be to get your project to the finish line…
…not to get 1/3 of the way there and run out of budget because you just “had to get that cool shot.”
You don’t want to be that guy, trust me.
Besides, you can always do all of that cool stuff with your giant studio budget once you make it big…
…plus, you’ll have the experience by then to really know how to get it done.
It’s a win-win.
“So what’s the best way to hire the rest of my crew?”
At the end of the day, there is no real “best” way to go about hiring crew, but my advice is to just go out and try to hire the best crew you can possibly afford…
…just make sure they are actually professionals that you would enjoy working with.
If you have worked in the biz for a while, you’ll know that having a great crew makes the work day a lot more enjoyable and easier on everyone, but you aren’t making Avengers here, you’re just making a web series.
That said, you don’t have to hire an A list director, just make sure you get someone affordable who can do their job correctly and produce quality work. The same thing goes for your camera operator(s). Costume person. Makeup person, etc.
In a best case scenario, your director and camera operator may even be the same person.
It really all depends.
Just make sure you review their demo reel and/or resume to make sure they don’t suck… and that they know how to light a scene/operate a camera/direct actors/etc.
Key additions to your crew: Producer, Director, Camera Operator(s), Sound Person, Lighting Person, Makeup, Production Assistant, etc.
4. The Filming
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. You’ve recruited all your generals, your battle plan has been prepped, and you’re finally ready to get to the fun stuff, and by fun stuff, I mean the actual production.
Note: If you’re an advanced filmmaker you may already have a set way for how you like to run your production. If so, you can probably skip this next part. However, if you’re just starting out, here are a few “rules” you may want to follow to make the production process run smoothly:
1. Use A Call Sheet: The night before you film, be sure to email a call sheet out to the entire cast and crew to let them know what time they need to be on set and where the set is located.
What is a call sheet you ask?
“A call sheet is a filmmaking term for the daily shooting schedule, using the director’s shot list. It gets sent out to the cast and crew of a film production each day to let them know when and where they should report for a particular day of filming.”
For example, if you are operating on a tiny budget and actors are bringing their own costumes, your call sheet should list exactly what types of clothes they need to bring, as well as any alternates and backups.
Also, if you have a crew member who is supposed to bring camera or lighting equipment, be sure to list that as well.
Once you’ve created your call sheet, email it out to everyone, but make 100% sure you print out multiple copies and bring them to set.
You’d be surprised how often key people forget to bring their call sheet with them.
Lastly, be sure to print out multiple copies of your shot list and scripts you’ll need for that day… you don’t want to get stuck without these once you get to set.
Pro Tip: StudioBinder has some great call sheet templates that you can download for free, here.
2. Setting Up Your Set: A good rule of thumb is to schedule your crew to arrive on set 1-2 hours before your talent (this is typically called ‘crew call’) so they can assemble the equipment and have everything ready to go by the time the actors are ready to film.
You will also want to arrive on set even earlier than the crew.
Establishing solid leadership and excitement for your project is critical, especially in the early stages, and being the first one there and the last one to leave is a solid way of showing how important this is to you.
Set the tone.
3. Hire a Second in Command: Use an AD (Assistant Director) or trustworthy friend to work as a script supervisor, to feed actors lines when they need them, to keep an eye on time, and to help you stay on track.
If they’re a superhero, have them also take some behind-the-scenes photos and on location videos so you’ll have some cool content to use on social media later on. Remember, the fans love to see “the making of” and these sneak peeks behind the curtain will only help the cause.
4. The Actual Filming: Since you’ve made it this far I’m going to assume you’re pretty well versed when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking or have hired someone who is.
That said, your main focus at this point should be on efficiency, creativity, making necessary adjustments when things don’t go as planned, and keeping the peace in case any drama unfolds on set.
Focus on doing the things that you do best (whatever those may be) and trust that the people you hired will do their jobs correctly.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned during this entire process is that you’ve got to stick to your vision and do whatever it takes to bring that vision to life…
…but at the same time you also have to remain down to earth, respect your cast and crew, and do everything in your power to keep things fun.
That said, I’d like to share a bit of very helpful filmmaking advice I received from legendary director Ava DuVernay:
- Know your crew members by name. They are the lifeblood of your film.
- Remember that actors and crew are grown-ups. Treat them with all the same grown folks respect. No one is better than anyone else just because they’re in front of a camera.
- Change your socks at lunch, makes you feel like a new woman.
- Don’t let your actors watch playback. Your job is to watch the actors so that they don’t watch themselves. Their job is to portray real life.
- Never tell an actor it was good when it wasn’t.
- Never line read an actor.
- Never block without an actor if you can help it.
- When blocking, have a plan in mind before you begin if you can.
- Be prepared for hundreds of questions per day. You are now Question Answerer in Chief.
- Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer. You don’t have to know all the answers to everything. More than half of people’s job is to help you find the answers.
- Hydrate throughout the day.
- Laugh and keep a warm atmosphere. We’re making movies not splitting the atom.
- Remind yourself why you’re telling this story every morning on the way to set. Why it’s important to you. Every morning.
- Knock it out of the fu*king park.
This list highlights how important, sensitive, and subjective a director’s job can be.
On one hand, being a pit boss who runs the show, and on another being a caring, sensitive human who treats your cast and crew with love and respect, like a family.
There are a ton of important takeaways here, and regardless of your gender #3 is definitely a huge lifesaver. I can attest to this from personal experience both as an actor and a creator.
5. Equipment: This will come down to what you already own, what the DP and/or crew you hire owns, and how much budget you have leftover to rent (or buy) what you need but don’t already have.
Since this isn’t an article about camera and lighting equipment, I won’t go into a ton of detail here, but I will say this: don’t let a lack of equipment stop you from filming your series!
There have been several major movies (including Netflix films) that have been shot on iPhones, so if you have a phone you’re already ahead of the game.
Now, this may come as a shock, but contrary to popular belief, the most important thing when you’re filming isn’t actually the quality of your camera (especially with web series) but the quality of your sound.
Let me say that again for the people in the back… your sound is the most important thing!
If your sound sucks, your entire production is going to suck.
With that in mind, if you have a little bit of money to invest in equipment, spend it on a solid microphone. There are a ton of options out there to choose from, but you can’t really go wrong with a Rode Mic, which can easily attach to your iPhone or DSLR camera.
Also, if you do decide to go full guerrilla and shoot your web series with your iPhone there are a ton of tools you can use to enhance your filmmaking capabilities.
Here’s my iPhone Filmmaker Starter Kit: (1) The ProMovie App, or The Filmic Pro App, both of which have a ton of pro tools and allow you to shoot in 4K; (2) The Smooth 4 Gimbal Stabilizer, which can help you capture incredible handheld footage; (3) An iPhone (preferably a 7 or higher for optimal camera quality).
“I don’t think I want to shoot on an iPhone, what top level production equipment do you recommend?”
The obvious answer is, it depends. If your web series is going to live on the web (obviously it will because it’s a web series, duh) it means you can honestly shoot it on anything from your iPhone to a DSLR to a super fancy camera like the Arri Alexa 65.
Anything goes when you’re shooting for web only, but as I mentioned before, whatever camera you use just make sure you can capture great sound!
Remember, web video is capable of streaming anything from 240p (super blurry in full screen mode) to 4k resolution (looks amazing in full screen mode)…
…but not every internet connection and/or geo-location will have the bandwidth to play a 4k video without it buffering like crazy.
Trust me, slow buffering speed is not what you want when you’re trying to impress new fans with your web series.
If you’ve ever watched Netflix and had a blurry, choppy picture that constantly buffers you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about here.
The good news is, most people now watch video on their tiny 3 or 4 inch smartphone, and 1080p is usually all the resolution you need for a clear, beautiful picture on a mobile device.
With that in mind, you should aim for a minimum video resolution of 1280 x 720p, and most cameras these days (yes, even your old smartphone) is more than capable of shooting at this level of resolution.
Remember, 1280 x 720p is the minimum, but you should ideally try to shoot with a camera that offers resolutions of 1920 x 1080.
Now, if you’re stuck with a super old camera that only shoots in 720 x 480 (aka standard definition), you may still be able to get away with that if your videos will live primarily on the web…
…but keep in mind that many folks are used to watching videos in HD these days, so they may not be very enthusiastic about watching your “blurry” standard definition (SD) video.
Pro Tip: 4k footage is very heavy and takes up a huge amount of space on your hard drive. It’s harder to edit 4k footage (you may have to rent a studio if your computer can’t handle the large file sizes), plus only a small percentage of viewers will be able to watch your video in that high of a resolution. I recommend shooting in 4k only if you have plans to show your series beyond the web, or if you have a great editor who has the equipment you’ll need. 1080p is great quality for web, and most users will not be able to tell the difference at all.
So What Camera Do You Recommend I Use?
Personally, I’m a big fan of Sony’s Alpha Series and the Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera has everything you need to shoot high quality stuff at a price that won’t break the bank. You can grab the entire Sony Filmmakers bundle here.
But your filmmaking toolbox doesn’t stop with just a camera, there are a bunch of other tools you’ll probably need in order to create a great looking series and I’ve listed some of them below.
Other types of equipment you should consider purchasing or renting:
- Shotgun Mic
- Lighting Kit
- Camera Light
- Portable Digital Audio Recorder
- Wireless Mic
- Boom Pole
- Light Reflectors
- Camera Lenses
- Memory Cards
- External Hard Drive
- Shoulder Mount (Low End / High End)
- Tripod Dolly
- Camera Bag
6. When You Wrap For The Day: Be sure to have a short meeting once the day is over (with the main crew members only… never the actors) to collab and discuss how everything went.
Whenever you have a shoot, some things may go as planned, but other things may have not worked out so well.
Communicate and discuss the things you’d like to change for the next day of filming so every process can improve and get better. Be sure to also discuss the things that worked, and how you can build off of that success.
Remember, your crew is like a family and filmmaking is a collaborative process. Listen to everyone’s needs and concerns and address any issues that arise early.
Pro Tip: What I like to do is send out two texts after filming is wrapped for the day, just before I drive home. One text goes to someone who really shined, and another text goes to someone who needs some encouragement. It’s often the little things like this that let your team know you love them, that you have their back, and this helps to create a great, family style working environment.
5. Post Production
Congratulations, you’ve just wrapped filming your web series – a monumental achievement and a step most people never reach.
Take a minute to pat yourself on the back, but don’t get too comfortable because there’s still a ton of work to do!
The good news is: you have every piece you need to put your final masterpiece together.
The bad news is: post-production is arguably the most difficult stage of all.
Based on my own experiences (and war stories I’ve heard from friends), editing can be a very tricky and incredibly time-consuming process.
If you do your own editing you’ll know that a lot of the work can be very tedious… but you may have to grind through it anyway because (1) you have run out of budget; or (2) you are a control freak who loves to torture yourself.
If you can afford it, my advice is to just pay a pro and have them do their thing (while you provide guidance and direction, of course).
Just be sure you lay out clear deadlines and goals before you get started, otherwise your editor may end up taking forever.
I strongly recommend sitting down with them in person while they go through the editing process because nobody truly knows your vision but you…
…and if you don’t make a commitment to this, you could end up with a finished product that you don’t really like at all.
Worst case scenario, if you really REALLY don’t have the time, at the very least try to commit to meeting once or twice a week to review the work and provide feedback. Communication is critical here.
Once your editor has a polished cut of the series ready (often called a ‘fine cut’), screen it for your crew members and/or family and friends so they provide feedback and insights.
Sometimes these kind folks will notice something that you may have missed or they may give you a great idea that can make a piece of the footage even better.
What I like to do is divide my crew into several teams. One team will see an early cut, and the other team will see a cut that comes later.
Fresh eyes on your project are always a huge help as there are literally thousands of details to potentially spot in this stage.
Every eye ball helps.
Pro Tip: Don’t show your rough cuts to the cast, typically your actors won’t see the product until it’s the final version.
When you’re going through the editing process, keep in mind that each platform (YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vimeo, etc) is different and they all have different specs, layouts, requirements, etc.
Be sure to plan for this accordingly and request deliverables from your editor that meet the requirements of every platform you intend to publish on.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve locked each episode, make multiple backups for each file to make 100% sure you don’t lose anything. Personally, I prefer online backups like Dropbox and Google Drive as my primary storage locations and I’ll also use a hard drive or memory stick as my backup. Keep in mind that hard drives crash and memory sticks are easily lost so having multiple backup locations will help you sleep better at night, knowing all of your files are safe.
6. Marketing & Promo
The internet is a wild and crazy place… it’s a bold, new, undiscovered world that’s seemingly just an endless void that just keeps growing and expanding.
I guess it’s sort of like outer space in a way.
“But Jamin, how can you say it’s expanding… the internet is totally oversaturated and there is way too much competition for views. It’s impossible for someone like me to get people to watch my web series with all of the big accounts stealing all the views.”
Well sure, I guess.
But think of it this way, my friend.
Is there competition to get to the moon?
Sure, but there are literally millions of other moons and planets out there that you can stick your flag in, and if you can get to them you will be hailed an even bigger hero.
It’s a pretty large universe out there, and for the most part, it’s still very much untapped.
Check out these stats:
- 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
- People watch over 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day, more than Netflix and Facebook video combined.
- Every day there are roughly 1,000,000,000 mobile video views on YouTube.
- Among Millennial’s, YouTube accounts for two-thirds of the premium online video watched across all devices.
And that’s just YouTube.
If those numbers don’t get you excited, perhaps you’re in the wrong business because if you can score even a tiny fraction of that action your project will become a major success.
I’m not saying it will be easy, but here are some pro tips to help you get there:
1. Run Facebook Ads. This is hands down the best, most professional, cost effective way to gain exposure very quickly for your series – and if you have your demographic data dialed in from the steps outline above you should have more than enough stuff to get started.
For example, if your web series is a comedy about aliens, and you know that your primary demographic is guys, age 20-35 that live in the United States, who also like Star Trek, The Orville, outer space, comedy, etc…
…it is very easy to run Facebook Ads to this specific audience, perhaps showing them the brand new super-awesome trailer to your brand new, soon-to-be smashing hit, web series.
When you are setting up your ad campaign, Facebook will show you how many users fall into the target audience you chose (5,000,000 for example) and then you will create your ads, set a daily budget, click publish, and you’re off and running.
2. Build A Website. This one should be a no-brainer but I have to mention it anyway because many folks still haven’t figured out how important this is quite yet.
That said, if you don’t already have a website for your web series yet (or at least a basic landing page), start building one ASAP.
I generally recommend beginning website development a lot earlier on in the process (pre-production usually) but if you haven’t started yet, it isn’t too late.
Now, before you start stressing over the thought of a difficult website building process, let me just say, RELAX.
All you really need to get started is just one page.
Yep, that’s right.
Focus on getting at least one simple landing page set up so you can have somewhere to send people from your Facebook ads.
It isn’t incredibly difficult to set this up on your own, but if you’re new to the whole website thing and don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, you can always hire a freelancer for very little cost.
Pro Tip: If you’re running Facebook ads you will place the pixel that Facebook gives you on your website and/or landing pages so when visitors hit those pages they will be “cookied up” in order for you to remarket to them later on.
Note: if you’d like to look at the website for our web series, you can check it out at: www.ThePerfectPlan.TV
3. Create A Killer Trailer. This goes without saying, but nothing hypes people up more for a new show or movie than seeing a piece of the action in a killer trailer.
If you have enough material ready, try to make a few small teasers and a full series trailer…
…you can put this trailer up on your new website and experiment with different variations in your Facebook ads or on your social media accounts to see what works best.
Preview one of the full series trailers for The Perfect Plan.
4. Social Media. Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay… and it should be a big part of the marketing efforts for your web series because it can make or break your success.
When I say “big part” I mean it is super SUPER important, and you need to commit to it 100 percent.
You’ve got to go ALL IN.
That said, if you don’t already have social media accounts for your series, I recommend creating Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts (preferably with the same username on all three) to keep brand recognition strong and make your content easier to find.
Also, make sure the Facebook and Instagram accounts you create are both “business” accounts, because biz accounts give you access to more tools, features, and stats.
Last but not least, I have to give a shout out to my favorite social media platform of all-time, Twitter, which is arguably the most important one of all when it comes to marketing your series…
…because Twitter YES TWITTER is the place where you can directly engage with fans the most and conduct real time live tweeting sessions during your episodes.
I cannot stress enough how great Twitter is for marketing, brand building, and connecting with your audience. Do not slack off on your Twitter efforts!
5. List Your Web Series on IMDb. This one is an easy win. Simply head over to IMDb, fill out this form and submit your web series. By having your TV project on IMDb, it establishes immediate legitimacy and helps strengthen your brand with fans, especially during pre-release.
6. Use Your Promo Images. Earlier in this article I suggested having someone take behind-the-scenes photos while you were on set and this is where you’ll start using them. Hop on those social media accounts you just created and use these photos to create some hype for your new show’s upcoming release.
7. Set Up Some Promo Interviews. If you’ve been around showbiz for a while you’ll know that any time the big studios make a new movie or TV show they’ll do a ton of interviews where the principal cast and crew are interviewed by a multitude of journalists.
Setting stuff like this up is a lot easier when you’re a big name or have an agent/manager backing you… but if you’re still relatively unknown you’ll have to do it on your own.
If you have been a fan of TV and Film for a while, you’ve probably watched hundreds of these things… and it isn’t really super difficult to set one up by yourself.
All you really have to do is interview your principal cast and crew (hire an actor/host who is pretty good if you don’t want to do it yourself)… then use the video and/or text interview(s) as weekly releases that build up to the season premiere.
Pro Tip: You can conduct this video interview for almost no cost using just your iPhone and a Rode Mic.
Not only will this give you great content to use on your brand new website, on social media, and in your Facebook ads, but it will also help the audience get to know you before they even watch the show…
…which could make the fans connection to you and your web series even stronger.
8. Connect With The Press. As I’ve mentioned several times in this article, getting your web series in front of people can be incredibly difficult, especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have a large audience built already.
Of course, having a limited online reach can make things a bit more difficult because nobody is rushing over to you begging for an exclusive…
…but thanks to the internet, you can easily create a sense of legitimacy around your project (even if nobody has ever heard of you before) simply by putting together a media kit, issuing a press release, and emailing it out to some publications to try to get some press coverage.
How can you get started with press coverage?
I recommend starting out by creating a full press kit that you will make available to all publications (you can and should put this press-kit on your website).
If you’re not sure where to start, there are a bunch of sites out there that offer great tips and tutorials on how to put together a great press-kit, but some the basic things you’ll want to include will be your press release, cast and crew information, the synopsis of your web series, production photos, hi-res logos, social media links, positive reviews, press quotes, upcoming screenings, etc.
You get the idea.
Be sure to create your press-kit in PDF format and make it look as professional as possible, because the better your materials look, the more likely publications will take you seriously and consider using it to promote you and your show.
Sample Press Kit: You can view the full press-kit for The Perfect Plan here.
Sample Press Release: You can view an official press release for The Perfect Plan here.
Sample 1 Sheet: You can view the official 1-Sheet for The Perfect Plan here.
Next, you will want to email websites and news publications that you’d like to work with… just be sure you do you some research beforehand on which ones write specifically for your demographic and/or have a history for covering web series before you go crazy with cold mailing.
Also, when you craft your email, be sure to list the “who, what, why” questions in the beginning, and don’t forget to add some photos as well as your website and social media links.
A good rule of thumb is to try to provide them with information that they can’t just grab off of your website or social media accounts.
For example, you could include a blurb about the inspiration behind your creative vision… what you think sets this series apart from all the other series in the same genre… the overall theme of the series… shooting details… quotes from the cast/crew… high quality production stills, etc.
You don’t need this email to be long, you just need it to catch their attention and get right to the point.
Also, it’s generally frowned upon to include email attachments these days so don’t attach your cool new press-kit to the email…
…what you’ll want to do here is just end your email with “full press kit available upon request” or add a link to the PDF press kit that you recently added to your website.
Doing this will help you look like an old pro without overwhelming this very busy media person with a super long and boring email.
7. Raising Capital / Fundraising
If you’ve made it this deep into this article you’re probably thinking to yourself “great tips bro, but how am I supposed to pay for all this stuff?”
Say no more.
I got you.
Look, we’ve all heard it a thousand times, money isn’t everything.
They say it can’t buy you love (debatable), they say it’s the root of all evil (I’m willing to risk it)…
…they, whoever they are, say a lot of things about money.
One thing I do know that money can do is help you get your web series made.
It can buy equipment, rent studios, pay for quality cast and crew, pay for licenses, props, food, etc.
The list goes on and on.
The problem is, most web series creators don’t have deep pockets so they get stuck producing low quality material that never attracts any real interest.
I don’t want that to happen to you though, your series deserves to get made, so I’ve put together a list of fundraising options that have worked for myself and countless others on creative projects over the years.
1. Crowdfunding. Look, I know you probably already knew this one but I had to list it anyway (and at the top) because it is more than likely your best option because (1) it’s pretty easy to get a campaign going; and (2) it minimizes a lot of risk on your end.
If you’re new to the whole crowdfunding thing, there are quite a few sites out there that support your goals, but the top 3 for web series and film projects (in my humble opinion) are IndieGoGo, Seed&Spark, and Kickstarter.
Now, before you rush over to any of those sites to start raising capital, keep in mind that each one of these sites has different benefits and terms so you’ll have to choose one that works best for you and your needs…
That said, you will probably want to do a bit of research first before you get started.
IndieGoGo is great because their fundraising option is flexible and allows you to keep the money you raise, regardless of whether you hit your goal or not.
Seed&Spark was designed for filmmakers and creators and allows people to loan out equipment and locations instead of donating money. This way you can easily acquire what you need without having to go through the time consuming process of accepting money and then having to go buy the items yourself.
Kickstarter is somewhat similar to IndieGoGo, only with a larger, broad, less TV and Film focused audience.
Once you’ve got your campaign ready to go, I strongly recommend you incorporate everything before you accept a single dollar (this means create an LLC for your web series project) so you don’t get burned with personal income/fundraising taxes down the road.
Remember, this is a business, so you have to handle every step in this process with that in mind.
Also, it helps to outline a detailed fundraising plan and commit to it 100%. Lay out your update schedule, your perks, and stay on top of your expenses and ROI.
“So what perks should I offer?”
I can’t really answer that for you, it really depends on your budget, show type, audience, creativity, etc… but I do suggest you use perks that won’t break the bank.
I know most campaigns offer physical perks such as posters, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc…
…but a lot of times that sort of stuff can end up costing you more than in the end than you will make.
Taking a loss just isn’t smart business if your primary fundraising goal is to save up as much money as possible to create your show.
For example, if a poster costs $12 to make and $5 to ship, and you’re asking for $20, you’re only going to end up with $3 for your production budget… and don’t forget to account for the taxes on top of that!
It’s very easy to end up in the hole on this stuff if you aren’t careful… and this is why I recommend offering intangible but “personalized perks” for your various donation levels.
For example, perhaps you’ll want to offer your big donors an IMDb executive producer credit and their name rolling at the end of an episode (this is 100% free and a super cool perk).
Or, perhaps you’ll allow a big donor a small cameo appearing in an episode where they play a small role or deliver a 1-liner.
Then, maybe you’ll allow your next tier access to your live film set so they can meet the cast & crew and watch the action live.
Or, perhaps you’ll invite a few local donors to an exclusive premiere or red carpet event for your show where they can participate as part of the cast/crew.
Next, perhaps you’ll pick up the phone and call your fans. Text them. Send them tweets. Follow them back. Comment on their pics. All of these things are 100$ FREE and honestly A LOT COOLER to fans than posters and coffee mugs.
“How much should I list my perks for?”
I recommend having your perks start at $1 to $5 donations for the small social media stuff, and you could go all the way up to $5,000 or even $10,000 for an executive producer credit or cameo appearance depending on the show and the level of interest a big donor may have in seeing their name “in the lights” so to speak.
If you run your campaign correctly, it can really get people fired up for your show because they will feel as if you care about them, they will feel important and like they are a part of your series, and they will take it upon themselves to spread the word for you.
Congratulations, you just earned yourself some new loyal fans.
2. Self Fund Your Series. Depending on your situation you may want to consider this as your primary option or use it as a supplement to your primary funding source.
When we created The Perfect Plan, my business partner and I self-funded their entire thing ourselves and did not use any other funding source.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that self-finding is a good thing or a bad thing because it has its own advantages and disadvantages.
At the end of the day, you will have to pick an option that works best FOR YOU and only you know what that may be.
If you do decide to go the self-funding route, I strongly recommend using your script breakdowns (as mentioned above) to create a budget template and break down every single expense so you’ll have a general idea how much money you’ll actually need.
Draft up a best and worst case scenario. If you determine that your script and budget to not match up, you should cut as much as possible from the script as you can to save money (while not killing the story entirely).
Note: Asking friends to borrow production items or shoot locations can save you a lot of money and time. Don’t be too proud to ask, if there is a free option you should use it.
Remember what your primary goal is (to make your series) and then be as smart and as creative as you can to make the budget you have work for you.
3. Find Brand Sponsors. As I mentioned earlier, pitching your series to a brand as a win-win for both sides can often get your entire series funded if you play your cards right.
If the concept fits and the managers believe a partnership with your web series can help them make money, brands have been known to put up the entire production budget in exchange for product integration and prominent placement within episodes, and/or various advertisement placements during certain segments of your episodes.
Remember, structuring a type of deal like this is in no say “selling out” as many independent filmmakers and creators may have you believe.
This is called creating a strategic partnership with a company who could end up being a longtime ally, someone that could help you reach the next level.
4. Grants & Loans. I am only listing these because they are options that you can definitely use… but in my humble opinion, considering the difficulties, challenges, and time constraints involved with these, I would avoid them at all costs unless absolutely necessary.
8. Get Your People Under Contract
I decided to put this section last because I figured if you make it this deep into the article it probably means you’re actually serious about this whole web series thing…
…and if you you are actually serious about this it means you’ll probably want to hire a lawyer.
You see, now that you have brands, advertisers, actors, producers, and investors on board who want to work with you and/or fund your series, it means things are about to get real…
…and when things get real it means it’s time to get down to business and put everything in writing.
Now, you may be thinking “Jamin, I trust these people, they are my friends. Can’t we just agree verbally and shake on it? That should be good enough, right?”
Not so fast my friend.
Remember, when large amounts of cash start flying around it often means the snakes will begin to come out of the grass. A once trusted friend can turn into a mortal enemy very quickly, so it’s always best to have an agreement in writing that’s legally enforceable.
If a producer, investor, or brand offers you a deal in exchange for something, make 100% you get it in writing, and if you can, have a lawyer review it just to make sure you don’t get burned.
Contracts can be difficult to read and understand sometimes, so it always helps to have a legal expert on your side just to make sure you don’t make any critical mistakes.
So what kind of contracts do you need?
A lot of this depends on the situation, but generally I’d recommend having a contract signed for every member of your team, even if they only work for one day.
Remember, you are running a business, and that means, if you’re paying people, you should at the very least draft a basic contract that outlines duties, responsibilities, and monetary compensation.
Here’s what I generally recommend adding into your contract:
1. Role & Responsibilities. These should be outlined very clearly and should be both reasonable and practical.
For your actors: how many episodes are they booked for, how many shooting days will they be needed for, how long will you require them to be on set each day, etc.
For your crew: how many episodes will they work on, how many shooting days will you need them for, how long will you require them to be on set each day, how long will they be needed on set before and after filming wraps, will they have to set up and break down equipment, etc.
Other considerations: When the principal filming ends, there may still need to be work to do, so it’s helpful to add a few clauses to cover this just in case.
For example, will there be reshoots? What happens if the day runs long and you need to do overtime? Will your cast and crew also need to film additional promotional videos to promote the series? Will you need to do any ADR sessions?
Is cast and crew expected to assist with the crowdfunding campaign? Will your actor’s contracts require they do promo for the show, such as posting on social media, doing interviews, or attending panels at conventions? For crowdfunding and promo, what level of involvement is needed?
Depending on your situation, you may need more or less than what’s listed here, but everything should be be addressed and written down in as specific wording as possible.
All expectations and obligations and compensation structures should be put in writing and agreed to by both sides. Otherwise, anyone can just say “it’s not in my contract, so I’m not doing that” and then things usually start to go bad.
Remember, if you’re hiring certain talent specifically because advertisers want to reach their fanbases and the talent refuses to post about your show, you are in for a world of hurt. Not only could you potentially lose your sponsorship deal, but you may have to end up paying the sponsor damages if they decide to sue later on.
I know it may sound crazy, but be 100% sure your talent is contractually obligated to perform the specific duties that you are hiring them for or they don’t get paid.
Pro Tip: It can be helpful to include a clause in your contract outlining how frequency cast and crew are expected to post about the web series, which platforms to use, etc.
2. Compensation. This should be outlined very clearly and should include the dollar amount, even if it’s zero.
It’s worth noting that most web series are usually non-union projects that do not pay the actors, but instead, offer them an IMDb credit in exchange for their work.
That said, even if you are only offering a credit and no money, you will still need to draft a contract just in case someone comes back after the fact and says “hey you owe me money!”
I strongly suggest outlining exactly how much you’re going to pay (for both cast and crew) and the payment type (i.e. based on shooting days, flat fee, deferred payment, etc).
For example, your contract may read something like this: “for the work agreed upon by x person on page x, you will receive x by [date].”
3. Usage. This should be outlined very clearly and include every platform you intend to use.
When you finish your web series, where is it going to live? Where will it go? Will you post it on YouTube? Facebook? Amazon Prime? Your website? Perhaps you will be submitting to live screenings and festivals? Or, maybe you’re considering approaching distributors?
Whatever the case may be, make sure you have language in your contract that outlines where you’re going to post episodes, how they will be used, and who has the final say over where the final product eventually lands.
For distribution deals, you should have a contract drafted that gives you the legal powers to sign over the rights to the show and be in control of everything that comes with that.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to hire a lawyer you can download and customize legal forms specific to your situation on LegalZoom.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and nothing I’ve said here constitutes actual legal advice in any way. If you decide to use this advice and it doesn’t work, that’s on you. I strongly recommend finding a real lawyer to help you if you need assistance developing contracts for your production.
Now you should have a general idea how to create your own web series and take your filmmaking career to the next level.
Yes, it is that simple, and also that complex – but hopefully now you have enough information to at least get you started.
If you’re still feeling a little unsure, anxious, and afraid over this whole process, just remember that you’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you try.
You have no idea the power that lies within you right now.
This power is inside all of us, we just have to push ourselves to do that scary thing so we can unlock it and reach the next level.
So if you’re serious about making a web series and taking your career to the next level, this is your chance to finally do it – and you can prove it by taking the next step.
Don’t let the self-doubt creep in, don’t start overthinking, just put your head down and do the work.
Refuse to be outworked.
Most importantly, love the battle.
Love the journey and respect the process.
Believe in your vision.
Believe your show will be great.
Believe that YOU are great.
The greatness is right there inside you.
The rest is for you to decide.
Thank you so much for reading – I hope these tips work as well for you as well as they have for my team and I so far. Here’s to your success, I hope you are able to create your vision and eventually live the life of your dreams.
Now it’s your turn: What are you currently doing to make your web series dream happen right now? Do you know of any great tips I may have missed? If you are an experienced filmmaker, what sort of genius hacks have you used in the past that may help someone that’s just starting out? Drop a comment below or shoot me a tweet and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.