Web Series: How They’re Made
Let’s say you’re at a point in your career as a budding filmmaker or even as a film student in which you have produced, directed, or written a short film and you’re pining to create a feature film or TV series.
Selling a feature film or TV series is hard. It takes connections, tenacity, and examples of your writing, producing, and directing abilities. That’s where a web series may be a next step to achieving your goal. In order to accomplish this, you will need to conceive of a strong idea that can span anywhere from 4 to 12 episodes or “webisodes,” write an episode outline that includes a logline for each “webisode,” and write episode scripts that can range from 1 page (60 seconds) to 10 pages (10 minutes).
In our exploration of how to make a web series, we’ll also focus on the following elements of pre-production:
- Finding locations
- Hiring crew
- Garnering gear
Coming Up with an Idea
As with feature film and short film making, a core idea that is compelling, unique, and robust is absolutely necessary for your web series to be successful. Without a great concept and interesting story, you will waste your time and your audience’s time with something that bores them.
Crafting great stories is hard and one way to avoid the cliché pitfalls many untrained storytellers encounter is to write stories that are personal and have a clear identity. Do you want to write comedy? Great! Then think about the funny moments from your own life and consider how you can flesh out at least a season’s worth of short webisodes that are not only personal, but connect with as large of an audience as possible (or, at the very least, a niche audience that will really appreciate your vision.)
In a previous article I have written for CareersInFilm.com, I list several clichés you should try to avoid and it might be good to review those before embarking on your web series.
So you have a seminal idea; a story you not only want to tell but feel you need to tell. The first step is fleshing out your logline followed by a webisode outline.
A strong logline will clearly and impactfully illustrate your web series in a straightforward, no-nonsense way. It’s best to show you some examples including:
Her Story: “A six-episode web series about two transgender women who explore love and dating while living in Los Angeles.”
Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: “A mock-interview series in which Zach Galifianakis interviews real celebrities in the most absurd and awkward way possible as if on a public access style TV show.”
The Line: “Fans of a fictitious movie called FutureSpace get in line 11 days before the film opens and interact with all of the off-beat and nerdy characters who jockey for position to be the first to see the movie.”
A strong logline serves as your elevator pitch so you can clearly and quickly articulate what your web series is about; it’s important when communicating your vision to cast, crew, locations, potential investors, Producers, Directors, and Editors.
Not only will you write a series logline, but you will also write a logline for each episode as well.
When starting out, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It would be wise not to reach too far with a 12-episode season, but rather a 4 to 6-episode season of 3 to 5-minute episodes. The good thing about this formula is you will end up with enough material that can then be potentially re-packaged into a pilot episode for television.
Each episode or webisode should be fleshed out with 3 to 5 sentences about what each one will be about including characters, setting, and plot. Do not get too detailed and do not over-write the explanations.
Each brief paragraph should simply show the development and cohesiveness of the entire series so that everyone – from executives to cast – understand the overall story arc of the series. Here is an example from a comic book themed series I pitched years ago:
Hi there, you say to write about something personal. Something that you know. Would it be a bad idea to create a web series about something I find interesting, but personally haven't encountered myself? Please let me know, thanks!
We suggest you write about something personal because a theme or experience that’s close to your heart will keep you motivated and your passion will shine through in your script. That said, if what fires you up is something that lies outside your personal experience, go ahead and write about it. Educate yourself on whatever it is, so you’re writing from a place of knowledge and respect.
More than likely, what intrigues you about your topic is what makes it personal to you. After all, Bong Joon-ho probably hasn’t pretended to be an Art Therapist to earn money from a super-wealthy family (Parasite) and Greta Gerwig probably hasn’t traveled back to the 19th century (Little Women). In these cases, it’s the socio-cultural and emotional aspects that make the work personal.
Hey there. What is the minimum amount of crew members that are needed to start filming?
Ideally, you’d have a Director, plus someone to handle sound, someone to handle lighting, and someone to run the camera. However, I know of web series creators who have worked with an even smaller crew than that!
These days, you can buy filmmaker kits for iPhones that include a small mic and basic lighting. So as long as your cameraperson/phone holder has an eye for framing shots and what you’re shooting isn’t super complicated, it IS possible to create a decent-looking web series with a barebones crew and budget.