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Archive for the ‘webisodes’ Category

Yesterday, I finally pulled myself away from “Need for Speed:Undercover” on the XBox.  I’m having a terrible time making it past the early levels so that I can see more of the live action footage that I produced for the game.  It’s not the game, it’s definitely the player.

I had been asked by the Coalition of Southern California Music Organizations (COSMO), Just Plain Folks (JPF) and the Los Angeles Women in Music (LAWIM) to serve on a couple of panels regarding music and film.  I begrudgingly put the game controls down and found it to be an interesting experience, with a couple of nice surprises.

I must admit I’m a bit of a snob with my work in Nashville and our company there, Unconventional South.  I always figured that was the only place to be if you’re a serious songwriter.  However, I met some very talented writers and musicians at the all day conference held at the Professional Musicians Union, Local 47 on Vine street in Hollywood.

Just like in Nashville, a lot of the musicians wanted to know how to get their music discovered, past the little access of radio.  You already know my opinion, the internet, not only websites like Pandora and OurStage, but the simple things like making sure your best stuff is up on a MySpace site, also have your own promotional website.  I’m now using my own MySpace site as a place holder so that I can quickly access musicians and songwriters that I like and may want to use for future projects.

On the panels, I talked about developing relationships with upcoming directors and producers.  I warned that you may have to do the first project cheap, but if you can develop a long term relationship, it’ll pay off in the end.  I also promoted the idea of webisodes and a music web series.  I was very impressed to meet Jannel Rap and hear the Country rock sound of her band, Clementine.  They’ve just returned from the Squeaky Wheel Tour with a mission to help find missing persons.  They have handouts and information to various hotlines and weblinks at each performance and at 411Gina.org.  They’ve found over 300 missing persons so far.  Jannel’s sister, Regina, went missing after her own concert in 2000.  Jannel hasn’t stopped looking.

What I really found impressive was they’ve been putting up episodes of “Finding Gina” on YouTube of the tour.  This has generated interest in the cause, the band and the music.  It has lead to radio airplay.  This is a worthy cause, but it wouldn’t sustain if they didn’t have the music to back it up.  Other songwriters and musicians can follow this formula, creating a web series that showcases their music, be it documentary, reality or experimental.  This is what Unconventional Media is all about, new ways to get the message and music out there.

Okay, back to the XBox.

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It’s close to Thanksgiving, but I’m not thankful, I’m distracted.  I’m “reworking” the budget for my script “Press>Play” from 3.5 million down to 1 million.  “Press>Play,” is an erotic journey of obsession, a drama about manipulation. Paul Beck is a video vulture, exaggerates news stories, edits images and facts to generate entertainment. Vivian DeBeche is an aspiring actress with little talent, playing out roles from old movies. A modern day couple that communicates, emotional and sexually, using a camera and Internet voyeurism as their tools.  I wrote the first draft in 1990.  At that time it was more science fiction, then slice of life.  Check out the website, PressPlayMovie.com.

When talking about new media and unconventional films, I think this project fits the bill.  So does the producer at Blue Horseshoe Productions, just not at 3.5 million, not in today’s economy, not if you’re making a non-genre independent film.  I’m sure you’ve heard the stories, they’re grim.  Seems every day there is another article in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety about the economy taking it’s toll on making independent films.  In the Sunday, November 23rd issue of the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz writes how as funding gets scarce, filmmakers must become more creative.  Last week at the American Film Market (AFM) everyone looked dazed and disappointed.  Few people were buying.  I guess this talk of how difficult it has become to sell an indie film started with CEO of The Film Department (and former President of Miramax) Mark Gill’s now famous “the sky is falling” speech at the Los Angeles Film FestivalIndiewire still has it posted up on their website.  Basically, Gill lists Paramount folding Paramount Vantage, Warner Brothers closing Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, many other smaller companies laying off employees or closing their doors as just a small sampling of the dying breath of indie film.  The glut of films and high costs of advertising are also destroying the business.  In a world with too many choices, companies can’t risk the marketing money on most movies.  Now, the credit crunch has further squeezed the independent filmmaker.  Many banks have just stopped giving money to films.

So what is someone that has a project like my feature, “Press>Play” to do.  Well, one of the things Gill believes has hurt independent movies is all the other forms of alternative entertainment that exist today, iPods to Xboxes to Tivos to YouTube videos and excellent cable television shows.  Well, isn’t that the Unconventional Media mantra.  If we can’t beat them, let’s join them.  That’s what makes a film like “Press>Play” so perfect for this day and age.  It’s a film that uses these alternatives as part of its story.  We will also use this new media to promote and distribute.  It just won’t be made in Los Angeles because there are no financial incentives like there are in most of the other States.  As I chip away at the budget, I’ve got to make a bunch of compromises, location being one of the first.  It’s depressing, but I want to see the film get made.

In the October 30 issue of indiewire, Anthony Kaufman writes about the cash crunch and the difficulty of raising funds, but some producers are still getting movies made, and new financiers have appeared.  He believes the real problem is in distribution.  There just aren’t as many places to go anymore and the distributors that do still exist are being very careful.  That’s what I was seeing at AFM.  No risk taking.  And why should they, not when it takes a huge publicity and advertising budget, sometimes more then it cost to make the movie, to get seats filled in a theater.  Certainly, the distribution strategy can’t be that your film is going to win at Sundance and then get picked up, because even some of the winners are not playing theatrically anymore.  Independent distributors are even promoting the idea that getting your feature film on the Internet is better for your film then a theatrical run.  Yikes, how can our investors make their money back?

Mark Gill believes “if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure.”  Thankfully, Stacy Parks offers some more positive solutions through her terrific organization, Film Specific.  It is her belief that any budget over 5 million needs a name attached and studio backing, so keep the budget low and hire up and coming actors, terrific, future names.  In fact if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be a name by the time your film is completed.  I found it interesting that she warns against shooting DV tape because of the difficulty to sell the film overseas.  An Independent film has such a slim chance of success without global sales, so this is important information.  As indicated in previous posts, I’ve become a huge proponent of the RED camera which I think may change up these odds and still keep the budget low.

Parks also warns against inflated numbers, keep the sales projections realistic.  It is very unlikely that your independent film will make millions, so don’t lie to your investors.  You just want to show that the film will make a profit.  This can be done by finding niche markets on-line and elsewhere.  If you want to do the work, you can also self distribute, which has a much better chance of higher return.  I’ve been experimenting with this idea recently with my short film, Travelin’ Trains.  Searching out the other train websites, fansites, etc and leaving a link to the website for my film.  It seems to be working.  I think Arin Crumley and Susan Buice did this brilliantly with their Slamdance feature film winner, “Four Eyed Monsters.”  They showed the film at festivals, created websites, even edited the film into webisodes for YouTube.  Their experience is really a how-to on self distribution, too bad they didn’t make much money.

So I’m now back to reworking the budget.  It’s a lot of work.  I guess Mark Gill is right, “it’s not enough to have access to the moviemaking process. Talent matters more.”  I’ve had great reactions to the screenplay, many envision a good film.  Now, if I could only get the damn thing made and seen, it will be worth the 18 years I’ve spent developing the project.

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A quick follow up to the previous blog about webisodes.  I just started watching a series that went up in April that I think is outstanding.  “2009 A True Story”

The story is from two different perspectives, a young woman who has just recently moved to Los Angeles and her brother, a soldier stationed at Fort Irwin.  Martial Law has been declared because of a recent attack on Congress.  The future story seems very real, especially with a John McCain presidency.  Filming devices are incorporated to give the story some interesting visuals but also to give the series a real dramatic tension.  Extremely well done on a tight budget.  This is just another example of how good writing and smart creativity can make webisodes entertaining.

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I just watched the premiere of my friend Mary Feuer’s new webisode series, “With the Angels” on Strike.TV.  The story is about a young religious Arkansas woman moving to Venice, California and discovering how much she is a fish out of water.  Some fun stuff, good acting and writing, which in the end is the key to good webisodes.  In fact, there were a few webisode shows on Strike.TV that I found better then most other websites.  I shouldn’t be surprised, Mary comes from doing close to sixty shows as the head writer for LonelyGirl15.  She was also the Story Editor for “Buried Alive” on FEARnet.com.

It really gets you wondering where all these web series are headed.  When I did “Unconventional and “Senior Year” back in 2002, there were very few webisodes, now they seem to be everywhere.  The big question is are people watching.  So many of these shows have the feel of failed television pilots, but others hold up on their own.  The previously mentioned LonelyGirl15 continues to be a leading force, building storylines beyond the original character, Bree.  A whole conspiracy theory and underground resistance keeps the show interesting and worth watching.

Most of these webisodes use YouTube both as a server and as an audience resource, a viral marketplace.  In July, five billion videos were viewed on YouTube, was one of them yours?  Now after experimenting for months with long-form, YouTube recently made the announcement that they would start offering full length episodes of television shows.  YouTube also created “theater view,” a larger video player for longer content.  So if YouTube is now showing television shows, what happens to webisodes?

The longer videos will include advertising before, during and after each episode. YouTube has resisted this for shorter videos, which makes sense, but are now looking at in-video overlays.  I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but I can’t stand them.  The overlays resemble the banner advertisements that appear at the bottom of television programs.  As a content producer and director, I find these things distracting and irritating.  But I guess that is the point.  Unless you’re going to pay for the series yourself, it’s got to have a money source and advertising and sponsors is what is paying those production costs, no matter how small.  So even the advertising banners and advertising breaks will resemble television.

I prefer the format of Strike.TV and FEARnet.com.  They have interactive areas that include advertising banners and usually you get a short commercial before the requested video, but once the program begins, there are no interruptions. In fact, the whole interactive qualities of comments, games, behind the scenes documentaries, etc. is really the thing what separates these webisodes from regular television.  I firmly believe that any web series has to have interactive elements if for no other reason then to draw your audience in and remain on the site beyond the short video.  This is becoming the only difference between a series on the web and one on television.  Something to consider if you are creating a new show.

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I’m on the radio.  Check it out.  I join the program about five minutes into the show.

Blogtalkradio.com

Wayne Clingman is the host.  He calls his show “Indy Film Wisconsin.”  Originally, I think the idea of the program was to promote Film projects in the State of Wisonsin including their film incentives! But like so many things with the web, it has expanded.  We cover many of the ideas and issues on this site.

You can contact Wayne at:
wclingman@wi.rr.com

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I’m seeing more and more “webisode” television and it reminds me of my days in Los Angeles theater.  It’s up there, not as a staged experience or to even just entertain, but as a showcase.  The creator is actually hoping someone will discover their series and put it on Network television.  It’s content for the wrong medium.

In 2002, when I co-produced the documentary series “Senior Year” with David Zeiger for PBS, I also produced a series at KCET, based on the television show for the web.  At the time, our biggest challenge was how to make the series accessible and easy to view on home computers.  I faced those same problems when I presented my political narrative webseries “Unconventional.”  These days we’re past access and viewing issues, but I still haven’t made a dime from any of my webisodes.

I continue to develop webisodes and related content.  I’ve come to believe these two things:

1) that there is too much good free entertainment on the internet to expect anyone to pay for your webseries unless you’re Joss Whedon.

Sorry, but someone sends me a link, I usually take a few moments to see what they’ve created, but not if I have to pay on my credit card or Paypal.  I even hesitate if I have to enter my email and become a “member.”

2) Unless you don’t care about the costs (and this could be because you’re putting up the webisodes hoping to eventually sell the series to television, you know as a “showcase” of your incredible talent) you’ve got to find an advertising sponsor ( see reason #1).

Now, that’s not always easy, but take some time to figure out the marketing of your work.  In a recent issue of Hollywood Reporter, IAC/InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller talks about the Web as being in just the early stages of its potential as an advertising medium.  He doesn’t see banner advertising having any real success and believes Video ads will be targeted and interrupt programming, as well as playing before and after the content.  I’m seeing this happen more and more.  I don’t know about you, but as a filmmaker I hate a show being interrupted when I watch it on television and I certainly will hate it on the web, especially if it is my show.  However, if that is what it takes to get the money to produce the programming, then I’ll bite my lip and shut up.

So what’s a solution.  Well, after producing the live action elements to the upcoming EA video game “Need for Speed:Undercover,” I’m convinced that it is a waste of money to make webisodes look and feel like short three-four minutes of regular television.  Instead, it needs to be a whole different form of entertainment, a mixture of interactive gaming, virtual worlds, comedy, music, etc.  The viewer needs to say, “wow, I couldn’t have seen that being done any other way.”  You’ve got to want to stay at the web site and explore.  Then the banner ad does work on the site because it is not ignored but becomes part of the experience.  You can even have a commercial, not in the content of the video, but in the interactive content.  This stuff requires a lot of thought and planning, but I’m seeing some great cross-over.  I think it’s evident on the Need for Speed and Which Road to Take sites.

We’re developing some of these ideas (still very much in development) on the PressPlayMovie site, with ChanneledObsession.com as the marketing portion.  On all these sites, things keep changing so the site becomes more interactive and worth a return visit.  You build on that.  It can’t be just a new episode of television, it’s got to be a bigger experience.

I’m very interested in any other thoughts on these ideas.

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