Friday, August 2, 2013

5 Things I've Learned Shooting A Webseries

For several weeks now I've been slap bang in the middle of production of Season 2 of Fools For Hire the comedy webseries that I co-created with actors Nick Harrison and Mike Cavers. We shot 4 episodes last year as sort of a dry-run of the concept and were delighted to see people wanting more and were thrilled when the show was selected by LAWebfest and was nominated for 2 Leo Awards.

As I'm writing this we have close to 6 episodes completed with many more to come in the next month or so. Season 2 is a huge step forward for the show. Before even completing Season 1 we knew we wanted to raise the bar on the kinds of story we were telling, the style of comedy and the overall scale of the show. As Co-Creator, Co-writer, Director, Camera guy and Editor (I'm a glutton for punishment!) on Fools For Hire I've learned a lot in the last year. With more and more folks taking their own stab at making a webseries, here are 5 Things I've Learned Shooting A Webseries.

1. Aim High (and adjust accordingly when it all goes wrong...)

As a director, I thrive on pulling off what seems almost impossible, whether there is a budget in place or not. Committing time and energy, getting numerous people together in one place to shoot something takes a lot of work - so for me, there's nothing to be gained from "good enough". Why go to all that trouble for something that is just average? On a personal level, I'm not interested in doing what is easy or what I've done before, every episode, every scene, every moment needs to have something that challenges me on some level.

So for Season 2 my fellow creators and I, threw caution to the wind!

At every level, despite having no official budget to speak of, we've attempted what others would call crazy and what others with more common sense would strongly advise against. Take our opening sequence for Season 2 which we shot a couple of weeks ago - A large location, 12 characters all in utterly ridiculous costumes. The scene required a certain over-the-top gravitas which then descends into crazy chaos and action. Already on paper this was looking like a whole lot of trouble. Just getting the costumes together was a nightmare... Two weeks before shooting we were the victims of an eBay scam and lost 4 costumes, actor availability meant shifting schedules around which caused three others to no longer be available and on the day of shooting technical problems with a piece of gear meant me having to throw out my shot list and pretty much figure out a solution on the spot...

But you know what? It all worked out. We found alternate costumes which actually worked better, we found new people at the eleventh hour who were willing to brave the heat and wear these costumes and we were even refunded the money lost in the eBay scam. As for the technical issues, I may have had to cut my glorious crane shots but because I'd been visualizing the sequence in my head for months I knew what I needed to do to still get the right feel for the sequence.

The sequence is now mostly edited and I am very proud of what we all pulled off. We made it happen because we refused to do what was easy, what was in our comfort zone and what many would say would be foolish to even attempt.

So shoot for the skies. Don't let restrictions (or fear and uncertainty for that matter!) hold your creativity and imagination hostage. Don't be average be ambitious - just because it's a webseries doesn't mean "lowest common denominator" and/or two actors sitting across from one another chat-chatting with the camera observing passively on a tripod nearby.

This would be so much easier with a crane...
2. Ask And You Shall Receive (sometimes...)!

We live in a hectic world and we're all busy with something so it's understandable that we might not ask someone for help because they're likely too busy. Alternately, we may not ask because we feel guilty about not having money to pay them or because we're just a tiny, insignificant webseries and not "a real movie".

Screw that I say! Ask for help. Say what you want and need for your show and never, ever be an apologist. Webseries are a legitimate form of entertainment and they are growing bigger and gaining more attention day by day as is evidenced by new webseries festivals springing up on a weekly basis. Besides, if you feel like making a webseries is a lesser form of creative pursuit then why are you wasting your time making one? Webseries are awesome and they have an awesome and amazingly supportive community of passionate individuals worldwide - a better question would be why aren't you making a webseries?

In the last year of being a part of Fools For Hire I've been pleasantly surprised by what we've asked for and gotten. Firstly, some incredibly talented people have not only agreed to join us but have been delighted to be a part of our show and have in some cases demanded to be more involved. Secondly, never count something out until you've asked and gotten a definitive no. We had a scene that introduces a new character and when writing it we had a specific location in mind but we didn't write that because we thought "No, we'll never get that location". So we wrote the scene with a non-descript door in a wall... and guess what? In all of Vancouver we couldn't find a door in a wall! So on a whim I called our original dream location, told them about Fools For Hire and what we were needing and they said, "Sure, no problem. I'll even waive the usual fees."

Lesson learned. It never hurts to ask. People can always say "No" but more often than you might expect they'll say "Yes!".

3. Small is good but bigger is better

Unlike those bloated movie sets with hundreds of crew people etc. webseries are often tiny in terms of the people involved. On our first 4 episodes we were extremely self-contained. The result of this was sometimes feeling like we were creating our show in a void. The more people involved in the making of your show the more you have to wrestle with schedules and logistics etc. but the more people you involve the more you build a sense of community around your show. As with "Aim High", don't fear extra work in scheduling etc., open the doors wide and be inclusive. The more people involved in the making of your show, the more people you have available to you as resources for that next time you're struggling to find a "non-descript door".

Since beginning shooting of Season 2, we've involved a lot more people and we've noticed an exponential increase in Likes, Follows etc. across our social media. Strangely, getting bigger has made things easier in a lot of ways. As for wrestling with schedules and the like, well this is all part of production no matter what you are creating. Suck it up and stop being lazy or just go back to shooting 2 actors yabbering on at one another whilst the camera observes from a safe distance on it's locked down tripod.

Our team grows once more
4. Give back and do it with genuine love and support

We've discovered a wonderful and supportive community of fellow webseries creators in Vancouver and beyond. There are legions of people just like you who are going through the same creative struggles on their shows as you are on yours - invite their feedback, learn from them and recognize that they are a very valuable resource in every step of the process. It's important to not forget that it is a 2-way street and that you must try and return favors - when someone invites their Followers to Follow your show, do the same for theirs. When someone responds to a post you've made asking for help, thank them and try to help them when they are next in need.

Having worked in film and TV for close to 18yrs, I can't say I've ever seen such a supportive community as the webseries community. There is a sense that we're all in it together and I hope that this isn't just because we're all in it together with little to no money. Some shows may not look as good as yours, some shows may not have as many fans as yours but their show is just as important to them as yours is to you so show them the love and respect - you never know when you might need them.

Just a typical day on Fools For Hire!
5. Be patient and never stop having fun

What is your show about? Who is it aimed at? What's your brand?

These are vital questions. Since we leapt into the webseries game we've learned a lot and are still learning each and every day - if we weren't we probably wouldn't still be going to all this trouble and effort. When we launched Fools For Hire we thought we had a pretty good game plan and a pretty good understanding of our show. We've tried to carry that over all the various social media platforms etc. with varying degrees of success.

In my personal opinion, the Fools For Hire that currently exists online in the form of our first 4 episodes isn't quite the show we imagined even though it came from our collective imaginations. As much as we've been learning the do's and don'ts of social media etc. we've also been figuring out what we want Fools For Hire to be. Season 2, we hope, will be much closer to that vision - gone are the interviews and mockumentary feel, instead we're going 100% narrative storytelling. We're upping the ante and the stakes for our characters and bringing an edgier form of comedy - at least that's the plan.

We all hope to have a show that explodes and is massively popular but 99% of the time this doesn't happen. Be prepared to spend as much time promoting your show and interacting with people around the world on social media etc. as you do actually making the show. It's a marathon not a sprint, a slow but consistent build of your brand.

It's been very hit and miss for us despite thinking we had a solid plan but since we began shooting Season 2 it's encouraging to see that the posts that get the most Likes and Shares are the ones that are 100% about Fools For Hire and our upcoming Season. This tells me that people are buying into what we're doing and are developing a loyalty and appreciation for the show.

Making Fools For Hire has been a huge challenge for me. It's not been without it's stress. That said, it's also been immense fun! I've gotten to meet some simply amazing people and I've gotten to go places and experience things I never would have been able to had I not sat down with Nick Harrison and Mike Cavers and listened to their original pitch 12 months ago.

Make no mistake, creating anything in any medium takes time and a certain resilience. Be sure that you're going to enjoy the process and grow from the experience. There's no guarantee you'll ever make any money doing it but as long as you're being fulfilled on other levels then it's well worth the effort.

Season 2 of Fools For Hire will be premiering in the Fall on Youtube - I recommend Subscribing to the Fools For Hire Channel for all the latest episodes. Check out the official site, find it the show on Facebook or join the conversation on Twitter.

Until next time, thanks for visiting!

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