10 Things I Learned Producing a Web Series
Anyone who has ever produced anything knows the title “producer” can also mean: writer, director, actor, wardrobe, casting director, prop master - you get the picture. Amongst all those titles, I got the lucky experience of adding editor to my list.
Don’t get me wrong. This was not a one-man job. I have two incredible producers that are part of my team: Ryan Demaree and Peter Marr - and my project would not be what it is today without them.
But that still left a lot of room for some serious growing pains.
So let’s get to it.
Confessions of a Bartender marks the third installment of my Confessions of… Series on YouTube.
It started haphazardly when I was a creatively stifled actor/stressed out bride-to-be with the series: Confessions of a Bride-to-Be. I followed that up with the appropriately titled: Confessions of a Bitter(sweet) Actress which got nominated for a 2014 Independent Television Award for Best Web Comedy.
You’d think that having already gone through this process twice before, the third time around would be easy. But oh how wrong you’d be.
Below is my list of ten things I learned producing Confessions of a Bartender - The Web Series:
1. Location. Location. Location.
I was once told to never spend money on a location for a web series. I thought that was really sound advice. I will admit, at the time, web series had nowhere near the production value they do now - but it stuck with me - and since my budget was incredibly modest - disturbingly modest… it was practically nothing - I took that kernel of wisdom with me and asked the bar I worked at if I could use their space.
It’s a beautiful nightclub. This web series does not do it justice. If you like lounging, check out Bardot. If you like house music, go to Avalon. You will love it. (Hollywood & Vine.)
This location alone makes Confessions of a Bartender look like it had thousands behind it! Location makes a difference! If you can up your value by calling in a favor to friend with an incredible location - do it!
2. Write the Script NOW!
I did something foolish. VERY foolish. I waited to write the script (of every episode) of Bartender until I got confirmation that I could shoot in Bardot.
I had the idea for *easy* two years! I had bar napkins and receipt paper with dialogue scribbled on it. I knew what the characters looked like. I knew the scenarios I wanted. But I didn’t have a script. I knew I’d get one together eventually. I just wanted confirmation that I would have my location first. What a novel idea. It only slightly makes sense. Especially because, I asked for the location six weeks before I felt I really needed it. Six weeks is plenty of time!
Hell, with Bride-to-Be, I sometimes wrote the script the same day!
The thing is though - Avalon Hollywood is a business. And they have numerous departments and schedules they had to check with and get clearance from before they could clear me. When I finally did get approval to shoot there - I had one week to prep the entire production! And write the script for six episodes!
Please, I beg of you. Don’t be like me. I was an idiot. If you have an idea, write it now. You can always do re-writes. But give yourself a blueprint!
3. The Script Truly is Just a Blueprint
It’s a beautiful, very necessary and important blueprint. But at the end of the day, if one of your actors improvises a line that drives your joke home - why would you not keep it? In the episode “Where the Bleep Is Billy!?” the actor who played Billy, Jim Klock, improvised a line that was just genius. It was the perfect button to drive the joke home and end the episode. I didn’t realize it in the writing - we didn’t even realize it on the day. It was in post. The edit changed the script. Not much. A little. But enough to make a joke really hit.
It also happened in the episode ”To Tip or Not to Tip”. Like I said, I had a week to write the whole show. This episode had all the bits there, but not in the order you’d see it in the final product.
It happens all the time. Trust the process.
4. Pre-Production is Your Friend!
Yes. For the most part, my pre-production lasted about a week. Which is crazy.
Regardless, this time is your friend. Really sink your teeth into it. Meet with your production team. Springboard ideas off them. Visit your location - it might inspire you. When I did Bitter(sweet) Actress, I had an episode titled Casting Director Workshops. One thing actors who take these workshops will know is that you can’t give a headshot to a casting director. It’s “illegal.” My producer, Peter Marr, had the brilliant idea of parodying this concept into a drug deal. It was hilarious. It’s seriously one of my favorite scenes of the show. And it was birthed before we even saw the location.
This time is invaluable. Use it. Use it well. And don’t procrastinate!
5. Procrastination is Your Enemy. --It’s actually your Frenemy. Which is a lot worse!
This is no surprise to anyone. Procrastination is that nasty little guy in the back of your head saying “It’ll be fine.” “We’ll work on it tomorrow.” “Cleaning the apartment is so much more important.” We all know this guy. And in the moment, cleaning your house really does feel a lot more important than sending that email or writing that script. It really does. But when you realize you have a deadline that you put off doing any work towards because you just had to know what was happening on Facebook, Procrastination is not going to chime in for you and take the blame. -Because he’s not actually a person, he’s just a problem.
So one thing you can do to rid yourself of *this problem* is:
6. Make Your Deadline Public
The only reason Bartender is out right now is because I got sick of telling people what I was “working on” when in actuality I was spending a lot more time thinking about working on it than doing any actual work. I told my husband, “That’s it! November 1st, the first episode is going up - and I’ll figure it out from there.” I posted it on Facebook - and that was that. I started working. As the old adage goes: Don’t get it perfect, just get it going. --Just get it going.
7. Work with People You Trust
This seems like an obvious one - but it’s still important to point out. There is a reason why all the top directors tend to hire the same actors over and over again. They aren’t just hiring the same actors. They’re hiring the same crew, the same composers, editors. You name it. It’s because you know what you will be getting - and more than that - you’ll be working with friends. I love working with friends. It’s literally a dream come true showing up to set and playing with people I know, like, and trust. However, I like expanding my network too. I took a chance on someone with this past series. I was in need, so I took the bait. After an agreement and a verbal contract, they called me the day before the shoot and bailed. Luckily, I found a replacement. Pretty much everybody’s replaceable. And that’s actually a really good thing. Especially for producers. It happens. But - Lesson learned! Work with people you trust and on referrals! Why? Because….
8. You Can’t Do It Alone
I mean, sure I guess you can. I did. Bride-to-Be was an iPhone and me. But I was so limited. And look what the series has become now. I’m using incredible camera equipment, a modest but full crew, and an insatiable cast. I’m insanely lucky. And besides, working with people you respect, has you value your opinion and their opinion even more - leading us to:
9. Be Honest with Yourself and Don’t Settle for Crap
I can’t stand it when I see insanely talented people be okay with just ‘meh’ work. I’m not saying be a perfectionist. That’s worse. I’m saying have standards and don’t settle. The edit on Bartender took a lot of time. A lot more time than I ever thought it would have. I included a lot more people in the cast - and therefore had a ton more footage to sift through. Some of the jokes didn’t work -nothing on the actors’ fault. Some just didn’t play the way I had hoped. I had to cut it. But I also really wanted to honor the time I got from my actors - and I refused to simply cut a scene without doing everything possible to salvage it first. It took a lot of patience on my end - and brutal honesty too. This is where Ryan Demaree’s opinion has become invaluable
Since we upped the production value on Bitter(sweet), Ryan’s opinion in post has pushed me to become a better editor. His sound mix makes all the difference in the world on the production, and he writes a lot of the music for the series too.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at the computer exhausted after editing for days -if not weeks- on one episode only to have Ryan come in and give a critique that I know will make it better but which means it’s a billion times more work on my end. I get pissed. I take a breath. And then I get back to work.
At some point, it needs to be good enough. But I can’t put my name - and the name of all the talented people I’ve worked with - on something that I’m not incredibly proud of.
I once heard Jill Soloway say when someone gives you notes, approach the session with a “Thank you sir, may I have another” attitude. It’s kept me very open and very aware that although some people may still have notes for me, I doubt they’d say Bartender lacks quality. And trust me - that didn’t come haphazardly. It took a lot of work. From a lot of great people.
10. The Final Pass in Post is Your First Step on a Whole New Journey… Marketing
If you’re smart, you’ve been marketing since the inception of your idea.
But if you haven’t - you know there is nothing worse than a web series that looks great, sounds great, clearly had a ton of work put into it and garners only a handful of views. It hurts. Trust me.
The amount of anxiety that goes into a simple “share” on a website or Twitter or Facebook post not only takes a lot of guts - it takes a lot of control to not then sit at your computer repeatedly hitting the refresh button hoping to see the numbers miraculously grow. Share your content - and then get ready to buy ads, write articles, cross promote, reach out to podcasts for interviews, think outside the box. If you have something with a bit more heat that can get you an interview with a radio show or magazine use it!
If your web series is your primary focus, do not be shy. Talk about it. Share it! Ask other people to share it - but don’t expect them to - and don’t get upset if they don’t. It’s not their job. It’s YOUR job! Get an email list together - oh come one - you’ve got one! Go email people.
You’ve come this far. Don’t give up with ten percent left to go. It’s in this ten percent that you just might get the inspiration for your next series, or feature film script, or maybe just maybe - it’s in promoting your web series that’ll help turn it into a television show.