What is a Web Series?

My goal with this post is to create a compelling argument for a valid definition of a web series…

read on.

As a member of the IAWTV (International Academy of Web TV), and as an artist spawned from the beastly new media womb in general, there has been a lot of discussion over what constitutes a “Web Series”.

Since we’re all cowboys in the digital Wild West we have the ability to design how the future will view new media projects. Many want to set parameters which, in a way, rob us of the spirit of possibilities the web promises; yet they’re simultaneously necessary when trying to monetize this budding industry.

Lets address some of these parameters…

  • Series length
  • Episode length
  • Studio vs Independent
  • Original Distribution Platform
  • Format

SERIES LENGTH

Its important to define the word “series” here.

se-ries

noun

“a number of related things arranged or occurring in succession.”

By definition a series is as many as “infinite” and as few as “two.” Some may object that a series could consist of as few episodes as two but unless we have a good reason to define another number I don’t see why we should set a boundary.

It was suggested at one point to define 6 episodes as the minimum to warrant a “created by” credit. I argue that this is arbitrary and unfair. What if a show had 5 twenty minute episodes- does that mean no one deserves the “created by” credit? So why not make 5 episodes the minimum? Then again, what makes 5 so much more valid than 4? Admittedly, it gets increasingly more ludicrous as we descend but again, why not 3…?

Which brings me back to the very definition of a series being at least 2 episodes long. I really don’t think we should redefine this area unless we have a compelling reason to do so.

EPISODE LENGTH

TV episodes are mandated due to advertising and range from either 22-30 minutes or 44-60 minutes depending on the advertising needs of the network or cable station.

The web has no restriction because there’s no reason to constrict what is possible at this point. A few years ago some important suit-wearing executive at some important company decided that attentions spans of laptop viewers should be around 3-5 minutes per episode.

Over time this has increased as its proven that people are willing to watch features on their phone; literally, 2 years ago an agent at UTA laughed at that ever being a possibility.

When we distributed The Bannen Way on Sony’s Crackle site, they were mandated to keep the episodes under 7 minutes because they would have to insert a commercial otherwise. I don’t believe there was any minimum but we aimed to keep them between 5-7 minutes.

The Independents don’t have to answer to advertisers, so if it makes sense creatively for their story-lines to be 45 minutes in length, who’s to prevent them from trying it out. Which brings me to…

STUDIO vs INDEPENDENT

We got some heat for Bannen because it was a “studio” project. As this was my foray into directing I didn’t see myself as part of the “Big Bad Monster” that many envisioned Sony as for trying to swoop in and dominate the web.

I think there will always be a place for Independent projects on the web, by the sheer nature that anyone can post something on the web and be their own distributor; but I don’t think we should refuse the potential for creating an industry out of this medium. We need money to do that. Whether that capital comes from a studio- or investors- or your little sister’s piggy bank [dick] makes no difference.

All revenue models should be welcomed. Even if an official web format surfaces due to advertising money that still doesn’t hinder you from picking up your camera and throwing a video of you getting kicked in the nuts on the web- unlike TV and Film where you have no access unless you have a ticket into the party.

ORIGINAL DISTRIBUTION PLATFORM

Sometimes web series originate on the web and later that same material is repurposed as a feature or as episodes of a TV series…

And sometimes its the other way around. The hot scam right now is arbitrarily cutting up features and throwing them into bite size chunks to be consumed on the web.

I’ve heard objections in both direction from purists who want to keep web projects within “web jurisdiction”. But whether you like it or not- how can you say a feature film that is cut up into a web series isn’t a web series. It may piss you off but it is what it is.

When creating The Bannen Way, since there was no limit to the number of episodes allowed on the web, we decided to structure our series as a feature, in hopes we could justify getting a larger production budget since we could potentially sell the project on DVD.  It worked- Sony was willing to take a risk on what has now become a standard new media model.

Would I classify our project as a web series- or a feature…?

The answer is both. We shot and edited it as a feature first (for obvious budgetary reasons) but we distributed it as a Web series first. Since it premiered on the web I think it clearly classifies it as a Web series whether or not it eventually became a feature film.

How could a web series retroactively be disqualified as a web series because it was later distributed in other ways?

FORMAT

There are many types of entities that exist on the web. The Streamy Awards recognize live-action, documentary, hosted, animated, etc. But why not dating, shopping, or photo sites…?

There are two obvious answers: there’s no “narrative” or “video” quality to these entities. We could argue semantics further by pointing out the video elements to shopping sites or dispute how narrative a hosted news show is.

When we break it down Format seems like a gray area. To further prove this point, I’d like to offer another sacrifice for the alter…  “gaming

True, there’s no way playing Solitaire or Words with Friends should be considered a web series- lacking narrative and video, among other, obvious qualities. But then again… what about “video gaming”? There’s definitely a narrative story inherent in any single player campaign these days- arguably more intricate and nuanced than many Hollywood movies. So why disqualify online Video Games from being a web series?

Right- because of that word- “Series”. Lets assume we’re not satisfied with World of Warcraft 2 suddenly becoming a web series because two related things are strung together. But what if someone created a narrative video game where you could play through a storyline, online, in 3-5 minute increments…? And what if tomorrow there would be another “episode” that you could play through? Does that not qualify as a web series…? Why not…? Because its too interactive?

In order to settle this ongoing debate I think we need to first establish the guideposts- the unchanging structure that everyone can agree on- and build from there.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume everyone is okay with two components…

  • Web
  • Series

WEB

The term “Web” potentially refers to two things.

  • How content is consumed
  • Where the content originated

Content Consumption: If you’re watching a video on your computer, iPad, or mobile phone and you’re connected to the web there’s a god chance its a web series… but not necessarily. You can download a feature on the web and watch it on your iPad. You can also watch “web content” on your television these days.

So I’m going to have to disqualify this definition, and move on to…

Origination of Content: If you’re watching a series that originated on the web there’s a good chance its a web series. I don’t see any way to dispute this. Even if the same material becomes a feature film, if it was broken up into episodes on the web first its definitely a web series.

SERIES

I already defined series as “a number of related things arranged or occurring in succession.”

This, to me, means 2 or more. Period.

With everything considered…

And until we have a compelling reason to think otherwise…

In the spirit of creating a fair classification of a web series, I propose this simple definition…

“A Web Series is… 2 or more related episodes of video content that originate on the web.”

~ JW

The Necessity of Narcissism

They say when an individual is afflicted with Narcissism its everyone else who suffers…

As true as that may be, if we were to magically eradicate that ugly disease from existence, where would that leave the world of art?


I propose that after

1) Possessing actual talent

and

2) Being “connected” in your given industry

that

3) Narcissism…

is the next most important trait for having a successful artistic career.
To illustrate, lets play a little game. Its called “Narcissist or Artistic Genius”… Ready…? Here we go…

  • Salvador Dali
  • Michael Jackson
  • Tom Cruise
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Madonna
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • Leonardo DaVinci
  • Peter Sellers
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The answer of course to all of these highly successful people is that they’re both. And I know what you’re thinking…

YOU: “C’mon, Jess- are you trying to say that only narcissistic people are successful?”
JESS; “Yes”
YOU: “But what about Meryl Streep? She’s a lovely person.”
JESS: “She is a lovely person… and a narcissist.”
YOU: “What about Oprah? Don’t you dare say anything bad about Oprah?”
JESS: “I wouldn’t specifically classify her in the artist category but I would say she is highly successful at whatever she does- and yes, she’s a narcissist.
YOU: “I hate you.”

I will try to win back our friendship by clarifying that being a narcissist doesn’t have to mean you have borderline personality disorder. Lets see how the dictionary defines it.

nar-cis-sism
– noun
1. excessive admiration for oneself.

Bingo! I know this is a huge button for people. They don’t want to see Meryl Streep or (god forbid) Oprah as a narcissist; they’d prefer to replace that ugly word with “confidence.”  However, I argue that being confident is not enough.

con-fi-dent
– adjective
1. having strong belief or full assurance; sure.

I believe this is the general impression you want to leave on the masses.  But here’s the important difference between “Confidence” and, I’ll alter it, “Artistic Narcissism.”

Confidence- “I believe I can do this.”
Artistic Narcissism- “No one can do this better than me!”

Before answering, imagine you’re Jon Landau and you’re producing the next $800 million movie called Titavatar (yes, Titanic meets Avatar)…

and lets assume James Cameron retired from directing to do philanthropy…

Now, Mr Landau, which director do you want to give the job to…?

But wait- before you answer still- let’s explore the opposite side of the spectrum; I present to you the most misunderstood word in the history of Webster’s definitions- a disease that most people mistake as a “noble trait”.

hum-ble
– adjective
1. not proud.
2. low in rank, condition, etc
– verb
3. to lower in status or condition.

Would you trust your precious $800 million Titavatar in someone who was “not proud” or was “low in condition”? (whatever that means! it sounds really bad though).

Before we debate semantics or assume I’m a Scientologist lets just agree that no matter how humble you think your favorite highly successful artists are I will bet that secretly they believe that no one can do what they do better than him or herself?

Why…? Out of necessity!

…because if I go around talking about how much greater everyone else is than I am as a director, the proverbial producers will go ask THEM to do it. Sure, I can praise Nolan, Fincher, Tarantino, etc; they’re too busy to steal jobs from a lowly, bright-eyed director like myself.  But there’s a way that I can be supportive of my fellow artists while projecting to said producers that they have found the guy for their project.

“Oh man- [This psychological thriller movie I wrote]- I know it so well! I dream about how I would direct this every night. No one on the planet has the insight into this character like I do.”  Or…

“Thank God [this movie about an olympic athlete trying to win gold] came up because its perfect for me! With my professional running background, only I could possibly understand the intricacies of an athlete’s mind frame”. Or…

“Holy shit! [random made up movie about someone who stubs their toe] You’ll never believe this- it just so happens that I stubbed my toe so bad when I was in junior high that it left this indelible impression on my brain and I have always been wanting to tell this story- must be fate!”
You get the point. I am certainly not suggesting you go around being a dick, talking shit about other people, insisting on getting chicks’ phone numbers because you sat in the same restaurant as Mel Gibson. But I am saying “Fuck humble.” You must believe that no one can do it better than you.

Lets be honest, Picasso didn’t start movements by being humble.

I have no idea how he was as an individual but I am sure he felt that whatever he painted was gold and I’m certain his shit didn’t stink.

This is probably the same reason Salvador Dali walked around town ringing a bell so everyone knew he was coming. I assume most of the peers within these two artistic geniuses’ circles dismissed them at the time as narcissists; however, despite social pressures to act as common-folk, these highly evolved artists maintained their disposition… not only to convince others of their ability but also to continually convince themselves.

When pitching the original concept for The Bannen Way around town with my partner before anyone really knew (including us) what a web series was, we had an idea to structure these five minute episodes as a feature; yet neither of us had any real credits to prove ourselves worthy of investors. My IMDb page had an episode of CSI and a day-player role from Brothers Solomon. No one understands or cares that I got a late start because I was a professional runner.

What, now “Jock-boy” thinks he can direct a feature film?

I literally had someone say to me “This is a good idea, but you’re no Soderbergh, Jess, so why do you expect anyone will give you money to do this?”

We realized eventually that we’d have to shoot two episodes to prove we could. And if I had listened to the tapes that I gathered over the years from nay-sayers, “friends”, etc I may never have decided that this is my project to direct- that no one else can do this except… well… okay, lets be honest- Nolan, Fincher, Carnahan, would have blown it out of the water- but dammit, I stake my claim on this land. This is my ticket into the party. I can not only “do this”- I dare say “No one can do this better than me!”

And you better believe that was the attitude I continued to project to Sony when we got our offices on the lot. Fear permeated throughout the halls as the corporate suits’ jobs were riding on some kid who had two episodes under his belt and a belief that “this is going to be the biggest thing to hit the internet.”

I guess the humbler alternative was “Geez whiz, mister Sony, sir. Sure, there are more capable directors than myself but, golly, I sure wish you’d give me a chance because, who knows, it could turn out neat.

And even the compromise- the sweet-spot- “confident” version may not be enough. “I believe this could be a successful venture. Despite my lack of experience I think the end result will compete with other projects.”

Um… okay…?

That may seem like a safer version of the Artistic Narcissist- but its not the kind of mind-frame that gets you Titavatar.

~ JW

The Twitter Twat

If I had to guess, I’d predict…

Your friends are supportive of you as long as your success is equal to- or lesser than- their own.

This is not a social law, more of a social observation. A great way to judge if your friends fall into this category is to monitor their twitter feeds- as well as your own.

It took me awhile to figure out the point of Twitter. I didn’t understand what to write about. I was being criticized for not Tweeting right, or not often enough, etc. So I studied the feeds over time and realized everyone has a different agenda with Twitter. Eventually I was able to identify the various types of Tweets that populate this short-form universe…

  • The Deep Tweet – This usually involves tragic observations about life, obscure micro “Thank you” letters to Mother Nature for being so beautiful, or retweets from the Dalai Lama (I’m guilty of this category).
  • The Clever for Sake of Clever Tweet – It seems every comedian- or anyone who fancies herself somewhat humorous- uses Twitter as a forum for trying out one-liners (again, guilty).
  • The Random Rant Tweet – When your venting about something – or most likely, someone– very specific yet veiling the message in an innocent generality about life. (more than likely the anonymous subject is a follower and will see the message and, in effect, the Random Rant Tweeters point of view… again, guilty as charged).
  • The Shameless Self-Promotion Tweet – These days there’s nothing wrong with letting the world know you’re going to be appearing on TV tomorrow, that you’re having a baby, or that your company’s Pink Taco Truck is gonna be on Wilshire Blvd at 8PM tonight! Its actually considered a necessity for most businesses who realize the power of free advertising.
  • The Benevolent Selfless Promotion Tweet – There’s certainly nothing wrong with letting the world know your actor friend is gonna be on TV tonight, your cousin is having a baby, or your favorite Pink Taco Truck is going to be on Wilshire Blvd…
  • The Any and Every Moment of My Life Tweet – These are the tweets that clog up our feeds, sometimes Tourette’s-style with several in a row, about the turkey sandwich they ate for lunch, their cat that always “just jumped on my crotch” or simply tweets that express their feelings… =(…  (you most likely “don’t follow these people any more”).

and then there’s…

  • The Twitter Twat – This is the person who makes snarky comments about your tweets, spoils the ending to newly released movies, or otherwise takes selfish promotion to an insensitive, boasting level… making the readers cringe and possibly, God forbid, UNFOLLOW said Twitter Twat.  (If you think this blog post is a personal affront against you, specifically… well, you’re probably right.)

The problem is everyone is their own incomparable judge of whether another person is being a Twitter Twat or not. I’ve noticed some of my friends complaining of jealous followers accusing them of “boasting” with their tweet-posts. In some cases I can agree with the offended parties; but in other cases I believe its purely a case of frustration with the viewers own lack of life success.

Despite the many hurdles in my own life, I’ve slowly grown comfortable with the pacing of my career and family development, and I am genuinely happy for any of my friends’ success. I don’t find other people’s tweets offensive. And while I share with the world my moments of happiness and success my intentions are never to make anyone feel inferior; nor should they because there are many, many more successful people than I out there whose tweets can be viewed as “boastful.”

My unsolicited suggestion is this…

Be whatever kind of tweeter you want to be. Someone is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Others are going to admire you for using Twitter “the way its supposed to be used.”  As long as you’re not intentionally being an insensitive Twitter Twat I say the world’s your oyster. So let the world see your pearl… (or is that clams…?)

#ResearchBeforeBlogging

UNFOLLOW @Jesse_Warren

~ JW