Web series are no different when it comes to video marketing. You basically have to follow the same rules as outlined in the YouTube Creator Playbook as they're for the most part good guidelines to follow for any online video project. But web series might take a little more time to plan out, since what you're trying to do is to tell a long-form story in short bursts. You also have a much more specific audience, one who wants to stick with your story rather than just get a day's fix of opinion/jokes/amusement.
TomCruise.com, yes, the official blog of Tom Cruise, just laid out an excellent series of steps to follow when creating a web series (Thanks to our friend Gregory Markel from Infuse Creative for pointing this article out to us). I'm not sure why a site dedicated to Tom Cruise is providing how-to steps for web series marketing, but hey, we're glad they did.
7 Guidelines for Creating a Web Series
Web series are the equivalent of self-published novels for many aspiring video creators. They have complete control over what the final product looks like, although they may not have the money to pull off their ultimate vision. They are a way to showcase your talents and possibly move on to something bigger in the future, but for many, web series is where it's at. It's a unique way to tell a story, and basically these shows' entire seasons can be told in the span of an episode or two of regular TV series.
1. Start With A Story
The first point that I'd like to talk about from the Tom Cruise blog post is starting with a story. What is the story, how do you want to tell it, and basically, each of these episodes should contain a three-act structure even if it only lasts 5-6 minutes. For easy examples of this, take a look at web series wonder The Guild, which manages to make a season that lasts around or little over an hour into something that seems much grander in scale. It's all because each episode is packed with content and very quickly moves its story forward.
Here's the Season 4 opener:
It clearly outlines the stakes at the very beginning. By the first 20 seconds, you know that something (racy) has occurred and it could affect the relationship with her friends. Boom.
2. Find An Audience
We talk about this all the time, about finding the audience for your channel and directing content towards them. You have to figure out who is going to watch your creation, because it certainly isn't going to be everybody. It's going to be a select group, even if it proves popular. So, your science fiction web series should be shared with blogs and sites that are dedicated to science fiction. Maybe you share it with everyone you know who likes science fiction. Maybe you ask those people to share it with other people. Whatever the case may be, you'll want to find your genre, who enjoys that type of thing, and find those people on the Internet.
TomCruise.com quotes Felicia Day's own blog post, "Web Series: Four Things To Ask Yourself Before Starting." Of course, that post is amazingly good advice in its own right, right there from a person who is considered the queen of web series. I've expanded their own quote to include the entire first paragraph of her third step:
I think a key to web series, that builds upon points #1 and #2, is that trying to please everyone will never work on the web. The Guild is popular because we started in a niche and grew out from there. The internet isn’t TV: It’s 20 million channels rather than 200. If you can’t sit down and easily identify what kind of person will like your show and name 5 places that person might go to on the internet, you will have a hard time getting the word out, no matter how good it is.
So if your series has even limited amount of appeal, you'll have to do the homework to find out who would watch your show, and find the places those people go to advertise/share your content.
3. The Money Problem/Dedication
The Tom Cruise blog calls this, "Show Me The Money," which is the only thing remotely Tom Cruise in this post. I've seen a lot of web series, no matter how successful, get absolutely lost and apparently have no ability to produce a constant stream of episodes, mainly because of the money issue. Let's face it, you aren't likely to get rich doing a web series, and where there is no money, there is also a lack of time, because you're likely working a job to get the little money you can put into a series.
Still, a successful one requires dedication. An episode a week or every two weeks is the way to go, which is why I would suggest before even publishing your first video, you create a backlog of episodes so that you can supply content every week while you produce more. Figure out how long it takes to create an episode, and have a corresponding amount of episodes ready to publish while you create others.
In fact, later in the post, Hitman 101 web series creator Scott Staven makes this very point when talking about how he released a constant stream of content:
There are essentially two styles of web series, the (1) kind that shoot while they release episodes and (2) those that shoot the entire season at once, edit, then release. We were the latter. We shot all 12 episodes at once like one would shoot a feature film. We did this style to try to ensure we released the episodes without fail and to ensure we kept our schedule on time.
With a web series this is possible because it's not going to require up-to-date information to produce content. You aren't making a Philip DeFranco-style of web videos here, where the day's news supplies content. You have a script to follow. I think a lot of web series that I've followed and had interrupted over the last year or so could have benefited by not publishing until they were ready to publish a whole season, or at least most of it.
The Tom Cruise blog mentions that some web series have been successful in various ways, but most of the ones they cover are the ones that have had celebrities backing them, like Tom Hanks' Electric City or Lisa Kudrow's Web Therapy. If you've got access to celebrities, your chances obviously are higher to get money, but I've seen a lot of celebrity-backed web series get less views than average, everyday videos on YouTube.
Here's the first episode of Web Therapy, with guest star Meryl Streep:
4. Using Available Resources
Skipping ahead in their post, I found this interesting section where they talk to LAWEBFEST founder Mike Ajakwe, Jr. After hitting on some points already discussed in the article, he mentions something about "using the resources around you." This is finding people who are eager to help and just want the experience. Here's a great quote:
If you live in a filmmaking hub, but even if you don’t, you can find talented people will often work for free for the experience or to bolster their resume. “There are so many people around you that can help. There are sound people, hair and make-up people, wardrobe experts,” he says. “If you put an ad on Craigslist in the area of production, the people who will respond are amazing.”
Now, this is still the kind of thought process that makes web series and web-based entertainment lower than TV series in many people's eyes, because web series are still considered "starting points" or "a place to get experience." But remember, web series and the like are still in their infancy compared to any other form of entertainment, and you can't let the perception get you down. Web series are just like any other form of entertainment, and you can't expect to get rich doing it right away. The key is to keep grinding and doing what you love, and one day the series might become a hit, or you might get discovered. But the important thing is that you're not doing it for the money, even though you should do everything in your power to get it seen.
5. Have A Plan
Ajakwe also says to have a plan. And what that means is that you're the boss and people want to follow you, and you should be a decisive leader. It reminds me of some tips Ryan Connolly laid out in this episode of Film Riot concerning his experience on his short film Losses:
6. The Quality
As always, it's not that you look like a slickly produced Hollywood movie, but you should at least look like you know what you're doing, and sound and lighting are key. Almost every bad video is upended by bad sound, and in many cases, bad lighting. People should be able to see and hear you clearly, and if you can create even the slightest of a mood with your lighting, even more points to you. This is something else that Hitman 101 creator Staven talks about in his interview with TomCruise.com. I highly suggest you take a look at that discussion because it has a wealth of information.
7. Use Resources
There are a number of places you can find information on how to find success. Our own site, ReelSEO, goes over a lot of these steps on a regular basis, but you should check out the YouTube Creator Playbook, and for awesome film/video tricks on the cheap, Revision3's Film Riot. Also, Freddie Wong wrote this excellent post about how his channel got popular. Another good resource is TubeFilter.tv, a great blog to stay up to date with information regarding web series. These, in addition to the other links already posted here, should give you a really good start.
Web Series: More With Less, Dedication Without Compensation
So you're probably not going to get rich and famous doing web series right now, but what you gain is valuable experience, and you should just do it to have fun. Right now is a great time to get into this type of entertainment because your whole career doesn't depend on whether or not a whole bunch of people watched your web series. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to get as many people as possible to watch it, and that you shouldn't try to find a way to make a buck. But fun comes first.