If you're trying to get your web series off the ground, it would be nice to get the attention of a studio or a wealthy backer to get behind the show. But how do you get that kind of attention? What kind of stellar presentation are you going to have to prepare to convince people with money that your web series is something in which they would like to lend their name? In the case of Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione, they decided to contact Mark Cuban. The presentation? The first episode of the show they were creating, "The Vault." How in the world did they get Mark Cuban's attention? They e-mailed him.
Creating Your Own Luck With Web Series
Hann and Miscione met two years ago through a mutual friend, and their story is obviously not the norm. What it stresses is that good content and the willingness to get your product out there, rather than hoping someone sees it, can pay off. It probably won't happen in the serendipitous way "The Vault" got noticed. This story could have easily been, "We tried to approach hundreds of backers. We were about to give up, then we sent it to Mark Cuban. He said yes." Hann and Miscione sent their show to the right person at the very beginning.
Still, 27-year-olds Hann and Miscione continue to work their day jobs, and in their free time work on the show. This allows them to use the funding completely for their production company and several other projects they hope to launch in the future. So even though they have the backing of Cuban and HDNet, they didn't use the money for salary, they're using it for the product they put onscreen.
"The Vault" is an intriguing science fiction series for the web: a vault containing (we think) 150 rooms, each with a "player" who can't see any other players, all faced with objects with an uncertain purpose. There is one player with a headset who can speak to the others. We talked to Hann and Miscione about their new show, the challenges of shooting in Miscione's living room, and what it felt like when Mark Cuban e-mailed them back.
ReelSEO Exclusive Interview With Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione
What was your inspiration for The Vault?
We both wanted to pursue creative careers in entertainment, and we had both come to a place where we realized the only way we were going to have any chance at making those dreams come true was by making something ourselves. We were both big "Lost" fans. That's the kind of show that we both like watching, where the story builds from episode to episode. TV is getting away from that kind of show for a variety of reasons, and we both felt strongly that something like it could succeed on the Internet.
We realized though that we had to choose a project we could afford to make ourselves. We didn't have any real money to work with and we both worked full-time, so it had to be something very specific. "The Vault" not only made sense within our limitations, but we felt like we could do a lot with it in spite of those limitations. We wanted a project that reduced the expensive variables of filmmaking like equipment costs, traveling and shooting in different locations, having a large crew, etc. Instead we focused on the things we thought we could do well without breaking the bank. "The Vault" is really a result of that approach, and we still operate under the same mindset.
How many episodes are you planning for Season 1?
It's a little tricky since episode length varies and we do bonus episodes, but we're planning about 12 main episodes for the season.
Unless the genre is comedy, web series have had a difficult time finding an audience on the web. Is there a particular challenge to selling sci-fi or any other genre on the web?
If you are making a show like ours or any other sci-fi, drama, mystery show, you can't compare yourself to something that gets a massive audience like "The Annoying Orange" or something like that. If you are expecting to get 100 million+ views you are setting yourself up for disappointment. What we do is much more of a niche thing, and it's not as likely to be shareable or viral.
We can only speak for ourselves and our feelings about it, but we feel like we can get more quality views than the average web series. We may not get 100 million views or anything close, but the people who do watch our show we hope will really love it and want to see more of what we do. We want to be able to pursue bigger and better projects in the future, and making something that people like is a good step. If we keep score only by number of views we're going to lose, and we know that. That's why we don't.
Did you plan this as a web series, or were you hoping to get the show on TV?
It was totally planned as a web series only. We never figured anything we made in a living room with two people and no budget would be considered for television, although we did think a TV-version of our show could happen someday. Not our show though. We still don't look at it as something we are making for TV. That's not our decision to make. We operate under the mindset that we are making a web series. We have ideas for how "The Vault" can work on TV, and when the time comes we will start focusing on that.
What is the advantage of showing this on the web as opposed to anywhere else?
With the Internet you have time to build an audience. It's not like television where if you don't get the ratings immediately you get the plug pulled on you. We knew that we'd be starting completely from scratch when it came to building an audience. No one knew anything about us or our project. We actually figured "The Vault" wouldn't start getting attention until it was mostly finished, which was fine with us. Our goal from the start was to make the show we wanted to make, make it as well as we could, and do it our way. We have succeeded in that so far.
What is your goal for viewership? Is there a mark you're trying to reach for the 1st season?
We truly don't think about it in terms of numbers. Obviously it's nice to get a lot of people watching your show, but we know what we do is for more of a niche audience. Our goal was to make the show we wanted to make, and get quality views. We really just hoped the right person would see it someday and give us a chance to continue pursuing this passion. We really believe in ourselves, and we want to prove that we can succeed at this level and the next. We fully believe in the internet as a viable platform for content, but we also want to have a chance to make content for television, movies, etc. In the end we are simply driven to create stuff, and what happens beyond that is a bonus. I know a lot of other people who do what we do feel the same way.
Episode 2 reveals there are 150 rooms in The Vault. This might get into the zone of plot details you might not want to reveal, but do you plan on having 150 different actors on this show at some point, and is it difficult finding people who want to act in a web series?
It's not difficult to find actors at all. I don't think "web series" has as much of that inferior connotation as it might have had a few years ago. I think actors realize that they need to be looking for any opportunities they can get, and if they get into a web series that gets some positive attention it could help them advance their acting careers.
As far as 150 actors appearing in the show is concerned, it's something you will have to wait and see. We can tell you that you won't see every single player in "The Vault," it's just not possible, but we are trying our best to cover as much ground as we can. We don't want to show a room and never come back to it, but we also want to show as many rooms as we can. It's a tough balance, but we're pretty happy with what we have planned.
Do you keep any parts of the script secret from the actors?
We only give the actors what we need to for any given shoot. Occasionally we'll shoot scenes way in advance for future episodes if an actor has a time-commitment issue like studying abroad, so they'll get pieces of the later episodes in the show. Generally though we keep everything between the two of us. We are not big enough to really worry about spoilers getting out, but we feel like it's probably the smartest move.
Did you have the look of this show in mind when you first conceived the series?
It was a trial and error process. We tried different equipment, different lighting, different building materials, different room sizes. We definitely lost a few weeks with failed experiments with paint, metal, faux tiles. It was hard to find the right combination, but eventually found something we really liked. We definitely lucked into a few things working that we really had no idea would work.
You shoot entirely in Mario's living room. Please tell me what that's like. Any logistical problems?
Oh boy. Well, if the neighbors have a party and there is a lot of noise we either have to take a break or ask them politely to turn the music down. We can only film certain hours of the day, because a lot of daylight comes into the apartment. We don't have any real parking situation. The props have been adding up to the point of absurdity. I remember a maintenance guy coming one day and seeing 30 clocks, 100+ fish bowls, and an exercise bike all in the set at once, and he thought we were doing some kind of science experiment. Since the deal with Mark Cuban and HDNet we have been able to rent a small space to shoot and store all the props. It's nothing special, but it feels like a palace to us. This will help us make episodes much easier and faster, and also allow Mario to live in his own place.
Are you planning a Lost-style of marketing to the series, with "seed" websites and Easter eggs?
We do have some cool marketing ideas, but we feel like the best marketing we can do is make a quality show. If people like it we hope they will tell other people about it. It sounds simple but that's how we look at it.
I notice you have an "Episode 1.5." Are supplemental material and bonus episodes going to be the norm for this show? How important do you think supplemental material is for any show?
There are a few reasons we do bonus episodes. The main reason is because we have a much quicker turnaround on them, and it allows us to release content more often. The other reason is because it lets us fill in pieces of the story that we simply don't have time for in the main episodes.
We are planning some really cool stuff with the bonus episodes going forward that will really make what we call Level 10 fans happy. There are so many characters and rooms, we can't tell everyone's story, but with the bonus episodes we can try to do as much as we can. It's a little trickier now though since the deal with Mark Cuban and HDNet, because we don't want anything to get lost if the content is transferred over to television. We wouldn't want to do that to actors who only appear in bonus content, and we have some bonus content that we feel like people should definitely be able to see.
How did you get the attention of Mark Cuban and HDNet? Was he the first person/company you tried to contact?
I (Aaron) was at home watching Jimmy Kimmel and Mark was on promoting ABC's "Shark Tank," and Kimmel made fun of the fact that Mark freely gives out his personal email to people all the time. Mark even spelled it out for the audience, who laughed. He then went on to talk about how people pitch him business ideas all the time, and occasionally he finds something he likes and invests in it. We had just released our pilot three days earlier, and we were really proud of it. It only had like 300 views, but we knew how hard we had worked to make it and we were starting to get some great feedback.
I have always been a Mark Cuban fan, I've read his blog for years and agreed with him on mostly everything. I also thought he was the ideal person to partner with. I opened my email and sent him the pilot, figuring he probably got a lot of business plans and not a lot of decent videos. I told myself if he just watched it, that would be cool enough for me. In a few hours I had a response, much to my astonishment. He liked the project and wanted to learn more.
What was your reaction when he responded back?
I was half asleep when I checked my email on my phone. I was looking for an email from Mario and I saw the letters "MAR," but followed by a "K." I was 100% awake instantly, and ran over to my computer. It was a short email, but it said enough. I also noticed he Liked us on Facebook, which was just about the coolest thing ever. We answered his questions, and in doing so I think we both realized that this was going to go somewhere. The feeling became and has been more about a sense of opportunity than any sort of feelings of accomplishment. We feel like we've been given a great opportunity here, and we plan to make the most of it. We want to prove to be a worthy investment in whatever ways we can, and we will.
Did he have any particular input for the show?
He liked our approach and wanted us to keep doing what we do. That's about all I can say.
What would you like to reveal about your first season, maybe to entice new viewers?
The main thing we feel is important for people to know is that we aren't making the story up as we go. Everything we do is on purpose, and we know exactly where it goes and how it ends. One of the big criticisms of shows like ours is the feeling that the creators don't have a plan or are making things up as they go. We aren't, and we hope by the end of the show people will be able to go back, watch it, and pick up all the little things we've been trying to do. In the end we are just two guys making our little web series part-time, but we treat it like it's the most important thing we could be doing. We hope that comes through.
The Vault Continues This October
With a couple of episodes on YouTube, plus a bonus entry, the third episode arrives this month. Here's the second episode:
Can't wait to see what happens next. We'd like to thank Aaron and Mario for their time, and wish them good luck in building an audience for The Vault.