Viewers often wonder why web series episodes are shorter than their network series counterparts. The short answer is cost. We have talked with a lot of web series creators and have asked them how they bring their creations to the little screen once they have an idea or script and what the challenges are. The primary challenge for all of them is cost.
Financing a web series is not an easy task. It is very difficult to get a bank or investor to put money into a web series, especially one that is unproven due to the high risk and low probability of a return on any investment. Even getting family to invest can be difficult. Most web series creators finance their projects out of their own pockets initially. They save up to produce their first episodes or season, and often will use personal credit cards to subsidize them.
Many times actors and crews will work for potential (but not guaranteed) future revenue and residuals in order to keep payrolls as low as possible. Most casts and crews wear multiple hats, working in front of, and behind, the cameras. This keeps the number of people involved in a production down.
To keep expensive essential services like cinematography, lighting, sound service, and post-production costs to bare minimums, many times creators will condense their shooting schedules to a few days, often on weekends so that those involved with the productions don't have to take time off from their day jobs. Cast and crew member homes are often used as sets. Guerrilla production methods are typically used to shoot multiple episodes and seasons at one time.
There are some web series that are subscription-based but only a couple have been successful with this method of funding. Most air their episodes for free as they try to build a fan base large enough to attract a major investor or network to pick up their show.
If a series does well its creators will look to their fans to help raise funds for subsequent seasons. Popular funding campaigns among independent web series creators include project listings on Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) and IndieGoGo (http://www.indiegogo.com/). These methods consist of a projected budget goal, a promotional video to show potential investors what they are supporting, and a list of perks that an investor receives based on their level of participation. Perks can range from a shout-out on Twitter to a walk-on part in an episode.
Once the episodes are shot, edited, and finalized, creators either have their own websites to air their shows, a YouTube channel, or they leverage an online network that includes it as part of their regular programming.
The community of independent web series creators is very tight-knit and very supportive of one another. From Los Angeles to Maine, seasoned creators support each other and mentor those trying to get their first episodes produced, aired and noticed.
There are currently hundreds of independent web series being produced around the world and more are emerging every day. The competition for viewers is very high and viewers are demanding higher and higher quality in what they invest their time in to watch. Demanding audiences mean constant demand for new, more creative way to produce on a shoestring. Independent web series creators seem to be up for the challenge.
This story is based on interviews with Los Angeles-based series creators Julie A. Smith, “Fumbling Thru the Pieces,” (http://www.youtube.com/user/fumblingthru) Michael Caruso, “DeVanity,” (http://www.devanity.com/) Steve Silverman, “Pretty,” (http://prettytheseries.com/pretty-episodes/viewcategory/20/pretty) and “The Inn,” (http://prettytheseries.com/the-inn-episodes/viewcategory/16/the-inn) Virginia-based series creator Kathryn O'Sullivan, “Thurston,” (http://www.thurston-series.com/contact/) and Maine-based series creator Barry Dodd, “Ragged Isle” (http://www.raggedisle.com/).