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5 Things You Should Know About Producing a Web Series

I have gone from being a casual consumer of webisodes to producing three in a year – talk about a fast track education!  Here are some things I learned that could make things easier for the virgin webisode producer.

  1. Start with strategy:  During the development phase, it’s easy to get carried away with the creative process.  If you don’t have a sound business strategy that parallels and ultimately intersects with your creative strategy, you are going to get into trouble.  In addition to the typical strategy document we write for every project, on the last two shows I created a “Litmus Test” document that was the measuring stick for different phases of the process.  In other words, what does the show have to do in order for it to be successful?  Get both in place so that everybody can be connected to the same goals.
  2. Know your culture: As we all know, a company’s brand is the most important intangible asset it has.  In our case we wanted to push the envelope with some edgy content that we thought would break through clutter.  It actually did exactly what we wanted it to do, but at the same time, we alienated some of the people in our own company in the process.  Be careful not to get too focused on the end game and lose sight of the other important things along the way.  During the second production of The Virgin Mattress, we actually conducted a few focus groups with our own employees to see if we were hitting the mark internally.  As a result, we received some valuable feedback that gave us more confidence that we were on the right track.  It also proved to be helpful when developing our VertiCoil® Edge™ consumer website.  The females we talked to in the focus groups were the inspiration behind the “It’s Time” animations you can see HERE.  Like everything else, you have to be careful how you use qualitative research, but listening is never a bad thing.
  3. Get Organized: For The Virgin Mattress project, we had three different agencies working together.  There was our internal agency, the PR firm Fahlgren, and finally our production company and social media firm, Pure.  With so many people involved, we needed to have some great communication tools in place to keep everything where it needed to be.  First, we used DropBox for sharing files.  We watched all of the auditions this way, and we also used it for reviewing early edits of our episodes, trailers, and commercials, etc.  They have a great app for the iPhone or iPad that came in handy on more than one occasion.  Second, to help answer the question “what were we creating and how did it fit within the overall strategy?”, we used XMind for a very effective mind mapping tool to get our thoughts organized and to connect the dots on content, distribution, social media, and traditional PR, etc.  Finally, we used Basecamp for basic communications, file sharing, calendar, and task manager, etc.
  4. Process is KING:  Establish a good script approval process from the beginning.  It might sound like a no- brainer but believe me, this part of production can really get sticky.  You have a “creative” writing for you that has a clear vision for what they want to do.  In their mind it is brilliant, but we all can’t live in the head of the writer, so there needs to be a lot of communication on how that script is going to come to life.  The words on the page tell a small part of the story and for us, but it was difficult to see it all coming together as a director would.  The actors add a lot to what you are doing, improving on what you think it would sound/look like, and then when you shoot, that little look or pause on a moment can make a huge difference in a scene.  Decide early on who is going to be at the writing table, determine when things need to be approved by the producers to hit your production windows, and leave plenty of time for a legal review.  Remember, when you are providing feedback during this stage that there is a right way and a wrong way to do that.  People put a lot of their heart and soul into these projects and you need to be sensitive to them.  We had many heated conversations about what should and should not stay in the script.  John Walsh (Leggett’s awesome Director of Creative Services, and co-Executive Producer) and I were able to find common ground with the writers, but some days it wasn’t easy.  This is art – not science, and there are many ways to accomplish the same objective.  You want the creators of the content to have some freedom but at the same time, you need to hold everyone accountable for the tone of the series, making sure it fits with your company brand and hits your business objective, etc.    There were times when we made some significant changes that upset the writing team, but there were also times when we may have seen the dialogue or a scene a different way than our head writer/director Drew Hall, but we got out of the way and trusted him to get us there.  It’s a good thing we did because he got us some really great stuff.

    Drew giving some direction to the Pimp Lion
  5. Fire up the Social Media Engine! In our case, we were lucky.  We had an incredibly smart partner in the process who served as one of the writers and producers and was our social media genius.  Emily Eldridge was all of these things and the key account contact for Leggett and Platt on behalf of Pure.  It was great to have her involved in the writing process because we literally baked in a social media/distribution strategy.  In addition, we had the VERY talented Melissa Koski at Fahlgren, who was a very strong part of this team and was able to contribute to strategy and execution. When we were writing the episodes, we would have side conversations about how we could promote them or enhance them with additional vignette content, or determine if there was some relevance to a particular audience out there and if so, how could we engage them when the time was right.  Getting a great product is critical, but then again so is the BUZZ.  If you give people something fun to watch and find them and talk to them where they are living on line, you can get your work on their screen.

    John Walsh and Emily Eldridge meet Miles

So this much gets us through the planning and creation stages.  In my next post, I will talk about what happened on set, what you should and should not do during that process, and how to best work the post production and launch phases.  There is one thing for sure, if you are going to do something like this, just know it is a LOT OF WORK.  For us it doesn’t really matter, I guess, because if you are having a blast doing it, it’s not really work, is it?!?

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