Over a year ago, my friend Donny Broussard spoke to me about a screenplay he wanted to do, called The Way to You. . A ton of other things got in the way, so it never got made. Last month, he approached me again about The Way to You, but this time he wanted to do it as an internet comedy. I started doing some research, and I’m literally stunned by what I’ve found. A web series may just be the most ideal new method for an new filmmaker to start a career in show business.
The actual shooting date of The Way to You is January third. The plan is to shoot essentially the entire first season in fourteen days, the same way you might film a full length movie. The footage will then be split into between 12 and 20 episodes, of lengths between 5 and ten minutes.
I’m only a few weeks into he research, but the possibilities I’ve uncovered are amazing.
Can you strike it rich with a web series? For the longest time it was my intuition that it wasn’t possible. Man was I mistaken. Having looked into it, I wonder if its possible not to make money with a web series. Think of these various streams of income:
- DVDs – Just like a feature, you can easily sell DVDs of the whole season. In fact, if you provide enough episodes you can probably ask for even more than a regular feature.
- Merchandising – Develop interesting characters, cool catch phrases, or stories and you can turn that into all sorts of merchandise including T-shirts. The awesome thing about an internet series is that it provides a trendy “in the know” feel to your fans, and thus having T-shirts with your characters on it is more appealing than a very small independent movie. It wouldn’t even surprise me if you’d sell a greater number of T-shirts than DVDs
- Advertising – Sites like Revver and Metacafe offer you cash based on the number of hits you get. And just recently, YouTube announced it would expand its Partner Program , so you could even make money on YouTube. Each website has its own terms, but fortunately most of them are non-exclusive. So you can actually put your video on as many of them as you want.
So you can certainly earn some money, but how much? Well, I’ve seen that $5/CPM is the low end of embedded video ads, in fact Metacafe pays exactly that rate. This means for every 1000 views, you get $5. That may not seem like much, except consider the fact that many web videos receive hundreds of thousands, if not millions of hits.
An example web series
Lets assume The Way to You is our example web series. We’ll produce 20 episodes, of about five mins in length. For each we’ll take 0.2% of our hits as rabid fans who will buy our various merchandise…thats 1 in every 500 views. We’ll make the following distinction:
- A huge failure – 5000 views per episode, for a total of 100,000 views for the entire season.
- A moderate success – 100,000 views per episode for a total of 2 million views for the entire season.
- A runaway hit – 1 million views per episode, or 20 million total views.
We’ll sell T-shirts and DVDs. We’ll make a rough estimate that we earn $10 profit per shirt after costs, and $13 profit after cost on DVDs. So now to the math:
A huge failure: 100,000 Views
A moderate success: 1 million views
Total: $51, 000
A huge hit
Maybe that might seem like a weak example for web series, but its time to really put it in context.
Internet media saves costs
A few of you may be jumping out of your seats at the idea of earning $50,000 on a moderate success. If so, you’ve probably forgotten to take into account the fact that out of those earnings you’ll have to pay for crew,,actors cameras editing and all the usual costs. Some of you probably saw the $50,000 number and thought, “Umm…that’s not that great…we’ll barely recoup”. For those of you, I think your probably exaggerating your expenses…consider this:
- Spend as you go – You can shoot your entire series at once…or you could shoot it every Saturday. If you can afford to do at least the first few episodes, you could use the revenues of those episodes to shoot the next episodes. It will prpbably require some good planning, but if there is one thing we independent producers value is the ability to use ingenuity to overcome a lack of finances.
- Wow factor – If you do have high production value, good cinematography, or really good writing it gives a huge boost to your chances for success.
- lowered expectations – People don’t expect high production value on the internet. You can get away with alot of cheating, and still keep your fans. You can also do quite a few things that would look outright mornic on a television show. Imagine a 30 minute episode of “Ask a Ninja”. All that bouncing around would drive you absolutely crazy, but in a format with a five minute maximum, its works perfectly.
- Actors – Nobody expects actors in an internet comedy. It’s pretty common to have no name actors in an internet video. Now, that doesn’t give you free reign to have crappy actors, but you don’t have to shell out $15,000 for C list actor just to get a distribution deal. On the other hand, even a small name actor that is popular on the web nearly guarantees your success
Other web advantages
There are many other advantages to creating an internet series.
- Getting picked up – As I mentioned in my article,
Writers Strike and the future of television production, the WGA strike is going to mean the television studios will be looking to the web for new content. What if you could have the studios coming to you? Imagine having the execs begging you for your product, where its you and not the studios who have the bargaining power.
- No Gatekeepers – There is absolutely no one between you and your audience. No one can determine whether or not your video is released except you.
- Feedback – The key to success in any venture is understanding your audience. The beauty of the web is the ease tracking stats. With a little web savvy, you can keep tabs on your viewers and their interests. Not to mention, all of these internet media websites offer the ability for people add comments. You can interact with your fans, and find what they really enjoy. If they liked and episode you can find out why, and do more of that.
- No Rules – The only rules are to please your audience, and don’t break the law. Make a bloody comedy, or a horror series for kids. No industry exec is going to tell you “That won’t work”.
- The Low cost of “failure” – You will get some views. If you keep your production expenses as low as possible, then there is a much much greater chance of breaking even….even with a unpopular series. Not to mention there is no loss of reputation. If you got a movie financed by a production company, filmed it, and it was a flop…you’ll have a tough time getting a second project financed. On the web you’ll just be another guy who made a bad video, and when you create something better everyone will completely forget about it.
- Time of Return – If you create a movie, it might take you 2 years to get a deal, and then another 6 months before you see a cent…if you see anything at all. What if instead, you get actual cash in your hands only a month after you’ve uploaded your first episode?
- Synergy – Lets say you really enjoy this idea of making an internet series. What if you make a new series with a different concept? You could advertise it at the end of the episodes of your current series. If your first series has run for 6 months, then you can capitalize on 6 months of work, and give your new series a huge jump start. Taken to the extreme, you could create a bunch of different shows, and start your own internet tv channel.