A 20-Something's Guide to Creating a Web Series
So you're an uber creative person with a million ideas in your head, but have no budget, don't want to annoy people and crowdsource for money and don't have a wide enough network of people to help you out with the filmmaking process. What do you do? You just suck it up and make it with whatever resources you have.
Years and years ago when YouTube began building popularity, I immediately saw it as a platform to put my creations. Previously to that, I was filming an absolutely terrible movie using my siblings and cousins, and it was all done on a video camera from the 80s that surprisingly still worked. As the internet become more of a thing, my family and I started filming even more absurd videos and put them on YouTube. At the time I didn't even know what it was called that I was doing, but now I know I was making sketches.
We didn't have high quality cameras or nice editing software. We were teenagers and preteens with the most prehistoric digital cameras who used Windows Movie Maker to edit together whatever shaky cam footage we had to make entertaining videos. Now, as an adult, I find that this background in thinking creatively while having a lack of cast members and good equipment has come in handy when going about filming my own projects.
Years ago, my best friend and current roommate (yes, my bestie Natalie is finally here in New York with me!) decided we wanted to make a web series about us, but heightened versions of ourselves. Unfortunately we were separated by distance after college, so our dreams of filming something together were put to rest. Then Broad City came on the air and we got our inspiration back. We were going to make this thing if it was the last thing we did. Cut to two years later and we've finally started our series "None of the Above" and are so proud of it (check it out please!).
So what's the magic formula to filming? Just doing it. Thankfully I have a good camera that films high-quality footage, a tripod that is just acceptable enough to hold my camera without falling over and an iMac with iMovie. We have no one else helping us (at the moment) and we're doing the writing, filming and editing ourselves. It's a hard task, but it's so worth it when you have an end product that's pretty badass (by your standards, not Hollywood's obviously).
Come up with a concept and then just write it. The nice thing about web series or sketches are that each video only needs to be between 2-5 minutes max. No one wants to watch something longer than that unless they're invested. This means the writing process is fairly simple. You just need 2-5 pages of dialogue and some sort of witty or funny idea that runs through it.
Work on it with your friend(s). Don't stress out about having a huge crew and making it a large group event. If there's only two or three of you or even just yourself, you can make it interesting and make it work. Find a steady platform for your camera to sit on or buy a $20 tripod and film yourself like a cool, independent mothereffer who don't need no cinematographer.
If you don't know how to film or edit, use the internet. If I hear another person whine about how they don't know how to use iMovie, I will scream. Yes, it was probably made by Satan, but if you take the time to sit down and learn how to use these programs, it will become second nature. I taught myself how to use both iMovie and Final Cut Pro and all it took was some time and a few YouTube tutorials to show me how.
Watch other shows and try to emulate them. This doesn't mean copy another person's idea, but looking at what other people are doing and how they go about it is the best way to figure out how you can do it for yourself. There are so many funny people on the web making low budget videos and doing pretty well. Be like them, just unique.
Find what makes you special. The whole trend of girl buddy comedies are making it harder and harder to find a way to make your own show stand out. In my show's case, although we are similar to Broad City in the way that we're two girls who are living it up in New York, we also have the fact that we're both mixed-race and brand new to the city, which are two interesting things in themselves.
Share the hell out of your videos. Make all the social media pages ever to promote your show. Annoy your friends with making them have to watch it. Don't feel bad. You got to do what you've got to do to get people to watch it, lest drown in the sea of other "quirky, 20-somethings who are just trying to survive in the big city."
Last, but not least, it's not going to be perfect and that's okay. You're not going to have professional quality in something put together with the last $2 in your pocket. You may have to film in some sketchy places because the location you actually want won't let you in with a camera. Your "costumes" may end up being a tutu you found in the trash and a wig you don't remember how you came across, but it's something and it's fun. You may have the loud, musical stylings of your Mexican neighbor's backyard party that ruins your audio, but you seriously couldn't avoid it (I mean, come on! You start right when we begin to film. RUDE!). Just embrace the raw quality of your work and know it will hopefully get better with time (and money).