Patience, good storytelling key to web series success: Fan Expo panel

Fan Expo wasn’t just for the fanboys and fangirls Sunday, as a panel of web series creators assembled to share tips and secrets for being successful on the rapidly emerging medium.

According to Tights and Fights creator Scott Albert the most important thing is to know before you even start is why you want to write web series.

“If you go into web series thinking you’re doing it to pay the rent, you’ll be unhappy. It just doesn’t work like that. It’s much like building a career [in broadcast],” he said.

“You should sit down and very seriously define what success looks like for you and be very specific about it,” he added.

Joining Albert on the panel were Out With Dad creator Jason Leaver, Ruby Skye P.I. creator Jill Golick and Pretty in Geek (pictured) creator Elize Morgan.

Equally important to success, said Golick, is finding ways to hook the audience within the first few moments of the show.

She points to Flashpoint as a show that features a highly engaging pilot.

“Flashpoint started at the climax of the show… then they flashed back [to the beginning]. Those are the kinds of techniques you’re looking for,” she explained

“[Ask yourself,] ‘What can I do in that opening moment that’s really going to grab the audience? Explosions? Putting the big laugh first?'” she continued.

Morgan added, however, that it’s more than just the episodes that hook and maintain a web series’ viewership.

“It’s your tweets, it’s your Facebook page, it’s everything,” she said.

“People online expect you to react. They want to see you and interact with you,” she added.

The panel agreed that a key strategy for engaging this audience is to learn how to work with runtimes that don’t adhere to broadcast’s half-hour and hour-long formats to deliver what viewers want while restricting episodes to the length that best tells the story.

“Just make it whatever’s a perfect length for the story you’re telling, and make sure that whatever length the episode is there’s a beginning, middle and end, even if it’s serialized,” said Albert.

He added that understanding how to work with online runtimes is also important if you’re looking to make money off selling the series to broadcast.

“There are channels that show short films, so they’ll buy short-form series. If that’s part of your plan, [the episodes] have to be a certain length… or you won’t sell them,” he added.

Picking the proper channel, such as Youtube, Daily Motion or Blip, is also key to monetizing a web series, said Leaver.

“One of the great advantages of Youtube, is that it’s the second most used search engine in the world. It has the foot traffic, so you’ll get people discovering your show by fluke, but they don’t pay very well,” he explained.

“With other platforms you have to work really hard to bring the traffic to your show, but they pay out a little better with their ad share,” he added.

Other ways to monetize a web series, said Golick, are through ads, merchandising, licensing, and affiliate marketing.

At the end of the day, however, Morgan says it’s important to just be patient with the process.

“Sometimes it takes longer than you expect it to and you have to be willing to sit with a show for five years or 10 years or however long it takes,” she said.

“Every show will take as long as it takes and that’s something not to get impatient with because it makes the show better,” she added.

Meanwhile, Albert argues that it’s important to just do it.

“When people write their first novels, they don’t wait for someone to pay them then write. If you want to do something it’s just a matter of picking up a camera and telling a story,” he said.

The budget, he adds, is irrelevant.

“Sure, if you have a budget of a few million dollars, you can afford trucks and all the people you need, but that doesn’t make your story any better,” he explained.