The Best Web Series You Have To Watch! And Why They Matter.

There’s at least one thing The Walking Dead, Dexter, Torchwood, Battlestar Galactica and Lost have in common. Each of these television series have created on-line companion webisodes.  Webisodes or web series are free, accessible, bite-sized episodes typically 2 to 8 minutes in length that expand on the show’s narrative and build up a loyal fan-base. Although it’s not a new phenomenon, the growing popularity emphasizes how networks are exploring different distribution models to capitalize on an audience that is transitioning from watching their favourite shows on the tube to experiencing their entertainment instantly online whether it be on their laptop, tablet or smart phone. But as networks develop strategies to attract a new generation of tech savvy consumers, drive website traffic, and generate revenue are they becoming an unnecessary middle-men?

Because of advancements in technology, affordability of equipment and accessibility of broadband internet, aspiring filmmakers can produce high quality web series with a small budget that may find an on-line niche audience and become popular enough to gain corporate sponsors.  Actress/producer Eliza Dusku (Dollhouse, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who stars on acclaimed web series Leap Year and voice-over on the animated Torchwood: Web of Lies, explains, “It’s definitely more user-friendly and instantly accessible. I think there is creative cool stuff going on. You take out the middle man and the studios, even though I love the studios, call me? You get to really play, you get to really explore and have creative license and freedom.” So how can creative people work on projects they love, nurture a loyal fan base, and make money without involvement from studio executives or TV networks?

One example is how Avengers’ director Joss Whedon developed a new model where he is the studio and the writers and lead actors shared in the profits with his popular online three-part musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon revealed to Forbes, “The initial investment was about $200,000. The budget with everybody actually being paid was about $450,000. With the movie and the soundtrack and everything we’ve been able to do with it, we made over $3 million with it”.  Dr. Horrible continues to make money each year with comic book spin offs and DVD sales. The success caught the attention of The CW network which will be debuting the mini-series on prime-time television on October 9th, 2012, several years after it was originally produced. A sequel starring original cast members Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day is already in the works.

Up-and-coming directors, writers and actors most likely won’t have $200,000 in their pockets to produce and distribute their web series. The alternative is to share their ideas, sketches, photos and trailers on a blog, Youtube or other social media sites to a build an audience that will donate money via PayPal or fund-raising websites such as Kickstarter.  A good web series can potentially be distributed directly to millions of viewers on Youtube, Hulu, Yahoo, Koldcast TV, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix or Revision3; companies which continue to heavily invest in original programing. With Createspace, an Amazon company, people can self-publish and distribute their web series as digital downloads, video stream or DVDs manufactured on-demand.

As promising as it is for an artist or entrepreneur to create their own projects the reality is most web series find it difficult to break even financially.  Making money aside, a web series is an excellent portfolio to show case their talent and break through the doors of Hollywood.  A great example is Lena Dunham who started her career writing, directing and starring in web series Delusional Downtown Divas and Tight Shots before getting her own HBO dramedy series Girls. For internet starlet Felicia Day, she signed an exclusive deal with Microsoft to sponsor her hit web series The Guild while maintaining creative control and ownership of her intellectual property. Although stardom has not translated into major Hollywood roles for Day, she works year round on web series and parts written specifically for her.

Big name actors have also jumped on the web series bandwagon. Kiefer Sutherland (24’s Jack Bauer ) stars in Hulu’s web series “The Confession” about a professional assassin who forces a priest to hear him describe his killings in a confessional booth. “The real difficulty is trying to figure out how to galvanize and pull in an audience,” explains Sutherland ,”because the Internet is so fragmented that there is no real kind of central post, if you will. The movie business has theaters. Television has set scheduling. The Internet is kind of when you want it, how you want it and trying to really corral an audience was what we found to be the most difficult. But I think that that’s starting to explain itself. The more things are produced for the Internet, the clearer it becomes how to go about finding that audience.” The Confession will continue to find an even larger audience on DVDs, Netflix and possibly in theatres; a feature film deal has been made with Image Entertainment.

The success of “The Confession” and “Dr. Horrible” demonstrates how a web series can evolve into other incarnations like a movie or network television mini series. Much like how an artist could self-publish a comic book and create a fascinating world or story that can be sold to a movie studio, a web series can be a launch pad for a filmmaker’s own intellectual property and career. For movie studios, web series can be used to test the market or mined for the next breakout hit as commonly done with popular books, graphic novels and video games.

Whether the web series is a documentary, talk show or comedic sketches, it’s vital to create an engaging unique experience to compete for the fickle attention of internet viewers. A viral video may get millions of hits and generate ad revenue, but a short clip of a sneezing baby panda bear or kitten playing the piano rarely if ever transforms into a lasting brand or compelling IP that can be monetized in various mediums other than T-shirts and coffee mugs. Although it is possible to create a low-budget independent web series, the financial reality is that most artists will need to develop mutual business relationships with sponsors, entertainment studios, distribution partners and of course their fans. The most exciting part of the popularity of web series is that the audience is the ultimate winner. So it is up to viewers to support the works of art and entertainment that resonate with them, even if it’s just a retweet or blog post.

Popular Web Series

H+ The Digital Series | Humanity Goes Offline, Survival Goes On: From producer Bryan Singer (X-Men, Usual Suspects), H+ is a web series set in the near future about a new high-tech implant that allows users to directly connect their mind to the internet.

• Blue | Julia Stiles Gets Sexy: In the opening scene, Blue (played by Julia Stiles), undresses wearing nothing but a Victoria Secret black lingerie.  Blue is the story of a prostitute, her teenage son and the people in their lives.

Husbands | Marriage Equality is Comedy Gold: From creators Jane Espenson (Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica) and Brad Bell, Husbands is a campy comedy about the “hackneyed premise” of two friends waking up from a drunken stupor in Las Vegas as newlyweds.

Mortal Kombat: Legacy | Fatalities Get Real: High production values and a strong ensemble cast (Jeri Ryan, Michael Jai White, Tahmoh Penikett) take this realistic, action web series based on characters from the video game to another realm.

How It Should Have EndedSometimes movies don’t end the way we’d like: Animated comedic web series poking fun at popular movies from The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games to Harry Potter.

• The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl:  Created by Issa Rae, Awkward Black Girl is a funny take on socially uncomfortable situations in relationships, the work place and with friends that everyone can relate to.

• The Totally Rad Show | Geek Show Galore: Discussion and reviews of movies, television shows, comics and video games hosted by three likable geeks.

Best Companion Web Series

Community: Webisodes

The Office:  Subtle Sexuality

Torchwood: Web of Lies

Assassin’s Creed: Lineage

Dexter: Early Cuts

Chuck Versus the Webisodes

Harper’s Globe

Teen Wolf: Search for a Cure

Weeds: University of Andy

Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy

Doctor Who: TARDISODES

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (coming soon)

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About Eddie@Jaccendo

Movies, TV shows, comics, and video game news & review.

Posted on September 22, 2012, in Web Series and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Truly enjoyed reading your article. And happy to see “Husbands” as one of the online series featured. But I did want to mention that the Co-Creator of “Husbands” is named Brad Bell, along with Jane Espenson, not Brian Bell. Thought you would want to know for clarity. 😀

  2. You’re absolutely right. Thanks for spotting that and commenting. I’ve updated the blog with the correct name. Hope to you see you drop by again. Cheers!

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