I have a web series called Polyester Dreams. It’s about a manic depressive prog rock radio DJ named Warren Orlando. The first season was produced for $500 from my economic stimulus check. Independent web video production companies are the new garage bands (or warehouse bands, Providence).
Polyester Dreams Episode 6: Warren the Redeemer
So how do you independently produce a show on essentially no budget? Let me share some of what I learned, after the jump:
Content and Conception
Keep it simple. Go with something close and accessible. Do you work in a crepe shop? Have the show take place there, film after hours. If you’re going to have a lot of dialogue, make sure you get good actors. If you’re anything like me, don’t spend too long planning or it will never get done. Just start shooting. As you do so, the quality will get better and you’ll get a better feel for the series. You should expect that the first one or two episodes you shoot, you will want to scrap. The first episode I shot was so bad, I burned it, had it cursed by 666 Santerian priests, and then buried it fathoms deep within the earth.
Production – Cast and Crew
Keep in mind that the more people involved, the harder it will be to get them all in one place at one time. Especially if you’re not paying them.
Actors are free. Craigslist (watch out for murder though)! They are always looking for more reel material, so if you can convince them you’re not an idiot, they will do your project. Feed them, respect them, create a fun atmosphere on set. Don’t cast your friends unless they can act, and always audition before casting.
Crew members are harder to get. This is where it’s helpful to have good, loyal friends. If you use your friends, make sure you train them on the equipment, and make sure they’re not too high. If you are in need of people, volunteer as a crew member on other people’s student or indie films. Make contacts and do a quid pro quo, Clarice (I help you with your project, you help me with mine).
Production – Equipment
Unless you want to spend at least two grand on a camera, you’re going to have to borrow equipment from friends or colleagues. I borrowed a Panasonic DVX100B from a friend. Another thing you can do is find a cinematographer fresh out of school with his own camera and let him direct an ep or two if he works for free.
You’re going to need lights. You can get decent lighting kits for under a grand. And for the love of all that is holy, do not skimp on sound. Just suck it up and buy a Sennheiser boom mic. Once you get over these fixed costs, the rest of your budget should be only food, travel and props. And booze.
Marketing and Monetization
When creating a web series, you should not expect to make any money. Period. Create an LLC and write off your budget as a business loss. Yuri Baranovsky, creator of the web show Break A Leg (which has gotten sponsorships and amassed millions of views), has said that in the two years of making the show, he has made about $2500. And this was BEFORE the recession and the great decline of ad spending. So throw your expectations away and produce as a labor of love only.
For Polyester Dreams, I have been experimenting with distribution and marketing. I have it on my destination site, on Blip.tv, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and iTunes. So far most of my views have come from Blip. The strategy I am attempting now is to just send out press releases and try to get coverage on blogs. The response rate is pretty bad but when you do get a review it really pays off.