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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Conversation with IPF Web Series Producers Part One

Last month, the Independent Production Fund (IPF) announced the results of the second round of funding for its Web Drama Series Program. A private, charitable foundation, the IPF assists, through this program, independent Canadian producers/creators to produce original drama series initiated for the Web, making the fund a unique one of its kind.

In June, the IPF announced funding for a whopping 15 productions for this year, up four web series productions from last year. Several producers who are set to receive IPF funding for their series kindly agreed to talk to me about their experiences (please see Series Synopses below). They are: Geoff Lapaire and Davin Lengyel of Brooms in Space Productions Inc. which will produce Space Janitors; Mark De Angelis of Ready, Set, Panic, which produces Axe Lords and the upcoming Bill & Sons Towing (featuring the comedy sketch group The Imponderables); Evan Jones of Stitch Media, which will be producing season two of Moderation Town; Ana Serrano, founding Director of the CFC Media Lab and producer of Prison Dancer: The Musical Web Series from Prison Dancer Productions; Shaun Johnson from Frantic Films, which is set to produce Verdict; and Torin Stefanson, producer of Seth on Survival and the upcoming Your Lupine Life (for Karma Film and T3 Digital Productions).

Although the IPF fund is only available to productions rooted in Canada, it became clear through our discussions that the fundamentals of producing web series remained the same in that country as around the world. In this two-part series, we will discuss the freedoms the IPF funding affords producers, the impact of its endorsement, the type of support it offers, tips on preparing applications for funding, and lessons learned from the road well-travelled. This week, I will be focusing on the impact the IPF has on web series in Canada, on the productions funded, and the web series community at large. Be sure to read next week’s article on the tips and lessons learned.

When asked what it personally meant as a producer/artist/creator to have access to IPF funding, a few producers responded that it simply allowed them to get these projects realized. Without the fund, these projects (which were bigger in scope and complexity than some previous productions) would not be developed further without sacrificing the heart and intent of several of the series in mind. As many web series producers no doubt know: having limited access to funds can somewhat hamper creative desires. Mark De Angelis said, “We just finished shooting another 5-part web series (Axe Lords) with a budget of only $10,000. Every decision is impacted by your budget.” Although Geoff Lapaire had worked a few "zero budget" productions prior (where one has to work with what is available), he observed that having access to the IPF fund “really opens up the creative freedom for web series.” Conversely, producers “more comfortable with TV budgets,” according to Davin Lengyel, “will have to struggle to reduce, reuse, recycle, wear more hats, and get their hands dirty.”

Other producers mentioned alternative strategies to realizing a series without the kind of funding available such as that offered from the IPF. Besides “bootstrapping a lean production,” Evan Jones mentioned another model he has observed that works consistently without external support: “partnering with a mega celeb or brand to guarantee the audience up front.” Although, celebs and branding are no guarantee to a web series success, it would be hard to argue that there is not a benefit. Ana Serrano spoke further on incorporating brands/celebs into her project: “I think for us it was whether or not brands would drive the trajectory of the series versus creating the series with brand hooks within it. The latter with IPF funding, the former without IPF funding. I think whether or not you get IPF funding, brand and celeb involvement are critical.”

In addition, both Serrano and Jones gave a quick nod to the alternative viable model some ‘youtubers’ have hit upon by sheer volume and consistency of output, which can lead, according to Jones, to a “self-sustaining audience and ad revenue”. Serrano concluded: “if you’re cool with building audience over a long period of time then you may not need the brand or celeb involvement.”

In addition to the creative freedom afforded, the IPF fund also allows Canadian producers to create works within the borders of their own country, even region, and not have to migrate outside of it, as is often the tradition with many Canadians working in the entertainment field. Likewise, the IPF made sure to represent projects from across the country rather than from the typical Vancouver/Toronto/Montreal film hubs. Torin Stefanson noted, “Having funding like this available in Canada allows us to stay in Canada to work. It means that we don't have to go to LA or NYC to make our shows there. We can stay in Canada (and in our case in Saskatchewan, thanks to support from SaskFilm) and still be able to actually produce quality shows that can compete on the international stage.” Evan Jones, whose production is based out of Nova Scotia, agreed that: “it's a pretty interesting situation that so many provincial groups are involved under the IPF umbrella.”

On the flip-side, there is a growing demand for Canadian content driven by the nation’s love affair with the Web. Jones remarked, “Canada is punching way above its weight in the growing interactive space. We have an amazing opportunity here as a new media frontier opens up and Canada is showing an early advantage. High percentages of Canadians are consuming media on the Web and production has really been sparked at a high level with support like the IPF.” And of course, the IPF affords Canadian content producers to develop web series for the larger global audience online as well as the Canadian market.

However, as Ana Serrano pointed out, the IPF is not “just a hand-out for creators” but an investment. Jones explained: “I think the IPF’s stress on the business model speaks to the seriousness of the equity investment -- they would really like to see their money back.” Mark De Angelis added, “And when you have a business model that would like to see their money back, that's added pressure. I find that the IPF is ready to lend their input, but also to let the teams use their expertise and creativity to show them something they haven't seen before (in terms of finding a way to make money).” Others also spoke of the support the IPF gives besides monetary and its willingness to listen to new ideas. Evan Jones, whose production is about to enter its second season with the support of the IPF, was able to speak about his prior experience with the organization. He mentioned that the IPF organized think-tank sessions with producers “two times (before and after) to swap notes about successes and lessons.” This not only assisted the producers to learn from each other but also situated the IPF as a pioneer in the field of web series production. Jones continued, “The IPF is using these projects to learn and grow in their experience.” In turn, the IPF has been very generous in sharing the salient information gleaned from the productions’ collective experience as well as the expertise of others. Its recent publication, How to Build an Audience for Your Web Series: Market, Motivate and Mobilize, written by digital marketing specialist Julie Giles from GreenHAT Digital, is one such example. Shaun Johnson added, “I’m proud Canada has agencies like the IPF that have the foresight to see the potential in this new medium and aren’t afraid to lead the charge. I believe our industry will benefit greatly from it.”

We have only briefly touched on how the IPF fund for Web Drama Series program benefits productions, Canadians and the web series community at large. Next week, we will be discussing the tips and lessons the producers garnered from the process of applying to the IPF and how these lessons can further benefit web series production.

SERIES SYNOPSES

Space Janitors (Brooms in Space Productions Inc.): The year is 2411. The Evil Empire’s flagship space station is in place to destroy some annoying planet. But the slaughter is on hold. Someone forgot to clean the phase-array mirrors. Welcome to the exciting world of Space Janitors, a unique 10 x 4min live-action webTV parody series that pokes fun at science fiction staples by providing the first glimpse into the day-to-day operations of an iconic evil space station. After all, for every Dark Lord there are 10,000 minions that need working toilets. Someone has to buff out laser burn marks, clean up those alien eggs (before they hatch!), and mop up hero guts from the bottom of the not so bottomless pit. That’s where our boys come in: Mike Chet and Darby Richards are janitors on the Empire’s flagship space station. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern before them (or, better yet, R2D2 and CP3O), the misadventures and musings of Mike and Darby provide the perfect environment to shed a humorous light on the postulates of popular and otherwise serious science fiction.

Bill & Sons Towing (Ready, Set, Panic): A floundering Hamilton tow truck company faces its greatest challenge yet when owner Bill Vanderchuck (61) turns the business over to his four thirty-something sons to run. But since the only thing Eric, Jon, Dave, and Tony have in common are differing opinions on how to run the business, can they keep the family business together without tearing the family apart? Starring: Multiple-award winning sketch troupe, The Imponderables, as Bill’s four boys.

Moderation Town (Stitch Media): Moderation Town is a comedy series about a small Maritime town after the local factory folds and is replaced by an Internet moderation company. Local residents become not-so-internet-savvy content moderators responsible for filtering the most offensive content off the Internet.

Prison Dancer (Prison Dancer Productions): Prison Dancer is an interactive musical web series inspired by the viral Youtube phenomenon, the “Dancing Inmates of Cebu.”
Featuring an Asian-Canadian cast of Youtube stars in their own right, Prison Dancer is “Glee meets OZ” wrapped in a “choose your own” adventure. Filled with catchy pop tunes, star-crossed lovers, and one of the most charismatic musical theatre singers to come out of Canada in a long time, Prison Dancer will take transmedia storytelling from Youtube into Broadway.

Verdict (Frantic Films): Verdict is an innovative, interactive legal procedural web series that combines Law and Order with American Idol. We take the very popular crime and justice genre and turn it on its head: putting the outcome of each court case - and therefore each episode - in the hands of our viewers, who vote "guilty" or "not guilty" at the end of each episode.

In this fictional world, the traditional justice system (which seems to be always under attack) has undergone a massive transformation, and the people have become literally the "court of public opinion." Trials are broadcast live across the country on Verdict TV, and the citizenry has the final say on whether or not an accused is guilty.

Verdict is an exciting fusion between traditionally successful legal dramatic television and the connectivity of the web, and it's already generating buzz. We will be going to camera this fall and we're so pumped to have it on the air!

Your Lupine Life (Karma Film and T3 Digital Productions): Louis Pine (13) is utterly convinced he’s turning werewolf any full moon now thanks to a rare genetic inheritance from his absent father. But Louis’ family and his best friend Mauricio think he may be going loopy not lupine. Who’s right?

2 comments:

  1. "who vote "guilty" or "not guilty" at the end of each episode."

    An interesting way to provide some interactivity.

    It will be interesting to see how this gets implemented. And finally we get to apply Jury nullification....

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification

    :):):)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks! We think it will be fascinating to explore how the general public manages the justice system.

    ReplyDelete




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