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Friday, August 5, 2011

A Conversation with IPF Web Series Producers Part Two

Recently, several producers of the web series slated to receive Independent Production Fund (IPF) funding graciously gave of their time to talk about their collective experiences. In Part One of this series, we discussed the impact the IPF has on web series in Canada, on the productions funded, and the web series community at large. For Part Two we will be discussing the lessons learned from the application process and tips for those who are interested in applying next year to the IPF, or any similar funding agency, as well as the implications of its endorsement.

The producers interviewed in both parts of this series 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).

When asked about the implications of the IPF’s endorsement, producers responded with a two-fold answer. On the one hand, the IPF announcement for funding through the Web Drama Series Program brought added pressure. On his reaction of hearing the news that Bill & Sons Towing would receive IPF funding, Mark De Angelis, producer of Axe Lords, commented that he had felt “total elation”, and then came “the realization that this is becoming very 'real'”. Evan Jones of Stitch Media and producer of Moderation Town commented further: “This round of funding was intensely competitive and that means big pressure to get it 'right'. I know a lot of talented producers who are going to be watching the trajectory of these web series closely.” On the other hand, there was the sense of validation the IPF’s funding afforded producer’s web series and web series in general. Evan Jones remarked: “It sends a big message -- that there are organizations and individuals out there that see real value in storytelling, especially in new forms.” With the IPF’s endorsement came added benefits. Torin Stefanson, producer of Your Lupine Life, noted: “The fact that someone is investing in your concept and your team is a major benefit. Even if you had the same amount of cash, having a well-known organization like the IPF saying we think this is a quality project I think will make it easier to get to work with great people. That endorsement is worth a lot. This was certainly true with the CFC endorsing Seth on Survival: we worked with a really great cast and crew who really put forward their best efforts because they believed in the project because it already had the CFC stamp of approval.” Jones echoed this sentiment by stating, “The concept of 'first money in' is a powerful thing. It's a huge stamp of approval and leads immediately to a better chance to close financing.” Mark De Angelis also found that many more doors opened up for his production once it was shortlisted for the IPF. Ana Serrano, producer of Prison Dancer, further explained: “The IPF as an equity investment is really meant to be used as advantage for further funding, in the case of web series mostly from brands.” No doubt, there are many avenues towards receiving a respected endorsement for web series. As the IPF’s reputation grows, however, its endorsement will be strengthened by the success and notoriety of each of the web series it funds.

The process of applying to the IPF has many of the same caveats as applying for funding anywhere. Mark De Angelis commented: “The hardest part of the application process, for me, was budgeting. Even though we've been given a sizeable investment, it's still a bit like a house of cards. Invest money in one place (i.e. ACTRA fees), then you have a gaping hole some place else that needs to be filled. The thing I found most enjoyable was the creative. And that gave us a lot of confidence. We felt like we had a really solid idea, with a relatively well-known sketch troupe (The Imponderables) on board who have their own audience.” Others remarked, while they believed strongly in their ideas and applications, they just didn’t know how that was going to stack up against the other applicants’ submissions. With that came the IPF’s unknown appetite for risk in experimental and non-traditional web series such as Ana Serrano’s Prison Dancer, which is 1)interactive 2)a musical and 3)has a life in live theatre as well. It was important then, not to try to formulate an idea around the IPF’s possible expectations at the sacrifice of the story the producer wanted to tell. Mark De Angelis explained: “If you spend too much time trying to figure out what "they" want, it takes away the passion of what you think is a great idea. Make the show you want to make on paper. If you don't get the money, you at least have a solid idea that you can take elsewhere -- whether it's shooting it independently, finding a private investor, or pitching it as a TV series.”

All the producers interviewed offered sage advice on applying for not only the IPF but funding in general. Mark De Angelis wrote: “Pitch the idea to family and friends. It's a great way to see the areas you might need to improve upon (for clarity). Know your characters and how they interact with one another. Know the conflicts. Also, does your concept have the ability to sustain itself beyond season one? Can you get a second, third, or fourth season out of it?” Shaun Johnson, producer of Verdict, had this to say: “Understand your concept inside and out. Be humble about your idea. Put together a talented team that has experience. Find out who your audience will be and have a plan on how you will reach them.” Davin Lengyel, producer of Space Janitors, further commented on the rigorous process the IPF application put them through: “They were asking a lot from potential producers including bibles (series and character synopsis), scripts, agreements with distributors, etc. I think that's good but it's not for the weak hearted….We made a commitment from day one that nothing would be left behind, and that we would give a 100% effort to explain ourselves and equip the jury with what they needed to evaluate our proposal. I would say that is my advice to future applicants….Be clear, be thorough, and be organized. They shouldn't have to go on a scavenger hunt to find out why you are worth the funding.” Torin Stefanson also remarked, “It is really useful to understand who your audience is and to be able to demonstrate that clearly and having the success of Seth On Survival to back that up seems like it was pretty useful but really the only option with things like this is to just keep applying and making the best application that you can every time. Mathematically the odds on this were about ten to one and I can assure you that I have had at least ten unsuccessful applications for every one successful one in my career.” Ana Serrano added this sound advice: “You really need to see the proposal as a map to success with or without the IPF funding; it disciplines you to think systematically about all the pieces of your project.” Regardless of whether the producers’ web series received IPF funding or not, we can clearly see there is real merit in the application process itself as a tool to strengthen one’s concept and strategy for success.

Although this two-part series focused on the IPF funding per se, the tips and lessons learned are applicable to any production during the development stage and beyond. We wish continued success to all the producers who kindly gave of their time to speak on the lessons learned. We can’t wait to see them all once they are released.

1 comment:

  1. “The IPF as an equity investment is really meant to be used as advantage for further funding"

    Have any of the series funded, either from this year or previous years been able to secure additional funding in addition to what they got from the IPF?


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