All you need to make a web series is probably in your pocket. And today’s gust filmmaker blogger would know. His name is Jerry Kokich and you may know him from the multi-award winning web (and very silly) web series titled, “The Adventures of Superseven.”
Jerry stopped by filmmaking stuff to share the same low budget production tips that have enabled him to stretch a $5000 dollar budget to produce 22 episodes, a two-disc DVD and gain internet notoriety.
How To Make A Web Series
Have you heard of the RED? Final Cut? Pro Tools? Raise your hands if you’d love to have these toys to play with. Cool. Now, raise your hands if you think you really need these toys. Thought so. How about Money?
Raise your hands if you’d like lots of money for your web series. Uh, huh.
You can see this next one coming; raise your hands if you think you really need money to do a web series.
Now, take out your smartphone and hold it up. Take a look. Right there in your hand, you have everything you need to make a web series. There’s an app for editing, too.
What about a feature, you ask?
Well if you’re going to submit your project it to a festival where it MIGHT get it chosen and it MIGHT get shown on a big screen in front of a few hundred people, you MIGHT need more tech. But if you are looking to actually finish a project and show it for free on the web – where it could get seen by millions of people all over the world, you don’t need those tools.
I am speaking from experience!
I am the producer and star of a multi-award winning web series. We’ve made 26 episodes and put out a two-disc DVD, and we haven’t spent more than $5,000 TOTAL. We can be found on our own website, YouTube, funnyordie, and the web series channel, and we’ve beaten other series that have cost thousands of dollars for each episode and have crews the size of small armies.
I am here to tell you how to get your project done with the stuff you already have.
I probably sound like some life coach, “You have everything you need!”
But it is true. If you have a smartphone, iMovie or even Windows Movie Maker, you have everything you need to make a web series or indie feature.
I am going to focus on how to make web series, although, most of what I say applies to features – You did read that other stuff, up there, didn’t you?
First. Stop trying to make everything perfect. It never will be.
Here is an example of what NOT to do. One of my friends is a very funny comedian and quite creative. He had this great idea for a series, found a location for the main scenes, got some good actors together and wrote a funny pilot. He spent months deciding what camera he wanted to use, getting separate sound, a full crew…
Finally he got everybody together and shot a short crowdfunding pitch. That’s it. The pitch was two people sitting in front of the camera talking. (He didn’t raise a whole lot of money.)
Another friend is a very talented writer. He wrote 23 episodes of an anthology series that seemed very “Twilight Zone”. He got some good people to work with him and put a kickstarter pitch up to raise money… It was a lot of money. Something like $100,000. FOR THE PILOT! (He didn’t raise a whole lot, either.)
During the exact same time my group of talented friends got together, created a fun an interesting story we could fit into our resources and guess what? We completed 16 episodes for our series.
What strategy would you choose?
Do you get it? Most filmmakers put all sorts of stumbling blocks in their way and never get anything done or, at best, take six months to get something up on the web. At one point last year we were moving so fast that we’d shoot an episode on a Tuesday, and it would be up on YouTube that Friday.
Most filmmakers think you need all sorts of stuff to make a web series, because film schools, or other filmmakers have told them this. They’ve read books about how somebody sold their car, or worked two jobs to get the funding for their zombie movie, or borrowed against their inheritance to get the Canon 5D, how they snuck into their film school in the middle of the night to get time on the editing facilities… blah…
What garbage! There’s enough tech in your smartphone and your home computer to do whatever you really need. (There’s more tech in there than we used to put a man on the moon!) Notice I said “really need.”
Do you really need Spielberg-level color correction? Do you need color correction, at all? Do you really need separate sound that you have to synch up? Why? A camcorder records the sound ALREADY SYNCHED!
Stop wasting time on stuff you don’t really need. Seriously. Get off your butt and shoot!
My friend, Scott Rhodes, our series’ creator, was a stuntman in the industry for many years, and a martial artist all his life (he studied with Jerry Poteet, one of Bruce Lee’s first pupils). Scott had an injury-related stroke a few years ago and turned his talents to writing. He wrote a feature film script but, as everyone knows, it’s difficult to get anybody to read anything in Hollywood, and ten times as hard to raise money.
I suggested we create a trailer to give us something to do (and I wanted to give him incentive to keep active – he was spending his time in a wheelchair). So Scott put together some fake trailers, using stock footage, then we did three shorts called “The 60 Second Film School,” which we shot on my Kodak point and shoot, which shot HD (and cost me all of $60).
This little exercise proved we could put together something for nothing.
So from there, Scott wrote the first episode of “The Adventures of Superseven”. We shot it in his parking garage, with him and me running the camera (that was our whole crew), and using several of our friends who donated their time. We worked around everybody’s schedules and shot our fight scene at 9PM, after I got off work.
Scott edited the episode on his PC and it was up on YouTube in a couple of weeks. The whole thing cost us about $25, which was the cost of the first mask we used for my character, and a red balaclava. After that, we started using a Canon point and shoot, then Scott went nuts and bought a Canon camcorder for $500, which we used for the rest of the episodes.
In our first two seasons, we’ve had fight scenes (fist fights, martial arts and fencing), chase scenes, high falls, women in bikinis (okay, one woman in a bikini), gunfights and a dance number. We created all this for around $5,000. Side note: IMDB won’t let you put anything less than $20,000 per episode… AHAHAHAHAHA!
And then there was LIGHTS!
For the first episode, we used one extra light, a hundred watt bulb in a metal reflector. The existing lighting in the parking garage was awesome, overhead fluorescents casting cool shadows which provided more than enough light to work by. We’ve tried using two lights, but our extension cords really weren’t long enough and keep getting in the way.
Minor Digression: Scott has a theory. If you give a DP three hours to light a scene, he’ll take three hours. If you give him twenty minutes, he’ll do it in twenty minutes. We don’t take that long. How many different ways can you place one light?
One time, we were shooting exteriors, and one of our producer/cameramen/gopher people was holding a binder that reflected sun light, and that became our bounce card. We don’t waste time setting up lighting, because we don’t have a lot of lighting to set up.
Has anyone complained about our lighting? No. Could it be better? Sure. Does it need to be? Nope.
Robert Rodriguez said in “Rebel Without A Crew” (required reading), if you look through the camera and the scene is interesting to look at, you’re good to go. No amount of lighting is going to make up for boring camera angles, which brings us to the next section:
Stop pretending you need the best CAMERA!
Repeat after me: I don’t need the RED camera. I don’t need the RED camera. I don’t need the RED camera. (Shakespeare Rule of Three). You really don’t. I have another friend who is constantly talking about camera tech that goes completely over my head.
I am not an idiot- I have been a camera buff since before automatic focus. But I just don’t care about technology past a certain point. Full HD is Full HD. Your web series is going to be on the web, hence the name. A camcorder is just fine. In fact, as I said earlier, shooting on a smartphone is just fine. I mean, there is that one Korean filmmaker who shot a feature on an iPhone. That’s all the tech you need.
Set a date and take ACTION!
Here is where the real important stuff comes into play. Since we’ve expressed that you don’t need expensive toys (I got my iPhone for $1), the most important stuff is what goes on in front of the camera and under the lights.
You need a good script. I don’t care (it doesn’t matter) if you can shoot or edit bullet casings falling in slow-motion. With the tech available to everybody these days, special effects are easy to create and they do not impress me. I bought an app for $.99 that can put missile strikes into your footage…. Yawn…
But if your script sucks, so will your project. Put your time and effort into writing something good and INTERESTING! And please, if you forget everything else from this filmmaking article, DO NOT WRITE ANOTHER TALKING HEAD SOAP OPERA!
Oh, there’s the shift key…
Writing good stuff is hard, but it’s the only thing that matters. However, that’s a subject for another article.
Also, get good ACTORS.
In Los Angeles, it is ridiculously easy. I “discovered” one of our series regulars in Starbucks. I was writing an episode, introducing a character and thought, well, Liv is a blonde, Michelle is a brunette, so wouldn’t it be cool if Sparky was a redhead?
Next thing you know, I found myself standing on line behind this attractive redhead. “Excuse me; are you an actress?” Then I gave her a flyer, asked her to check out some episodes, and the rest is history.
Casting without spending a dime.
There are a lot of actors who are willing to work for footage. We guarantee a quick turn-around time, so actors can get stuff for their reel in a matter of days, not months. This makes working for nothing a lot more rewarding. If you can give something to your cast that is valuable to them, without having to pay hard cash to them, you both win. (Obviously, if you wind up making money, you must take care of the people who have helped you – But if you need a course in ethics, you weren’t raised right.)
Since we aren’t paying anybody, we can’t waste their time. If your call is 11AM, your first shot will be at 11:15. I kid you not. If we say we need you for three hours, you’ll work for three hours, then you’re done. Our longest day was seven hours. But usually we average about four hours.
Everybody works at everything. I’ve been actor, cameraman, grip – you name it. I’ve run the camera for scenes I was in! No one gets to sit around and do nothing. We don’t have time for that. Oddly, this style of production makes actors and crew willing to come back. Everyone who has worked for us has been treated with respect, respect for their time as well as their talent.
This leads us to Crew.
As I said, everyone does everything. Halfway through the first season, I realized I needed help on the set. Since Scott is in a wheelchair, I did everything else, including acting. I got in touch with Salvador Carasco at Santa Monica Community College, who sent us several interns as PAs. How much did this cost me? Nothing; there’s this marvelous thing called email.
Now get this straight. Your average PA stands at the end of a street and directs traffic. One of our PAs, on his first day, was put in a jumpsuit, given a machine-gun and got nerve-pinched by yours truly. That was the first thing he did for us! Since that time, he has become quite a good cameraman. And he and all our other crew members have gotten a lot of valuable experience working with us.
Sometimes, you don’t even have to go looking for crew. They just appear out of of nowhere. We were at lunch one day and got an email from some guy who found us on YouTube. He loved the series and offered to do some special effects for us. We thought he was just a computer nerd. But imagine our surprise when we looked him up and found out he had won two Emmys and an Oscar!
Let’s not forget about your internet and Website footprint.
There are free websites out there, and you can just put links back to your YouTube page or embed your video right on the site. And what about Publicity? Well, what do you think Facebook is for? (If you’ve got specific questions, I’m on Facebook, too.)
I know this filmmaking article is a little long-winded. So here is the deal – You do not need a lot of anything to shoot a web series, or feature. Do not put roadblocks in your way. And believe me, the world is full of idiot filmmakers who will tell you how to produce your project in such a way that you will get stuck and never do it.
Don’t do anything that slows you down. Write something good, grab your smartphone and your actors and go do it.
Do it Now!
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Jerry Kokich is producer and star of a multi-award winning web series. To date, Jerry has produced 26 episodes of “The Adventures of Superseven.” and put out a two-disc DVD, and in the process has not spent more than $5,000, TOTAL.