We’ve all noticed the shift in content throughout the digital age. Many filmmakers spend years studying traditional filmmaking only to find that some viewers now prefer web-based content over traditional film and TV.
You may be considering a pivot in your own approach when it comes to content creation. In this post, we’ll go over how to conceive, write, produce, edit, distribute, and promote your next great Youtube web series.
Table of Contents
Everything you need to know about Youtube Web Series.
- YouTube Case Studies
- YouTube Concept
- YouTube Write
- YouTube Produce
- YouTube Edit
- YouTube Resources
YouTube Case Studies
PAST SUCCESSES FROM YOUTUBE SERIES
1.1 YOUTUBE CASE STUDIES
YouTube is on the rise
YouTube has a massive amount of power when it comes to connecting with modern audiences around the world.
You may not enjoy this fact, especially if you have some sense of belief in the quality control apparatus that is the entertainment industry.
If this is the case, I urge you to be a source for change, and to bring thoughtful and original content to YouTube that would otherwise be difficult to generate through traditional film and television distribution.
YOUTUBE SERIES DEFINITION
What is a YouTube series?
A Youtube series is a short-form television series intended for digital distribution on YouTube and the internet. Characteristics of a Youtube series include low to mid-size budgets, autobiographical content, fast-paced scenes and short run-times. Typically, a YouTube series spans from from 5-10 minutes in length, and can create revenue through general view count as well as pre-roll (pre-playback) advertising.
Well-known YouTube web series:
- The Actress
- Her Story
- Clark and Michael
Let’s dive in and dissect the process of YouTube web series creation by looking at some examples of past triumphs. Some of these ideas made their way to traditional platforms, other just work well on YouTube.
1.2 YOUTUBE CASE STUDIES
Probably the most well-known web series success-story is short-form comedy High Maintenance, which details the trials and tribulations of a New York city pot dealer.
The series started out on Vimeo and was subsequently picked up by HBO, but falls evenly into a Youtube web series strategy.
The mainstream success of High Maintenance paved the way for an explosion of innovative web series on YouTube, jumpstarting the careers of indie and beginner filmmakers.
1.3 YOUTUBE CASE STUDIES
Alongside, spec web series like High Maintenance, there are also series that are commissioned, or created, specifically for YouTube.
For example, Robert Mark Karmen’s Cobra Kai series.Cobra Kai picks up 34 years after the original Karate Kid film and stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka.
This web series has some serious star-power, and was created exclusively for Youtube. Cobra Kai’s on-screen fidelity is in-line with any traditional programming you may see on Network or Cable TV.
CREATE A GREAT IDEA THAT WORKS ON YOUTUBE
2.1 YOUTUBE CONCEPT
Don’t fear focused content
One of the great things about web series is that they can be very specific.
Network TV shows are made to appeal to large demographics.
Web series are free from this limitation.
In fact, they often benefit from appealing to “niche” audiences.
YouTube is also a global streaming service, more so than any popular television channel or film studio, so take comfort in knowing that your focused content has the ability to be seen by anyone in the world.
This is the level of freedom YouTube provides, and you can actually make a lot of content that would otherwise be impossible to distribute.
You can be hyper-specific, or you can be as broad as you like.
2.2 YOUTUBE CONCEPT
Create a killer logline
The logline for the series provides a roadmap going forward.
You can fall back on it whenever you have doubts or issues, and it should entice both viewers and producers alike.
Here is an example of a great logline from the film Speed:
“A young police officer must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.”
Character motivation, plot development, and general story structure still applies with YouTube content, but it is much more condensed and much more forgiving in some respects.
We’ve created a completely FREE TV Development & Writing Masterclass that will help you create a logline, series bible, pitch deck, and more.
Check it out, watch the videos, read the posts, then follow your instincts.
The digital age of content creation is driven by disruption and the courage to create without a net.
2.3 YOUTUBE CONCEPT
Research the competition
Be diligent and do your research.
Figure out which web series are popular, and trending, by looking at view counts and what Youtube is promoting.
And then, add your unique style and vision to it. Your project will be great because it comes from you, and you are special.
This step is super important because it will not only give you an idea of the show you will be competing against, but it also might expose some unclaimed opportunity in the digital streaming space.
WRITE FOR YOUTUBE AND NOT FOR HOLLYWOOD
3.1 YOUTUBE WRITE
Start small, you can always go bigger
It may go against your nature, but the best web series start “small”.
They are short.
They are focused.
They operate on a simple concept.
They have a very limited number of cast members.
They have a limited number of locations.For example, in Eighty-Sixed, one of the most watched web series on YouTube, we see the main character texting, surfing the internet, talking to friends, and using social media.
What we don’t see are traditional establishing shots, big scenes with lots of people, or elaborate sets. Each episode is around 5 minutes and unlike traditional television, the episodes vary in length.
3.2 YOUTUBE WRITE
Avoid too many rules
One of the great advantages of a short format is that you can improvise and break many of the basic rules. Run the scenes with alternate lines. Have your very entertaining actors stretch their legs.
You can also break many of the cinematic rules we tirelessly go over in our blog posts, because YouTube is already a disruptor.
Good art is scary and funny, and it makes people question the status quo, which is why so many industry films and shows fall flat.
They are playing by the old rules while the digital world moves onward.
3.3 YOUTUBE WRITE
Cast you and your friends
It’s very common for one person to write, produce and star in a YouTube web series. The economics sort of call for it, but it also makes the content more personal which actually helps your reception on YouTube.
There is no willing suspension of disbelief on YouTube, mainly because there is no central theme for the content.
Next to your web-series will be thumbnails for cat videos, life hack tutorials, ADMR sessions, and that stack of Markiplier videos you keep neglecting like they’re Luis Buñuel films or something.
If you like the idea of being on camera, autobiographical material can be an effective choice. You already know your subject, inside and out.
If you’re a college kid trying to make funny videos for your friends, consider using your college setting to get views.
3.4 YOUTUBE WRITE
Make a great title
One element that is absolutely necessary to writing anything successful is is having a strong title.
The title of your YouTube web series can make or break it.
For example, High Maintenance, is a perfect title. It’s funny, ironic, gives you necessary information, and is a clever double entendre.
If your project is a comedy, having a funny title can go a long way.
CAPTURE YOUR CONTENT WITH A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH
4.1 YOUTUBE PRODUCTION
Replicate professional productions
While the vast majority of the development is all about ditching the creative formulas of yesteryear, your actual approach to production should be as professional as humanly possible.
If you live in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, chances are you won’t have grip trucks and cinema cameras readily available, but you also won’t have to worry about many of the ballooned production costs in major film production cities like New York, Toronto, Atlanta, and Hollywood.
If your YouTube series consists of an entire season of 10 minute episodes, you may want to consider shooting several episodes in one day; or grouping scenes by location and cast like the professionals do.If you’re using production software like StudioBinder, you can coordinate your entire production from one central hub, and take the professional approach to content creation without a bunch of frantic executives breathing down your neck with their artisanal coffee breath.
In fact, the only difference between shooting a YouTube series and a regular series is that your content is shorter and a bit easier to produce.
4.2 YOUTUBE PRODUCTION
Build a reliable crew and gear set
YouTube videos are not handcuffed by the production value expectations you’ll find in traditional filmmaking and television.
This sort of cuts both ways, because while YouTube begins to roll out their premium content, people may reject their videos with slick title sequences and troubled plots while still enjoying the amateur videos they came for.
Don’t worry about the frills and bells, but you do want to have some good sound gear and some decent lighting gear so that your videos have just enough quality to be enjoyable while still not too polished.
YouTube is about accessibility, and the notion that anyone can become a superstar. It’s what people thought about Hollywood for years, and now that association has shifted to social media.
CUT YOUR CONTENT SO THAT IT GETS MORE VIEWS
5.1 YOUTUBE EDIT
Use a cold open when necessary
Longer series often start with an introduction, or “cold open.”
This is a short intro that runs before your main title comes up. It’s a quick way to setup your episode and draw people into your channel. Many successful YouTube series are not narrative, but rather just skit based or even a weird mixture of sketch comedy and vlog.
On Youtube and other social media channels, a filmmaker has less than 3 seconds to capture an audience’s attention. Therefore, it’s important to start with a strong open that will pull in the audience.
5.2 YOUTUBE EDIT
Simple title card, traditional credits
For a YouTube series, the opening title is just that. Get to the content quickly, and don’t worry about the traditional advanced credits.
Most YouTube web series opt for a simple text over video format. If you’re a strong designer, or have one on your team, you may be able to create a graphic for your main title. Typically, the title is on screen for 5-10 seconds accompanied by a musical cue.
Youtube web series generally end with a credit roll over music.
Most NLEs will allow you to create these pretty easily. Check out our post on The Ultimate Guide to Film Credits Order Hierarchy (with Free Film Credits Template) so that you can accurately create credits.Don’t forget to add music overyour credits, or else your audience will not stay to see the names of your cast and crew.
5.3 YOUTUBE EDIT
Take risks with your edit
As with any series, there is an art to editing.
If you’re a total beginner, check out this shameless attempt at self-promotion. (No seriously, a basic filmmaking guide book like the one I wrote is a great place to start.)
Remember how we said earlier that there are very few rules?
That’s true for your YouTube web series edit as well.
Popular series often use experimental and unconventional techniques to spice things up. Anytime you see something unconventional that worked well in a film or show, use it in your video as soon as possible.
Some of the best series on YouTube are based on found footage, like “The West Records,” or an animated series, like “Petscop.”
These series are created mostly in post-production and you’ll need title cards and voice-over to help tell your story.
And remember, many of the best tips and tricks on how to make a web series for Youtube can be taken from traditional media.
Sound design on a YouTube series is generally minimal. You should focus on keeping the dialogue clear.
But, if needed, add some basic sound effects (cars going by, doors shutting, etc). Typically, music is only used over the main title and at the end.
5.4 YOUTUBE EDIT
Export for online streaming
Finally, almost there, you need to output your final cut.
For YouTube, P4 and H.264 are the best formats for exporting web videos.
They result in smaller files but are still of decent quality and match YouTube video specs, which is important for more than just resolution.
The most optimized size is standard HD (1920 x 1080). This will ensure that your video is large enough to play full-screen on any device.
If you’re curious about Aspect Ratios, check out our video that breaks down the different dimensions for modern and traditional video.
Web streaming services, like Vimeo, will re-compress your movie when you upload it, so make sure your original is high quality.
HOW TO ROLL-OUT YOUR CONTENT ON YOUTUBE
6.1 YOUTUBE DISTRIBUTION
Find the right home for your content
First you’ll need to decide where you want it.
Since you own the project, you can show it wherever you want. Most people choose Vimeo and YouTube.
It’s important to decide at this point whether or not your goal is to make your series profitable, as this will be a factor in your distribution model.
To do this, you should think about where the audience that you believe will watch your YouTube series spends most of their time. And then, promote to that audience using social media and other marketing tactics.
Ok, so you’re the next High Maintenance, what about the big fish like Netflix and Amazon?
For Netflix and Amazon, you’ll have to go through a submissions process. Some producers submit their projects before they make them available online. Others wait until they have a large number of views.
However, why wait?
The larger your audience appears, the more interest you’ll get as you work your way up the promotion and distribution ladder.
On the other hand, you may get lucky and your video goes viral. When that happens, it’s definitely time to seek a higher level of distribution. And hopefully, with this step, comes a bigger budget moving forward!
6.2 YOUTUBE DISTRIBUTION
Create a rollout schedule
People in the U.S. have been trained by network TV to expect new episodes every week. So, be sure to have several episodes ready to go before you make the first one available to your audience.
It’s suggested to have 4-6 episodes finished before you launch your pilot. Then, you’ll have a 4-6 week window where you can finish the next batch.
Avoid creating really long breaks between episode releases, this may cause your audience to forget about your series.
Your fans will come back to your page and find nothing new. Some will be patient, but others will just never return for more episodes.
People come to YouTube for instant gratification.
You can’t make your fans wait a year and a half for your new season.
That’s what Game of Thrones is for...
6.3 YOUTUBE DISTRIBUTION
Analyze feedback in comments
On the flip side, you CAN leave room for addressing viewer feedback by not completing every episode before launch.
One of the great advantages of learning how to make a web series is that you can respond to viewer feedback as your series rolls out.
I don’t mean literally respond to the comments and get into arguments, but rather do some private investigation on the comment section. Your viewers may not realize it, but they are handing over insights.
For example, you may find that a secondary character is super popular. Or, that a certain type of episode gets many more views than others.
By monitoring audience feedback, you can craft your series to build a bigger audience.
6.4 YOUTUBE DISTRIBUTION
Create a publicity plan
Lastly, you might not be able to afford a publicist, but you can still launch your own social media campaign.
You’ll want to have a trailer, additional clips, and other creative ways to get people interested in your series.
You may even want to submit your project to some web series festivals.
It’s also a good idea to have your own web page for your series.
The Ultimate Video Monetization Guide
Now that you understand the YouTube series, check out The Ultimate Video Monetization Guide: How to Make Money on YouTube.
This post will take you through the monetization process step-by-step so that you can make a little bit o’ chedda-cheese from your content.