Broad City. Burning Love. Childrens Hospital. Before these shows made it onto TV, they began as web series. Making your own series to publish online is a great way to get your voice out there. You can make precisely the show you want without network interference, and you may even end up getting more work out of it. It’s no wonder why so many filmmakers want to learn how to make a web series.
In this blog, we’ll break down the four major steps to make your own web series. Of course, each step is easier said than done. It takes quite a bit of work, but as long as you’re dedicated to the craft, you’ll find how fun and rewarding it can be.
HOW TO START A YOUTUBE SERIES
Step 1: Writing
Perhaps you already have an idea of how to write for television. Dan Harmon’s story circle provides an excellent template for how to write for TV, particularly 30-minute comedies.
A lot of writers may be tempted to take that template and simply condense it down into five to ten-minute webisodes.
This is a mistake.
Take this interview from The Anatomy of Story author John Truby, who discusses how to make a web series that engages audiences. The result is something different than what you might find on TV.
It’s not just learning how to produce a web series. It’s about adapting to the medium of the internet.
When writing a feature-length screenplay, you generally have about 30 pages to grab the audience’s attention. If someone were watching your film, then they would have driven to the movie theater or rented the Blu-Ray. They’ll give you more time because there’s an investment.
With a web series, people are just finding it on YouTube or Vimeo. They can easily click away if it’s boring, so you need to hook them within the first 15 seconds of each episode, especially in your web series pilot.
That hook needs to be present in each script, and you should write out the entire series before you start filming. You should end up with about 10 episodes, but you should make the web series however long is appropriate for the story you want to tell.
Here's Ross Brown with more tips on writing a web series.
So how long is a web series script? That’s entirely up to you, but generally, you want each episode to be between three and four minutes. Therefore, you should end up with scripts that are roughly three or four pages in length.
Getting started is simple. You can find a web series script example online to learn more about formatting. And you can download StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to make your show come to life on the page.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN WEB SERIES
Step 2: Pre-Production
The pre-production process is about more than just setting the budget. This is your chance to hold casting sessions and figure out how to make a web series with rental equipment. You also need to figure out how to secure shooting locations where you can film.
How you plan your shoot is just as important as actually filming. After all, you don’t want to gather all your actors and crew only to realize you don’t know what you’re doing.
At this point, you should look at your scripts and figure out how to make a web series as easily as possible without breaking the bank. This is also the time when you want to start thinking about money. How are you going to pay for these set-ups? Do you have enough to pay for a bunch of extras, or do you need to make some alterations?
This is the chance for you to go back to your scripts and make adjustments. You may realize you just don’t have the funds to make this web series the way you planned.
That’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with a low budget web series, and in fact, it can help you be more creative because now you have to figure out other ways to tell this story. We actually went over how to film on a budget in our “Making It” series.
If you need help getting some extra funding for your web series, then don’t be afraid to look at crowdfunding platforms. Some major films and TV series received funding through Kickstarter, and there’s a lot you can learn through those campaigns.
The difficulty of all of this will depend on the nature of your specific web series. That’s why it helps tremendously to know what you have at your disposal before you start writing, so you can customize your series around what you have.
If you’re worried about location scouting and getting permits, then maybe you can write a series that all takes place inside your apartment. If you don’t know if you can hire actors, then consider using your friends who will act for pizza and beer. Here's our Making It team dealing with their own location issues and how they resolved them.
Knowing how to make a web series within your means is crucial to actually getting it off the ground. You should adjust your scripts as necessary throughout the pre-production phase so that you don’t go broke trying to get this project off the ground.
You also don’t want to go insane learning how to make your own TV show online. StudioBinder has everything you need to get organized from script breakdowns to film crew management software to keep everyone’s contact information in one, easy-to-find place.
HOW TO MAKE A GOOD WEB SERIES
Step 3: Production
Once you have all your ducks in a row, it’s time to officially enter your web series production. You should know how to make a shooting schedule, so everyone knows when they need to be available. Make sure you find all the hidden locations in script to make an accurate schedule.
Depending on the nature of your web series, you may be able to shoot an episode in a single day or over the course of a week. Make sure everyone in your cast and crew is on the same page. To make sure everyone on your crew shows up where and when they're supposed to, you'll want to master the call sheet.
Additionally, it’s a good idea not to go crazy with your schedule. Industry standards typically don’t go past 12-hour days. You may not be working within a union, but you don’t want people burning out, so be reasonable.
And before you get started, take some helpful hints from the series Theo & The Professor, which went on to be available on Amazon Prime.
Since you will likely film on digital, you'll need to compare video cameras. It’s also a good idea to back up video and audio every day on at least multiple hard drives, like a RAID storage unit. That way you’re protected in case something happens to one of them.
Even when you film everything, you then have to get ready for the lengthy editing process. There are plenty of great video editing apps that are available for free or not that much.
HOW TO MAKE A WEB SERIES A SUCCESS
Step 4: Distribution
You now have a fully completed web series. Now the question is how to go about your web series marketing plan. First, decide where your web series is going to live. YouTube is a good place, but you also want to consider Vimeo depending on the audience you hope to reach. In fact, you'll want a firm grasp on social media marketing if you expect to make any sort of dent in online visibility.
Just because you're working with "web media," doesn't mean you should ignore more tried and true exhibition platforms like film festivals. Some do have categories specifically designed for web series.
It’s also important to look at web series festivals. These can be great opportunities for your work to be seen by a wider audience, and some of your options include:
Different festivals may have different requirements for submitted web series, so make sure yours qualifies before sending it in. For example, Channel 101 is a monthly web series competition that only accepts episodes shorter than five minutes in length.
You’ll find a lot of creative series on this channel that can serve as inspiration for your own show. Take Ikea Heights for example. The show, starring Randall Park, is a melodramatic soap opera that takes place entirely inside an actual Ikea complete with confused shoppers passing by many of the shots.
If you have a story you’ve been itching to tell, then a web series may be the perfect medium for it. And by the end of it, you won’t just have a single short film, you’ll have multiple episodes you can use as your calling card.
It all starts with an idea, so get out there and start filming. You could develop a fan base that’s dying to see what happens next.
Write your script today
We've covered the major topics on how to make a web series but now it's time to put your money where your mouth is. You can't make a web series without a script so it's time to start writing. StudioBinder's screenwriting software is free so there's is truly nothing in your way from writing the next web series masterpiece.