So you’ve crystallized your concept, teased out your themes, created compelling characters, mapped out your marketing, ascertained your audience, and have a preliminary plan for marketing and branding.
(I tried to alliterate the last bit, but to no avail.)
Now... finally... you can WRITE!
There’s still several things to think about before you sit down to write.
(I hear you: “For the love of all that is holy, I just want to write. Enough already!”)
I promise you can write shortly. But first...
PLANNING OUT YOUR SEASON
How many webisodes are you going to write? And how long will each of them be?
In the WebTV Workshop classes I took, they advised making your seasons consist of either 6 or 12 webisodes, because web advertisers/sponsors like to buy blocks of advertising in chunks of 6 or 12. You may not have advertising or sponsorship opportunities yet (besides YouTube Monetization), but you may later once you have a following, and you’d want to have consistent 6 or 12 episode seasons so you can attract those sponsors if you want to.
At the #Issa Rae Productions workshop I attended last month, they advised starting with a 6-webisode season to test the water and see if your series gains interest before spending any more of your own (or other people’s) time and money on it. If people respond positively to your series, then it can be worth the investment to continue the project.
TIME IS ON MY MIND...
They also advised making the webisodes in your first season no longer than 4-5 minutes for a comedy. (Less if you can.) Dramas can be a bit longer, but they cautioned that dramas often have a bit of a harder time attracting an audience than comedies do in the short-attention span web world.
I went to a web conference held at AFI a few years back, and they told us about the results of a study that tested people’s attention spans when watching short video content. They found that on average, the longest a person in the study could pay attention to a video was 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
A recent article in the Atlantic Wire claims that the attention span for internet videos has fallen from 7 minutes in 2011 to 5 minutes as of June 2013.
With the recent advent of video apps like Snapchat (up to 10 seconds of video) and Vine (up to 6 seconds of Video), the collective attention span of the nation is shrinking. (Sometimes I fear for the future, when people may be bored out of their minds after a half-second.)
This information may give you a guideline as to the length you want your scripts to be. However, if your story can’t be told in 4-5 minutes, you would be well-advised to keep your webisodes under 10 minutes, at least in the beginning, and your audience will demand more content if they can't get enough of your series.
LEAVE ‘EM WANTING MORE
Your webisodes should end with a cliffhanger -- something to inspire viewers not only to watch the next webisode, but also to forward it, share it on Facebook, and Tweet about it. The Issa Rae team explained that you want to have a problem that is introduced and then solved in every webisode, and then end with a mystery that will bring the viewer back next time.
GET TO THE POINT
You have limited time in each webisode, so you don’t want to waste it with heavy backstory. Hide your exposition cleverly by revealing it through an argument, clever use of flashbacks, or the “Pope in the Pool” trick outlined in Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat,where the characters are doing something interesting (or the pope is swimming in the background...) while they spill out the backstory.
WAIT FOR IT... WAIT FOR IT...
Okay, so now that you've hustled really hard, done your due diligence, sussed out your season, cultivated your cliffhangers, and buried your backstory (hey, I got the alliteration this time!), you can... BEGIN!
Seriously, by having done all of this pre-pre-production work in advance, writing is a breeze and can be the enjoyable process that we all pray for. You'll be breathing a sigh of relief in pre-production and production that you thought out your business, marketing, and branding strategies in advance and you have a solid game plan moving forward.
- More Writers on the Web articles by Rebecca Norris
- Writers on the Web: Mapping Your Destination and Branding, Part 2 – Interview with creators of “Misdirected”
- Writers on the Web: Developing Web Series Ideas, Part 1
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