There are many opinions and many ways to pitch shows. As a public broadcaster, my network is open to connecting with its audiences – and allowing Canadians the chance to share their stories in the form of entertainment. This is not a “how to” for landing an agent, working the system, or getting a one way ticket to Hollywood. This is a basics 101 for anyone with a great idea for a digital web series … and a dream.
What is a web series?
A web series is a series of visual entertainment episodes released via the internet, but also for play on many other digital media, such as mobile phones, and is part of the newly emerging medium called web television. Web television’s popularity continues to rise, the result of increasing availability of broadband and improved video streaming technology. Major television networks and production companies are using the internet as a means to promote their TV shows as well as developing specific media and shows for an internet audience.
One instance of a web series program is called an episode – whereby a “webisode” is a term now being used to describe the lower budget “reality genre” end of the web series creative development platform.
It’s the Internet – so anything goes, right?
When it comes to concept, stay away from a gimmicky idea. This isn’t just a singular medium – it’s multi-platform. The most saleable properties – those that stand the best chance of being made, are the ones that can be leveraged across multiple platforms – digital, gaming, mobile, graphic novel, TV, film, music, international rights, licensing and merchandising. The web series is seen as the next gold rush – prospectors know there’s gold in them ‘thar hills, they just don’t know when they’re going to strike it big time.
It looks like TV but it’s not TV
Digital content is unique. It shouldn’t look or feel like anything you see on TV or at the movies. While big networks are taking TV shows and broadcasting them on the internet, you are after something much bigger. You want to pioneer the first Massive Digital Super Series. An important thing to keep in mind is that like, but unlike any other medium, digital viewers are a fast click away from boredom. If the writing/entertainment factor isn’t top drawer, they’re gone – and so is your word of mouth on Facebook and Twitter. Remember, too, that the majority of digital screens provide less comfortable viewing environments than those of traditional media. Your show has to be so compelling that it will entice viewership despite being watched on a laptop by a frazzled commuter in a train station, in bed on a laptop, or by a bored husband on an iPhone in a crowded Winners outlet. Concepts that have never flown in traditional media are your best bets – or if you can offer a spin on the traditional – for example, soap stars directed by indie film directors, and you can prove an audience for it online, then you might be on to something. Knowing your digital audience is key to all aspects of web series production – both in the development of the concept, as well in the selling of it.
Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but write yourself an outline for the meeting – a step-by-step agenda for your presentation. Just like a script, you need a beginning, dramatic middle, denoument and ending. Presentations are no different. If you are presenting as part of a group, I cannot stress enough the importance of everyone practicing their roles in the presentation – or by yourself in front of a mirror. Even seasoned performers get the shakes before an audience, so if the thought of 4 Execs churn your stomach, don’t let it freak you out – knowing your stuff cold is the best remedy.
Prep yourself by reading “How To Successfully Pitch a TV Show”.
Just like a TV show pitch, a digital pitch relies on many of the same elements for success. But here, let’s get into the presentation with a little more depth.
Make the initial telling of your concept into a story. Don’t always be one-sided. The best presentations are just like social media – they engage. Start off with a shared experience “have you ever been standing in line when the guy behind you …” – you want to get all the heads in the room nodding along with you. Now you are in their heads. You have their attention.
Focus on what’s unique about your project, but sell it back to why it’s relatable to your audience. Never forget that this boils down to salesmanship. You are selling a dream. You need to persuade everyone in the room that your concept is a winner. But put yourself in their shoes – those producers and Execs are looking at it from both a creative – and moneymaking point of view, with a greater emphasis on the latter. And you need to sell it to them that way by demonstrating that you’ve thought the whole thing through a full 360 degrees.
While you’re pitching your concept, keep your focus on story and style – don’t get hung up or side-tracked by the technology inherent to the delivery platform. Save that discussion for down the road – if you are lucky enough to get another meeting.
Just like a TV show pitch, use visuals to help get the idea across. You’ll still need an outline, mini-bible, stills, animatics, video … anything that helps sell the finished product that’s in your head. But remember that digital is the great beyond – you may have website ideas, interactive content ideas, social media links. Don’t leave anything to the imagination. All too often projects become derailed long after the meeting is done when the players compare notes, only to realize they’ve all imagined something different. Now’s the time to put it out there, in a polished, professional presentation.
Listen to the feedback in the room. Not everyone knows what’s best for your project. You might hear some really dumb ideas and suggestions and criticisms in the meeting. But keep an open mind and don’t be defensive while you’re in the room. A simple smile, nod and a wise “I didn’t think of it that way” is enough to keep the meeting productive and moving ahead. File the comments away and really think them through in the privacy of your office. If it makes sense, maybe it’s a criticism worth looking at. If not, throw it a mental bird and move on.
End the meeting with a recap – a couple of memorable sentences that will resonate with your audience, as to why YOUR idea is the best thing since digital 3D and if appropriate, hand out your leave-behind.