Be a Showrunner: 10 Steps to Creating a Compelling Fictional Web Show

Have you ever watched a popular TV series and thought, “I would do this so much better?” Do you have a workplace like “The Office” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” or a family like “Modern Family” that you’d just love to emulate for YouTube? Maybe you think launching your own show is beyond your capabilities. It’s true you shouldn’t try to do it alone, and of course you need cast members, lighters, and possibly a director. It also takes some money to make it happen. If you have an idea that keeps you up at night, it’s time to start bringing your idea to life.

1. They say to write what you know. This is good advice, but it doesn’t mean your work has to be a reality show. Blair Tindall spent the ‘80s as a principal oboist in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. She wrote about the hot, behind the scenes partying and her memories became the web series, “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music.” The Hulu hit “East Los High” grew from its creators’ experiences in high school in the barrios of Los Angeles.

2. Watch shows you enjoy and take note of what they do right.

3. Write scripts for your episodes. “East Los High Episodes” are about 12 minutes each. “Amazon in the Jungle” dropped all of its episodes at once, just before Christmas.

4. Go to eBay and other outlets to find camera equipment, or it may be more affordable to find a digital cinematographer to work with you. Place ads on filmmaker groups on Facebook, on Craigslist, on Backpage, and on other local ad sites. Network through your friends — someone who comes with a recommendation is better than a total stranger. Interview potential camera operators and ensure they share your vision for the show and have time in their schedule to work with you.

5. Hold auditions for cast members. Many cities have a casting site like NYcastings and CastingPitt. Again, you can go through ad sites and Facebook pages, and put up flyers in coffee houses and local theaters. You can often rent a room in a community theater or public center like the library for free or nearly free. Ask actors for their resumes and head shots and have callbacks where various actors can read from the script together to gauge the onscreen chemistry. Post the cast list on social media and contact the new cast members about the  rehearsal and shooting schedule.

6. Set a budget. Some of this should have been done earlier, but often it’s when the show is cast that you have a concept of exactly what you need to make the show happen — costumes, the cost of access to locations, and paying actors and crew for their time. Don’t forget to pay yourself.

7. Crowdfund. It may seem counterintuitive to raise money this late in the game. However, with the cinematographer and cast on board, now you can create a 2-3 minute

promotional video.

8. Seek sponsors: “Mozart in the Jungle” is about classical music; potential interested sponsors would include the makers of musical instruments, music stores, and classical music venues. “East Los High” features Justin and Maya working at Justin’s family’s restaurant and creating fresh, Mexican fusion dishes. Potential sponsors include fresh food wholesalers, the makers of kitchen equipment, and possibly a chain of restaurants like Chipotle. Who are the natural sponsors for your show?

9. Shoot the pilot episode: By now the cast and crew should be beyond excited to shoot the first episode. The locations are secured and scouted, the cast is rehearsed and confident. Step back and let the actors do their stuff. From the footage you create, gather the very best moments and string together a pilot that will draw in the audience, pack a punch and leave them clamoring for more.

10. Make the airing of the pilot a big event: Whether you have space on Yahoo! Screen, Amazon, Hulu, or you’re just uploading your episodes to YouTube or Vimeo, create an event on Facebook, encourage the cast and crew and your mom to Tweet their excitement about the pilot, release clips on social media, publicly tweet to your fans and sponsors, and invite all your contacts to like your Facebook page.

Creating a web series is a lot of work, but with persistence and a workable plan, it is far less daunting than getting a series on network TV or producing a feature film. If you create a compelling show and develop an eager audience, you might just catch the eye of a prominent producer who will take your show to the big time.

Mozart in the Jungle:

Watch here:

East Los High:

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New Media Journalist, writing plays under the pen name Ash Sanborn.

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