This #WebSeriesWednesday I watched the indie styled web dramedy ‘Casters’ – a story about three podcasters that is probably more about their friendship than it is their podcasting. The web series brings up a lot of topics for discussion, particularly web series formatting and editing, character development, the value of finding great actors, and best production practices. This should be my most indepth WSW yet!
Formatting & Editing
Web series are edited in all sorts of different styles, the most common probably being the short form, 10 minute episodic, ‘Casters’ goes for a long form episodic style that is not too different from television. The first few episodes run about 23 minutes, and later ones go for more than an hour. The idea is to get people interested quickly, and without asking too much of them. Then once they are hooked, an hour long show is not too much to ask of your fans, and probably the best way to make them rave about your show.
Many web series end up being feature length, or in many ways they ultimately feel like full length films cut into small pieces, while a lesser number are open ended concepts that simply move from episode to episode without a strong arch. ‘Casters’ is about the length of a long movie, four or so hours, and if I had to guess I would bet that it was based off of a single film script, possibly modified for the web.
The series works both as a film and as a web series, and perhaps I have mixed feelings because I watched it all straight through – like a film, but I think these factors conflict with each other. Straight through I think the editing needs to be considerably tighter. Scenes are allowed to breathe that I would have cut down significantly, but as a thirty minute episode I can understand the willingness to not karate chop every last scene.
One scene I’m thinking of in particular is near the end of the show when they are interviewing job candidates. The applicants are funny but drawn out. It felt like the type of scene that would be cut down to just a few seconds for each applicant in a film, but here they are significantly longer. Young filmmakers probably see all of their footage as their children, and hate to see good stuff go, but often times less is more. This brings me to the next topic, on the best production practices.
Best Production Practices
The difficulty in editing episodes down also likely comes down to the production schedule. In the case of ‘Casters’ the show was released over the course of a year or so, with some significant gaps in between. I hate keeping people waiting – and if I am making my audience wait months on end for an episode I might be more inclined to try to give them as much as possible.
‘Casters’ struck me as being shot in sequence – even before I noticed the dates posted. The first episode was a little rough around the edges. I wasn’t sure if everyone was going to have the acting chops to pull off the roles and the pacing of some of the scenes was a little off. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the show. As the episodes go on the actors found themselves in their roles and I stopped noticing those little things that take the viewer out of the show. By the end ‘Casters’ has some of the best writing I’ve seen on the web and probably the best acting. Miriam Pultro, who plays the underachieving Ronnie, is particularly strong and one of the best finds I’ve made since I started watching web series.
This is a common issue I’ve noticed in series. I’m not sure if it’s general inexperience, or that production teams are not doing enough prep work at the front end. ‘Casters’ and a lot of other series look, sound and are amazing by the end, but the only portion of the series people are sure to see is the very beginning. Producers need to come up with ways to make the first work done on their production just as good as the last.
The Importance of Acting
After watching ‘Casters’ I’ve become even more convinced that the most important aspect of a web series production is finding talented actors. It is one thing to put great material down on the page, but it can be rare to see that material come to life. So many scenes in this show could have fallen flat if not for the actors’ ability to feel and emulate that emotion that is there in the story. Just reading a script it is not always obvious when a moment is super important to a character. A directors’ main function is to communicate these nuances to actors and for actors to have the skill to have their emotions shine through without being overbearing. Finding great acting talent might be a web series biggest hurdle but also the area most worth dedicating that extra effort to.
Lastly I wanted to talk about the writing. As I said in the teaser, ‘Casters’ is a show about podcasters, but it is really about their friendship. Great stories are always about more than just the tagline and ‘Casters’ at its core is really about something that wouldn’t be mentioned in a brief description. What I wonder though, is how much of that quality writing has to do with the shows near four hour cumulative length. That is not meant to take anything away from the writers of the show, but rather a commentary on the lack of quality writing in dramatic web series in general. I think a lot of that has to do with this time constraint producers are putting on their content. It is simply much harder to write realistic characters with satisfying arcs in short periods of time. ‘Casters’ is able to take their time and grow their characters into well rounded, believable individuals. Web series creators would be better served to take the time to tell better stories, and figure out how to edit them for the web later and I believe ‘Casters’ is a great example of that.
So check out ‘Casters’ the series over on blip http://blip.tv/casters – it’s really a must watch for web series fans and creators.