Once You Leave is undoubtedly a shot at greatness. In this article I’ll talk about why it’s too soon for me to judge its success. The story also brings up another interesting topic: how do you write love?
To answer the first topic in the lead in – ‘Once You Leave’ is four hours long, and #WebSeriesWednesday doesn’t stay open that late.
The story was written for the web – it’s not just a long movie online. The reason for the length according to creator Nate Locklear is that episodes planned for 10-15 minutes turned into 15-20 minute episodes when editing all the footage together.
This obviously comes down to a creative decision and as a creator you need to ask yourself what the best way to distribute your series is. Think like a viewer. It’s too much to ask your audience to stick around for four straight hours, so how about 15-20 minutes each week?
In the case of ‘Once You Leave’ the 15-20 minute episodes do stand on their own and for the most part have self contained stories. Most of the episodes involve Kayla, the main character, meeting another person. These people all seem to leave a mark on her and propel her forward on her journey of self discovery.
I have argued in the past for creators to embrace longer lengths because it gives storytellers more room to build characters. Online you can tell 4 hour, or even 8 hour stories, there is no limit. The only limitation is your ability to hold your audience’s attention.
Therein lies the rub. Are twenty minute episodes too long? For some people it will be, and in the case of ‘Once You Leave’ I did feel like the episodes could be a bit tighter. This is still not the main issue I have with the show though, and that is simply the fact that the story hasn’t paid off yet.
Obviously I have only watched a little over half the series, it’s not supposed to have paid off. But you have to ask your average viewer, who is either watching week to week, or watching the first few episodes and getting tired, where are the beats that pay off in the short run?
Looking at the series that way ‘Once You Leave’ feels a little too subtle for a web series. It gets by on the nuances of great filmmaking – great shots, excellent music, quality acting, editing, and a strong premise, but it misses in hitting those important story beats along the way, at least not to the level I would like to see.
All that said, by the time I get to the end of the show I do not doubt that ‘Once You Leave’ will become one of my favorite series, maybe even end up with a best series nomination at next year’s #WebSeriesWednesday Awards. This here is more of a discussion of what exactly the difference is between a web series and a film.
While I have the awards on my mind, I should leave a note here that ‘Once You Leave’ has incredible sound mixing. Most series keep their audio completely absent from my mind, the rest make me wish I didn’t notice it – ‘Once You Leave’ is noticeable in a good way. Also did I mention this series has a great soundtrack?
Now before I forget, writing believable depictions of love in a series is difficult. A lot of series attempt to show characters fall in love and it does not always work. ‘Once You Leave’ I bought completely. When I asked Nate about how he came up with these scenes he told me that they were all completely improvised! The actors were just having a good time, messing around, doing whatever came natural to them.
Love just happens, perhaps it is one of those things that a director / writer just has to let happen organically. Control is an illusion, and actors showing chemistry can’t be forced.
Once You Leave can be found on their site http://onceyouleave.com