To create and launch a web series, hoping to reach a distribution deal, can be like trying to climb Mount Everest. They both have been done before, and like such an arduous climb, so many factors need to be considered in order to reach the summit. For the creator and director of ENEMY LINES, a NYC police-drama about a detective struggling with his cocaine habit, they recognized the daunting reality of their goal, but they did what was necessary for the journey. Enjoy their account, and learn from their experience.
VISION: THE END DEPENDS UPON THE BEGINNING
The creative foundation was critical for Joshua Paolino, who wrote the script, and Jabari Gray, who directed the episodes. Because they are long time friends from Occidental College, the chemistry would be there, but they had to decide what kind of story would be told. Paolino wanted to center the web series in New York City and thought a police drama would be a fine vehicle to showcase Gray’s talents. Paolino asked the question, “What if?” What if a narcotics detective struggled with his own drug addiction? What if he tried to serve as a functioning law enforcement officer while hiding this dark secret from his coworkers and the family he loved? This would be the core of ENEMY LINES. The humanity of the story would draw viewers to the series. Paolino admits, “It shows real people with real problems that you can relate to.”
When it came time to research, Paolino interviewed police officers and detectives in Miami to develop the series. Learning about police procedures and how to work cases was his goal. He then delved into their family dynamics. He found that most police strongly valued family life and sought to keep their professional and personal lives separate. Many of them didn’t even have an online presence to protect their privacy.
Because Gray was directing and starring in ENEMY LINES, he heavily researched his character. He also observed law enforcement officers wrestling to keep their professional and family life separate and used what he learned from his interviews to develop the lead character, Detective Jonas Weston.
TOOLS TO DWARF DISTANCE AND RECORD THE EXPERIENCE
Tools are needed to progress toward the pinnacle. Since Paolino was in Miami and Gray was in New York, they had to take advantage of technology: Skype to communicate and Dropbox to store and share content. During post-production, the editing went through a routine of 8-10 hour days in New York or New Jersey over many weekends. The drafts would be watched, and notes would be taken. Both would then be placed in a labeled Dropbox file for the writer’s viewing. Next, Paolino would open it in Miami, express his opinions, and the process repeated itself in disciplined fashion. The skyscraper to palm tree exchange of footage was painstaking. It took over a year to finish the editing.
When issues arose trying to record the right sound, they utilized the Internet to find new sounds to mix, match, blend and create. Gray explained how critical the audible experience is for the viewer. “Sound can drive the emotion of any scene.”
When it came to the visual aspect, camera numbers were an issue. Gray realized later that one camera is limited, especially with switching from one actor to another or going from a wide, to a medium, to a close-up. He says, “I wish I had known at first how helpful it is to have multiple cameras. If I could do it again, I would have had two camera operators on hand to save time and money. Two cameras would help with covering more angles with the shot, and for time sensitive scenes when light is running out.”
TEAMWORK DETERMINES THE CLIMB’S SUCCESS
Not even the great Spielberg can bring a film to the screen by himself. Gray had to assemble the right cast and crew to ensure success. So, he reached out to the right people for the job.
By casting talented actors like Justin Paul, Dacyl Acevedo, David Winning, and Gabriel Lopez, the project’s scenes would be filmed as expected. When it came to an Assistant Director, Gray’s brother, Sanyika was brought on board to apply the skills he learned in the Fine Arts Program at the Univ. of Wisconsin. Soon, talented musicians were brought aboard. After Gray attended an Off-Broadway production, he heard Andres Marquez’s score and was impressed by his talent. He enlisted Marquez to provide a musical background to evoke emotion in scenes. He later recruited Larry Bridgett to be the Cinematographer and Editor. Since Gray and Bridgett had known each other for so long and had collaborated before on music projects, the process would have less bumps and bruises. Matter of fact, Gray acknowledges that since Bridgett did both the cinematography and editing, it was to the project’s advantage. “Larry had all of the footage and equipment going into post-production, so I did not have to explain much.” By Bridgett wearing those two hats, it turned out to be a great economical decision in terms of time, energy, and budget.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
You can have the best web series since HBO pick-up “High Maintenance”, but without publicity, no one will know about it. Gray enlisted the publicity talents of Uriah Young and Sacha Saint-Cyr from Skies Without Limits Publicity Firm. “In publicizing this series, we focused on four things: research, planning, execution and evaluation. We researched the marketing and promotion of a series, and organized social media efforts for each week of the campaign,” Young mentions. They set up as many platforms as they could. One of the key things they did was create an “Enemy Lines” website to provide a hub where people could get information about the cast and crew and watch the videos.
Gray was an integral part of the promotion process. Young and his partner had weekly meetings with Gray on Google Hangout or on three-way calls. When the campaign is over reflecting on every single effort will be purposeful and necessary. “The evaluation of our efforts is significant for us and for the producer,” Young says. “We have to look at analytics.” He emphasized metrics for the website: high visitor numbers and low bounce rates are important. Also, the average duration of the visit is critical. If the visitor has a positive engagement with the site, they’ll be more likely to return or share with a friend. “It starts with numbers and should end with numbers.”
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF WEB SERIES
Both Paolino and Gray agree that the Internet is an effective platform for web series creators. “It gives a big venue, even larger than film festivals, to show your work to larger audiences,” Gray says.
“Web series democratized the film maker,” says Paolino. “To get your work in a film festival there’s a lot of applying and waiting. By putting it on the Internet you get wider audiences and can get your project out in front of the public right away.”
“Many people can’t make it to film festivals,” says Gray. “There are many reasons for this: distance, time, cost, even what to wear,” he laughs. “With streaming like Netlix and Hulu, people can put their feet up and watch entire seasons of their favorite series in the comfort of their own homes.”
The team also understands that the online format and brevity of webisodes lend themselves to a unique audience of bus/train commuters who can watch an entire webisode as they travel. Both publicists agree, “This is an advantage the format of the web series has over the typical two-hour movie.”
Gray has advice for future web series developers. “Be as organized as possible. Assemble a highly motivated and talented team that are invested in the success of the web series.” He also recommends that the filmmakers be detail oriented. “During shooting, don’t miss any key content, audio or video, because once you’re not on that location anymore, you will never get that particular environment back. More organization means more efficiency and a better end product. If you’re more efficient and capture everything you need to, your biggest problem in the end will be having to choose between too many great shots and too many great takes,” Gray says.
With the right vision, preparation, tools, and team, you can reach the peak of Everest. It’s no different for creating a web series. If you are cognizant of these key elements, the view from the top will be breathtaking and the experience, for you and your viewers, will be well worth the journey.
To get the full ENEMY LINES experience, visit http://enemylinesnyc.com