What is it about Canada that makes people want to go out and make web series about super heroes? It’s to the point where I think EVERY web series is a Canadian show about an awkward group of super heroes. ‘The Undrawn’ fits right in with a cast of characters that show a lot more character than super human ability. So how does the show stand out from the rest?
The other super hero shows that come to mind were all intended to live and perpetually exist on the web. Show’s like Tights & Fights are created around the internet as a distribution model for story, and that story is told in a way tailored to internet consumption. While “The Undrawn” was created for the internet the end goal is really to see the show on television as a half hour sitcom. The characters and the style of the show is something that would feel more natural on TV. Where Heroes of the North, and The Protector Chronicles take their characters rather seriously The Undrawn has no room for serious. Their characters are a batch of filthy, pseudo-believable, train wrecks.
This week’s chat veered a little bit towards a discussion on the purpose of web series and how they are structured near the end. The show’s creators, Jason & Brett Butler, along with series director Jeffery P. Nesker, see web series as a means to an end. A way to tease a bigger idea to potential gatekeepers and audiences. There is a lot that is true about what was said in the chat (held every Wednesday, usually in the early afternoon but at 10 AM PT today) but there are a lot of complex issues going on right now that deserve mention. Here I want to take a moment to look at them from the perspective of ‘The Undrawn,’ how they may have helped or hindered the series.
I’ll start with what was my biggest issue with the show and that is the format. ‘The Undrawn’ is formatted in classic web series style. Six episodes, less than ten minutes each, one character in focus in each episode. This is a style I’ve championed in this blog before because: 1) internet audience like you to keep things brief, 2) they like you to not confuse them by missing back story, and 3) they like to be completely entertained and satisfied in one video, to be left not wanting more, but rather to go again.So why doesn’t this structure seem to work out as well for ‘The Undrawn?’ Well, the show was not formatted in this way to appease web audiences, but rather because the creators wanted to show case the characters they have come up with and give a taste of the world they live in to those who green light television shows. I guess what I may have been picking up on was that the story telling format was a little dishonest in its intent. ‘The Undrawn’ isn’t meant to be a web series, at its core it wants to be a TV show. Somewhere along this incongruence became mildly apparent.
Web series as a business model have failed. While the future of entertainment will have a heavy web presence web series themselves might never actually fit into it. It’s going to take a lot of faith and a lot more luck to convince creators to continue making shows while seeing them as for-profit ventures. Because of this creators are going to view web shows as a means to an end – a way to get their big break, be discovered or pitch ideas to gatekeepers.
There is a pretty significant problem with the way television shows are created and the way web shows are seen by those involved though. Most people involved in a web show are doing it for the exact same reason the creators are – for a big break. If a show like ‘The Undrawn’ gets picked up for television then so does everyone involved. But that isn’t really true. At least in Hollywood, when shows are greenlit it’s usually because stars are attached to them, and when concepts are pushed forward it’s because those doing the pushing can picture stars in those character roles. In a lot of ways web series might just be too good to get picked up, too much of a contradiction to be created for this purpose.
Perhaps that is too cynical of a view, there certainly have been a lot of success stories and there will only be more as time goes on. In the end though I don’t feel like making a series as a calling card, or a pitch is a good bet. People will and need to create shows because it is their best available means of creative expression. As a creator you have complete control over all of the various decision making processes, something found nowhere else, and in the long run I think this will be the reason why people will continue to make shows and release them online.
“The Undrawn” is an entertaining and enjoyable cast of smarmy characters in a world that still needs a little exploring. While the show does struggle to fit itself into a traditional web series format, it still peeks my interest in seeing what else this group can come up with. “The Undrawn” is nowhere near the first and will be nowhere near the last show to be awkwardly adapted to a web format. The key for creators avoiding this is to be true to your series ultimate vision. There is no make it or break it method for structuring a series, and rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole we should all take a step back and let a project be what it needs to be. For this series it probably would’ve worked better as a watered down 22 minute television pilot, maybe with some additional supplimental material. In the end the TV executive who will decide your shows ultimate fate wont be as interested in a proof of concept as much as their ability to experience the show as it would ultimately be, exactly.
“The Undrawn” can be found on Substance Productions official website http://substanceproduction.com