‘On The Rocks’ is the first ever multi cam web series, filmed in front of a live studio audience – if there is another please let me know. The story follows the first day of a new employee at a booze manufacturing company. I wouldn’t go as far as to call the company incompetent – a la ‘The Office’ – but it’s a situation that allowed the characters to work, drink, and make out (the three factors of all successful comedies) maybe even all at the same time.
The situation seems pretty congruent with most early experiences in the corporate world, fresh out of college and ready to take on the world. The realities quickly soil that youthful idealism. Sally is qualified and ready to take this company to the next level. Unfortunately for her all anyone wants her to do is make coffee, answer the phones and run errands – and she sucks at all of those things. It’s an experience I feel most twenty-somethings will easily relate to.
Standing out and doing something different.
There is so much stuff out there these days – more than anyone could watch in a lifetime. New shows have got to find ways to stand out, and one of the best ways you can do that is by doing something classic that no one else is doing. The multi cam sitcom was invented for “I Love Lucy” back in the 50’s for its efficiency, and although it’s not nearly as common on modern shows as it once was the style is timeless and something we haven’t seen done online.
The efficiency is definitely there, being shot entirely in two days at the ACME theater in Hollywood. The bulk of the effort came in pre and post production, where the editors had to chose between as many as eight takes on certain scenes. For comparison I believe ‘I Love Lucy’ and many other shows would run through scenes two or three times and get through just about everything in one day. (One day of blocking / rehearsal and a second day for filming)
Making The Look
The result should be a show that looks like a tv sitcom pilot that could’ve fit right in between Seinfeld and Friends, the only difference being ‘On The Rocks’ is only online – and new. The concept rests on the technical ability to nail the ‘look’ of the genre, and this is where the group’s general lack of experience shows. For the shoot the team behind ‘On The Rocks’ relied upon the built in lighting set up in the ACME Theater. The lights are great for stage plays but they are not what a sitcom would want to use to achieve that high key lighting they are known for.
High key lighting was developed to allow freedom of movement for the actors, and to enable them to be shot effectively from all angles without the need to move the lights. The lights in a theater are designed with the position of the audience in mind. The problem here for ‘On The Rocks’ is two fold. The lighting from many angles is just bad – deep shadows on walls being the worst part, but a general unevenness being another. The second problem is probably a little more serious; the show just doesn’t look like a sitcom and I feel like that detracts an awful lot from the uniqueness the show had going for it. Now the upside here is that ‘On The Rocks’ has only filmed a pilot, and have since raised funds for five additional episodes through their Kickstarter campaign. They felt this issue was as big of a deal as I did, and it should be rectified in additional episodes.
Technically the pilot episode feels very much like a learning experience for the group. While the lighting has a lot to do with it, the show very much feels like a recording of a stage play. The sets are generally believable but occasionally feel like a stage as well. Next time around I hope they put a little bit more time into the set dressings, something that felt like they manage to take around 95% of the way there, and that was likely no small feet.
Editing for the web – the great debate
Editing the pilot episode brought up it’s own unique challenges. The show is shot in a format that mimics the CW’s television model but as a web pilot that might not be ideal. The show was instead cut into two formats, a tv pilot style, single upload and then a version where the show was cut into six parts. Both have their merits but which is better? For the purpose of the #WebSeriesWednesday tweet along I watched the six part version, but if I had simply been watching on my own I would have chosen the single video option. What I like about the cut up versions is that they are cut at the natural act breaks. This gives the short videos a natural flow which I think is very easily consumable and sharable for audiences. A 26 minute version asks an awful lot of a viewer at the top, but a four or five minute slice of the pie goes down easier and might compel viewers to watch the next one. I think the way to go here is the way they went; using both methods.
‘On The Rocks’ has five new episodes in pre-production, including two completed scripts and the money to film them. The pilot feels very much like a test run, with the real deal forthcoming. The writing and acting is definitely there, I just want to see a nicer package. Most importantly ‘On The Rocks’ represents the hard work of a large group of dedicated individuals. If I’ve witnessed one thing since the creation of this site it is the correlation between a dedicated team and achieving a vision. The show might be a work in progress but with this experience under their belts I have high hopes for the completed first season. You can follow the team behind ‘On The Rocks’ on twitter & facebook, and while we’re at it, I’ve embedded the pilot episode below.