Producing a web series is more work than most people imagine and getting it seen is the hardest part of the whole process. But does the quest for online success jeopardize the independent spirit the web series is based upon? Below is a look at how you can avoid losing your humanity to the internet.
When I decided to make Croissant Man I was enrolled in an MFA Film Program at USC. However I made the project outside the institution to retain full ownership and create something completely unhindered by outside influence.
It’s very romantic the idea of setting off on your own. You imagine you and your Croissant (insert your own web series sidekick) perched atop appropriately sized-horses, riding hard into a shackled town tied-up by a formulaic Sheriff you overcome by over-extending this Cowboy metaphor.
The truth is, it was extremely romantic. Every part of producing Croissant Man, though difficult, was exciting, creative and unbelievably fun. I literally built my own world of food stratification and got to set all the rules.
But like any fiery romance, once production was finished reality settled in. I had put in a year of my life. Gave up sleep, jeopardized relationships and poured my heart into 55 minutes of kind-of-stop-motion-puppet-based satire…There was no turning back, it had to be a success.
I did the research: views turn into distribution, turns into financing, turns into multiple seasons, turns into matching appropriately sized castles for me and my Croissant Cowboy. I became obsessed with the analytics of it all. And each accomplishment spread the disease. First the immediate response within my social circle. Then write-ups from blogs I didn’t know about. Then a Vimeo-staff pick! More eyes, the view count soaring. Checking and re-checking, a constant knot in my stomach. And the words repeating in my head “It has to be a success.”
Then one day, the numbers stopped.
I panicked. I had moved past the initial burst and exhausted my small circle. Was this it? Was this all I was going to get? No, I had to do something. I had to get more eyes.
My little sister suggested I throw a party. She meant to celebrate but I was an addict now so I all I saw was opportunity. She began to tell me about her boyfriend, so I hung up. I didn’t have time to engage with anyone on a personal level! I had to start the marketing plan.
I’d throw it on my birthday so people would be obligated to go! We would have “photo ops” for people to tag one another as their favorite pastry. Then we would screen a few episodes, just enough to get them hooked. “We can do this!” I excitedly said to myself in an empty room filled only with the light of glowing screens. (Think contemporary female Gollum.)
The party became its own production. I worked tirelessly for a month, hired a party planner, two photographers, an art director and for good measure a pole dancer. We had two rooms, one to symbolize the junk food slums, and the other the upper crust world of the Boulangerie. The night before the party I stayed up with the art director making 300 hundred tiny picket signs to put on the different pastries and junk foods to symbolize class struggle. Everything meticulously planned to be shareable.
The day of the party, I was anxious and frantic, but the end was in sight. I was about to have 100 new pairs of eyes on my series! I shaved, waxed and plucked the forest of hair hiding my face. I swapped my torn jeans for a power onesie and put on strange face-paint called “Make-up”. I had read somewhere called ‘every magazine ever’ that women with pretty faces sell products. That night I was ready to sell my face to sell my product.
I waited by the door preparing my pitch. But when I started seeing familiar faces something changed.
I was seeing people I realized I had missed. And they brought new faces, with new eyes, but they were attached to bodies and souls that I could connect with during meandering conversations, instead of strategic comments, likes or tweets.
We talked and laughed and ate cheese. It began to feel like a success, different from the short addiction-driven high sitting alone watching numbers go up, but rather a warm unquantifiable feeling of human understanding.
After a few hours of that foreign sensation (fun) we screened the series and I realized this would be the first time I got to see an audience watch the show. I snapped back into the view-count monster and creepily looked around to take a pulse of the crowd. There was ‘girl obsessed with food puns,’ and then ‘boy who clearly shares my unhealthy obsession for tiny furniture.’ Some jokes were landing better than others. Some people were visibly moved, others maybe just came for the cheese. And then oh no! Eye contact!
I whipped around and decided to hide by “watching” the show. I looked at the screen just in time to catch one of my favorite parts, an amnesiac Peanut asking a stranger to explain about her existence. I laughed and for the first time I actually watched the show. Not to check for mistakes, not to find opportunities to get more eyes, but to enjoy and connect with a desperate Croissant doing whatever he can to feel a little less alone.