Festivals are a great place to learn about major developments and trends in our industry. At the K Web Fest in Seoul, Korea (July 30-31, 2015), thanks to the thorough and thoughtful planning of Session Programmer David Oxenbridge, the panels were extremely well-organized and informative. Discussions were varied and complementary, covering both industry/market overviews and the individual creator’s perspectives. Topics included the Korean market, trends in Hollywood and how various festival directors founded their web festivals in their respective countries.

Steinar Ellingsen (Melbourne Web Fest) talked about how, as a web series creator himself, he travelled thousands of miles to Los Angeles, for the LA Web Fest, only to discover many other Australian web series there. He decided to start his own web festival in Melbourne upon his return.

Janet De Nardis (Roma Web Fest) discussed how rapidly her festival and the web series scene is growing in Italy to the point that now, there is even tax credit available for the creation of web series.

Hearing experiences of other creators also offered insight. Leandro Silva discussed how in Brazil, the popular YouTubers are in their teens. He pointed out that his comedy series “Oposto do Sexo”, about the difficulty of marital sex, struggled to attract significant local clicks until it started to gain global recognition through awards at various international web festivals. After receiving awards, Leandro was approached by a French distributor, who bought a number of his episodes.

Chris Hembury talked about how bad date experiences led him to make his “Love Hurts” series. What started off organically from his own life experience, turned into a full-fledged series – something for which he had certainly never expected to win a prize.

Dipu Bhattacharya & Tom Chamberlain revealed how their series title, “The Pantsless Detective”, was conceived. Filming their noir-satire series in the scorching heat in Texas in August, the lead actor, Tom had to wear a thick trench coat. However, since he was not filmed wide-angle, he decided to wear no pants. The audience burst out laughing upon hearing this story.

The Korean panels were also informative. Chris Lee (Be Funny Studios) gave an overview of their activities: (1) creation of global content also in partnership with Funny or Die, (2) local comedic content with Korean celebrities for the local market, and (3) branded entertainment such as “NANA Gets Over a Break-Up” sponsored by a Korean cosmetics company. He discussed how they create multi-platform content for Korea and China. China is looking for fresh content for web dramas, which apparently, is subject to less censorship. Chris gave case studies of Be Funny Studio’s original web series: “What’s Eating Steven Yeun?” with AMC’s “The Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun and Sandara Park playing the love interest. Another is a B-rated “tongue and cheek” parody “Ricecake Piercer” with Kim Gura. Their focus is on celebrity marketing. Their web dramas are considered a “success” with 2 million or more hits.

Chris also briefly described other successful web dramas such as “Aftereffects” produced by Oasis Pictures. Webcast on Korea’s largest portal site, Naver, this 11 episode, 12 minute series about a high school boy with supernatural power who predicts imminent deaths around him, was produced for 250 million Won (US$ 214K), sold to China for US$ 50k~70K (with 60 million views on Tudou), had 1 million views on Yahoo Japan, sold to Dramafever in the US for 1 million to 2.5 million Won (US$856 ~ $2,141) per episode, and is currently being sold to other East Asian territories. It is clear from these examples that web dramas are having a significant impact on entertainment in general, as short form digital content attracts the younger demographics more effectively.

Hugh Kim (Manager, Content Partnerships, YouTube) introduced the “10 Creative Fundamentals” for success in the Korean market, then moderated a panel with Helen Park (CEO of YouTube MCN PEPPERX) and Chance Koh (KBS N-Screen). Helen expanded on Hugh’s insights, pointing out that “Viewers today don’t want perfect content; they want perfect connection with imperfect people/content. The star-quality is tied in with the creator’s authenticity, and the creators themselves now become the media.”

Industry veterans from Hollywood, such as Gus L. Blackmon (GLB Producitons) and Kenneth Dixon (Warner Brothers), and festival directors/founders from various countries talked about trends, their experiences and visions, all of which was highly informative. Around the world, web series are enabling diverse voices and varied, more personal content to be seen that has not previously been prominent in traditional film or television. Comedy seems to be the dominant genre in this field, but drama, horror and other genres are also emerging. Especially in Italy and Spain, their general economic crises seem to have accelerated the growth of the web series, offering a more economical and democratic alternative to traditional forms of entertainment.

A few workshops were also offered on topics ranging from pitching to Hollywood by Brooks Wachtel (Emmy Award winning writer); converting from web series to theatrical 4K and 3D and using smartphone apps to create a plethora of content. Korean “apptist” Baek Uky demonstrated how to use various iPhone apps, such as Super Power FX, to create ingenious clips. He showed a clip of himself entering the K Hotel, posing for pictures with the K Web Fest guests, then exploding and disappearing. He also encouraged the audience to make their own daily lives fun, by using such apps. For example, in a restaurant, he said, when one person says “You pay! You pay!”, the other person could say “No money!” then “explode” and disappear.

All panels, workshops and events were simultaneously translated into English and Korean. More than half of the panelists/speakers were guests from outside of Korea, while the audience were mostly Korean and some foreign expats.

K Web Fest booths at the K Hotel Photo by Atsushi Ogata © Globetrot Productions 2015.

K Web Fest booths at the K Hotel
Photo by Atsushi Ogata © Globetrot Productions 2015.