A (belated) NMX Panel Wrap-Up - "Ready, Set, Shoot!"
Well, I'm a lot later posting this than I had hoped... but better late right?
While I was in Vegas for the triple threat of New Media Expo, the IAWTV Awards and CES, I had the pleasure of being a part of the “Ready, Set Shoot! A Beginners Guide to Web Video Production” panel. The panel was part of the Web TV and Video track at NMX and was sponsored by the IAWTV (which I’m a member of).
I was excited to be a part of it for a number of reasons. First off, it was cool (and admittedly a stroke of my ego) to be recognized as someone with the experience to talk about the topic.
Secondly, my co-panelists Fank Chindamo and Ken Nicholas as well as our moderator, Stephanie Piche, happen to all be people who rallied behind me when I first got into New Media.
But most importantly, it’s a topic that I honestly think needs to be covered a lot more. Check out #WebSerieschat’s twitter feed, take a spin through many of the blogs devoted to web series, or the curriculum of many online courses dedicated to new media, and you’ll notice that often newcomers to the space seem more interested in learning about social media and monetization than how to hone their craft.
It’s understandable of course. All of us are hoping to be able to make at least enough money doing this to make our shows self-sustainable and keep our credit card debt in check. But in the rush to figure out the secret to becoming a 6 figure YouTube partner, we often forget that any success we have, especially if we’re creating scripted content, starts with a solid foundation in the basics of production.
When I became actively involved in the web series world in 2009, I noticed that there weren’t a ton of qualified creators actively trying to educate newcomers about the basics of production (not to mention, pre-pro and post). Happily, that’s a trend I’ve seen changing over the last year, and I’m hoping to use the Highway 9 blog as a way to contribute to that effort as well. While this panel only begins to scratch the surface of this (we didn’t start talking about shooting for the edit or the proper way to mic a scene or anything) I do think it does a good job of shifting the conversation.
Check out some selected takeaways from everyone, as well as stream the entire panel discussion, after the jump.
In addition to yours truly, the panel consisted of...
And here are a few of my favorite takeaways...
“Really, really, getting to the truth of the matter as to whether you have a great concept or not, I think is the big lesson.” - Frank
Early in the panel, at 10:30, Frank hits on something that while, applicable to most creative endeavors, seems to be really easy to overlook when working on the web: make sure you’re honest with yourself about whether an idea is not just good, but great.
It’s easy to use the (relatively) low-barrier of entry into web content, and the fact that there’s no gate keepers to question you, as an excuse to get started before you’ve really considered whether an idea is as great as it can be. And as Frank points out, that rarely ends well.
“To borrow from the four Ps of the marketing mix… have your product in mind and your placement [in this case distribution] of where that’s going to go…. You need to be looking at both.” - Ken
I think Ken’s advice here (14:48) is particularly important these days because of a shift that seems to just be starting.
It used to be that the prevailing wisdom was to make your content, and put it up everywhere and anywhere. The goal was to get eyeballs and so casting the widest net possible was considered a best practice. There wasn’t much of a premium put on crafting your content to a particular platform because back then there weren’t many distribution options, and even as the number grew, there wasn’t always much that differentiated them. Now those distinctions are clearer, and as Ken points out, there’s value in giving forethought to where you content would fit best, and planning accordingly.
“If you’re making it for art, fine. If you’re making to monetize then you need to treat it as a business.” - Stephanie
At 18:40 Stephanie makes a great point about the tension between art/commerce, and specifically about the fact that as a creator you have to take responsibility for being honest with yourself about whether or not you’re doing this solely for the art, or because you want to make money at it. If you do want this to be a profession, then you do need to learn the business side (or find someone who can help you with it).
I’d say this applies to taking your production seriously as well. If you’re serious about selling your show, either literally to a distributor or more figuratively to an audience, then you need to take responsibility for learning how to make that production as sound as possible.
“…and right there, because of that, even though I loved the project and another person loved the project, and a few others hated it,… Boom. They were gone. Because you couldn’t understand what the [project] was.” - Ken
At 31:51, Ken tells a story from his days as Executive Director at ITVFest about a submission that everyone on the selection committee thought was about something else. And when they read the press kit from the creators, they realized every one of their interpretations was off from what the creator said they had intended.
Ambiguity can be a powerful and effective tool in storytelling, but it’s got to have its limits. And as a creator, when you’re actually making your content, you better be sure you know exactly what story you’re telling because if you don’t, chances are you’re going to have a hard time communicating it to others.
“Students have this mentality that if I get 9 things right out of 10 then that’s still an A… ‘I got the sound right and I got the acting right, and I got the scripting right, but the photography was bad, but I still get an A right?’ No. You get an F.… that may not be the grade you get in school but it’s the grade the audience is going to give you.” - Frank
At 33:15, Frank does an excellent job of summing up why talking about the core craft of visual story telling is so important. While it may be true that in the earlier days of web video the audience was willing to forgive bad audio or terrible lighting if the content was compelling, those days are numbered if not over already.
With major studios starting to throw major money at the web, us indie creators are going to have to up our game. It’s true, we’ll never be able to compete on a strictly budgetary level, but we do have the advantage of (hopefully) giving the audience stories they wouldn’t get from the big boys. And as long as the experience of watching our stories is on par with theirs, that is, the sound is good, the shots and editing well executed, etc, our viewers will be more likely to stay engaged in those stories. Otherwise, we risk them clicking away to less engaging, but better executed, alternatives.
One final note; in an ironic twist for a panel about avoiding production issues, the audience mics seemingly didn’t send signal to the recording device. Unfortunately, as a result, some great Special Guest contributions from JD Piche of Mingle Media TV and Red Carpet Report as well as April and Amanda of Indie Intertube with regards to shooting live interviews, as well as live-streaming, weren’t captured.
If you've got thoughts on any of the above, or suggestions for related topics that I should try and cover in the blog be sure to let me know in the comments.