Writing for the Web
Digital media panel spotlights explosion in online content, blurring of line between old and new media:
“The web has become television.”

(November 6, 2012) 

“The Art of Writing for the Web” panelists give the lowdown on writing, creating and financing web series – and question whether “web series” is even right anymore. 

A few years ago there were a handful of series on the web and webisodes tended to be two minutes long, giving users only a brief taste of digital content. Today, the online universe is proliferating with series in all genres, webisodes run 10 minutes and online content is replete with story arcs, drama, even TV and movie stars. “The web has become television,” declared Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time) co-creator of the web series Husbands and moderator of the Guild’s recent panel, “The Art of Writing for the Web.” “You can’t see the difference anymore.”

On the panel, Espenson was joined by an impressive roster of web writers and visionaries: CSI creator Anthony Zuiker, who is executive producer of Cybergeddon, a multi-platform high-tech action series launched on Yahoo! in 25 countries and 10 different languages; YouTube comic Brad Bell, who (along with Espenson), is co-creator and writer of Husbands, a web sitcom about a gay married couple; Erica Oyama, creator of the reality show parody Burning Love; and Dennis Leoni, creator of Resurrection Boulevard (cable TV’s longest running Latino family drama) who has crossed the digital divide with Los Americans, a public-service oriented traditional family drama.

From the esoteric (can you balance social conscience with comedy on the web?) to the practical (how to structure a webisode in three acts) to the pragmatic (someday you will be able monetize your web series – but not yet) the web-writing panel, organized by WGAW Member Services/Organizing, went way beyond its appellation.

Here are some highlights:

Mixing social conscience and comedy on the web
“It’s a challenge . . I’m taking a page out of the Normal Lear playbook. In doing a gay married couple we’re pushing the medium forward, and the industry.” - Brad Bell  

Measuring audience response
“You put an episode up and immediately know what everyone thinks of it.” - Erica Oyama 

Producing a web series on a shoestring budget
Leoni shot eight episodes of Los Americans in 21 days, almost all of which were filmed in the same house. “I thought, ‘how many ways can we shoot this kitchen.” - Dennis Leoni 

How to cast well-known actors in your web series
Network, call in favors from actor pals (Leoni told Major Crimes’ Raymond Cruz that if he beat him at golf the actor would have to appear in his web series, and he did), don’t count on agents as a go-between, ask all your friends to ask all their friends – someone is bound to know Gwyneth Paltrow.

Raising capital
Try Kickstarter. “We asked for $50,000 and got 30 in the first 12 hours.” - Brad Bell  

The challenge of doing drama on the web
“It’s hard to convey emotion and serious drama. I’m still trying to drag a little more traditional programming to the web. I want to see if we can make that work, because eventually TV and the Internet will be the same thing in all our homes. It will be online everything, but it’s still TV.” - Dennis Leoni 

Where it is all headed for writers
“The future of content will not be in theaters or on television. In the next five to ten years it will all be online.” - Anthony Zuiker 

Watch "The Art of Writing for the Web" panel discussion. 


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