So, you have an independent web series and want to promote it. How do you get exposure? How do you get the attention of media? How do you catch the eye of those intrepid entrepreneurs creating streaming platforms for digital short form content? How do you hook up with the people who will fund and distribute your next series?
My answer? Web festivals. Web series festivals. Web fests. Basically, all of these are names for the same entity and you need to be in them. They span 5 continents and Oceania (really) and being in them is crucial to the career of the independent series producer/creator.
I know from personal experience. Before web fests, I was just another super-hyphenate independent filmmaker in Austin Texas. Now I am an internationally award-winning digital series creator, producer, and actor. The show is on a premier indie digital platform. I have the reputation (partially deserved) of “going everywhere” with our little show. Those are the credentials that give me whatever credibility I have to write this. But it wasn’t always this way.
When Dipu Bhattacharya and I were trying to convert The Pantsless Detective from a twinkle in our eyes to a full-fledged show in 2011, we had no inkling web series festivals existed or if they did, where. Heck, when we finally wrestled Pantsless into the first 5 webisodes (yes, we called them that then) in 2013 and “launched” it (made it public on the web) to coincide with the opening of the SXSW film festival that year, we still had no idea if anyone was doing them.
But it occurred to me that someone should be doing one. I didn’t know much about web series, but I knew they existed and in good numbers. Therefore, festivals must exist just as film festivals exist for the thousands of independent films produced ever year. So, I searched the internet and according to the results, I assumed I had missed the 2013 editions of the few that existed (turns out that wasn’t entirely correct, but I didn’t know that at the time). 2014 editions then became the target.
Turns out it was good timing. 2014 was a year of major expansion for web fests. Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, Miami, Austin, Tijuana, and NYC WebFest joined LAWEBFEST, Hollywebfest, DC Webfest, and ATL (Atlanta) Webfest, along with Marseille, Rome and Melbourne overseas.
Our show got into 5 of the North American festivals, and we were determined to attend all of them. In fact, it didn’t even occur to us not to. Luckily, we were in a financial position to do so. But showing up at and participating in each festival we were invited to was good policy.
By repeatedly showing up at all the fests and attending as many screenings, panels and parties as we could, we developed a circle of web series friends among other series creators, festival directors and staff, web series media outlets, and folks running web series platforms. The plan was persistence and repetition. After folks see you several times they begin to remember who you are, they become more interested in viewing your work and if they like it, they become fans and advocates.
From the beginning, we intended to do multiple seasons of our show, and as it has turned out, each season coincided with a new Web fest season, again in keeping with our strategy to persist and persevere. We used Season 1 to raise funds through a successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed us to design and build flats that we’ve used to build sets for seasons 2 through 4, stepping up our production values from Season 1.
Season 2 entered a greatly expanded universe of web festivals in 2015 that truly spanned the globe. Brand new festivals and awards shows popped up in Brooklyn, Seoul, London, Dublin, Bilbao, Sicily, Rome, Berlin and Rio de Janiero, many of which we were lucky enough to get into and attend. Although we tried, we were only able to attend 9 of the 12 festivals we were admitted to, because of travel restrictions from our respective day jobs. Still, we were able to expand and solidify relationships we had begun the year before and add significant new relationships.
But perhaps as significant as the explosion of web series worldwide to the development of web series as a new beachhead in motion picture art and entertainment, was the emergence of the Web Series World Cup, the brainchild of Joël Bassaget, a major web series aficionado and promoter who runs the web series review and information site, Web Series Mag.
The World Cup, now in its third year, awards points to series for getting into certain web fests Joël has chosen, getting nominations in them, and winning awards. Your score accumulates until the last festival in the Cup (Rio) and a champion in named. Joël claims he came up with this idea in the shower in the middle of the 2015 web festival season and he selected a small number of festivals the quality for which he could vouch. We were lucky enough to be top 10 and top US series the first two years. The Cup now includes nineteen festivals worldwide, and you should definitively enter them.
To my utter surprise, Joël, who I’d not yet met greeted me in English, at the end of the opening event (exclusively in Italian) of the inaugural Sicily WebFest with the words, “Hey, it’s the Pantsless Detective.” Even though he was a stranger, I embraced him enthusiastically even as I was thinking to myself, “Who is this guy and how did he know who I was?” I didn’t know it then but he was on the jury there and had watched and liked our show and as I played the main character, he knew me.
And I think that is my point. You need to be in these festivals because you need to be known by Joel, and Susan and Jeff Siniawsky from WebVeeGuide, and Chiara Mirikikashika and Cristiano Bolla from World Wide Webserie, and Chris Hadley and Erik Urtz from Snobby Robot, and Ajay Kishore at Stareable. They get to know you by seeing you in these festivals. And everyone else gets to know you by being in these publications and through the Web Series World Cup.
Who is they? Other series creators, for sure, and often the fans of those shows too. But increasingly “They” includes people operating platforms that distribute independent web series. Seeka TV, NetFall, Twisted Mirror all come to mind.
For instance, The Pantsless Detective is distributed by Seeka TV now and festival appearances are why. They find you in festivals and they notice when you get nominated and win awards. Also, many festivals attract producers and reps for internet arms of larger companies that are looking for talent to develop series with. Being at these festivals gives you access to pitch to these companies, including Studio Plus, and Black Pills in France, Funk in Germany, and Frostbite in Canada to name a few.
But also, you will have fun. You will get to celebrate filmmaking with other filmmakers. You’ll get to see more of the world. You’ll have adventures. Like wandering around lost in Bilbao until 7 in the morning because you took a wrong turn too many times and didn’t know exactly how to ask directions and people became few and far between. Or being without clothes all weekend because your bag didn’t follow you from the airport. Or drinking enough soju in Seoul that a park bench looks like a bed. You know, fun.
Festival submission season starts in August the year before and goes through November of the next year. Festivals themselves stretch from January to December and some may overlap. Last year saw 42 festivals worldwide!
Budget to have money for entry fees and budget to have money to attend. It is worth your while. Believe me. *
Tom Chamberlain is the award-winning co-creator and star of the award-winning web series The Pantsless Detective.