By Jeanette Bonner
Currently in its 4th year, NYC Web Fest is a festival that prides itself on its diverse submissions, and this year was no exception. The festival was created by Lauren Atkins to bring together a multifaceted group of people from around the world. In addition to selections brought from international creators from countries such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Spain, and South Africa, this year’s fest represented a range of content styles, from comedy to reality, but more notable, this year’s fest brought a fresh crop of newcomers to an established content creator community.
Okay so I have this theory: I believe web series have become the avocado toast of our generation. Or #generation. Wait wait wait, don’t click away – hear me out.
The avocado toast is a food frenzy that’s as simple as they come, right? It doesn’t involve a chef using croissant dough to make a muffin, there aren’t any ingredients that promise to deliver charcoal detoxification or antioxidants like acai. It’s pretty basic – toast, California avocados, olive oil, sea salt. And yet BOOM! Just like that suddenly they’re everywhere, blowing up your Instagram feeds and making you feel like a trendy millennial just by ordering one yourself.
Just like web series. So let’s call it the Millennial Effect. I’m sure you’ve noticed that we are in a bountiful time of web series, where almost everyone you know with an IPhone and an understanding of editing is undertaking a new series. You may even say that having one’s own web series is not unlike the IPhone itself, transforming technology by being today’s ‘it’ accessory. Making a series has become uber-popular in an unquestioning way and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
A flip through of the 2017 NYC Web Fest program shows us something even more fascinating. Beyond simply seeing actor-producers making their own series; we are seeing new creators making their own series almost entirely by themselves. Twenty three of this year’s ninety selections have a single person credited under four separate titles (for example: Producer- Director-Writer-Actor). Eleven series have persons carrying five roles (for example: Producer-Director-Editor-DP-Sound Editor), and five series have people who carried a whopping six roles (eg, Producer-Director-Writer-DP-Editor-Actor)! As a multi-hypenate myself (Producer-Writer-Actor), I applaud this Herculean effort because I know from experience that that’s an incredible amount of work.
While surely relying solely on yourself to make your series helps to cut costs, a larger creative team can often strengthen an idea with alternative creative input. Without it, a project can lean towards uniformity. Recurring themes abounded at this year’s fest, and while audiences do love a good dick pick joke, audiences also love creative differentiation. Not unlike the avocado toast, new web series are part of a movement with an unclear future, ever in motion but not really evolving past storylines centered around crummy apartments and online dating. The cliché is true: to stand out you have to do what the other guy is not doing.
The series that stood out this past weekend had two things in common: creation teams with more than two or three persons, which lent itself to better production quality overall and often a clearer, more efficient story and plot, and (this is clutch) stories we haven’t seen before.
The Bunny Hole is a comedic series produced and directed by Broadway producer Ken Davenport in the style of Reno 911 about a struggling C-grade brothel in the middle of nowhere Nevada that had the audience howling with laughter within its first three minutes. Australian series Girt by Fear showed a short, quick pilot for their series about “Australia’s loosest Halloween party” but it was so intense it took an audience member so by surprise that she screamed as if she was watching Halloween, which of course then caused the audience to erupt in a serious fit of giggles. Sounds of Freedom was an incredibly powerful, moving dramatic series about a servicewoman that returns from the Iraq war only to experience post-traumatic stress disorder via a series of flashbacks, and whose story is paralleled with Charlie, a Vietnam vet experiencing the same. Producers Bruce Weech and Holly Chadwick (who also wrote and directed the series) requested that their series screen on Veterans Day, and explain in the program notes that the series takes off when “these two veterans are challenged to the max when a serial killer strikes home.” Now, I don’t know about you but that is a logline that totally intrigues me to watch the full series. And these three are just a sampling of several stellar standouts.
I applaud NYC Web Fest for being a place where both the newcomer and professional series creator can exist simultaneously. Creators and producers who want to be creating more of their own content can benefit from the community of NYC Web Fest. This is a rogue industry by nature; no one ever taught filmmakers to make web series in film school (although they may be doing so now!). People start by using what they have – their environment, their friends, their lives. It is by its very nature nascent and new, constantly growing and evolving, and we who attend have the benefit of watching how others did it, learning from them, and growing as we develop more work down the line.
This is one of the things that NYC Web Fest does best. At the awards gala in Chelsea on Saturday night of the festival, a normally vast sports pub with a sprawling bar was packed with creators, festival attendees, and their friends. The after party continued into the wee hours of the morning (this writer got home at 3am) as creatives and producers continued to network and make friends. It’s a good time to be a creator, because as long as there are audiences, platforms, and festivals like NYC Web Fest we have a reason to keep making new series.
So when are you gonna make yours??
Check out WFG’s interviews with creators here