Typing Faster

February 2, 2011

Web Series Week: Interview with Pretty in Geek Producer Courtney Wolfson

Filed under: Web Series — petertypingfaster @ 7:34 am

Whoo boy. You guys have struck the motherload this time. Courtney Wolfson is the producer of Pretty in Geek and Tights and Fights: Ashes!. She’s got a lot of interesting things to say about all the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes of these web series. Anyone who’s interested in getting into web series would do well to sit down and pay attention.

Typing Faster: Introductions – Tell us a little about yourself (bio, schooling, past projects, yadda yadda, you know the drill)

Courtney Wolfson: I’ve been digging into the media production industry more or less my whole life. Academically, I applied twice but didnt get into film school, so I opted for a double-major in Communications and Psychology at York University. Professionally, I started young at age 16 as an unpaid summer intern. My first gig was an in-house PA at a music video production company. Over the last 10 years (or so) I’ve worked my way up from summer jobs to coordinating and PM’ing (yay for escaping the reception desk!) animated series. Some notable shows I’ve worked on are Chilly Beach and Yam Roll for March Entertainment; Gerald McBoing Boing and Busytown Mysteries for Cookie Jar; Rick and Steve for Cuppa Coffee, and Skatoony and Dating Guy for Marblemedia.

Last year I started to explore independent new media production, and wound up landing with GopherX.net. Right now I’m working with online entertainment geniuses Christopher Guest and Scott Albert of GopherX.net, Producing the web series Tights and Fights. I’m also, of course, producing the web series Pretty In Geek with creator Elize Morgan, and GopherX.net.

All told its been an amazing ride, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years in the new media industry hold.

TF: Tell us a bit about your current projects.

CW: Tights and Fights is a superhero transmedia comedy series. It’s an epic story, with 180 episodes being released over a year. We’ll still be releasing episodes, long after the superhero craze is over.. probably. http://www.tightsandfights.com It is a massive show, created on a 10th of a standard TV production budget. We were very proud to be recipients of the IPF web drama series pilot program last year, their support has been instrumental for us.

Pretty In Geek is a creative, dramatic comedy about gamer girls playing a fantasy table top role playing game. The 8 x 5-minute episodes ooze Geek Chic, FTW. It’s definitely a passion project. It’s a labour of love, and an incredible opportunity to showcase the talents of, and work as a career booster for, the cast and crew.

It’s also been an incredibly challenging project. Its offered me a real crash course in indie producing, I’m really, really proud of what we’ve created here.

TF: Why new media? What attracted you to webseries?

CW: It was something new and different, really. I was ready for this change in my career. I wanted to do something challenging, and to really establish myself as a Producer. This opportunity came along for me, so I grabbed it.

It’s easy to see that new media and online video consumption is growing. The industry continues to trend in that direction, and the demand for online content is becoming huge. This was an opportunity for me to get in on (or near) the ground floor as it were. I’m excited to see what will happen next, and where the industry ultimately goes.

TF: What are some key differences between producing a webseries and more traditional forms of producing work (short films, features, etc) – (could be as simple as how do you produce so much content on a shoestring budget)

CW: The biggest different is the simple fact that there’s less money. Budgets are smaller. Less funding’s available. You have to do more with less.

Cost per Minute is a key term in the industry, a general rule of thumb, budgeting term. Webseries tend to be shorter than broadcast series, which means fewer minutes, which (theoretically) means they thus cost less. At least that’s what the funding agencies and broadcasters believe, and thats why interactive content is typically underfunded compared to TV production bugets.

Unfortunately web series are still competing with TV. Regardless of how you’re funded (if at all), you’re still trying to make content that’s of a high enough production value it can directly compete with its better funded brethren (TV and Film), and you’re doing it on a shoestring. You have to make it look as good, and be just as engaging, as any of the most popular TV series.

People have been watching TV for a very long time now. Compared to that, web series are in their infancy. Convincing people to watch something online, as opposed to something on their television set, is difficult. People just flat out LOVE TV. Convincing people to give web series a go is the hardest part. The fact that we’re creating web content that’s as ambitious as a TV show, but doing it with way fewer resources, is just icing on the cake.

Alot of the time it feels like we are just making it all up as we go along. There are no rules to break yet, in new media creation. We’re among those emerging in recent years, pioneering it somewhat.

TF: Where have you secured web series funding (IPF? etc)?

CW: We’re one of 11 lucky recipients of last year’s IPF – Independent Production Fund’s Web Drama Series Pilot Program. It was a first for GopherX, and for myself, and we’re very proud, and are using this opportunity to launch our independent producing careers.

The IPF is a branch of the Bell New Media Fund, and they’ve decided to renew the webseries funding program again this year. Deadline for the first round of funding applications is March 1, 2011.

TF: Any lessons / suggestions for an aspiring web producer?

CW: Stay current on industry and technology trends, (read playback and nextmedia articles), and definitely have an open mind as to what people will like, and what you can potentially create.

TF: Walk us through a typical production cycle.

CW: The actual process doesnt differ much from Web to TV, or any other format, as far as I can tell. There’s a lot of overlap in phases, but that’s normal for any kind of series. Or maybe …this is because as the defacto PM, and with my background in TV, I’m manging our webseries, like a TV series.. hmm.

Development – creation of scripts, revise repeatedly, cast the characters, prepare budget, seek funding and support of all kinds.
Preproduction – moving on with the planning, spending money. finding location, rehearsing with cast, crewing up, creating the set, props, wardrobe, and getting all your ducks in line, everything from getting the right kind of gels for the lights, to making sure there are enough forks for lunch..
Production – where everything comes alive. the meat of it, the only part where we all do things without being attached to a computer for a few hours. To see what you’ve been planning for months finally come to life, is distinctly rewarding.
Post Production – where it all comes together. where you finally start to see the project take on a shape of its own, coming into its form as a final product. this part is 100% inside the computer. at all times. in a dark room with deep focus for endless hours.
Distribution – If you get so lucky! Have other people Also like your series AND want to give you money for it! (good luck, fingers crossed). Otherwise, YouTube it is – and find success in numbers and popularity anyway!
Interaction – connect with your audience, SomeHow. Engage your audience socially, through facebook, or twitter, or live events, or prize giveaways, fundraisers, parties, conventions, shows, merchandise selling, promotions, etc, engaging your community just got more exciting, acceptable and even mandatory these days.

TF: What do you need to produce a webseries? How many crew do you have? Hosting? Equipment? What are your shooting days like? What’s the schedule? How quickly do you shoot?

CW: Well, on Tights and Fights, the format of the show allowed us to shoot with very reasonable resources. We have shot 10 days so far, over 5 months, and have an average of about 10-hour days, 13 person crew, 2 minivans of gear/set dec/costumes/production, and shoot in 6 private locations mostly in downtown Toronto. We pump out up to 15 episodes in a day, in a couple hundred clips on 32 GB of HD footage.

Hosting, we let YouTube do that for us, and then pull the videos into our custom websites for additional online presence.

On Geek, the format is more like a traditional TV sitcom with 1 location, 2 sets, with very understanding and generous hosts. We have 5 cast in every episode so the headcount with crew nearly doubles to 23. So far the 8 episodes will be finished in the 7 shoot days planned, over 4 weekends, with about 30 shots per day, 12-hour days, about 40 GB of HD footage per day, hundreds of clips, 1 TB hardrive, 8 wardrobe changes per character, 5 lasagnas, 67 dice, and 3 bags of marshmallows.

TF: Anything else you’d like to say / share?

CW: Dive right in, if it’s something you want. Be a part of this online shift, and create opportunities for yourself. You kinda have to these days anyway, if not to make a living, then to make something truly creative. Also, handy to have an alternative source of income. 🙂

Oh yeah, I made up the number of dice, I really have no idea how many it takes, but we have lots!

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