Our digital lifestyle is moving with seven-league boots and sometimes our decisions have to be made accordingly. And so it happened when Suzette Laqua decided within a few seconds to produce Vancouver’s first web series festival, which will take place May 2nd-4th at the Imperial Vancouver (formerly District 319, at 319 Main St.)
The Vancouver Web Fest celebrates “the progressive evolution of entertainment and programming created exclusively for the Internet.” Screenings showcase a wide range of Canadian and international web series including comedy, drama, documentaries, thrillers, animation and more. The weekend also features industry panels, parties, life performances and an awards gala.
A few years ago Laqua was an entrepreneur new to the entertainment industry. She created a sitcom pilot called Last Chance Casting with Brad Whitlock. Like many other filmmakers, Laqua’s initial goal was to get a broadcaster on board. She received positive responses, but no funding.
“Basically, the bottom line was, we made ours into a web series,” says Laqua. “We broke it up into 10 segments, into scenes we cut for the pilot.” They put the show on YouTube and were invited to the LA web fest. The festival was a phenomenal experience for Laqua.
“I thought, ‘Wait a second, Canada does not have a web series festival!’, ” she says, and after her return, her entrepreneurial mind went into second gear. The idea got the final push when she saw a tweet by Fools for Hire creator Neil Every: “Who wants to see a web series in Canada?”
Two seconds later, Laqua secured domains for the web fest and spread the word on social media. The idea was instantaneously successful, and her Twitter account @VanWebFest has over 2,000 followers before the start of the festival.
Finding good submissions proved to be the easy part.
“Where we are going in life is the web,” says Laqua, who said the interest in web series is not surprising. “Look at Netflix, House of Cards, Orange is the new Black, it’s only available on the web. The key is, it’s not available on TV. The only way to screen them is on the web. That’s huge!” (Note: A DVD of House of Cards’ Season 1 is available at the VPL.)
Surrounded by experts
“I’ve got the business mind, but thank God for my team,” says Laqua, who recruited experts such as Leo Awards director Walter Daroshin and Celluloid Social Club producer Paul Armstrong as submission judges.
Producer Paul Armstrong, also known as exec director of the Crazy8s competition, says his criteria for picking the festival entries were “Do I want to keep watching another episode” and if the usually low-budget series manage to create high production value and tell a story.
It’s about time Vancouver has its own festival, after other cities such as LA and Rome, says Armstrong, who is confident the audience will be satisfied.
“I think they’ll be amazed how engaging these films are, also because they can break boundaries, they don’t have to worry about censorship,” he says. “It is interesting to see what you can do if you are not restricted by broadcasters or licensing.”
Too edgy for TV
Risk taking is something writer-producer-performer S. Siobhan McCarthy is not afraid of. Her pilot Parked – the Show, a snarky comedy about somewhat irresponsible stay-at-home dads, was deemed too risqué even for pay TV, and is available on YouTube and Daily Motion.
McCarthy will host an industry panel about how to build an audience for web series.
“Every series has its own path and what I hope when I am moderating the panel is to decipher what worked and what didn’t work for each of the different content creators and producers,” she says.
McCarthy found out that to have a reasonable ROI one needs at least well in the hundred thousands of views, and at least 50 pieces of content.
“It’s not just about one video getting a lot of likes, it’s about having a body of work with a long tail,” she says. The web episodes should be short, the shorter the better, usually just a few minutes. But one has to be cautious the ad preceding the clip is not longer than the webisode itself.
A little known fact is viewers have to watch the entire ad before revenue flows back to the creators. “It’s almost like the old school, where you have to keep it rolling and get a cup of tea and come back,” laughs McCarthy, whose show didn’t make it on time for the VanWebFest, but has meanwhile been invited to Toronto and Paris.
“[The VanWebFest] is an opportunity for people to learn a lot and to find future collaborators and to have an in-depth conversation about viewing habits and what content creators are finding that is working for them and what is not. And how we can instill change and create new content accordingly,” she says.
“Ultimately, web festivals tend to be the Wild West. There is a lot of experimentation. So if someone has more of a curious mind, I think it would be a beneficial place for people to go.”
Going for Gold
The reference to the Wild West is echoed by Yoga Town creator Jill Johnson, whose show did make it into the festival.
“Yoga Town was created to poke some fun at the competitiveness of the ‘business of yoga’, which is really the antithesis of what yoga is all about,” says Johnson, who created, wrote and self-produced the show with the help of friends and family.
“We uploaded through YouTube and then were picked up on three web based entertainment networks, Koldcast.TV, JTS.TV and Vidwalla.TV and seem to have a continued life,” she says of her achievement of half a million views. “While it is successful, as with all passion projects, this is a labour of love created as entertainment eye candy without much financial return for the dollar.”
Johnson is hosting a panel about legal implications. “There are some heavy hitters in the legal world that will be presenting some thoughts on legal issues surrounding the Web Entertainment World,” she says. “As it is a ‘new frontier’, it is pushing the traditional systems.”
Johnson is confident the Internet holds the future for filmmakers. “The Web Entertainment world is like the Wild Wild West in the days of the Gold Rush. Everyone wants to find gold!” she says. “Web entertainment is allowing a more equal playing field for creators to get their stuff viewed. We’re doing it on our own terms. Finding our own audiences and creating our own content without the restrictions of a network. It’s a great thing!”
By Katja De Bock
Fun facts about VanWebFest:
-9 a.m. screening blocks include free coffee and donuts. Yum!
-Students with a valid student ID can attend screenings free of charge. All ticket information here.
-The Saturday night party includes a life performance by the web phenomenon The True Heroines and a karaoke party hosted by producer Ryan Catherwood.
-On Sunday afternoon Naomi Priestley and Jackie O will record an episode of their web series Shoot the Shit at the VanWebFest venue.