How to Find the Best Web Series Online, Through the Wall of Noise
Can Quality Web Series Cut Through the Noise to Find Your Device?
Excavating the Internet for Quality Short Form Content
Recently, I had been on a web series kick. I wanted to both indulge in short form content, and support the filmmakers who are taking advantage of these new distribution platforms; platforms that filmmakers didn't have access too only a few years ago. Unfortunately, it was difficult to find web series of any quality, at least with any ease. Through many internet searches, several lists of “top web series” popped up, all featuring the same ten or so titles. Despite a number of pages dedicated to this topic, all these articles seemed to cannibalize the same source material. Do you have to watch every video on Youtube to find the one you want?
With so many online users learning and manipulating search algorithms, you often can’t rely on a simple search. It has gotten to the point where a simple internet search is akin to an archeologist digging for dinosaur bones. It is newsworthy if you find something.
These polluted, inaccurate, internet search results devalue the internet across the board, but in regards specifically to web series, this does a great disservice to filmmakers and audiences alike. The filmmaker's direct access to their audience is new terrain, and a great asset despite these shortcomings. But these shortcomings need to be addressed to preserve the quality of film, as the current algorithms favor high volume over high quality.
In the old model, access was the problem. Filmmakers had to go through screeners and festivals programmers, studios, acquisition executives, agents and other gatekeepers to gain access to an audience. A new filmmaker competed against seasoned relationships, through networking, rather than through artistic talent. In the new model, it is through volume of content output rather than artistic talent.
Some Independent filmmakers found their way in through branded content, as advertising agencies were the first to understand the power of this new platform. Granted, there is some great branded content, but high quality branded content had become exclusive, work for directors through through middle men via agents and advertising agencies versus studios. This is not the same as creators, unfiltered, making work and taking it directly to their audience.
This wall of noise is not just a problem for the low budget independent filmmaker. Unlike companies like Netflix, who got in early and had been able to successfully capitalize on this new model through subscription fees, other companies missed the transition and were buried in the noise. Over the past few years, however, all the big names have been taking narrative online content more seriously. Sony Pictures “Crackle,” for example, which they call their “multi-platform video entertainment network,” is their attempt to capitalize on high volume, short form content.
The solutions found by and for these larger companies will more than likely not translate over as a solution for the independent filmmaker. The power of the middle man has been challenged. The next hurdle, the hurdle to high visibility and financial stability for high quality, short form, non-branded content, seems to still be far off. Maybe we can learn something from their subscription models?
"Always a Fire/Chad Jones Documentary" - one of the best branded content pieces that I have seen
Where Can I Find All Web Series in One Place?
What creators of web series need are aggregate sites to host web series. To the point above, try an internet search for variations of "aggregates for web series." Search results do not resemble the search. After hours of searching misleading links and content, there was finally one site that showed promise. It is a site called Stareable.com.
Stareable.com is a essentially a curator of web series. Their tag line is, “We plan to change the television industry by democratizing content discovery.” In this sense, it is like a Netflix for web series. It is a great site that divides web series into genres, and provides an extensive list of titles. The only problems with the site for me is that the links all take you off their site. This becomes clumsy, as so many series are of such poor quality, that you regularly find yourself with ten windows open when you are on their site - trying to find that one series that you will commit to. This is further muddied by that fact that, although users can leave reviews and rate series, it doesn’t affect suggested series or rankings on a subscriber's page.
Regardless, Stareable is a huge step forward for consumers of online video content. It is also great for the filmmaker in that it provides a direct path to their potential audience. But Stareable cannot address all the problems. Volume is still king when it comes to making a living off of content, resulting in mass amounts of filmmakers turned vloggers. The filmmaker still has to chase the old model of networking with middle men if they want to get paid for their talents. A solution is still in waiting for an innovative entrepreneur. An aggregate with subscription fees?
Blue Light - Web Series - Season One
Sometimes Digging Leads to Gold - "Bitter Homes and Gardens," and "Blue Light"
Hours of searching, however, have led to some quality shows. Some were good enough to binge watch in their entirety.
I will quickly highlight two of the gems I found from two different genres, with a bigger list to come in the future.
Blue Light is a great six episode, Twilight Zone inspired science fiction/horror web series. Bitter Homes and Gardens, describer by LA Weekly as, “One L.A. couple turned their endearingly antagonistic relationship into comedy gold.” This is a very polite way to describe this foul mouthed abusive strangely functional couple.
Blue Light, a slow burning black and white suspense, takes place in 1957 Baltimore. Mildred Sullivan, a housewife, returns home to her house in the country from a day of shopping. Here she finds people from the future talking to her through her television. Without giving too much away through a detailed plot description, the question the show seems to pose: is Mildred Sullivan loosing her mind as a result of the limitations of her domestic life, or is time really collapsing on itself - while people from the future look into the past for help?
Bitter Homes and Gardens - Web Series - Season One
The second show mentioned, Bitter Homes and Gardens, is a non stop riot, where the filmmakers successfully push the surface level story forward under layers of foul and politically incorrect jokes. The show focuses on a married couple, Larry and Fielding. This couple communicates through extreme abuse, which seems oddly healthy with the dynamics they have created. Throughout the show, Larry struggles to be a successful working actor, who uses the job and roles in question to justify his weight gain, while his wife, Fielding, is frustrated by a void in purpose. She identifies herself as a Snack Vlogger, between moments of shaming her husband, often because he points out that Snack Vlogging is not a profession, especially if you have never actually vlogged.
Bitter Homes and Gardens - a MUST SEE web series
Now is a Good Time to Binge on Some Web Series
If you have not jumped into the world of web series, Blue Light and Bitter Homes and Gardens are two good shows to get you started.
RCVR is a higher budget web series also worth your time, and also a great place to start - to show you what this format has to offer.
Hopefully more aggregate sites will continue to bridge the gap between content and accessibility. With the industry favoring immediacy and volume, we need some creativity to increase the leverage tilting in the direction of the creators.