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The Old Internet Is New Again: ‘If I Can Dream’ and Chatroulette March 11, 2010

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Original at SpliceToday

Does anyone remember Jennifer Ringley and Sean Patrick? Over 10 years ago, tens of thousands of Americans brought The Truman Show to reality by broadcasting themselves live for anyone to see. Webcams, people forget (especially people my age), were the original web videos. JenniCam and Sean Patrick Live drew thousands of viewers and became one-person brands long before Fred and Ryan Higa. Webcams were low-res and low-energy, but they were voyeurism incarnate.

You know the Internet is old when it starts to repeat itself. (more…)

‘Lost’ Alum Finds His Way on the Web with ‘Valemont’ March 10, 2010

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Valemont writer Christian Taylor with the cast. Original posted at Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy

Television matured by coaxing workers away from the Hollywood film system and onto the small screen. Today even smaller screens are enticing writers and producers looking for new opportunities, more innovation and less bureaucracy.

That’s certainly true of the creative team behind MTV’s mobile and web series, Valemont, whose co-creator Brent Friedman and writer/director Christian Taylor have roughly three decades of film and television experience between them. Last week Valemont pulled in six nominations at the second annual Streamy Awards, which honors original Web video. Valemont’s nods included best writing and best drama series, joining such series as The Bannen Way and The Guild.

For Taylor, whose past credits include Lost, Six Feet Under and an Oscar nomination for his short film The Lady in Waiting, writing for new media was far from easy.

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“Real Girls” Are More Diverse, Less Frivolous February 22, 2010

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Last week, I wrote about how influential Sex and the City had been to various web series creators. Along those lines, I asked the creative team behind a new (gay) series about women, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, to talk about how they developed their show and what the philosophy behind it was. Carmen Elena Mitchell, the executive producer and writer, wrote me back and filled me in on the behind-the-scenes planning. The show premiered last week.

The main goal behind The Real Girl’s Guide was to offer an alternative on Sex and the City (particularly the film).

“We got into this conversation about the world of Sex and the City…the world of rich, white, straight fashionistas. And it started me thinking – what’s the inverse of that world?,” I was told. “Perhaps a more ethnically diverse world where materialism is not valued, where being straight is not ‘assumed,’ where a woman’s goals do not end at getting married or finding the perfect pair of ridiculously expensive shoes.”

Interestingly, however, it’s about more than just the story. Real Girl’s also provides opportunities for actors of color who are often typecast by traditional media. This is something I’ve heard from other web series producers.

Below, the creators talk to me about finding financing, producing extra content to engage fans, what’s good about The L Word, troubling about Sex and the City, and what a “web series” is!

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Finding a Comedy Audience in a Crowded Web Series Market February 19, 2010

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Originally posted at Ronebreak.

[Note: I had a very insightful interview with MyDamnChannel’s CEO and a representative from FTVS’ 15 Gigs, both of which are really thinking about how to scale the web series market. I’ll be posting more of that interview in the coming week.]

Online comedy hasn’t been kind to television studios looking to break in. Remember Turner’s SuperDeluxe or NBC’s DotComedy? FunnyOrDie and CollegeHumor still run the game, but competition’s always bubbling up.

Fox Television Studios and its digital arm 15 Gigs’ have decided they need a more targeted push for their series Iceman Chronicles, so they’ve partnered up with comedy upstart MyDamnChannel, who’s looking to expand its library including such hits as You Suck At Photoshop and IKEA’s Easy to Assemble.

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Web Series Remix “Sex and the City” February 17, 2010

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Anyone who’s looked into web series knows most shows are marketed like traditional television shows are. Pitching a show to Hollywood, you come up with an easily digestible equation: Glee = High School Musical + The Simpsons (or some other “transgressive” show) or Flash Forward = Lost + Heroes (Season 1). You get the idea. If they aren’t hybrids, most shows are pure derivatives (Cashmere Mafia = Sex and the City, basically), or slight variations (Parks & Recreation = The Office + female lead). This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but, as Todd Gitlin argues in Inside Primetime, in an industry with so many unknowns, relying on past success is key. Shows that stand out entirely, like Arrested Development, are rare.

Same with web series. I just did a write of a show that was Twin Peaks + funnier. Or how The Crew is The Office + Star Trek. I’m surprised at how often Dallas and Dynasty get mentioned as influences by web series creators. As with TV, it doesn’t mean the shows are bad; all culture relies on variations of known stories.

Still, I’m amazed at how important Sex and the City has been to web video. It strikes me that, aside from perhaps The Office, no mainstream show has been as influential to creators.

So what’s the deal and how have producers worked with the canonical series?

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List of Gay and Lesbian Web Series Up! February 1, 2010

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I’ve been meaning to do it for months, and I finally took the time to compile a list of gay and lesbian web series (mostly independent) and it’s up!

Here’s the list.

Some interesting things to consider/remember.

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Lost About “Lost,” YouTube Tries to Help January 30, 2010

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Fine Brothers - Lost Video
Original at Ronebreak

I don’t follow Lost. I don’t mean I can’t follow it, as in I watch it but don’t understand. I mean I’ve completely given up trying to watch the show. Around season three I tried once again to get into it. No go. Too complex. Too many peculiar things happening. What is up with this show?!

Let’s say you’re better than I and you’ve managed to keep up. Maybe you played the Lost ARG years ago (the Lost Experience) and stopped watching for a bit. Or perhaps you’ve watched passively and largely forgotten about the plot over the show’s hiatus.

Good news! (more…)

“Anyone But Me” Creators On Web Series, Coming Out and Being The “Un-Gossip Girl” December 20, 2009

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Original at Ronebreak!

When Sylar orders you to do something, you better do it.

Starting its second season this week, Anyone But Me, probably America’s first full lesbian teen series, has gained its share of fans, including Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek), through is intimate, nuanced storytelling.

“Life at sixteen is fraught and fertile for drama,” said writer Susan Miller, a veteran of The L Word and thirtysomething, who wrote the show with director Tina Cesa Ward. “Anyone But Me shines a light on identity – coming to terms with who we are as gays, African Americans, women, and citizens of the world.”

The show has carved a niche for itself in a relatively crowded field. The web has been home to dozens of series about gays and lesbians. People of color have shows like Drama Queenz and the Lovers and Friends Show. Shows aimed at gay men like In the Moment are equally diverse, and lesbian series have devised interesting and addictive gimmicks, like the HBO-funded web series Time Travelling Lesbian and B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye.

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Super-Indie Web Series “Semi-Dead” Advances Horror-Comedy Trend December 10, 2009

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Web series are great spaces for narrative experimentation and genre-bending. Many of the most popular shows are genre hybrids, especially with comedy (sci-fi comedy, fantasy comedy, etc.). This fall, we’ve seen several series blending horror and comedy including Electric Farm Entertainment and Jon Heder’s Woke Up Dead on Crackle, where it’s doing well; Babelgum’s The Occulterers; I Kissed a Vampire; not to mention rumors of a potential Buffy web series from Joss Whedon.

Chris Wiltz, a young filmmaker, decided to go the zombie route and spent his own money filming Semi-Dead, a buddy comedy about two roommates in living in Los Angeles after its been overrun with zombies. Each guy has a very different reaction to the event: one, Joe, “goes into survival mode,” while the other Chris, goes about his life as if nothing has happened.

“The show is really about the personality clash and how these two cope with living together – all while the truth of what’s happening to the city slowly begins to reveal itself,” Wiltz said.

I spoke with Wiltz about Semi-Dead and producing and distributing an independent (black) web series, the challenges and advantages. The third episode airs next week Wednesday, with the rest airing monthly until the season finale — with a twist! — in March.

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Beyond “Black Hulu:” Rowdy Orbit’s Ambitious Bid To Build A Web Series Market December 7, 2009

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After 90 episodes of about a dozen web shows published less than three months into its beta launch, Rowdy Orbit founder Jonathan Moore claims this is only the beginning. The site plans to launch six to ten webisodes in the next two weeks, and hopes to be going at a rate of 12 to 15 new shows a month in 2010 — plans I teased in my earlier post, “Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Online Video.”

Needless to say, that’s a lot of shows by and about people of color! Are there even enough series out there to support this kind of development? (more…)

Lo-Fi Survives the Age of High-Tech and Big Budgets December 4, 2009

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Original at Splice Today. Comment there!

It’s the visual equivalent of wearing flannel or drinking black coffee. Retro ebbs and flows, classic comes and goes, but Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox pushes me to believe we are in a lo-fi moment.

You cannot write for a living and avoid silly trend stories; it’s inevitable. We naturally look for patterns, and we have blank pages to fill. Still, I think this may be legit.

First, take the reviews for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (more…)

Kanye West and the Power of Curating Web Video December 2, 2009

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Kanye West just made a film career. Let me explain. (more…)

Fine Brothers: Making and Marketing Hit Videos, Today and Tomorrow December 1, 2009

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I’ve already posted some comments from the Fine Brothers before, but I thought I’d post the whole interview, which we did via email a couple months ago (Sorry folks! Scholars are slow). The Fine Brothers — Benny and Rafi Fine — are two standout comedians in an online world awash in aspirants. They’ve created numerous viral videos and web shows, not to mention collabing with some of YouTube‘s heavy hitters to create very successful parodies and comedic shorts.

They also happen to be pretty shrewd about how they market themselves and conduct their business, so I thought this interview — unedited, below — could help out people starting to make their own videos or interested in learning more about the space. Their response to my last question was particularly interesting: “At the end of the day online video is not a place to go to ‘make it,’ and we feel many come into the space feeling they will.” But they go on to say that the web still shows promise, if certain things happen. Very interesting, and perhaps true given current conditions.

Below Benny and Rafi talk to me about how they got started, how they make and market their videos and why success online may not be their ultimate goal: (more…)

Fine Brothers, Shane Dawson Collab To Viral Vid Success December 1, 2009

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Originally published on the Wall Street Journal culture blog, Speakeasy.

Cult fandom and teen taste can be potent combination. (Two words: “New Moon.”)

Taking a cue from the trend, Internet personalities the  Fine Brothers and Shane Dawson posted an 11-minute parody of the Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” — filmed in just one day — on YouTube Nov. 21. In less than a week, the video has amassed over two million views.

The  parody, titled “Hot Teens Gone Wild on Degrassi!,” spoofs the long-running show, which is infamous for its grown-up storylines, ranging from date rape, oral sex, school violence and just about anything else taboo. The video plays up the show’s litany of parental nightmares, using camp to highlight the scandalous reasons young people love the show. (more…)

“Drama Queenz” Returns With A Fierceness (And A Few Guest Stars!) November 29, 2009

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The vast majority of original, independent web series never make it to season two. Producing season one takes so much time and money, when the millions of viewers never materialize, creators can’t bring themselves to invest more precious time and money. (At this point, I’d almost prefer most market themselves as “miniseries until proven otherwise”!)

Drama Queenz, a show about three black gay men trying to make it in New York’s theatre world, and its creator Dane Joseph then deserve a huge pat on the back. It’s a Herculean effort.

Remarkably, Joseph edited and marketed the first season while in graduate school at Columbia University, then shot season two, which comes out today. Now that, as they say in theatre, is gumption!

What’s more, the second season promises lots of hijinks, along with guest appearances  from some of my favorite YouTube personalities!

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“Kindred,” A Spirited Web Series On A Mission November 29, 2009

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Living Single and Girlfriends exist today in nostalgia, firmly in the annals of television history but only occasionally as a rerun on a niche network.

Who are their children? Certainly cable networks have tried to pick up the torch by giving Jada Pinkett Smith, Jill Scott and Sherri Shepherd their own shows, each of which (HawthoRNe, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Sherri) have had varying levels of success, most of it good.

But television currently lacks a show by and for “sistas.” Enter SistaPAC productions. The five-year old independent production company, having explored theatre and short film, has released what may be their most ambitious effort yet, a web series: Kindred.

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List of Black Web Shows Up November 13, 2009

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The Black Web Series Page

Due to the tremendous response to my last post on black web series, I’ve created a page with a more visually appealing list of shows I hope to update regularly. I’ll start writing descriptions and short reviews of the shows on the page as well, so check back for more information.

If you’re a creator or producer of a show, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list. Also, if you’re show is listed but there is an error, please contact me as well (ajean at asc dot upenn dot edu). Eventually, if certain series are not updated and have only one to four episodes I will have to take them off.

Also, please check my general web series page, which I’ll update with all the information I get about the space.

Thank you, click and explore!

“Valemont” Wants Your Blood November 10, 2009

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UPDATE (11/29): MTV screened Valemont today at 6PM and the series is in talks for a possible second season produced for television.

ORIGINAL: I’ve been very busy with researching, freelancing, curating, etc. and really I haven’t had much time to sit down and enjoy any of the media I study. With that, instead of going to bed at a decent hour tonight, I opted to get caught up on MTV and Electric Farm Entertainment’s Valemont, which I’d written about for BusinessWeek last month. Turns out there’s a simple method to Electric Farm’s success: they know how to tell a good story. (The company has a record most web series producers would envy: Afterworld, Gemini Division, and Woke Up Dead were all pretty largescale productions by web show standards and each a hit in its own right.)

Valemont is a fascinating beast of a web series, because it’s got so much going on! (more…)

The Rules and Meanings of Vlogging November 5, 2009

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My first academic article has been published! The article, published in First Monday, titled, “Real Vlogs: The Rules and Meanings of Online Personal Videos,” looks at how users on YouTube talk about what vlogs are “real” or authentic, and “fake” or inauthentic. Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores what the “rules” of vlogging (video blogging) are: the various visual and social practices viewers and creators understand and debate as either authentic or inauthentic on YouTube. It analyzes a small, random set of vlogs on YouTube and highlight several controversies around key celebrities on the site. This essay concludes by challenging whether conversations around authenticity will persist in dialogues about online video.

The paper looks several different kinds of vlogs to see to examine what visual strategies count as a real vlog and which ones do not.

In general, however, what is interesting is that even though, for some users, certain vlogs are definitely more authentic than others, a number of YouTubers either don’t care or expressly advocate for doing whatever you need to do to your video to get views. This pits the “authentic” with the “commercial.” But it’s not always an either/or presumption. The essay concludes by stating that the distinctions between what is real and fake may be collapsing, and users instead defer to whatever moves them emotionally — through hilarity, seriousness, etc.

I think the most valuable contribution of the piece might be the section on Lonelygirl15, which has been written about, but I really speak a long time combing through blog posts and new reports to figure out who said what about Bree, who thought she was fake and why, and what all of those conversations meant for the meaning of online video. I also narrate an interesting incident about LisaNova — when she first started LonesomeRhodes — that is a small incident within the scale of YouTube, but nonetheless a significant one, I would argue.

I’d also like to throw in, which I only allude to in the article, that many of the debates I highlight are really remnants of YouTube’s early days of popularity (2006/2007). By now, most people on the site have seen it all, and few things shock. These debates still happen though, as with the young girl who cried about her legal problems with sexual abuse, and the Raz-B incident, two incidents I write about elsewhere.

“Chick” Gives Women (and Women of Color) a Story of Freedom, Empowerment November 3, 2009

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"Chick" is debuting on Koldcast and RowdyOrbit.

More than three years into her relationship, Kai Soremekun had a knife before her, her boyfriend’s hand on the handle. The emotional abuse had gone too far, and she needed to get out.

“I had such a low self-worth at that point,” Soremekun told me. “When I finally got out, I spent a lot of time realizing how that happened.”

That process of soul-searching led to several different scripts, most of which were tough-girl narratives stemming more from her anger than from a fully matured artistic sensibility. They were “more a self-healing tool than something I should make,” she said.

Eventually she wrote a story of empowerment with the right tone and plot. The result is Chick, a new web series Soremekun self-financed premiering today on web series network Koldcast.tv and RowdyOrbit, a new site distributing web series by and about people of color.

In the series, Lisa leaves her loser boyfriend to pursue loftier dreams. She hears about a secret academy that trains superheroes, and the story progresses from there. While obviously a narrative of female empowerment, Soremekun does not want to scare off men; she wanted to story to have multiple layers.

Full post at Ronebreak. The first episode of Chick went live today at Koldcast.

More from my interview with creator Kai Soremekun after the jump. (more…)