Hashtags and Twitter handles were flying at this week's four-day Digital Hollywood conference. Executives and innovators in film, television, technology and new media came to speak at more than 50 panels held in the glitzy halls of the Ritz Carlton, Marina Del Rey. Attendees were split between young content creators looking for tips on what to make and how to get it seen in today's daunting digital landscape, and TV and film producers trying to grasp how their industry is changing and reinvent themselves.
To save you the $350 per-day conference price tag (OK, OK: $75 if you're a student), here are four tips from panelists on how to succeed on the Web.
#1 Do What You Can't Do On TV
The internet is forcing the media industry through the same transformation that occurred to the entertainment industry after the invention of the movie camera. Audiences and revenue are shifting (back then it was from stage to screen), and parts of the industry are imploding, even as new, innovative companies are rising from the ashes. “When the camera was invented, people started by just filming stage plays,” says Jim Stewartson, co-founder and CEO of Fourth Wall Studios, last year's Emmy Winner for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media. “It wasn't until they used the medium to do what could only be done there that they began to create revenue.”
The same is true for the internet. If you're trying to recreate TV, why should viewers switch? Embrace the fact that viewers can click around before and after your episode. Add links to character interviews, behind-the-scene clips, and fan interactions on your YouTube page. And if you've got the technology know-how, engage your audience on multiple platforms. Eighty-six percent of viewers have a smartphone or other such device in their hand while watching TV. That's why Fourth Wall uses text messages, emails, phone calls, and other interactive elements for their web-based series.
But remember, “story first,” cautions Elan Lee, the CCO of Fourth Wall. “Make sure your interactive elements serve the story and don't just become a gimmick”.
#2 Get Involved in the Improv Community
“The first five seconds are what matters for any content on the web,” says Jason Berger, founder and executive producer of the production company Kids At Play. Improvisers know how to get a live audience to engage in the first few seconds and stay engaged and laugh for a short scene about the length of a successful web video. Chris Bruss, president of branded entertainment at Funny or Die, and Matthew Pollack, a director at College Humor admit that they draw most of their talent from the main improv schools. L.A. boasts training centers for the top comedy theaters in the country: UCB, iO, Second City, and Groundlings. Within those halls, you'll learn how to produce fast, funny stories and meet fellow co-creators, future producers, and current camera ops and sound guys for your future YouTube smash hit.
#3 The Jobs in New Media are the Ones You Create Yourself.
The digital media industry is so new that the jobs that exist are the ones you create yourself. Create or find a project and give yourself your dream job: writer, director, actor, producer. Sure, you're not gonna make money at it right away, though you might find a penny on the ground while you're guerrilla shooting in the subway. But if you continue to define yourself in this new space as a director or manager, eventually the industry will listen.
Jennifer Olivar, a talent manager at Collective Digital Studio, began her career in her friend's apartment, finding young YouTube sensations on the web and helping them build and focus their careers. Panelist Lauren Schnipper realized her producing strengths when putting together sketches with friends for Funny or Die. She ended up creating the position of “head of production and development” at the YouTube channel Shane Dawson TV and producing the TV pilot for the uber-successful Annoying Orange series.
#4 Don't Purge your Facebook friends.
Sure, you're having a quarter-life crisis, asking yourself, “Who are these people? Why am I staring at a picture of this girl's dog's Halloween costume?” But that food-photo lover, dog dresser-upper could be your next backer on Kickstarter. You never know when someone will connect with a story you're telling and choose to step up to the plate. “Build your fan base before you launch a Kickstarter campaign,” advises Tara Platt, the co-creator of the popular web series Shelf Life.
Shelf Life filmed three seasons, all promoted by the cast and crew promoted on Twitter and Facebook to build its fan base, before asking for a dime. “Dick Figures had over 100,000 followers before we started raising money for our movie on Kickstarter,” says John Andrews from the digital studio Six Point Harness, “only about 6 percent of your fans are going to donate, so you want to have significant numbers to start.” For better or worse, Facebook is a community, and we homo sapiens are far more likely to help or pay attention to someone we see as part of our community than someone who isn't.
FINAL WORD OF ADVICE: If you're a starving artist (aka “student”) attending the next Digital Hollywood Summit (which we would highly recommend), pack a lunch! Otherwise you'll be ogling the only food option — Ritz Carlton $18 lunch boxes — and fending off hunger with free jam samples from the condiment table.
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