Monday, May 18, 2009

Creating Your First Web Series: Zerks Log

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

It’s cliché, but true -- especially in the world of entertainment. When an agent, manager or executive sees your work for the first time, he categorizes you in his mind: comedy or drama, TV or film, good or not good. If you’re not on your game, you can spend years fighting against that first impression.

When you’re considering putting your work online, give careful consideration to the fact that it will live forever. Bad screenplays can be tucked away, horrible student films can hide on your DVD shelf, but online content -- especially a first publicized Web series -- can cement your brand for years to come.

Production company StoryForge Labs was recently wrestling with this very issue. Founded to create sci-fi entertainment, they wanted their first Web series to be representative of their years of production experience. “We wanted to make something fun that would be manageable to produce,” says Executive Producer Steve Lettieri, “and also showcase what we were about in terms of sci-fi storytelling and visual effects.”

Out of that thinking came Zerks Log, an 18-episode Web series about the captain of the Venturi 553, a long-lost alien spacecraft, whose video log entries were discovered in the ship’s black box. The narrative of the story leads up to the ship’s mysterious disappearance, as explained by the hapless Captain Zerks. His underplayed comedic tone colors his thoughts on mundane ship business, romantic aspirations, and the serious questioning of one’s own life purpose.

The show’s camerawork is simple: a single locked-off shot, where Captain Zerks shares his thoughts. It’s a familiar set-up to fans of reality TV or LonelyGirl15: a confessional given straight to camera. But the production values are extremely complex. The costume, character puppetry, makeup, and visual effects are top-notch.

Of course, Lettieri and his team at StoryForge want their show to be successful. Lettieri states, “Like [most] of us working in the Web video space, we’re still trying to figure out the business model.” Beyond revenues and audience numbers, part of the measure of success of the show is to introduce a small corner of a larger story. StoryForge has already released two issues of In The Engine Room, an online comic based on the engineers hard at work in the belly of Zerks’ ship. This type of meta-content has already proven success for TV shows like NBC’s Heroes and ABC’s Lost. Lettieri promises more locations and characters in the second season of Zerks Log, already in pre-production. In the future, the expansive story they’ve begun to tell could be licensed, leveraged, or sold.

But perhaps the most crucial benefit of creating Zerks Log is the razor-focused publicity StoryForge is generating for their work. Lettieri and his team have created a great first impression as excellent production artists, with a unique point of view on science-fiction.

It’s easy to envision a scenario where a Hollywood studio producer needs someone to create aliens for a big-budget feature film, or a TV show’s executive producer needs a writer who’s had experience with underplayed sci-fi comedy. In either case, StoryForge has created the first essence of a brand that may pay lasting dividends.

You can watch Zerks Log at:

Alec McNayr is a writer and executive producer at Space Shank Media, a digital media production company. He serves as a member of the International Academy of Web Television, the voting body for the Streamy Awards.

1 comment:

  1. You should check out 'Capatain's Blog' on YouTube, it's a sci-fi comedy series made in the UK. From what I can tell, it's shot entirely on green-screen, but it's pretty good for like a zero-budget show. Only 2 episodes so far but it's worth checking it out.


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