This may seem obvious, but it’s worth making the point emphatically. The most helpful thing you can do for your career is to practice your craft. If you're a writer, write. If you're a director, grab a camera and direct something. If you're an actor, work with your writer and director friends to put something new on tape or online. Real success comes from constantly experimenting, failing, learning, and developing your unique, authentic voice. And with the platforms available today (YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, and so many more), there’s no excuse to put off creating.
Check out what these creators, who had singular visions, had to say about taking their smaller, personal projects and turning them into hit TV shows.
Co-creator Ilana Glazer had this to say about the initial response to the two-season web series of Broad City: “During the webseries we were never viral. It was always just the quality of viewers. We just started to get a response from our community–the comedy community in New York–and that was enough to make us feel like it was something good and relatable and that we should keep making them.”
On attaching a heavy-hitting EP, Ilana goes on to say, “Amy Poehler apparently had known of the show when we asked her to film a guest role, which was really astounding to us. After we finished her episode, we were really proud of it, and it was the last one of the web series. So we just sort of went out on a limb and told her that we were planning to pitch the show for TV, and would she ever consider being an executive producer on the project, and she said yes.”
“Actors want agency over themselves. The sickening thing of web series is they can be vanity projects, and it can get very ugly when it’s done ungracefully. The temptation is to make a show where I’m the main character every week, and you’re gonna follow me, and you’re gonna fall in love with me as an actor. It’s hard to have restraint… That was the key difference; we were focusing on the project more than our careers. We weren’t trying to get a TV deal. That’s the long and the short of it. That didn’t happen until we just made a whole bunch. A huge part of why it worked is because there was no end game in the beginning.”
-Ben Sinclair, Co-Creator
Issa Rae made three web series (The F Word, I Hate LA Dudes, and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl) before HBO started calling. She says success finally came when she “stopped trying to create content for the executives.”
“With the first one [web series] I tried to turn that into a television series. And again, people don’t watch shows that feature people in college – college shows just don’t do well here. And so I tried for a couple years to get that off the ground. And with my brother’s series, my brother and his friends are hilarious to me – they’re great improvisers, they’re talented musicians, and I was like, there’s something here, and tried to make that a television series. Executives were like, they have to decide whether they’re going to be musicians or comedians, you can’t do both.”
But even when she finally partnered with HBO for Insecure, she was not an overnight success. Issa says, "To get from HBO calling me to getting on the air was a three-year process.”
What are your favorite smaller projects that turned into big IP? Tweet me and let me know! I’m @CaroleKirsch.