Why Webseries Work

This past Monday, I made the trip down to New York City to see the last film screenings of SVA's Annual Dusty's Film and Animation Festival.  I got to see my friend, Juana Hodari's, lovely documentary Tomasa, along with several other incredible shorts that day.  I missed several of the films that I had wanted to see earlier that weekend, unfortunately, but was so proud to hear that Tomasa won in its category for Outstanding Documentary!

This was my first and last Dusty attending simply as a viewer - next year, I will be among those screening their thesis films to be judged and enjoyed by students and festival goers come 2017.  It was a bizarre experience to be sitting in the audience, imagining myself a year from now, not simply watching passively, but fidgeting nervously amongst the screeners, watching them viewing the film I put so many hours of sweat and tears into.  But the longer I sat, the less nervous I became about the prospect.  I'm truly excited to see what the Dusty's bring next year.

I'll be co-directing my thesis with my good friend Jessica Naftaly.  What we are currently developing is the pilot to a webseries called After Oil.  The series takes place five years after the world depletes its oil reserves, and follows the story of a group of cyclists led by 19-year old Briar Dunlap.  Banding together to ferry food deliveries to the locals in Pahokee, Pennsylvania, Briar and her Riders struggle to keep the town afloat during the crisis.  But when a group of  corporate oil moguls come to Pahokee claiming the town is rich in shale oil, not only is Briar's new way of living put at risk, the future of her town is at stake.

The script for the pilot has already been written, and is currently in the stages of revision.  I plan to develop the series over the summer, and have all ten episodes potentially drafted by the time we begin shooting the pilot this fall.

When Jessica and I met to discuss ideas for our thesis project, we deliberated over what type of project we really wanted to work on.  We agreed that whatever concept we settled on, it had to have some sort of potential beyond thesis and the Dusty's.  We talked about shooting a short horror film, or adapting a short from a longer work like a feature-length.  We wanted to work with a concept that could be expanded in the future.  So when we started talking about the potential for a story about a young woman, living in Appalachia during a global oil crisis - not just as a short, or a feature, but as a series - we immediately started to get hooked on the idea.

Webseries as a whole have been largely underrated for the past couple years, but lately that attitude has started to change.  A report conducted by Adroit Digital in 2014 found that 68% of viewers prefer to consume content on Youtube, compared to the 51% of people still watching television broadcasts.  I can personally attest to the fact that, while I've lost no love for TV, I currently watch much more online content.  Typically, the only TV I watch anymore is streamed via online services such as Netflix, or through the streaming services provided through television stations' individual websites.

There's a lot to love about a series versus a short.  We get to see more of the characters we love, watch their relationships bloom, and really view their character arcs run the gamut of trials and emotions.  Plus, there's something inherently addicting about content that runs under an hour long.  When episodes run especially under half an hour, I'm more tempted to watch "just one more episode".  I start to feel that I'm getting the same quality of content I would on TV for much less time and effort.

I'm so excited to start work on this thesis with Jessica!  Developing this concept into a series is going to be a challenging and exhilarating experience, and I can't wait to really get into it.

Want to get involved with After Oil?  Stay tuned!  We plan to start crowdfunding after June 26th.  If you have any thoughts or ideas about the series, please leave your comments down below!  We'd love to hear from you!

Shai Cotten