Tuesday 23rd May 2017,
Televisual

Web Series Spotlight: An Indie Series Goes Full-Length

Whenever any indie series makes it to its third season, it’s cause for celebration. But when a show enters its third season with full-length, 20-minute episodes, it raises an extra eyebrow.

Drama Queenz is likely the web’s longest-running black gay web series. I’ve profiled it before, but creator Dane Joseph caught my attention after I saw his third season opener, which ran a lengthy, but fairly brisk, 19 minutes long.

“We want it to be on the air, and finally feel that we’re confident enough with this season to have a product that we understand and feel like is worthy enough to play with the big boys,” Joseph said. 

It’s now not uncommon for web series to go full-length; in fact another one was just announced today. But most of the momentum is with shows from larger, publicly-traded video companies (Netflix, Sony’s Crackle). In the last year, two other indies have had success with 20-minute episodes: Vuguru‘s The Booth at the End has won some praise, and Hayden Black’s Goodnight Burbank recently sold to HDNet. Other lesser-known shows like Anacostia also shoot for TV-length episodes.

Drama Queenz lacks the star power and financing of most of those projects. But what it does have is small, strong niche of fans, many of whom were starved for content after Noah’s Arc (Logo) and The DL Chronicles (here!) left the air.

Joseph has been very saavy about marketing the show, producing cute digital shorts in-between seasons — Great Moments in Black Television — and cutting distribution deals with networks targeting their niche — first GLO TV Network, with whom he recently parted ways, and BGC Live, among the most popular sites for black gay men. (BGC is a social networking — read, hook-up — site for men of color. It’s a lesson to creators: think creatively about distribution!).

Joseph’s production company, Novo Novus, has also been busy creating shorts with rising filmmakers and launching a docu-series about homeless LGBT youth called Fade In. He has a bunch of future projects planned with producers like Dwight Allen O’Neal (Christopher Street TV).

Below, Joseph talks candidly about the future of the series, his other projects with Novo Novus, and what’s in store for the characters this season.

TELEVISUAL: What are the overall messages/themes this season? It seems like a couple of the leads are being bad!

DANE JOSEPH: In the time in between the show first started and now, I’ve truly found myself as a writer. I’ve matured, and therefore the characters have matured as well. And I think that I’ve found that there’s always a little angel in the devil, and a little devil in the angel. Exploring those concepts, the moments when we’ve done things that we never thought we’d do, when we’ve experienced behavior from others that we never thought we’d experience, that’s what I’m now most intrigued by. We came to the City as boys with a dream…but we’re no longer boys…and dreams change. Who are we becoming, who have we become, and how/why did it happen. That’s the real life journey the boys are taking this season, and it’s a lot of fun and drama mixed into one.

TV: What’s in store for the characters’ professional lives?

DJ: It’s hard to say. Davis and Preston just came back from tour, so that’s a pretty high moment for an actor. What we’ll see however, is that the business is hard. Even if you’re up one day, you may be down the next (kind of the theme for the season 3 premiere). Entertainment careers are tricky because no matter how hard you work sometimes, there’s no definitive payoff as there would be in more traditional careers (putting chance and talent aside). That said, this season the boys’ professional lives will run the gamut…will they make it…will they give up…will the business ultimately be enough? It’s all about the maturity phase, once again, from dream to reality.

TV: Tell me about how Fade In came about. 

DJ: I always had a desire to work with LGBTQ youth in some capacity. When we were showing Drama Queenz on the Nubian Dreams Cruise last year (an amazing experience), one of the other guests spoke to us about her time as a homeless youth, thrown out of her mother’s house once her orientation was discovered. It was heartbreaking, and we knew we wanted to use our art to bring awareness to the issue. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by homelessness. And, as our mission is to examine the LGBTQ community of color from many various perspectives, we thought it was only natural that we interview these young people and let their voices be heard. I called up Sylvia’s Place in New York, which was lovely and so on board for this, and the rest is history. The response has been phenomenal. We had to take a short hiatus from posting episodes due to so many production demands, but we’ll resume posting Fade In episodes (starting this month) on the 3rd Sunday of every month.

TV: How has the BGC partnership worked out for you?

DJ: BGC has been great! It’s truly enhanced our viewership and continues to introduce our show to new audiences daily. They’re very professional and on top of it, and we hope to reflect positively on their brand and identity as it continues to be the foremost diverse online community for LGBTQ men.

TV: What has Novo Novus been doing and what do you have planned?

DJ: Well, we’ve been doing a lot. LOL. We spent the last year really working on the Novo Film Project, which is devoted to making films that examine the LGBTQ community of color. Our first two short films (Boys Like You and Where Truth Lies) have been great successes, with Boys Like You winning “Best Male Short” at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and both films being official selections and festivals and events across the country. We’re working on making Novo New Media (the online division of our company) into a nonprofit and have two more web series in development that will definitely go into production in spring (another documentary project) and summer (a new scripted dramedy) of 2012. Drama Queenz of course continues to be a foremost goal for us to continue to grow this product as much as we can. Lastly, I’m working on a mean (emphasis on mean) film collaboration with Christopher Street TV creator Dwight Allen O’Neal, award-winning filmmaker Daniel Armando, and BET Urbanworld Screenplay Competition finalist James Peoples. That’s going into production in January, and I don’t know if you guys are ready for it. So excited!

TV: Where is Drama Queenz headed — financially and creatively — after season three?

DJ: After season three, we’ll see. We want it to be on the air, and finally feel that we’re confident enough with this season to have a product that we understand and feel like is worthy enough to play with the big boys. Financially, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a few “angels” believe in us and keep the show going, but (assuming for some un-Godly reason we can’t get some sort of TV deal) we do have a plan to just go the DVD distribution route and just make a few quick bucks (hopefully).

We’d love to keep the show going and we are truly committed (as mentioned earlier) to having a constant “free” presence on the internet, whether its this product or others. So whether its a sponsorship or through donations, we’ll be around.

Creatively, I’m a little bit more free now. Keep in mind, we were all theater boys and knew nothing about film at all when we decided to do the first season. In addition, the first day of filming season 1 was also my first day in grad school at Columbia. So we had a big learning curve and a thousand other things we were doing. Now, we do feel like it’s time to give this show the attention it really deserves, and I believe this season will showcase that. So now that we have a singular focus, watch out. We’re determined to be heard…but not in an annoying or arrogant way. Only class and sophistication!

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

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