Jason Klorfein is the producer of the web series F TO 7Th, a web series by Ingrid Jungermann, who co-created The Slope with Desiree Akhavan. The complete first season will screen on Tuesday, April 2, 7pm (tonight) at Anthology Film Archives in New York as part of the Friars Club Comedy Film Festival. This essay is part of Televisual‘s “Indie TV Innovation” series.
You see these types of articles once a year, usually by The New York Times’ K-hole’a Dargis, about how the shift from film to digital has changed both the content and the form of movies. Increasingly narrative cinema, or the idea of “movie,” seems to be defined not by the medium in which it’s produced or consumed (via film or digital video).
A TV series, or web series, is hardly ever talked about in terms of medium or device specificity, probably because they historically haven’t had the drag of being argued for as “art.” It may seem like the main difference between a web series and TV series is the content (what stories are told) and how it’s accessed. But right now, you can make a show for a small audience that never sees itself represented (Awkward Black Girls, Superficial, Homophobic Lesbians), and most of that audience will watch it on a non-TV device, like how I watch Political Animals.
Yet independent web series and TV series are also produced in vastly different ways. And this matters.
F to 7th, like so many other independent web series, was produced more like an independent film than a traditional TV show. Ingrid Jungermann wrote and directed each show. I was the producer very much in the mode of an independent film shoot– managing cash, talking to agents, scheduling, and picking up Boxes of Joe that no one wants to drink (they go cold immediately, so don’t waste your craft budget).
On a classic TV series, Ingrid would have had the title of “executive producer” or “showrunner.” The showrunner writes the bible and framework for the world of a show, commanding a fleet of writers who actually write the scripts for each episode, and then maybe directs the season premiere and finale. The director, on the other hand, is essentially for-hire.
There are practical and economic reasons for how a TV’s creative team is traditionally structured. Yet the growing number of independent web series has coincided, not coincidentally, with the increasingly popular, romantic idea of “auteur television:” Television creators like runners like Louis C.K., David Chase, and Matthew Weiner – are seen as individual geniuses. The idea of the lone “artist,” as opposed to a team of collaborators, has always been used as an argument for a medium’s legitimacy – and maybe its why web shows have started to be taken seriously. Web series production has become professionalized. The SAG New Media contract, which is how we were able to get great actors like Amy Sedaris and Gaby Hoffman for F to 7th, is only one example. If a union cares, it’s legit.
So many web series creators see their shows as blueprints for a TV show that can be crafted to fit old understandings of “episode length.”
F to 7th isn’t avant-garde in narrative, and like many other creators, we are exploring how it can be turned into a TV series. But both now and back in the script phase, the story seemed specific to the web. Besides their short length, each episode explored different themes and were different tonally, but all fed back into Ingrid’s (the character) discomfort and curiosity about sexuality and gender. It felt precise and personal.
In one episode, “Interchangeable,” Ingrid and Ann both surprise each other by having a strap-on. As a friend pointed out, a twenty-something writing the show probably wouldn’t have made that the reveal. It reflects an unease that younger LGBTQ people identifying with the language of queerness don’t have. It’s not a “cool” punch line, but its precise, personal, and completely story-based. It’s also totally different tonally than the dog park episode before, or the gynecologist episode after, but with the web, and its looser production practices, you can do that.
Obviously, what works for F to 7th as a web series might not work for a TV series – or a TV series on the web. A lot of us are aiming to adapt a web series into a TV series because right now, that’s the traditional way to monetize our work. There will be some successes, and a lot of failure. As producers, we need to challenge ourselves by asking questions about the mediums we’re working in, and how the very presence of “TV series” on the web (e.g. Arrested Development) affects what we do, what can be adapted to old format, what can presented on new devices, and what cannot. I’m curious to see how web series can push and establish their own identities outside of the language and economics of TV. The web series is a young format – or medium – or whatever it is.