Now in its second season, Squaresville is a comedy about two geeks trapped in a small town. The series is distributed on Wonderly, Big Frame’s network for young women. Last year it took home three trophies at the International Academy of Web Television Awards, including best comedy series, best writing (comedy) and best ensemble.
At literally every panel, mixer or meet and greet that has ever been or ever will be, someone is asking the question, “What would you tell yourself if you were starting out?” You’ve probably been asked it yourself, and the typical (and totally legit) answer is, “Don’t wait. Just do it.” But the other, slightly more brutal answer is: you’re going to do stuff out of your comfort zone, and you better like it. The “learn to like it” mentality is the important part.
We’ve all probably figured out the first part of that sentiment. Filmmaking is an adventure. You’re going to be solving a big logistical, artistic puzzle, and that’s gonna be a challenge. But I’m talking about all the business-school-y stuff. Stuff I never thought I would have to deal with, never wanted to deal with, and frankly, never thought I would be good at.
But it’s hard to tell those bright eyed panel goers, or those old friends, or your friend’s cousin who’s really excited about web series the truth, because it’s embarrassing. I like that marketing stuff. I don’t like it as much as writing, or directing or being on set. But I do like it, because I learned to like it. Theres a rush in anything that clicks. Once you’ve figured out how to do something well, it gets fun, it gets exciting.
There’s this idea among artistic communities that marketing is crass, boorish, boring and anti-art. I think those attitudes aren’t always wrong, but I also can’t afford to care. The success of your web show is going to be thanks to countless people, your crew, your cast, your support system of family and friends, but its failure is exclusively yours.
I’ve been lucky enough to find some success with Squaresville, but it took years, and multiple shows before I found something that landed the way this show has. I want to support people, and encourage creativity and freedom, and I genuinely believe in the promise that the DIY internet ethos that web series promises… You have to know it, and own it, and keep up on changing trends and strategies. Because even the guys who are cranking out videos every week and are getting millions of views, know that they have to play to the strategy of the medium. There isn’t a single person, no matter how relaxed or “coincidental” their success is, who isn’t hustling to gain more exposure. If they’re making it look cool, it’s because that’s part of their brand in the first place.
There’s a misconception that seems prevalent, that just because web is a great place to get started, we can ignore the nature of the medium. Just because you have television or film aspirations, doesn’t mean you should make a tv show and put it on the web. You wouldn’t expect a person who knows how to read and write, but has never read a novel to write well.
Think of 5 TV shows or movies you LOVE. Easy, right?
Now think of 5 web series you LOVE.
Now imagine me handing you a book of computer gobbedly-gook. In that book are ways for you to show people your art, but it is the driest thing you’ve ever read. Would you read it immediately, or would you throw it in the corner, eye it guiltily for a few weeks, then shelve it?
There aren’t going to be people to do the hard stuff for you, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s important to hire the right people for the job, but if you’re not making any cash, the right person is you. Go buy some books on web marketing. I used to joke about all the classes I should’ve taken at school in addition to “The Outsider in German Literature and Film” (which you should totally take if you get the chance) and how helpful they would be. Sure, at a certain point you need to bring on experts to help out with the bigger picture – don’t try designing, printing and fulfilling T-shirt orders yourself (like I did), but you still have to have a passion for every part of your enterprise. Because you’re starting a business, not making a short film.
Marketing is just another way for you to repurpose your work for a new audience. Heck, it’s already a web series. Marketing is content and content is marketing, right? It’s all part of how people are consuming your work, so who better to shape that messaging? I know it can get a little nerdy, a little time consuming and at worst, kind of boring. There will be late nights reading up on SEO and tagging strategies. But once you’ve sparked an audience, once you’ve found your super fans, and they’re working with you as a community, the experience becomes that much richer.
Matt Enlow is the creator of Squaresville. His earlier series include: Engaged, MyJobESearchOnlinester.com and Mountain Man, for which he earned three Streamy nominations. He works as an editor at Comedy Central and previous helped found Strike TV.