For writer/director/producer Julie Kalceff and actor/producer Rosie Lourde, their hit web series Starting From Now was a passion project that surprised even them with the extent of its success and resonance with audiences globally. The five series of Starting From Now have amassed over 33 million views to date and been watched in more than 230 countries. In March 2016, seasons 4 and 5 were acquired for broadcast and screened on Australia’s SBS2 television network.
The series also proved to be a literal masterclass in writing and marketing a viral web series for Julie and Rosie and one they have now officially taken on the road as part of the Australian delegation at this year’s VidCon – the largest online video conference in the world – and most recently, at Raleigh Studios as part of AiF’s industry workshop program, which aims to educate and connect Australian creatives to the international market.
Using Starting From Now as their case study, Julie and Rosie’s presentation entitled From Script to Millions of Screens: How to Write and Market a Narrative Web Series That Goes Viral explores numerous aspects of the online creation process including writing and how to plot for the web, how to find and build an audience, the benefits of niche content, common pitfalls and how to leverage success.
“Knowing who your audience is, and where to find them, is the most important piece of advice I can give to online creators,” Julie said. “We shot five seasons of Starting From Now in three years so we had an enormous amount of engagement with our audience. That engagement was immediate too and as a creator feedback like that is invaluable because you know with certainty what your audience is responding to.”
“That sense of integrity is so important,” Rosie adds. “For sure you need to be adaptable on the platform and responsive to your audience but truly knowing who’s watching and even being a member of your audience has a level of authenticity that rings so true online.
“And we wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of our behind-the-scenes family too,” Rosie said. “Australians in Film has been so fantastic and Screen Australia and Screen NSW both really paid attention when we came to them. Their buy-in was integral to the success of Starting From Now and we’re so appreciative of their enthusiasm for the series.”
Below are Julie and Rosie’s top five insights into creating a successful narrative web series as per their VidCon and AiF presentations:
1. Know how to reach your audience – before you even write a word, ask yourself: who is my audience and how will they know my series exists? More than 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute so there’s a lot of competition online and you have to put in a lot of effort to find your audience. In this regard, having niche content is actually a really good thing! Remember that online audiences are global so they’re deep. We reached out to lesbian bloggers and sites, we built relationships and promised them content so they felt they were a part of the journey before any of the episodes had aired. We tried to create a buzz about the series and ensured we had heaps of behind-the-scenes photos and videos to share too – social media is a hungry beast so you always needs lots of content.
2. Tell a universal story – Starting From Now is niche subject matter but our audience is now 22% male because once word of mouth kicks in, your audience will grow is you’re focused on telling a universal story that truly taps into elements of humanity that resonate. This will ensure you find a bigger audience, even if it takes one or two or even five seasons to do so!
3. Know how to keep your audience – we ensured all of our social media and branding was in place before we started so it’s easier for people to find your content and recognize it. Post regularly to keep people engaged, it will really help to build up your community. The immediate feedback that online provides is so valuable – use it! We actually changed the end of the series as a result of the feedback we received so we could give our audience a more satisfying outcome for what they were invested in.
4. Know how to leverage your success – the best way to ensure you’re leveraging success and allowing the buzz and momentum surrounding your content to build and grow is to have the next show in your back pocket. Even if it’s just a mid-term and long-term plan for how the series will unfold, make sure you have that ready to go when people ask for it because that’s what they’ll be interested in.
5. Be aware of the common pitfalls – remember that you can’t just put your content out there and expect people to find it. This creative process can take a lot of time but if you know who your audience is and you’re making content you believe in, it will be much more successful. Make sure you hire proper actors, a lot of people use friends but that can be a pitfall – our audience really engaged with our great cast and their performances were integral to the series really resonating. Not doing enough preparation can also be a pitfall and it makes it so much easier on the day. There will always be things that go wrong but if you’re prepared you’ll be better able to know what comprises to make. Take lots and lots of behind-the-scenes photos of videos, remember social media is a hungry beast and keeping your audience engaged with fresh content is important.