By Alizée Musson
In the pre-internet age, filmmakers’ options for getting a foot in the door were limited to writing spec scripts and shooting short films for the festival circuit. Back then, reaching an audience was impossible without convincing the industry’s gatekeepers first. Nowadays, in the world of Web 2.0, reaching a worldwide audience is only a click away. Through their web series’, the following three projects gathered enough momentum to launch their creators’ big break.
So, what can we learn from these success stories that may inspire you to jump on the web series bandwagon?
1. Simon's cat
The internet loves cats; it’s a well-known fact. Back in 2008, Simon Tofield, an animator, decided to teach himself computer animation by making a short film. Inspired by one of his four cats, Hugh, the film focused on a cat trying to get his owner’s attention in the morning. A simple idea that carried Tofield far. Without knowing it at the time, someone copied the film from his showreel and uploaded it to YouTube. By the time he realised, the video had captivated more than cat lovers around the world. Seeing the video’s popularity, Tofield decided to launch a YouTube channel to tell more of his buddies’ daily adventures - Simon’s Cat was born!
Hundreds of episodes have been made since, viewed around 1 billion times on a YouTube channel with 5.5M followers. From working alone behind his computer, Tofield became a director leading a team of animators. Simon’s Cat became so viral that in 2009, a book adaptation was announced and went on to sell internationally.
From then on, the web series and his feline protagonist evolved into various formats: in 2012, Simon’s Cat comic strips ran in The Daily Mirror; in 2016, Simon’s Cat partnered with Sesame Street; and in 2018 the game Simon’s Cat Dash came out.
Tofield’s experience is a perfect example of how sharing your work on a platform such as YouTube could be a great way to test a concept – even one you haven’t thought of yet.
2. Shiro's Story
In 2018, rapper and filmmaker Andrew Onwubolu (a.k.a. Rapman) released the three-part web series Shiro’s Story on YouTube: the story of a father who must dive deep into the London gang world to get his daughter back; all told through freestyle rap. Inspired by a real-life story from the South London neighbourhood of Lewisham, where Rapman grew up, the film was shot “guerilla-style” with a small cast and crew. The trilogy was an instant hit, gathering millions of views within the first hours of being released.
Shiro’s Story didn’t just garner a wide audience, it also caught the attention of producers and broadcasters. Thanks to this web series, Rapman moved on to more significant projects. In 2020, he released a crime drama feature film, Blue Story, based on another YouTube series of the same name that he had released in 2014. The film was co-produced by Paramount Pictures and BBC Films and was short-listed for the BAFTAS. The web series’ success also led Rapman to get a representation deal with the entertainment agency Roc Nation.
The success of Shiro’s Story is definite proof that you don’t need fancy gear and a big budget to create a hit – all you need is a good story.
3. People Just Do Nothing
People Just Do Nothing follows the lives of MC Grindah, DJ Beats and his friends running a radio station called Kurupt FM, broadcasting drum and bass music from Brentford, London. Created by Allan Mustafa, Steve Stamp, Asim Chaudhry and Hugo Chegwi, this mockumentary sitcom was first released on YouTube in 2011 as five webisodes, accumulating around 380K views. Among the audience was producer Jon Petrie who worked with a former producer of The Office, Ash Atalla. Seeing potential in the idea, Atalla arranged to produce a pilot episode for BBC3’s Comedy Feeds in 2012. BBC3 liked the concept and decided to pick up the series. Its first season was released in 2014 and ran for five seasons until 2018.
In 2017 the show won a BAFTA award and a Royal Television Society award for Best Scripted Comedy. Although it is now over, the creators have been working on a feature film adaptation due to be released in August 2021: People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan. The series’ success has also opened many doors for the creators: Allan Mustafa, Asim Chaudry and Hugo Chegwin have since respectively appeared in films and TV series, including Netflix’s Love Wedding Repeat, Wonder Woman 1984 and The Announcement, and Steve Stamp continues to write for TV, including the TV movie Peacock.
While this web series did not gather millions of views, its concept stood out enough to get picked up by a significant broadcaster. You don’t need many episodes. All you need is a strong story to get noticed.
So, what are you waiting for?
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