Now more than ever, actors are being pushed to create original work and use it to promote their creative brand. With the presence of the internet, it’s become much easier to get your short film, sketch show or web series out in front of an audience. Social media apps have presented a range of possibilities for filmmakers, with the recent trend of social media web series, designed specifically for apps like TikTok and Instagram. So if you’re an actor or a beginner filmmaker looking to create a social media web series, this article is for you!
What Is a Social Media Web Series?
A web series is a series of scripted episodes that is released on the internet. These emerged in the 1990s and have had a huge rise in popularity in the last 10 years. Nowadays, there are international festivals and awards for excellence in web series including the Webbys, Streamys, IAWTV and Indie Series Awards.
Social media web series are created for media platforms, so users all over the world can have access to them. A social media web series will be made of short, narrative episodes that can be shared on these platforms and hopefully reach a large audience. These are designed for apps such as Facebook, Instagram and, in particular, Tik Tok, an app full of short videos (usually a minute or less) with an algorithm that curates content to suit the interests of the user.
Why Should I Make a Social Media Web Series?
As an actor or a creative, you want to show the industry what you can do. But it’s difficult to find opportunities to get your name out there. Creating your own work is one of the best antidotes to this problem. It’s an opportunity to showcase your creative voice by producing work that puts you in the spotlight.
Creating a web series for social media also allows you to reach a wide audience, especially with the TikTok algorithm, which promotes content to users with similar interests.
Case Study: The Formal
I interviewed Hannah Rae-Meegan and Monique Terry, a creative duo who have created an impressive body of work since they graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School in 2017. The two have previously collaborated as writers and directors on short films, including ‘Slag’ and ‘Bring Me Back, Ma’. In 2020, they created an Instagram web series ‘GAYgirl and the Apocalypse’ and in February 2021, their web series ‘The Formal’ went viral on TikTok.
‘The Formal’ is written and directed by the duo and stars them in the lead roles, as the series follows two queer girls planning their high school formal. The mockumentary style rom-com was released in February 2021, and the first episode gained hundreds of thousands of views overnight, with the account quickly gaining 75,000 followers.
The series quickly found its target audience of young LGBT+ TikTok users, who poured in with comments:
“Why am I obsessed… Netflix originals could never.”
While creating narrative content for TikTok is a new concept, this duo figured out how to create a hit. I interviewed them to discover their insights on creating web series content for social media.
So How Do You Do It?
1. Find Like-Minded Collaborators
Creating film content relies on having good collaborators. This means finding hard-working, passionate people who are interested in creating the same type of work as you are. If you are intending to write and act in your own web series, you still need a few other roles to make it work, including a director. It’s possible to assemble a “skeleton crew”, stripping the film crew back to the bare essentials of a DOP (director of photography), a sound recordist and a 1st AD (assistant director). Ideally, you would also have a gaffer for lighting and a hair and makeup artist.
The crew that you use depends on the quality that you are aiming for. Not everything needs to be a masterpiece, and low-budget projects can find genuine success on social media. Remember, it’s always possible to enlist fellow creatives as crew members or contact local film students. Or, you may want to hire a professional crew, depending on your budget.
Hannah-Rae Meegan and Monique Terry are a duo of best friends who have struck creative gold in their collaborative work.
“We met at film school and it was an instant, kind of creative love at first sight. We like to say it was meant to be,” Meegan said.
While having a creative collaborator is great for helping you to generate work, they can also offer support for emerging artists facing a daunting industry.
“We have so many friends from film school who are writing and directing on their own. It does at times seem like a lonely process. People really want to have this dream collaborator and we’ve just been really lucky to have found it so early on,” Terry said.
2. Work within the Limits of Social Media
Let’s talk about TikTok. The social media app has various limits that creatives need to work within, including the short time limit on videos. While it is now possible to post videos up to 3 minutes, most videos on the app are a minute or less. With ‘The Formal’, each episode fits into the one-minute time limit.
Social media videos for TikTok also need to be shot within a vertical frame, as this is how videos are displayed on the app. Captions appear on the bottom of the app and a sidebar is on the right side of the page, so videos need to be framed to fit this.
There is also the algorithm. Videos on TikTok show up on a curated “For You Page” which shows users videos based on what they have previously engaged with. Creators can use specific hashtags to promote their videos and reach out to their intended audience.
Creating web series content for Instagram would work similarly. Instagram has short videos “reels” that are like TikTok videos. These show up when you follow an account and on the ‘Explore’ page. To ensure these videos get seen, it’s helpful to have a consistent visual style and use relevant hashtags. ‘The Formal’ series has both an Instagram and TikTok account where the creators post episodes and behind-the-scenes content.
3. Keep It Simple
A web series told in 1-3 minute episodes needs to have a basic plot that social media users can follow. This is especially true for TikTok, where the videos are randomised by the algorithm and viewers may see Episode 10 before Episode 1. Terry said that episodes should be able to stand on their own, as well as advancing the plot of the series overall. ‘The Formal’ creators said it is best to keep the plot very simple.
“I think we were lucky as well because we did it the way we did it. We set the guidelines before coming up with the idea,” Meegan said.
“We knew that we only had one minute, so it made that easy. Because you can only do one thing in that one minute. You’ve got text and subtext. So we have the text and subtext, with the idea of planning a formal. The subtext being developing feelings or developing relationships,” Terry said.
Creating a framework to work within also simplifies the writing process. If you create 10×1 minute episodes of a series, you’ll have a full series in just about ten pages of script.
4. Know Your Audience
It is also important to know the audience you are creating content for. A third of TikTok users are between the ages of 10-19, and half of the users are under the age of 34. This doesn’t mean you need to create content targeted towards teenagers, but it is necessary to understand the demographics of these apps. Hashtags can also be a great way to reach your desired audience.
When developing their series ‘The Formal’, Meegan and Terry were clear that it was made by LGBT creators for a similar audience.
“Queer audiences, they’re there, they’re ready, they’re waiting. So I think it was always something that we knew we wanted to target. Because we were like: they need it, they want it, let’s give it to them,” Meegan said.
5. Stay Up-To-Date with Trends
Social media relies on trends, and these trends are constantly changing. To know the type of content that will succeed on TikTok, it’s useful to keep track of these trends. ‘The Formal’ is a queer rom-com which uses a mockumentary style, and the creators were inspired to apply a mockumentary style to their series after seeing series like ‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’ trending on the app.
“We just noticed that ‘The Office’ was very popular on TikTok and people were going back through old episodes and posting their favourite moments… I think it’s easy to forget that you are catering to a very particular audience,” Meegan said.
6. Write What You Care About
The common writing advice “write what you know” can feel limiting, as we often want to write stories outside of our own experiences. But it’s important to write work you genuinely care about and not just focus on what you think will be successful. Think about the TV series and web series you enjoy watching. Ask yourself what you are passionate about and what kind of stories you are interested in telling.
If you’re having trouble generating ideas, you can also use elements from your life experience. Terry said the inspiration for ‘The Formal’ came from the fact that when Hannah was in high school, someone ordered pizzas to the school and their punishment was to plan the formal. The idea of planning the formal as a punishment became the basis for their plot.
“We knew we wanted it to be a love story as well… so we pieced it together from that. We decided there had to be one person who really wanted to plan the formal and one person who didn’t really want to. It was connecting pieces of the puzzle, more so than having this lightning bolt moment,” Terry said.
7. Bring Your Own Voice into It
Film content will often stand out because of the unique voice of the writing. You want your content to feel like only you could have made it. This doesn’t mean it needs to be the most original idea in the world, but it should have a distinctive perspective. To find this voice, it’s helpful to bring your natural way of speaking into your writing.
“Our writing styles have always come from a place of truth and realism… for ‘The Formal’ neither of us necessarily had these incredible queer experiences in high school. We weren’t writing about what happened to us. We were writing about what we would have loved to have happened,” Meegan said.
8. Market and Promote
Of course, the most important thing is to create a great web series. However, if you’re wanting to create a social media hit, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with social media marketing. This includes identifying your target audience, choosing your social media platform and creating the visual design for your show (e.g. the logo).
Choose hashtags that will help your show reach its target audience (e.g. the hashtags of similar shows like ‘The Office’. You might also look at creating additional content for your page, such as behind-the-scenes content, stills, interviews, and bloopers. For a TikTok series, it’s a great idea to post promotional content that matches trends on the app, thereby driving traffic to your page.
If you’re a creative looking to showcase your brand and get original content out there, creating a social media web series could be the way to go. Since social media videos are very short, the amount of writing and filming you would do is equivalent to creating a short film. But the algorithms of TikTok and Instagram are amazing at pushing content out to an audience who will love it. Start brainstorming ideas and you might just create the next viral series!