Today’s guest post comes from Alicia Joy LeBlanc, one of the creators of The Power Trials Project, an interactive transmedia web series.
Super heroes, special effects, fancy gadgets, audience contributions that can affect the story — all online — for free. I was terrified.
What began three years before as an ambitious idea for a superhero story, grew into a super ambitious idea for a super hero universe. Just three people to build this thing. I had to write it, and it was too late to turn back.
Now, almost a year later, The Power Trials Project is up and running, adding new videos to our website and YouTube channel every Monday. In this universe, we follow the story of super heroes (with powers) and gadget heroes (without powers) as they struggle to live their lives off the battlefield.
We are still terrified … but also thrilled and better educated. So here are a few things we learned in our great adventure: the woes and the woots.
Woot – Preparation pays off. We developed character ideas, the story line, and our format vision over the course of about three years before taking the leap to film Power Trials. At conventions we were armed with teaser trailers, outlines, and a good vision of what we were attempting to create. Our director/creator (Jon Hout) and producer/cowriter (Stephanie Bain) were able to network with industry professionals at Film Con who were interested enough in our idea to give us a generous amount of their time. The two things they said the most?
1) No one is doing anything like this. 2) Go big.
Nail biting moment. Which leads us to …
Woe – Ridiculous amounts of rewriting. Scripts were reworked constantly for length, too many or too few special effects, actor availability, character arcs, length again … Then we decided that the project had grown too big for us to proceed with our original story. So we had to postpone some of our favorite characters until next year, which unraveled several story lines. However, that wasn’t the worst woe …
Woe – Adjusting for the budget. Since we were newcomers to new media, it seemed unrealistic to get the type of sponsorship we would need to get this thing off the ground, so we went with crowd funding. After much back and forth over which crowd funding source to use, we settled on Indiegogo to make sure we got some money out of the deal. However, we made several mistakes in our approach. Because our idea was so involved, we ended up with a campaign video that sounded … well, involved. Asking people to ingest a universe in two minutes and then asking them for money to build it didn’t work out well. About halfway through our campaign, we re-shot our fundraising video to focus more on the story. However it wasn’t enough to overcome our biggest problem: we had not hooked enough people from our target audience yet. Word of mouth was spreading far too slowly.
Which leads us to …
Woot – Indies live and die by favors. At the start we had grand visions of paying everyone who worked for us a professional rate. That definitely did not happen. Thankfully, some very talented friends volunteered their services or agreed to work at a greatly reduced rate. Watching these people work with such expertise and joy in their craft was humbling. It was a good reminder to me to pay it forward in this business.
Woot – One of the perks of making a web series or “new media” is … it’s new! That means that labor unions like SAG have a little more leniency in their procedures and rules. We were able to get a “SAG sanctioned” status on the project. This allowed us to give our non-SAG actors the opportunity to get hours towards SAG membership, which was a draw for some.
And while we are talking about cast …
Woot – we were able to find some brilliant, talented people who dove into their roles and quickly made them their own. It was the most exciting part of development to see these characters coming to life and growing right in front of us. Those were the times when we knew this thing could actually work!
Woe – schedules and adjusting, adjusting, adjusting. The Power Trials Project is an ensemble cast. We were shooting in Virginia and we had cast and crew coming in from Virginia Beach, North Carolina, Lynchburg, Alabama and Los Angeles. (Side note: online production meetings are not easy when your team is in three different time zones, but pick a time and commit). Not only that, but virtually everyone, cast and crew, were working on other projects that summer. This gave prep work a very late start for Art department. Coordinating all of the comings and goings and housing and feeding was a huge undertaking for Stephanie, who had just wrapped another extremely complex project. When we finally pinned down our shooting dates, we still had some people stuck on “never ending shoots” and we had to keep readjusting the schedule and rewriting the script.
Meanwhile, locations were falling through. We had already parsed down our episodes to the bare bones. We gave up numbering the drafts and switched to colors (Jon knew my morale was sinking when I labeled one draft PUKE). And then we had to face it: there was no way we could film what we had planned. So with five days before shooting we had to ask, “Well, what can we do?” The result was about 15 short scripts. But our talented cast gave us material for about 20 videos.
Woot and woe – Unveiling Power Trials every week has been a joy for us, but it’s been a lot of work to maintain. We have welcomed a few more people onto our core team to help with marketing and social media. And we are still rewriting. There’s no time off, really.
Woe — Marketing in the modern age — The most difficult part right now is the amount of time each of us has to invest in marketing and advertising. Very soon our website will be ready to accommodate audience participation materials. We can’t wait to share the superhero and super villain concepts from some of our fans. But with the constantly shifting ground in social media, it has been difficult to deliver a lot of our content. For example, while people saw and liked our videos on Facebook, they had no idea that we had a YouTube channel or a website with a series of videos. (Seriously, even my brothers didn’t know). And when you approach potential investors, it is the YouTube subscriptions that count the most. Our weekly meetings tend to focus on how to spread the word.
To end this article on a … Woot: The biggest Woot in this journey has been working with my friends. If you are going to build a passion project like this, make sure you do with real, solid friends. These are the people you can fight with, and still come out hugging. The people who let you hit them with pillows because the script isn’t funny yet, but they are dog tired.
Your project may succeed or fail, but build it on the stuff that lasts and you’ll have something at the end of it.
Watch The Power Trials and join the community at: