This is the topic I will be exploring in a paper Im presenting on the closing day of the Screen Futures symposium in Melbourne (July 9-12) Co-written with my colleague Karen Pearlman the hour long presentation is drawn from our experience in designing and teaching the worlds first gradate-course in Episodic Online Webseries. But the presentation is not a ‘how-to’ or a recapping of a curriculum process, rather the paper explores the nature of Screen Development in broader screen industry contexts.
The long standing models for screen production in Australia (as with most screen-producing countries) have been predicated on talent development and industry calling-cards through short-films and subsidised funding for feature films. But in the digital age are these models a viable one? Or are they failing to serve the needs and desires of audiences and the industry at large? Is there a vibrant alternative?
The normalisation of online viewing and the scramble by hardware manufacturers to bundle online channels into their devices are creating the critical mass to break down old distinctions between broadcast and online. They are also eroding the status and significance of a theatrical release. Simultaneously, camera and editing technology is cheap, portable and powerful. This ‘perfect storm’ creates an opportunity to revise our models of development and production funding to include an “onscreen drafts” model.
Onscreen drafts are low budget ‘sketches’ of our movies or television series, work-shopped episodically, online. They test the strength of stories by putting drafts in front of audiences and seeing what works before millions are spent. Screen storytellers can develop and measure a project in the medium in which they will ultimately be realised, rather than as a theory on paper.
This presentation will look at the Online Episodic Web-Series as a rich alternative pathway for filmmakers. A medium and structure of storytelling that not only connects with audiences but directly provides that long absent quality of Australian screen production - Development Time.
My co-author Dr Karen Pearlman expressed a vision for on-screen drafting as a development process in a recent article in LUMINA: the Australian Journal of Screen Arts and Culture.
“For a radical way of building ‘measuring success’ into process, I propose that we set up a system whereby we can begin to measure success early in the process, before a movie is in production. The proposal is for a funding system that creates onscreen drafts – sketches, if you will - of our movies, and measures their success in the medium in which they will ultimately be realised, rather than as a theory on paper.
Here’s how it would work: Screen Australia would set aside a fund of $500,000 through which it can fund
ten filmmakers a year to make a $50,000 ‘sketch’ of their feature film. The sketch is shot with a skeleton crew as an onscreen proof of concept. They cut together the work that has so far only been on paper, to see how well it holds up on screen. As a screen story does it entertain, enlighten, stir or excite? If not, where does it fall apart? They revise and shoot again. It is possible to use a digital camera and laptop as a sketchpad. No masterpiece of visual art is created without first making sketches. Great orchestral scores start out as ideas sketched on one piano. Why wouldn’t we,now that we have the tools to do so, sketch cinema? Cinema is an art of performance, dynamics, images and sounds, not of words on paper.
A draft of a screenplay does not have to be finished to be sketched – sketching onscreen can actually be a part of re-writing and refining the script. In this way, the ‘sketch fund’ encourages risk taking, allows for testing wild or unusual ideas, approaches, methods, and media.”
The presentation on July 12 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image wont just skim the surface but will get into some nitty gritty about what the core elements of Web-Series as Development process as well as structures and patterns for developing episodic plot, engagement and audience.
The Screen Futures symposium has a great lineup of international speakers and its dense program will span 3 venues in the Melbourne CBD from July 9-12.