Stephanie Carrie is a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles. She writes The Tangled Web We Watch, a blog for writers about how to write web series and the blossoming business of storytelling on the web, as well as a column under that name for LA Weekly.
What inspired you to launch The Tangled Web?
I am a comedy writer primarily and was writing my own episodic comedy web series. Being a complete nerd, I searched the web for resources to educate myself about the way to write the strongest short form story arc. I couldn’t find anything. So I began watching as many webseries as I could find, and created my own categories of series and conclusions about the strongest way to write different short form act structures. Eventually I decided to create the website I wished I had when I set out to create my show, a site on how to write for short form narrative on the web.
What are the top three reasons aspiring creatives should launch a web series?
1. There are no rules. No rules for format, length, genre, or content. As much as my site may be about exemplifying strong examples of short form storytelling, the truth is, web series are a great ground on which to break new ways of telling stories. I think H+ Digital Series jumps in time every episode across a 10-year timeline is a great example of this. When you are creating independently, there are no suits telling you what you can or can’t do. The level of affordable technology as well as access to YouTube, Blip, and other sites has democratized distribution. If you are creating a web series for suits at a company, they’re much less likely to dictate what you do because the money they are investing is minimal and they don’t know what the hell works yet either. Because the stakes are still considered low, you can forge a new form of storytelling, give voice to characters you feel have been left out of the media conversation, and share your own opinion on any topic imaginable. If you are truthful and entertaining, you will find an audience.
2. It’s a great way to showcase your talent. Whether you’re a writer, cinematographer, actor, director, etc., a web series is an affordable way to promote your skills. If you gain thousands or millions of views, you’re sure to attract industry attention. If you don’t go viral, but you create an incredible product with a decent following, you still have a strong showcase of your work. It’s easy to promote on Facebook or include a link in your portfolio. A lot of jobs in the industry even ask for links to your online work.
3. It’s the future. YouTube has spent millions of dollars funding its premium channels in the last few years, some of whom have viewerships larger than small cable channels. Those numbers are only going to grow. All those channels are looking for writers to create new short form content for their audiences. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Xbox are also hiring writers to create series for them. Soon your TV and your computer will be interchangeable and that will mean thousands of new options for content consumption and thousands of new jobs for storytellers.
What are the main steps for writing – and launching – a web series?
1. Have a great idea that you care about. I personally love web series that don’t try to be TV lite. Find a way to tell a story that takes advantage of short form storytelling rather than feels limited by it. I love seeing characters that wouldn’t show up on network television too. Online, it’s to your advantage to create for a niche audience. An odd couple belongs on TV. An odd couple of golf pros or an odd couple competitive crossword puzzle team belongs in a webseries. Don’t try to create for an audience you don’t understand just because it might get you views. As with any storytelling, tell the story that only you can tell.
2. Know your limits. If you’ve got a really low budget, format your show accordingly. Keep your content short and your production needs minimal. If you’ve got the budget or the skill to make it look great, show off what you can do, as long as you’ve got the story to support it.
3. Save money or favors for good post production. Sound and editing are a big part of taking your content from good to great.
4. Do everything you can to make your content easy to find. Have a Facebook page, blog, and YouTube Channel. Market to your target audience by interacting with fan bases that share the interests of your show. If you’ve made the story only you can tell, you’re probably already half way there as many of your friends will find the same content exciting.
How did your blog lead you to a syndicated column?
I began writing for the LA Weekly Arts Blog as a freelancer in November 2011. I covered a lot of stories about web series, improv, and comedy, because those were the worlds I was part of and where I discovered stories I wanted to share. I ended up pitching several stories on webseries that I thought were great, that the editors turned down. I still really wanted to talk to those creators about their writing process. That desire and my own journey creating a webseries lead me to launch Tangled Web We Watch. TWWW became a blog for writers about how to write a web series, where I could interview any web series creators I wanted about their writing process. About four months later, Tangled Web had gathered enough of a following that someone actually pitched the blog to my own editor at the LA Weekly as something he should cover. About a month after that, he brought up the idea of Tangled Web being it’s own regular column in the Film section. From there it actually became a national column that is offered to all of Voice Media Group’s publications across the country including the Village Voice.
Advice for others who want to start writing for online publications?
Write. Create the blog you wish was out there. Write about whatever you’re passionate about, whatever it would be your dream to be paid to write about. Become as much as an expert as you can in the field you want to write about. Hone your voice. Research the publications you’d like to write for and once you have a body of work online to refer to, send them samples. For years before I got my freelance job working for the LA Weekly, I kept up a humorous LA Travel guide blog, and used that as my writing sample for them.
What are some of the benefits of writing in different genres and formats?
The larger your skill set, the more opportunities you are able to take advantage of financially and creatively. If you have a story to tell and you feel comfortable writing features, TV pilots, novels, comedy sketches, and non-fiction pieces, you have that many more lenses to choose from to tell your story. It’s good to keep in mind what your priorities are, though. I love working as a journalist and learning from other’s creative work, but ultimately I am a storyteller myself and I have to make sure I keep time to do my own creative work. My blog has lead to some creative opportunities, but often people see me as a reporter rather than a storyteller and that’s not always beneficial. People will try to categorize you into a certain genre or format. The only way I see to combat this is to keep creating in whatever ways you love.
Additional advice for writers?
I’m still learning every day. Any advice I give is what I’m still telling myself and trying to listen to. That is… Write. Every day. Write observations or scenes or stories. Get in touch with the itches in your life you want to scratch and put them down on paper. Don’t listen to the judgment in your head. Let your scene or your story come out of you emotionally, then go back later that day or later that week and craft it into your scene or article or story. Tell the tale you’d want to watch, you’d want to read.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
I started out in Hollywood as an actor. I was really afraid to write and spent years asking other people for opportunities instead of creating my own. Now I see myself as a storyteller, whether it’s getting to interpret someone else’s story as a character in it, or writing my own stories and collaborating with others to bring them to life. I wish I had started writing earlier so I could have begun that learning curve, those 10,000 hours sooner. I wish I hadn’t let fear and self-doubt stop me. Whenever I have those feelings now, I take them as a challenge. I never want to leave something undone in my life because of fear. Except maybe bungee jumping. I think I’m OK on that.