A huge thanks to Claire-Dee Lim for sharing some of the problems, trials and tribulations of making web series for adults... With dolls.
When developing the series what were some of the biggest issues you faced?
This series didn’t start out being a doll puppet show but a Flash cartoon with super limited animation. Along the lines of a comic book with eye blinks and mouth flaps. I had made something similar and very crude years ago called GAMEGIRL, and I thought I could do it again with a bit more movement. My drawing skills were always a concern because they are limited. And sure enough, after I had recorded the voice talent and edited all the audio tracks, and began the drawing, I knew I was in way over my head. At that point, I put the project aside for almost two years because I was at a loss how to proceed, and I had to focus on other screenwriting projects.
Jumping to summer 2010 when I was determined to finish this project after so many people had already given their talent to it, I had to figure out how to make it work. Art Director and illustrator Jean Kang was brought in to help with the art part and she gave the sobering news that with both of us drawing and animating, it would take forever to finish. So we kicked around ideas, how to produce this thing as simply as possible. At one point, I suggested using sock puppets. We eventually arrived at using doll puppets. Once we locked on that concept, production fell into place.
What was the [pre-production] process like?Even though the project was small and on a shoe-string budget, it was important to plan everything out properly. I also have a production background so I treated the planning like I would any bigger budget and professional project, and made pre-, production and post schedules. Pre-production took several months. Jean and I went all over the Toy District in Los Angeles looking for generic dolls and toys to use in the series. Then we customized the dolls, which required chemically stripping all the paint and dying their hair. Jean did an incredible job repainting their faces. We also made new wardrobes and I made the clay vibrator props and furniture pieces. While all that was going on, I performed camera, lighting and technical tests. It was my first time shooting HD footage, so I needed to see how the footage would look on a computer, TV, mobile phone; how it would look compressed; what the final delivery system would be; and what codec to use when converting the footage—all those variables needed to be resolved before shooting. The last thing I wanted was to go down a particular technical path then discover that what I shot looked terrible when uploaded to YouTube. The horror!
How much in advance to shooting was everything written?The screenplay from which the series is based was written about 2003. It was during the WGA strike of 06-07 that I was inspired to make my own web content. It was a big mantra on the picket line that writers were going to take charge, create their own projects and distribute on the web. The possibilities were naturally exciting. And having had a taste of that years before with GAMEGIRL, I was ready to dive in again. I plucked out an old screenplay which had some brief Hollywood heat, and in fact, got me the gig writing the family movie FIREHOUSE DOG (shot in Toronto, btw) and adapted it into the series.
Was the season arc-ed out before hand, or was it an episode-to-episode basis?The screenplay provided the roadmap for the entire series. Adapting required cutting out some extra subplots and breaking the remaining 45 minutes into about 5-6 minute episodes. Each episode ended on a cliffhanger so audiences would come back for more. Narration was added to bridge the scenes.
What were some of the things you’ve learned since the pilot episode?There’s no official pilot; however, it was crucial for the first episode to hook an audience in the first thirty seconds. The web can be so unforgiving in that way. If interest isn’t piqued, the next site, blog or cat video is a nano-click away. Episode one has some sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and the overall weirdness of the doll puppets. Fortunately, those elements worked organically with the story, and seem to have kept viewers watching and coming back.
What was the production schedule like? What were some of the snagsthat were found?Pre-production took about two months, a month for production and about five months for me to edit, sound mix and music score the nine episodes. The biggest snag was revealed during pre-production. Initially, I wanted to place the dolls about the house among full-sized objects, e.g., on the couch, lying on the bed or sitting on the toilet. A funny idea but difficult to execute. Plenty of lighting and camera tests quickly revealed that the dolls needed to be blasted with light because their small size reflected less of it. And the camera used (Kodak Zi8) was designed for shooting people. So using different rooms was scrapped and my dining table became the primary location. In the end, everything worked out because one location and one lighting set up made everything so much easier to shoot.
How long are your shooting days?When two dolls were in the scene, I’d puppeteer and shoot the scenes myself--camera was on a tripod, a computer nearby for the actor’s audio playback and a handy remote control. Days would range from 2 – 4 hours then I’d download footage to my computer and start assembling the edit to make sure I got the needed shots. Fortunately, all of this occurred in my house so the frig and a couch were close when I needed a break and I could work in attire that slightly resembled pajamas.
What kind of crew do you use for each of your webisodes?A few friends were enlisted to help puppeteer when more than two dolls were in the scene. Again, we’d operate the camera with the remote. The main set was my dining table and we’d be crammed underneath manipulating the dolls. I was elbowed in the face a few times and many heads were bumped. Us grown-ups had a lot of fun unapologetically “playing” with the dolls. Those same friends are encouraging season two so they can come over and play some more.
What’s the best way to kick start a webseries into the vast, vast space of the interwebs?The past year there’s been an explosion of web series. And the challenge is how to find one’s audience. Will your show appeal to moms, gamer geeks or the sought after 18-35-year-old male demo? Once that’s figured out, hit that group hard. Research where that group hangs out on the web—blogs, Facebook, Twitter--and definitely corral a supportive group of friends and fans to help get the word out, as well as make friends with other web creators so you can reciprocally promote each others series.
What platforms are you using to release your show?YouTube is the series primary host, and is now being released on Blip.tv and Funny or Die.
Have you looked at the blip.tvs or Koldcasts of the world? Have you tried them/are they working for you?I just started releasing on Blip.tv so it’s too early to tell if the series is getting any viewership. I’ve discovered that it’s ultimately the creator’s responsibility to promote the hell out of the show no matter where it is. Ironically, the more viewership builds on those webTV-oriented sites, the more inclined the hoster will be to put ones series on its front page.
When developing/implementing a series like this, you're obviously focusing to an older-than-18 crowd by its nature - has that been difficult for you?The only issue that’s arisen is that some of my friends aren’t sharing the series on Facebook because they have so many underaged “friends.” One huge fan is a teacher and she’s reluctantly had to Facebook “friend” her entire 2nd grade class. Can you imagine the wrath of parents if she shared one of the series raunchier episodes?