SXSW Panel Offers Advice to Hopeful Web Series Creators

“Don’t ask anyone’s permission.” That was the recurring theme of a panel on creating successful video content online Friday evening at the Palmer Events Center during the kickoff of this year’s South by Southwest.

Each of the panelists served as a living testimony to both the virtue and commercial viability of the closely watched, little understood world of DIY videos. The panel included Jeremy Azevedo, senior director of entertainment at Machinima, a gaming-focused video network with over 6.2 million subscribers on YouTube; Tony Valenzuela, director of Black Box TV, a popular YouTube horror network; and Burnie Burns, founder of Rooster Teeth, whose Halo-inspired YouTube series “Red vs. Blue” is the longest running web series online.
The conversation, at times, threatened to be drowned out by the pulse of EDM music, which blared from a mini-gaming expo on the other side of a curtain barrier.
“If you have an idea, make it as soon as you possibly can,” Burns said. “Every minute, 72 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube. If you’re waiting for someone to tap you on the back, it’s not going to happen. Someone else will beat you to the punch.”
All three panelists said they began their careers trying to get work produced via traditional avenues, including the film festival circuit. But they eventually soured on that model as the Internet grew in size and importance.
“You’re trying to get your film approved by a panel of five so it can be seen by an audience of 200,” Burns said. “But if you have the goods and you go online, anyone can get an audience of millions.”
Now, with companies bigger than a bedroom operation, but not yet large enough to rival a Hollywood studio, the panelists trumpeted the advantages of maintaining the DIY ethos.
“If you’re CBS or the Cartoon Network, making anything is like moving a battleship,” said Azevedo, naming two networks that have made various attempts to break into the online video space. “It helps when you’re nimble and fluid and can make snap decisions.”
While the panelists agreed that there is no magic formula to making content that finds and sustains an audience, all said comedy is king when it comes to the web. Valenzuela, the only panelist who works consistently outside of that genre, said videos with self-contained narratives of less than five minutes work best.
“People like anthologies, but no one wants to watch episode 65 of a 152-part series,” he said.
Burns, creator of “Red Vs. Blue,” advised would-be web series creators to plan several steps ahead before going live with a first episode.
“If you finish one episode of your show, do five more before you premiere,” he said. “You don’t want to run out of content because you never know which episode will be the one that will break through.”
Though the panelists all predicted a future where the web serves as the premiere destination for all media, Valenzuela, at least, believes movie theaters have not yet lost all of their luster. He said he recently received an opportunity to make his first feature film.