The inaugural Split Screens Festival in New York City spent nearly an entire week celebrating television. Television has entered a golden age where content is practically limitless and goes far beyond the cable box. Recognizing that, the festival put together a panel of creators who have worked in alternative mediums to produce television. These creators went outside of the box and used ever advancing technology and the internet to prove their ideas had merit.
In attendance were Fred Seibert (EP, Bravest Warriors), Emma Jane Gonzalez (Creator, Eat Our Feelings), Sasha Winters (Creator, Eat Our Feelings), Adam Goldman (Creator, The Outs), and Christian Strevy (Creator, Gunner Jackson). Every panelist had a creation that is currently a web series or had a series that started as one.
The panel started with examples of the creators’ works. We had the pleasure of watching the first episode of Gunner Jackson, which was a truly impressive and hilarious short. Next up were various clips from Bravest Warriors including my favorite: catbug! Audiences then got a chance to sample a dramatic clip of The Outs, which was followed up with a delightfully hilarious part of Eat Our Feelings.
What stood out to me was the immense creativity each piece brought to the table. While Bravest Warriors now has network backing and both The Outs and Eat Our Feelings have support from Vimeo, the love the creators had for their work was clear from the start. The quality on the big screen rivaled and honestly surpassed a lot of what we see weekly on network television. It was mind boggling to realize it was all made on a small budget with what equipment and resources they were able to come up with.
Along those lines, the creators shared that small productions mean they all wear many different hats. Most of them were not only creators, producers, and directors of their shows but actors as well. Christian Strevy plays the titular character of his web series and everyone else minus Fred hold similar roles in their creations. It is clear that while the opportunities are many the work is still hard, harder even due to financial and staffing constraints. After all, not everyone is willing to work for bagels.
Yet despite all of the struggle and hardship, everyone on the panel seemed to feel positively about their work and had some amazing advice to share with other creators out there looking to make something.
Naturally, someone in the audience asked about how things get funded. Fred Seibert pointed out that a lot of the time it takes begging to pull together the necessary funding. You have to use every trick in the book to get potential investors to buy into what you want to make. Along those lines, Adam Goldman and Christian Strevy spoke to the power of crowdfunding as well as the limits.
While kickstarting projects might be the current big thing, Adam was honest and shared that he probably would not do another one. There are only so many times you can use it as a tool to get friends, family, and acquaintances to pay toward a project, and self-funding ends up being the way to go if a creator is not picked up by a sponsor or network.
It was interesting to consider the rise of crowdfunding and how it parallels the rise in alternative platforms for entertainment. A new funding platform has helped a new television platform find its legs and now, as Adam said at one point during the panel, some of the best television that exists are web series. Streaming services have taken over the world.
Another audience question went to the topic of production challenges. Christian pointed out that his first season of Gunner Jackson was filmed in thirteen days with a primarily volunteer crew. As mentioned previously, he was also wearing multiple hats during that time and learned the value of having a team around him. For example at one point he was directing himself, running back and forth between checking the shots and acting, which was a rough experience.
Adam chimed in with the concept of time and scheduling. There’s so little time and only so much people are willing to do as volunteers that working around personal schedules was a big challenge.
Emma Jane Gonzalez and Sasha Winters spoke to this point as well, mentioning that even time of the year would have an impact. At one point they were shooting a scene that took place in spring while it was winter in New York City. Other times, spots for outdoor shots they had planned in advance would end up occupied the day of the shoot. They had to work around a lot of obstacles and no doubt learned how to be flexible.
Advice for Creators
Finally, the panelists were asked about advice on how to get started. Adam suggested that creators should know what their end goal is before they go into it. There was some discussion around the importance of taking it one step at a time, too, and being realistic. Maybe a creator wants to be picked up by a network and see multiple seasons of a show, but they have to start with a single episode, or a single small season, and put the work in at that level. It sounded like there has to be a lot of adjusted expectations.
However, Sasha expanded that idea and agreed that yes, creators should be specific, but they should also be open to opportunities that come their way. It seemed to me that it all boiled down to doing what you as a creator want to do, being smart about it, and not getting stuck with a single vision. Sometimes life might surprise you, especially if people respond to the work.
The New Platforms, New Voices panel at Split Screens Festival was dense, but wonderful. It really shined a light on the new frontier of television. Creators are no longer restricted to creating with permission from a network. If an idea is rejected, or someone just wants to see how it strikes the audience, they can take to the internet and make magic happen. It was clear that the panelists had a lot of love for what they’ve accomplished and are willing to share what they have learned to inspire the next round of creators to create.