Best Suited For Comic Book Adaptations: Webseries or Movies?

Brandon Moviemaking, Webseries Theories

*THIS POST IS RE-PUBLISHED FROM WEBSERIESTHEORIES.COM, A FORMER BLOG OF MINE.

Back in January, Tubefilter.TV published an interview with the writer-director, Marc Clebanoff. In the interview, Clebanoff discusses the process of turning his film, Break, into a webseries, called No Clean Break. (Full article here: How to Turn a Film into a Web Series: ‘No Clean Break’ Sees Second Life.) While reading the interview, I was struck by the following comment:

About 50% of the footage in the series is different than the film, as is Frank’s voice over and most of the comic book elements. The big picture was “comic book come to life”, which is really driven home better in the series than the film. Ultimately the film and the series are two significantly different products. [emphasis added]

Why did Clebanoff’s comic-book-come-to-life conceit work better for him as a series than as a film? I have no idea. Ask him. But having watched a couple episodes of No Clean Break, I get the feeling that Clebanoff’s idea of a comic book as motion picture adds up to freeze frames with animated filters and nameplate captions, as well as, a hard boiled story and characters, bridged together with voice-over narration and hyper-stylized camera moves. While many comic books utilize similar devices, these stylistic parallels often provide only a cosmetic link between the two mediums.

We’ve seen Hollywood’s superficial failure to translate comics to the screen most prominently with Ang Lee’s generally disliked, Hulk (Google ‘ang lee hulk’ and the first page of results fills with people trying to defend the film, which for me is a good indicator that the general movie-going population wasn’t impressed). Still, comic book adaptations have risen to dominance in the Hollywood Box Office. With each new installment in the Comic Book Movie genre, debate sparks anew as to how well comics transfer to the screen. For some, Watchmen was too true an adaptation, enslaved by it’s origin media, and unwilling to take risks in deviation toward a film version. Many see The Dark Knight as the perfect example in adaptation, true to the source’s narrative, but fully engrained and expressed through the tropes of film.

Merely as a consequence of their format, movies, at best, translate as a self-contained graphic novel. At worst, they come across as a glorified one-shot. Granted, Marvel Studios is pushing the boundaries of that format with their series of interconnected movie titles, leading into The Avengers next year, but comics’ traditional publishing format and schedule begs the question: are webseries more suited for adaptation?

In the comics industry, most titles are released monthly in 22 page issues, sometimes called floppies. Narratively, floppies structure most of the time, as a self-contained installment within a larger and constantly expanding story. Often various titles overlap in narrative and characters, providing a vast web of interconnected stories: nesting and expanding in all directions.

iron man spread

Complexity of Tony Stark’s “Conquests” (Click for original)

The most successful titles have run for decades, periodically changing creative teams and editors. Comics as a medium, pulls this off, in part, because with the page and a pencil, creators are granted an unlimited budget for rendering images.

Webseries do not have an unlimited budget like comics, but they do enjoy a similar kind of flexibility. So far, successful webseries release their episodes on a set schedule whether it be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. The webseries audience is being trained in a similar way to the comics audience, expecting a short, but complete narrative, adding to larger arcs, characters, or worlds. With this expectation comes the flexibility of individual episode structure and narrative. Entertaining tangents are welcome, even encouraged with the recent rise in interactive webseries.

So far, interactive webseries seem to exist as a glorified version of choose-your-own-adventure books, but the platform for expansive and complicated narratives, mirroring the web of continuity in comics with cross overs and various story arcs, running simultaneously, is already there. Webseries creators must take advantage. With interactive webseries’ ability to link episodes in a new nested structure, true adaptations of a comics entire run, at least narratively, could theoretically be possible, and the comic-book-come-to-life notion would surpass superficial traits and enter into the realm of substance.

Video games are getting the webseries treatment with Mortal Kombat and Dragon Age; why not comics?

The NOT! Show: Prematurely Exhuming the Lead

Brandon Moviemaking, Webseries Theories

*THIS POST IS RE-PUBLISHED FROM WEBSERIESTHEORIES.COM, A FORMER BLOG OF MINE.

Approaching analysis of Tim Devitt’s NOT! webseries, I was immediately struck by the show’s situational structure. Tagged, “a webseries about dating”, NOT! presents its premise as:

There are bad dates, disastrous dates, revolting dates, and then there are the NOT! dates, the worst of the worst. These are the profile pictures too good to be true, and weren’t. The men you should not have had coffee with, never mind sex. The women you should never have let into your life. Each week, meet a new couple NOT! meant for each other.

Contemplating Devitt’s show from a producer’s viewpoint, I find the format to be inspired. When setting out to produce a serial webseries on a shoestring budget, creators are faced with the challenge of convincing cast and crew to commit to weeks of rehearsing, filming, possible post-production duties, like ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement, also called Dubbing) or promotional efforts. Often, in the webseries community, they are expected to do this for little or no pay. For any creator, the task presents a monumental challenge. Devitt manages to circumvent many of those obstacles, providing himself flexibility of concept and allowing each installment a completely new scenario, cast, and location. When certain people and resources aren’t available, the show must go on, and NOT!’s concept sustains, allowing creators to work with what they got.

Ingenious logistically, but NOT!’s format must also hold in entertainment value. Devitt structures each episode, immersing the viewer in often the most awkward, if not horrifying, of dating situations. Most episodes are one note, all action and comedy deriving, primarily, from the situation rather than the characters or narrative. It is situational comedy, which anyone who grew up in the prime of NBC’s Must See TV programming can appreciate. NOT!’s comedic situations range from mildy amusing, to downright hysterical, all the way to the utterly bizarre with the goal of delivering on each situation’s wide variety of available punchlines.

But too often, NOT! falls short. In journalism, failing to mention the most interesting or attention grabbing part of a story in the first paragraph is often called “burying the lead”. Interestingly, NOT! doesn’t bury the lead, but instead does the opposite. I wish I was clever enough to come up with a phrase more punchy than prematurely exhuming the lead, but I’m not and that’s what NOT! does. NOT!’s structure presents the situation upfront, which would be perfectly fine, if the situation were not also the punchline.

For instance, in the episode, called Head Department, Tony presents the precondition that Sandra, his coffee date, be able to give great oral sex. That’s the joke. NOT! presents the condition a minute and a half into the five minute episode and attempts to live in the awkward resolution of the joke for the resulting three and a half minutes. The creative attempt calls to mind the awkward comedy style utilized by the network show, The Office, but doesn’t deliver on the same level. Instead, the situation drags out with a less powerful resolution, expounding awkwardly, yes, but providing very little in the way of new jokes.

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Instead of laughing on first viewing of NOT!’s full run, I found myself identifying technical errors, like close ups not in portrait, also referred to as the Two Eye Rule: when framing a scene in shot-reverse shot, we want to see both eyes, providing a balanced composition, which is more pleasing to the viewer and risks less chance of your viewer escaping the illusion presented by your work, which is all the more important in a comedy. Occasionally, NOT! utilizes a profile reaction shot, which distracts from the scene rather than providing the desired emotional resonance.

But I wouldn’t have noticed these errors had there not been a deeper issue. I turned to what initially caught my attention, NOT!’s format, a perk, which upon second consideration, also appeared at fault. NOT! focuses on situation and instead of embracing that situation as the joke, NOT! sources it as inspiration for the jokes, which normally in longer forms can work, but not here.

Though web video creators are starting to experiment with longer formats, the web’s bread and butter still lives in short punchy content. NOT! episodes would benefit from a shorter runtime, as well as, flipping the joke structure. Instead of revealing the situation upfront, bury the lead, and end with the reveal or pay off, depending on the situation. Look to the long running and successful YouTube channel, Elevator Show. Elevator Show’s runtimes average around 1:30 and usually build towards a situational reveal:

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When they extend the gag, they get out early:

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For me, these adjustments prove themselves to work, when looking at NOT!’s strongest episode, which also happens to be the shortest and the one that deviates in situation the most:

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Currently the NOT! show is syndicating on Koldcast TV. Check out more episodes there. Of course, you can see their entire first season on their youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/TheNotShow.

Winning the Future (Obama, Kevin Smith, Steve Niles, and DIY)

Brandon Essay

*THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON BRANDONNEY.WORDPRESS.COM.

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”

Intended as a sound bite, “Winning the Future” is pretty lame. The zen side of me desires nothing more than to point out the logical fallacies therein, Your future is an abstract concept created by man’s perception of an unobservable illusion. All that matters is Reality, the present moment. What’s to be won, President Obama? In your own words, ‘It just doesn’t make sense’. Yada. Yada. Yada. But words are only words, and intent is truth.

Obama and his writers set out to inspire CHANGE in not only the wrinkly-old-white-dudes in Washington, but in individual Americans. Granted his vision lacks the pizazz of JFK’s Space Race, which I’d love to see, because I like the idea of shooting things and people into space. But sometimes pizazz is just fluff, masking the practical nitty-gritty. You can probably tell, if you’ve read any of my work, I’m not really keen on politics, but I love to be inspired, evidenced by the fact that I sign all of my email’s with the quasi-truth, “Always Inspired”.

I’m a dreamer. And from time to time, I place a li’l stock in the good ole American Dream, which really should be more than a nice house and a couple of cars. We’ve evolved past that. There’s something deeper in that Dream, and it’s time to reinvent. Obama said it, too.

“That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.”

Obama wants us to reinvent our nation, but the keyword was ‘ourselves’. Words and phrases like ‘innovation’, ‘revolution’, ‘rules have changed’, ‘for the sake of an idea’, ‘sacrifice’, and ‘struggle’ are often used to bring together droves of the mindless in pursuit of ideology. And sure, there’s a li’l bit of that, but Obama’s speech highlighted the individual. His words didn’t have the weight and power of Ask Not, but the intent was the same.

What’s funny? Listening to his speech, I heard a punk rock message. He wants a nation of DIY-ers (Do it yourself-ers).

And as I look around at all my influences this week, I’m seeing exactly that. Kevin Smith, the dirty-mouthed filmmaker, pointed at the flaws of an impenetrable studio system last weekend:

Warning kids! Dirty language in the vid. Maybe, you’ll learn something.

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He came up as an independent filmmaker, only to find himself submerged in the lack of innovation and creativity, courtesy of H-wood. Stepping back, he saw an opportunity to reinvent himself and bought his own film, intending to blaze a path for future indy artists. He might fail. But that’s okay. He’s DIY. He’s innovation. He’s the American Dream.

Steve Niles, comic creator extraordinaire, called for more creator-owned work this week ([Link No Longer Available]). He also tweeted:

All I’m saying is creator-owned comics need to become a little more Punk DIY. Our future is in our hands.

He’s right the future is in our hands. It’s all the same stuff folks. DIY, it’s the way to be. I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m sure you do, as well. I’m going to be rocking some ‘innovation’ and some ‘DIY’ in the coming years. You should, too.

I’d spend more time editing this post and nailing down evidence and eloquence towards my point, but I’ve passed 500 words. Plus, there’s like three references in this post, and some ancillary content that could keep you busy for like thirty minutes. So, I’ll just leave you with some good ole American cheese:

D-I . . . Y? For your country! Now, Let’s Win the Future. ; )

Best Sketch Comedy Show – Really.

Brandon Moviemaking, Webseries Theories

*THIS POST IS RE-PUBLISHED FROM WEBSERIESTHEORIES.COM, A FORMER BLOG OF MINE.

WARNING: This is a gushing review and analysis, but there are so many things to take away from it! : )

JUNIORVARSITYTV.COM’s Best Sketch Comedy Show (BSCS) in their own words is “an actual show with a variety of sketches, not just one stand-alone sketch per episode”, which as far as I have found is a unique and fresh content format for the webseries medium. The show falls in line with something you might see in the mainstream with shows, like SNL (though BSCS is not live) or the late Chappelle Show.

BEST SKETCH COMEDY SHOWPROMO

SNL is a monumental legacy in our television history, but I think many agree that the quality of the comedy in recent years has declined significantly. I’d attribute this to their current talent pool, but also the show’s hour-and-a-half format. Thanks to the web, I’m sure you’ll agree that we live in a fast-paced world, where attention is divided and short (one of the reasons I think webseries have started finding a significant audience), also the reason I think SNL’s Digital Shorts are so popular.

With this new landscape comes some very significant challenges. As many webseries creators will admit, writing and producing an episode that quickly captures a viewer’s attention, while also cramming a full narrative that leaves the audience feeling as though they received their click’s worth in just a few minutes, can be a daunting task. It requires a very specific level of understanding, talent, and luck to accomplish. The creators behind Best Sketch Comedy Show, Brandon Dunaway, Steve Porcaro, and Michael Evangelis have pushed themselves into an even greater depth of difficulty, in having an entire short-format show comprised of sketches.

SKETCH comedy, as I am sure you know, is the ultimate challenge in comedy. You have even less time, which means there isn’t a first act or scene for plot and character development. An actor doesn’t have room to breathe in their role. You cut in, get a laugh, and leave. To be able to do this over and over again, sustaining a viewer’s attention and giggles, is an incredible talent, which these three creators have in spades (to use a good cliché).

Often, I’ve found that many people don’t consider the acting side of comedic performances. These three actors commit to each and every sketch in performance, completely. Watching their entire run so far, I haven’t found one ingenuine moment, which is key, because we enter each sketch already lived in. The characters have life, so we accept them and what they do; it makes it OK for us to laugh, even if they are ridiculously unreal or offensive.

Behind the camera, Steve Porcaro, as Director and Editor, supports these performances brilliantly. My favorite editorial choice, is the book-ending of each show with an outtake or blooper. At first, I was afraid this was a gimmicky decision, but after some consideration, I feel it brings an incredible amount of connectivity to the show. We are immediately invited in on the joke. The audience is made to feel like a part of the process, which goes a long way to us accepting their format. The rest of Porcaro’s choices provide a simplistic, fast-paced, and elegant complement to his and the rest of the team’s writing. I’d be interested to know how much of the show is improvised. My feeling is that the writing is incredibly minimal, allowing room for play. And it seems to be the perfect balance between the two.

Expanding outward from the featured content of the site, Best Sketch Comedy Show, you find a very smart design and an intelligent use of communication platforms. In my last post, I praised Spellfury for their site, but now I think they’d do good to take notes from the guys at Junior Varsity.

First off, through their design, Junior Varsity appears to be laying the groundwork for not just Best Sketch Comedy Show, but also for an entire comedy network, indicating a plan for the long-term. Bold it may be, but these creators seem driven and are thinking about the big picture, which you must be doing, if you are going to take the time and effort it requires to produce quality images and content, while competing with the rest of the web (soon to be the rest of media).

Junior Varsity’s site utilizes a sleek and simplistic layout that is easy on the eyes and points to various channels of sharing and communication with and about their content. They have an e-mail list. Smart. Think about it; with an email list you have a quantifiable and direct method of communication with your most devout fans. They have a donate button, which we all know could lead to further success (RE: The Guild). You can see the activity on their Facebook and Twitter from their site, which builds community around their site. They have a blog and other content, all written in a fun comedic voice, in vein with the show. They simply understand shotgun fishing (RE: my last post).

Let’s face it. I’m loving these guys and what they’re doing. So what’s the theory (which have lately started looking more like lessons. Sorry! I just want to help . . . )?

WEBSERIES THEORY: Expand with your audience.

When I attempted to quickly navigate Junior Varsity’s site, performing research for this article, there was an extreme lag. I assume that this is due to the recent amount of press and popularity that the show has received, leading to more traffic on their server. And that’s great, but stay on top of your success. If it takes a significant amount of time to load your content, I may be turned away. And that marketing shotgun, that you’ve got loaded and ready to go, is useless, if there’s no one around to shoot. (Man, this metaphor is getting violent.)

That aside, Junior Varsity is a creative team to watch. And we can all learn a great deal from them.

Thanks for reading!

Spellfury – Shotgun Fishing as Marketing

Brandon Moviemaking, Webseries Theories

*THIS POST IS RE-PUBLISHED FROM WEBSERIESTHEORIES.COM, A FORMER BLOG OF MINE.

Today, I’m discussing the hardcore-fantasy and effects-heavy webseries, Spellfury. Spellfury is an interesting case in that the creators are able to boast, “2 Million views so far! Koldcast, Itunes and Youtube views combined”. Without any “mainstream” talent working for the show, that I know of, I’d consider this a pretty solid performance. So my interest in the series lies primarily in what has lead to their level of success.

Spellfury appears to be an attempt at the quirky fun type of fantasy show that Sam Raimi would produce. In fact, Tubefilter.tv even hopes it “turns out to be the Xena: Warrior Princess of the Internet”. And I think that is a fair comparison, as writer/director, Travis Gordon, and the rather large cast and crew behind Spellfury aren’t very concerned with the weighty theme-based narrative and character building of something like Lord of the Rings, but are much more interested in world-building through complicated effects, set-design (which, in this case, could still be considered effects), costumes, puppetry, and–let’s face it–heavy-handed cheese in league with something you might find in a Bruce Campbell Straight-to-DVD.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this kind of show’s appeal boils down to simply a matter of taste. I’m not one for dualistic thinking, but in this very narrow genre, you either like the way it tastes or you don’t. If you do, then the shoddy acting, the cheap-and-dated effects and costumes simply add to the fun of it all. Don’t get me wrong, the effects and costumes at play in this series are phenomenal, especially when considering the creators are more than likely operating on a budget lower than many other webseries with smaller aspirations. Spellfury is fun, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. I’d even say, the audience is small.

Which leads me to today’s webseries theory.

WEBSERIES THEORY: Expose yourself.

Well, that’s a little provocative . . . but it’s true. Hop on over to www.spellfury.com. There, you will find an easily navigable, yet relatively robust website filled with simply designed content, completely in vein with the series it surrounds: Message Boards (that are active!), an intuitive Press page, and on and on. As I mentioned earlier, Spellfury has made itself available in at least three different venues/markets: Koldcast, Itunes and Youtube. Also, they’re merchandising. All this may seem standard fare, but I assure it’s not. Few webseries are taking advantage of all the tools the web has to offer.

Spellfury‘s actions fall in line with a socially-connected media: WEBSERIES! They are putting the show and–I hate to say it–their “brand” out there. They’re searching for that niche audience that can appreciate exactly what it is they’re doing. And they’re finding them. What I’m pointing at, isn’t really a new observation; the queen of webseries–who I can’t seem to stop mentioning–Felicia Day, more eloquently discusses much the same thing in a blog post, entitled Four Things to Ask Yourself Before Making a Web Series. She says:

When I wanted to get the word out about The Guild, I thought like an audience member. “If I were someone who would like this show, where would I be on the web? What would I need in a web site? What would encourage me to link it to my friends?” I wanted to make it easy for a fan to enjoy my show and remember to come back for more. At their convenience. What do you hate as a fan and an audience member? Do the opposite. I bet it will work.

It’s as though marketing your webseries is much like fishing. You take the time to understand what your audience–the fish–wants–bait–and you provide it where they want it, so that you can hook them. Well, Spellfury, with its vast amount of exposure, is taking the shotgun fishing approach, and it’s doing them well; they’re catching a lot of fish. Learn from their example creators and grab your marketing shotgun, because your audience is waiting.

Thanks for reading!