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Matthew Clarke is trying to get his preschooler, Coco, to skip across the living room of their Port Moody townhouse and deliver her one line without looking at the camera. He’s on Take 13.
Convos With My 2 Year Old has a simple enough conceit: Coco appears briefly at the start of each video, then Clarke enlists an adult male to reenact their half-baked interactions. (In one, father and daughter try to make the bed; in another, they play with some leaves.) The three-minute YouTube videos that result have the budget of a nice dinner out. They also have 40 million views and counting.
Comedian David Milchard agreed to play Coco after telling Clarke that if he was going to do a web series at all it would have to feature either kittens or babies. That’s what the Internet wants, he said, and he wasn’t wrong: a week after the first video was posted the series had been viewed by four million and featured on CNN and the Huffington Post.
It’s this type of sudden enthusiasm that has spawned a miniature industry in Vancouver, wherein film crews, actors, and writers — while they wait for their agents to call — produce their own online content. One such creator, Suzette Laqua (2013’s Last Chance Casting), launches Vancouver Web Fest this month, an effort that partly legitimizes the new medium and partly works to promote what some consider to be mere low-investment calling cards. These first web series awards in Canada garnered over 200 submissions from a dozen countries, which will be culled and feted over the course of screenings and parties at Imperial Vancouver from May 2 to 4.
While web series festivals are cropping up quickly (a Toronto WebFest will be produced mere days after the Vancouver event), Laqua says hers will stand out because she’s not interested in giving prizes just for showing up — as has been suggested of the Los Angeles original. She wants to encourage curation and to inspire by proper mentorship a competitive environment that breeds excellence.
There may be a tipping point, though, after which excellence lifts creators beyond the semi-wilderness of YouTube: Clarke and Milchard, for example, already have their eyes on a mainstream prize. Sixteen episodes into Convos, they’re developing the show (which seemed little more than a sparkling meme when it began) into a half-hour comedy series for television. They’re working with Maker Studios, too, which operates like a record label for YouTube stars, handling branding, merchandising, and production issues.
The anarchy of web series may well be moving toward legitimization, and the ultimate goals of such broadcasting — monetization, fame, plain old job security — are never far behind. But first comes the speculation stage: Clarke and Milchard are still adjusting the tripod themselves, figuring out shots and lines between takes, codirecting by way of joshing each other. Milchard switches on the camera, sticks a little girl’s pink bow in his hair, and winks at me: “Man, this is the Wild West.”
Web series creators may be gunning for mainstream TV, but the reverse is true, too. Webisodes are today’s DVD bonus material
Veronica Mars Amidst the buzz of a crowd-funded feature, creator Rob Thomas announced he’ll deliver a half-dozen webisodes focusing on minor character Dick Casablancas
Doctor Who In the lead-up to Season 7, Pond Life was released, filling fans in on the troubled domestic life of Amy and Rory, a side story on the main program
The Fosters This February ABC Family uploaded a spinoff of the teen drama entitled The Fosters: Girls United
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