Webseries Research: Part II
In Webseries Research: Part I, the discussion was about the length of each episode, in Part II its about the various elements between episodes, specifically Intos/Credits/Cliffhangers and overall proper Season Arcs.
The Guild is the most popular and well known web-series in existence at this time. And is a good example of what to do for a web-series. The episodes are in that sweet spot of around 5 minutes of story content per episode. However if you look at the overall length of each video its around 6-6.5 minutes as there is the intro (20 seconds) and credits (25 seconds). Which makes up around 11% of the viewing experience. This would seem to be the longest I would suggest (10% viewing) from my experience, if we go back to “The Inspector” for a comparison its 1.75 minutes of intro and credits each episode, and given that the episodes are shorter in season 1, you are talking ~40% of each episode isn’t story content. What ends up happening is you find yourself skipping from episode to episode jumping over the credits cause they take forever… a viewer shouldn’t have to do that, just sit back and relax and watch all the episodes.
There are, in my humble opinion, 2 types in webseries; the intentional cliffhanger and the time-forced ones. Both are very similar and found almost at the end of each episode in a web-series, a hook to keep you wanting to come back to see more. However depending on the writing they are actually different.
Intentional Cliffhangers are written into a story to provide a point of pause in the story for each episode, where there is a twist or shocking discovery. Time-forced ones are where you have a cut to the next scene that sets up the next conflict but then cut short to keep the episode time in check. Both have their purpose and use, but if you over-use one or the other (or both) it can be annoying; especially on the shorter run-time episodes.
A few more intentional cliffhangers is okay, but I find that in a few web-series the time-forced cliffhangers become more prevalent as the story itself gets too complicated and in reality the web-series has outgrown its “time-slot” per-say. This comes down to good writing at the start of a web-series or season arc whereby the story is kept into check by the length provided by each episode.
A good web-series starts at the writing phase, and believe it or not, you need to definitely write with the ‘long term plan’ in your mind. Sure things will change along the way but you really need to ensure your story is continuous. Otherwise you’ll end up scrambling or destroy the series.
I found that most web-series I watched (generally the first & second season) maintained a steady schedule of 6-12 episodes per season. Not sure if this is written somewhere as “good form” or it has just been what the successful web-series have done… best to learn from their example.
Also at the end of each “season” the arc should finish or come to some sort of low-point. A few webseries I found left huge ‘cliffhangers’ at the end of the season or just stopped in the middle of the story… I think this is bad form, and although again its the web, suddenly going to season 2 or 3 (generally a wait of a few months or year) really kills the audience appeal and viewership; again looking at stats you can see the viewcount on some youtube web-series drop at season cut-offs. So its important again that the end of the season is either a clear finish of a conflict, or a Intentional Cliffhanger which is going to stick in viewership’s mind; similar to how television series do it.