Gen Con is a gigantic gaming convention, but also has a snazzy film festival that this year happened to have its own category for web series. Yeah, you heard that right. How could I resist?
Luckily, I had photographer Kate Bolin with me to document this journey with her picture-creating +5 magic item (a/k/a digital camera).
Gen Con Indy takes place in Indianapolis, Indiana and is one of the largest gaming conventions in the universe (or at least North America) with 30,000—40,000 attendees. It’s got all sorts of Dungeons & Dragons pen & paper type games, more card games than Pokemon has monsters, more boards games than… well, you get the point.
But one thing that can sometimes be overlooked is the growing film festival at the convention. This year, the festival added a completely new category just for web series, so I asked Film Coordinator Chuck Budreau about the change.
“Last year we had a lot of web series submitted and we actually didn’t exactly know where to place them. They weren’t feature films. We tried to shove them with the short films, but it didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t the same audience, it didn’t have the same feel. We started looking around and there were a ton of web series that fit our genres. And we thought, why not open it up to web series where they can have their own category? And we ended up with some really high quality productions,” said Budreau. “We got Mind’s Eye, which is actually produced in Canada, with amazing production quality. And we’ve got a few other groups… Gamer Chick is back again this year and their production quality has really stepped up. Another we are really happy to have this year is JourneyQuest, which is directly tied into the whole Dungeons & Dragons stuff that Gen Con is all about. I think the big thing is that web series have really come into their own. Their production quality is getting to be stellar.”
Budreau told me there are over 80 films, short films, and web series episodes at Gen Con this year, including web series Aidan 5, Mind’s Eye, JourneyQuest, Western X, Gamer Chick, GOLD, The Brothers Barbarian, Infamous, Standard Action, EXILE: Shelter From the Storm, etc. And, of course, there were a wide range of independent films like Unicorn City, Obsolescence, Beverley Lane, Leah Not Leia, Firemount, Browncoats: Redemption, DungeonCrawl, The Dead Matter, and many more.
Sunday was the Film Festival Contest Awards Ceremony. Troma Entertainment’s Lloyd Kaufman was there to present the awards. And the winners are (drum roll please):
- Mind’s Eye for Best Independent Series
- Unicorn City for Best Feature Film
- Firemount for Best Short Film
Congratulations to the winners!
The convention had a lot of great panels, including Film Budget and Financing Panel, Getting Started in the Movie Biz Panel, Creating Independent TV & Film for the Gamer Audience, Directing of an Independent Series Panel, Producing Independent Series, and more. I missed a few, but one of my favorites panels was the Producing Independent Series that had Ben Bays (executive producer of Aidan 5), Kate Chaplin (writer/producer of Leah Not Leia), Ben Dobyns (executive producer/distributor The Gamers, JourneyQuest), Thomas Gofton (creator of Mind’s Eye), Andrew Deutsch (co-creator/director of photography of GOLD: The Series) and John Johnstone (director of DungeonCrawl).
It was fun hearing them talk about the challenges and lessons they’ve learned while working on web series and films. One topic discussed was filming in large cities versus smaller cities.
“Coffee shops have like an email dedicated to just renting their space. My wife works in professional television and what they pay often times is more than months of mortgage payments, so if you go in there wanting something for free it is often a joke to them because shows that she works on will offer them $7,000 to $10,000 for the day. And, yes, we have larger talent pools, but I wouldn’t say there is more talent,” explained Deutsch who is based in LA. “I have a bigger pool of people to pull from, but you will have quite a few people that come into your audition that you will have… I don’t know why you are here.”
“While in my town, I bring film production companies into my town based on the fact they hire their crew [and] I can get the locations for nothing,” explained Gofton based out of “There’s old streets, ruins, there’s churches… There are advantages and disadvantages for both.”
“It’s the same thing in Columbus. It’s a very small town and we can get locations for free,” said Bays. “I also used to live in Indiana and it was the same thing there. We did practically shut down the entire city in Bloomington.”
There were some interesting views on the difference between writing an independent series compared to feature films.
“We’re making series now, but they are conceptualized from the beginning as features with every season as something that could maybe cut together as a feature that can be released online with extra added material. Because when you’re making a series, you have to grab people immediately online. If you don’t get them within 30 seconds, they’re gone. If you are playing more than 5 to 6 minutes, they’re gone. You can just see the attention span evaporating,” said Dobyns. “Which is fine for web production, but if you then want to turnaround and sell a DVD or for broadcast you’re talking about an entirely different kind of pacing… For us, it’s been saying how are we going to put this together a second time so that it plays when sitting down to watch it all in once? It’s a totally different kind of pacing.”
“There is an advantage. The latest screenplay we developed for our Strowlers project, we specifically wrote [it] as a feature. But we knew where every act break was. Every five pages you have to build in a cliffhanger to get people going back,” added Dobyns. “The difference it made in how snappy the screenplay was and how well it flowed was actually pretty outstanding. Just giving by yourself that limit and forcing yourself to sticking to it.”
“I’m a big believer in story structure. Writing for features versus writing for episodic television or episodic web series. They are both completely different mediums. You can really get to know characters in a way you can’t in film [compared] to episodically,” said Bays. “If you’re writing your feature film as web series where you are building in those cliffhangers, I think you get a really tight feature, a really sharp feature. I’m not saying this is an all or nothing rule, but it is harder to go in the other direction.”
“I think it is important to not overdue the amount of releasing. One of the big mistakes we made with our show was we intended to give it a 24 episode release, which was ridiculous,” said Gofton. He said that during their 24 episode season of Mind’s Eye, they saw a big drop in the views for each of their 6-8 minute episodes in the middle of the season. Then they bundled them together into six 30 minute episodes and saw a large jump in views.
I also attended a number of more film focused panels, including ones with my filmmaking friends Jakob Bilinski (Obsolescence) and Jim Dougherty (Beverly Lane, Reality On Demand).
I could go on about that panel and the many others I watched, but this would quickly turn into a book. Needless to say, as someone who is a filmmaker and web series creator and follows those fields in the news, I found them fun. Educational and entertaining… yes, you guessed it: Edutainment!
There were a number of screenings of yet-to-be released episodes of web series, including the season two premiere of Gamer Chick, episode 6 of Western X, and the premiere of The Brothers Barbarian.
I had a great time meeting web series creators and filmmakers, so don’t be surprised if you see a few interviews with them in future installments of the column.
And yes, I was wearing my new Reality On Demand t-shirt. Reality On Demand is still in post-production, so it wasn’t officially at the convention. However, I and some of the other crew members were there wearing our shirts and handing out cards promoting our upcoming web series.
What? Are you wondering where Attack Of The Trailers, What I’m Watching… Are You, and Elsewhere On The Web and Beyond are hiding? This special edition got a little long, so I’ll have those segments by themselves later this week. Otherwise, this was going to be a special book edition of the column. So, to wrap this special Gen Con convention episode, I’ll show a few of the costumes we saw wondering about. Which do you like best?
That’s A Wrap
Got a web series, web comic, web… whatever, then I want to know about it. Contact me at: [email protected]
That’s a wrap for now, join me next time for more news and interviews coming to a Wednesday near you. Take care my virtual friends. Until next time… marX out.
Related Posts You Might Enjoy:
- The IndieNet and Beyond – Top Ten Web Series of 2010
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- ‘Aidan 5′ Clones The IndieNet and Beyond
- The IndieNet and Beyond: Inside The Mind of ‘Mind’s Eye’
- IndieNet and Beyond Peeks At Reality On Demand
Marx H. Pyle is a writer, martial artist and American independent filmmaker. A graduate of Vancouver Film School, he has worked on a number of projects including the short film he wrote and directed, Silence of the Belle. He is currently in post-production of his scifi web series Reality On Demand.