It has been 24 years since the premiere of The Spot and 8 years since The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl appeared on our personal screens. Has the web series hit its peak?
It is a question that lots of web series creators have recently been asked with renewed urgency, particularly when they are met with an exaggerated rolled eyed response to their chosen artform. It is also something online platforms might be wondering about too.
For every streamed Netflix gem there is the counterpoint platforms and YouTube fill of the bonkers narcissistic excess of millennial angst and first world problem dramas, a surplus of slapstick comedies and not to mention the fantasy-horror and sci-fi flops.
One thing is for certain, the web series in its 26-year history has had its hits and misses. But has it peaked?
Some web series creators suggest the web series is in retreat as the form has not produced the lasting financial stability, control and visibility independent web series creators had hoped for.
That may be the case in some parts of Europe, UK, specifically. However, globally there is evidence to the contrary. There are some notable trends in Canada and Australia, countries that show a strong financial and communal support for the web series – no surprise, perhaps. Should more film funding bodies be supporting the web series? The web series is surely as much of a pathway to industry as the short film.
The curious thing about the web series is that, in many ways, it thrives on a flip side of innovation. Instead of hinging its core to the universal, it stakes it claim in the personal and subjective. Like the growth of the podcast. We now prefer to listen to personalised stories and conversations. This may go back to our experiences with early audio visual and printed materials.
The web series creates spaces for stories to bubble up from below. Independent creators bypass the top-down dictats from broadcasters, networks and online platforms by contributing stories to what they think the world can or should be. Perhaps, because the form is short and serialised, it truly values human curiosity. The web series does not labour in telling the story. The stories unfurl as propositional short pieces of drama which makes the form the story. This is part of its appeal and I would argue its ongoing success.
I was at the Edinburgh film festival last month not only to give a lighting talk, but for inspiration. I was thoroughly impressed that at a “traditional Television event” a plucky online channel such as BBC 3 scooped the online channel of the year award because of its edge and platforming traditionally marginalised voices.
In an age of super saturated communication powerful broadcasters and networks, web series creators have themselves to thank for not only telling diverse stories by infusing edge, attitude in a desire to entertain, inform and educate but have contributed a plethora of story-worlds to users, online channels and platforms.
The 2019 Raindance Web fest continues its tradition of punching above its weight by providing the space for the form to evolve. The web fest’s platform transforms dramas which would make broadcasters blush into artistical marvels. Last year’s winners Gimel and Undocumented are great examples.
The power of the web series resides in its form of story engagement, challenging convention, provoking new thinking and connecting the individual with the human condition, which is what storytelling is all about.
Virtual reality and Artificial intelligence in storytelling sound optimistic but, I still want self-understanding and as an individual, understand the human condition. I want to stay human. The web series has not peaked its journey has only just begun.
To you web series creators I say this: Keep on making, make me laugh, make me cry, and make me wait. I salute you.
Funke Oyebanjo is the 2019 Raindance Web fest programmer
Funke Oyebanjo is a script consultant, lecturer and scriptwriter. After receiving her Masters in Screenwriting from the London College of printing, she became one of the Founder members of the Talawa theatre writers’ group and had her first play reading at Soho theatre.
Apart from having various shorts produced, her television script The Window was produced for Channel Four’s Coming up season. She also has three screen feature projects in development with a London film-based company. One of her projects The Land, was selected by the German based script development company, Script house for development at the Berlin film festival’s talent campus.
As a lecturer and script reader she has worked extensively at the University of the Arts, London, Queen Mary University of London, Arts University Bournemouth, University of Greenwich, BBC writer’s room, BBC World service, The UK Film council and Creative England.
She was selected as a juror for prestigious Skillset Creative and innovative award for Women in Television and film and the I will Tell film festival. Until recently was a Development consultant with the Arena Majicka in Norway. Funke is one of the writers on the Archery pictures drama production Lagos, the Web Fest programmer for the Raindance film festival and a PhD candidate at Middlesex University.