Web series are great spaces for narrative experimentation and genre-bending. Many of the most popular shows are genre hybrids, especially with comedy (sci-fi comedy, fantasy comedy, etc.). This fall, we’ve seen several series blending horror and comedy including Electric Farm Entertainment and Jon Heder’s Woke Up Dead on Crackle, where it’s doing well; Babelgum’s The Occulterers; I Kissed a Vampire; not to mention rumors of a potential Buffy web series from Joss Whedon.
Chris Wiltz, a young filmmaker, decided to go the zombie route and spent his own money filming Semi-Dead, a buddy comedy about two roommates in living in Los Angeles after its been overrun with zombies. Each guy has a very different reaction to the event: one, Joe, “goes into survival mode,” while the other Chris, goes about his life as if nothing has happened.
“The show is really about the personality clash and how these two cope with living together – all while the truth of what’s happening to the city slowly begins to reveal itself,” Wiltz said.
I spoke with Wiltz about Semi-Dead and producing and distributing an independent (black) web series, the challenges and advantages. The third episode airs next week Wednesday, with the rest airing monthly until the season finale — with a twist! — in March.
TELEVISUAL: Where did the idea for Semi-Dead come from?
CHRIS WILTZ: I’ve always been a huge horror fan so I knew I could really be passionate about it if I created a horror project. On top of this I’m an 80’s baby and grew up watching a lot of great sitcoms from the 80s and 90s and old shows on Nick at Nite so I thought it would be cool from a comedic standpoint to do something that felt like an old style sitcom in some ways. We actually even toyed with the idea of putting in a laugh track early on, but it made things just a bit too forced and odd.
I think just conceptually horror works well for short formats because you can get a strong visual punch out of it – sort of the same way you do with comedy so doing a project that was horror and comedy seemed like the best way to really get something charged up with energy.
TELEVISUAL: How did you finance the series?
CW: Completely out of pocket and with my own savings as well as with generous donations of time and equipment from the crew. I look at financing as more of just a creative factor than anything else. You look at what you have and how you can do the best you can with that.
A big part of getting this series of the ground has been about pulling together talented people who are smarter than me and pooling our resources. Also, I seem to know a lot of people who don’t mind getting up at the crack of dawn to put on zombie makeup and act as extras, so that’s always helpful. This whole thing has really been about people having fun and getting a chance to do what they love.
TELEVISUAL: Why a web series? What led you to do it? What inspired you to do it?
CW: Truthfully I didn’t take the whole Web series idea seriously for a long time. I’d heard about web series for years but I just sort of shrugged at the idea thinking that aside from the viral aspect it was mainly just used for advertising or just like side projects for already well established actors. When you come out of film school you get engrained with this idea that producing a short film or a feature is really the only route to go if you want to get yourself out there. But, in the past few years however, I’ve seen all of these great series popping up that are really telling great stories and doing a lot – sometimes with very little.
TELEVISUAL: How did you decide where to post the series?
CW: A great thing about the Web is that you can put something up anywhere you want without having to worry about exclusivity. Choosing blip.tv was almost a no-brainer for me because they allow you to distribute and aggregate content over pretty much every major video outlet on the Internet. It allows you to cast a wide net without a huge time commitment.
TELEVISUAL: What’s your marketing and promotion strategy? How are you letting people know about the show?
CW: Well, it’s the Web so a big part of that will always be word of mouth. More than that however, I’ve never made bones about the fact that this isn’t a show for everyone – it’s mainly for the horror fans like myself who can appreciate the twisted sense of humor. As such we’ve been reaching out to a lot of horror websites, magazines, and blogs and we’ve been getting a lot of great support and response. People that love zombies and horror or who just get the humor really love it.
Right now there’s a big sort of debate going on around the Web about what the best release strategy is for a show. Do you do it weekly like a TV show, or do you go for daily, monthly (like Semi-Dead) or something different? There’s great shows doing it all sorts of ways – trying different models to varying degrees of success. Ultimately for the first season of the show, a big part of it is experimental and gauging audience interest and response. I wanted the show to have time to breath and sort of simmer mainly to see if people were really responding and liked the material rather just responding to a sudden onslaught of promotion and episodes. Right now though we’re at a point where I would definitely like to do a longer second season and release episodes much sooner just based on how strong the response has been.
TELEVISUAL: What’s the value of doing a web series as opposed to TV?
CW: TV is such a huge and competitive machine – people can work all their lives in TV climbing the ranks and still never have a show of their own see the light of day. I think for someone without the resources to get their show on the air or even someone who just has an idea they really want to get out there a Web series is a great option. If you have the passion for the idea and the will you really can get it done nowadays. Not only does it give you complete creative control, there’s also no rules or restrictions as far as time or story structure. Episodes can be as long or short as you want, you can control the release, and the story itself can really be whatever you envision it to be. If I went in and pitched a network a horror/comedy show about a guy who eats zombies and his traumatized, horny roommate…well I don’t know how that’d turn out, maybe one of the smaller edgier cable networks would go for it, but certainly not one of the majors – it’s probably just too twisted of an idea to sell to the general public.