A woman holds out her hand to a neon-lit heart symbol

Web series at the NFSA

New Australian web series

Riding a new wave in filmmaking
 Heather Gill

Film curator Heather Gill recently served as a member of the Melbourne WebFest jury. She looks at the growing popularity of web series and highlights some recent additions to the NFSA collection.

An increasing number of emerging and established Australian filmmakers are taking advantage of the potential audience reach and creative freedom offered by web series.

The result is an exponential growth in the production of web series - scripted or non-scripted videos, usually created as linked episodes, that are published online.

Starting From Now, 2016 (trailer). Common Language Films. NFSA title: 1483708

A filmmaking alternative

As a filmmaking alternative, web series are often produced with low budgets by small teams who are committed and willing to perform multiple roles. This is not so different to Australia's early days of film production in the 1900s and again during the New Wave of Australian cinema in the 1970s.

Four women walk towards the camera. One carries an esky.
Fragments of Friday, 2015. NFSA title: 1507005

Another similarity is the large number of women attracted to this media platform. Fragments of Friday (2015, Series 1-2) embodies this, with writer-director Kacie Anning and writer-producer Courtney Wise creating this series revolving around the friendship of three 20-something women.

The production quality of web series has significantly increased in recent years. Patricia Moore (2018), Skinford (2017) and Event Zero (2017) are recent examples that bridge the production quality gap.

While their storylines and fast pacing is clearly for a web audience, the execution is reflective of television or feature films.

This assured quality has been recognised, with all three of the latter series receiving multiple award nominations at the 2018 Melbourne WebFest.

Racking up views

Web series also offer unique opportunities not as easily afforded to other, more traditional, media. They are in a prime position to hold a mirror to current events and pop culture and can connect immediately with audiences and communities, online and offline, creating genuine engagement.

Starting From Now (2014–16, see trailer above) was a drama series that attracted a huge audience, watched in more than 230 countries with over 95 million views. The success of the show from writer-director-producer Julie Kalceff has been credited to Julie researching what was working with online audiences and then engaging and building the series with communities.

RackaRacka (2013–current) has built an enormous fan base from its YouTube channel featuring live-action combat videos. In 2017, these Adelaide twins, Danny and Michael Philippou, teamed with producer Julie Byrne for RackaRacka: Live (Stunt Gone Wrong), to tell a cautionary tale about online predators.

Just add puppets

Considering the demographic for online content, web series often examine issues specifically relevant to younger people and people from diverse backgrounds.

High Life (2017), for example, starring AACTA award-winner Odessa Young, explores the changes her character experiences during her first bipolar episode. Kiki and Kitty (2017) follows the adventures of 'a young, black woman in a big, white world'.

Web series can also bend the more rigid conventions of genre filmmaking. Girt by Fear (2016–current) effectively merges horror and comedy; Footballer Wants a Wife (2015) parodies reality TV, combining a familiar premise and visual style to lampoon the fabricated storylines and drama; and No Strings Attached (2016) explores the online dating scene, with experiences re-enacted with puppets.

Poster featuring a cartoon character of a large, balding man seen naked from the waist up.
This Is Desmondo Ray!, 2017. Sense & Centsability. NFSA title: 1531440

This is Desmondo Ray! (2017) integrates animation with live action as lead character Desmondo searches for love. This is Desmondo Ray! received a lot of love from the 2018 Melbourne WebFest Jury, winning the Grand Jury Award.

The serial format offers ongoing engagement, longer character development and narrative arcs which are driven by the best way to serve the story.

Through the web platform, content can be consumed whenever convenient and wherever a viewer chooses, regardless of their geographical location.

Creators can monetise viewership but with so much content available, publicising and making content stand out provides another set of challenges for filmmakers.

Some series have been picked up by television broadcasters or their online platforms. Others are screened at the ever growing number of film festivals across the globe, including Melbourne WebFest, Los Angeles Web Series Festival, Seoul WebFest and Roma Web Fest.

With the format ever evolving, acquiring web series for the NFSA collection will allow us to better see the trends and changes over time.


Main image (top): Odessa Young in High Life, 2017. More Sauce. NFSA title: 1513917