It all began innocently enough with an email that read: want to make a web series?
What’s a SeaDog?
SeaDog Productions is a New York based production company. We rethink the box. We love TV. We love movies. We love the web. We’re putting it all together. The playwright founders of SeaDog productions met in a television writing class in 2010. Months later, the fateful email arrived in our inboxes. It wasn’t enough for us to just write our specs and our pilots. We wanted to get our hands dirty.
SeaDog Says… Who are you people?
Emily Comisar has been stage managing, producing, and writing plays for more than seven years. Shawn Ferreyra founded El Gato Theatre Company in San Francisco, where he wrote and produced several original plays, including Elagabalus Emperor of Rome. Amy E. Witting is the Artistic Director of aWe Creative Group and her play G.I. Joe Jared was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
SeaDog Says… What possessed you to make a web series?
Many playwrights are making the transition to writing for television because the work is steady and it gives then an opportunity to have their work seen by a much broader audience. Theresa Rebeck is famous for having a career in television writing. Avant grade playwrights like Sheila Callahan and Jason Grote have taken the leap into writing for the small screen. Downtown playwright Eric Overmeyer even writes for The Wire and Treme!
In the past, film got the pick of the best writers, directors, and actors. Television was a sort of redheaded stepchild and got the second tier, so to speak. That has completely shifted in recent years and television now commands some of the best writers and directors and some of the biggest stars.
Television itself is enjoying an extended golden age. First came the rise of the hour long drama, then the rise of the sitcom, and now we’re seeing the power of the cable networks who are able to produce work that is edgier and more complex. Cable networks are able to take risks on developing smaller shows that appeal to more specific niches, which wasn’t possible before.
SeaDog Says… Buy why write for the web?
We wanted to write for stage and television, but how to get noticed? How to separate yourself from the sea of writers with Parks and Recreation or 30 Rock spec scripts? The idea came to us to produce something ourselves, a showcase piece that we could simply say ‘look at this, it’s only five minutes long,’ something that would use all the writing and producing skills that we already had.
Writing for the web is truly undiscovered country. It’s the wild wild west of writing, there are no rules. For the moment, it’s a purely democratic way of getting your work seen, and with websites like Netflix, Hulu, and Blip, audiences are gradually starting to get their entertainment on an even smaller screen. Now even Netflix has released Lilyhammer, its first show for streaming only. Web entertainment is a burgeoning business and it’s a wonderful time to be a writer.
SeaDog says… Write, cast, and shoot!
Our show was born from a mini pitch fest where dozens of ideas were thrown around. What rose to the top when the dust finally settled was Group: The Webseries, a show about a bunch of New York misfits who through some horrible habit or some twist of fate land themselves in group therapy. Each episode, a new character will get an affirmation that will go horribly wrong. Hilarity will ensue!
It took us the summer of 2011 to write the complete series and the fall to shoot it. We have a pilot episode complete and eleven more in post production. We had never imagined how big this project was until we filmed our final episode, in which each core character brings a loved one to group therapy to make amends and celebrate. The day we tried to squeeze the entire cast an crew into one room, we knew we were onto something special.
SeaDog says… Collaborate!
It’s one thing to write a play or a screenplay: it’s one writer’s vision. When you’re done, you hand it to a director or a producer, who uses it like a blueprint. We approached Group more like the writers’ room of a television show. The writers are ultimately in charge of shaping the piece and figuring out what its voice sounds like. In our case, all three writers were equal partners. The three of us are very different writers with very different sensibilities, so coming up with a singular and cohesive vision was an interesting challenge. As the sketch comedy group Killing My Lobster says, funny means different things to different people. In the end, the SeaDogs created a format that made it possible to tell the whole story of Group, and we couldn’t be happier with the result!
SeaDog says… Less is more!
Another lesson learned is that we wrote several locations and minor character for every episode. You can do that when you write for the stage because for the most part, audiences are expected to suspend their disbelief, but that’s not the most efficient way to work on a web show. Every time you write “some guy on the subway,” you not only have to cast some guy, but then you have to shoot on the subway! Many television shows have a central location where the bulk of the action unfolds. Think about the apartment on Friends or the library on Community. These shows always go back to those locations for their central actions. This makes it easier to shoot and to watch.
SeaDog says… Get back to work!
You can watch the pilot episode of Group: The Webseries at www.groupthewebseries.com. We’re working feverishly to finish post production of the remaining eleven episodes even as we develop our next show, the Untitled House Cleaners Project, a web sitcom about the last people on earth you would want inside your apartment. Hilarity will ensue! Until then, you can find us on Facebook (Group: The Webseries) or Twitter (@seadogsays). Check out the Kickstarter campaign here.
Shawn Ferreyra, Executive Producer
Shawn is a playwright from San Francisco. In San Francisco, he co-founded El Gato Theatre Company, where he wrote and produced several original plays, including Elagabalus Emperor of Rome and The Rogue El Gato, which received a grant from the Zellerbach Family Foundation. He also wrote and produced a Harry Potter play for the Make a Wish Foundation.