We successfully ran "Fox & Rat" Virtual Series for an original ten year (ten seasons, and two movies) run. In the past we had been asked questions about what it takes to run a virtual series, and here we share with you how we managed FRVS for ten seasons. The information below is from 20052006.
First... don't write for an audience, write to find your audience.
Presentation, Delivery, Atmosphere & Color
We create new graphics for every season to fit the atmosphere of the current season. With season six, we used bright pastels, high contrast images. The color palette we used was refreshing. We chose to use refreshing colors because we felt as if we were recreating our series after celebrating our first 100 episodes. With season six, we knew that we finally had a great grasp on our series and where it is going. We wanted this to be reflected in our color theme.
With the graphic design for season seven, we want visitors to feel calm. This is due to the fact that our seventh season will most likely go down in FRVS history as being slightly controversial. The colors also reflect a more serious tone, showing once again that FRVS storytelling is evolving.
Know What You're Going To Do
We didn't do this, but it's a good thing to do. Have a season plotted out and have an idea on where you are going for your next season. Not only will this make forshadowing fun, but it also helps with continuity. Continuity is what makes a series great. To be honest, when we started, we didn't do this. Since season five, we learned the power of continuity. We find it fun to weave little character traits and future storylines into episodes as hints, later to be exposed in greater detail. This helps with the natural flow of our series.
You don't necessarily have to know how your series is going to end, but it's good to have a few floating ideas. We've got them. Don't engrave your final episode in stone. Your other stories will help build to that final moment.
Keep track of your mytharc (if you have one). Keep track of character arcs. It's hard to look back through so many episodes and find all the little aspects you've done for your characters and stories. Keep a notebook. We've started a notebook called "FRVS Indepth Coverage" so we can refer to anything without having to dig through our computer files.
Don't just throw a new character in for the heck of it. Give them some lead up before they join your main cast. We've done this several times because of the changes in "The X-Files". John Doggett's first FRVS season was three, and he was only in 8 of 25 episodes. Brad Follmer was only in 8 of 22 episodes in season five. Both of these characters are now main characters. We easily bumped up Brad Follmer with our first part of our 100th episode, "European Voyage: Family Importance". By season six, he had become a main character.
Know your characters. How would they react in a certain situation. If you can't do this yet, do it. You have to. You have to "become" your characters when you write. Your characters are your series. They back up your stories. They make your stories. Sometimes you'll find they run your series, and you have no say. That's the best thing that can happen because that's when you know them inside and out.
Don't Be Afraid To Break Rules
Don't write for an audience, write to find an audience.
Write comedy. Write drama. Write it all! Just because you're percieved as a comedy, doesn't mean you can't break out and try something a little more serious.
Don't be afraid to be controversial. We killed our whole cast! You all hated us, but it helped us grow as story tellers and brought us to where we are today.
Write what you like, or you're fucked. If you don't like what you're writing, you won't like your series and won't care about quality. If you write what other people tell you to write, you're driven by others and not your creative vision.
Be able to laugh at yourself. Don't take it so seriously or you'll get swamped. Have fun with it. It's your series. You're the executive that calls all the shots. What's more fun than that? If people send feedback that shows that they care about what is happening, that means you have grabbed their attention, that they care about your work. Negative feedback is just as good as positive feedback. You've got them under your spell.
"Get The Shit Out of The Way"
"Oh my god, the stuff we come up with..." - Cassie
Brainstorm story ideas. Even the dumb ones that you'll never want to use. Chuckle over the dumb ideas for a bit and move on. You have to get the crap out of your head before you can get to quality. Example: season one through four. This is what our writer's meetings are all about. Sit on the couch and laugh your ass off and move on. If you don't do this you won't get to the quality. How can the good ideas come through if there's too much crap to cut through?
Prepare A Season Well
Get your episodes done well in advanced. The last thing you want to have happen is a delay. We've experienced delays and have learned from it. Now, we have most of our season typed and ready to go by premiere date. At most, over half of our season will be done and the rest works in progress at an advanced stage.
Give a week or two break as a mini hiatus near the end incase any unexpected problems arise. This will help you breathe and relax. Don't get too relaxed. If you know you are a master procrastinator (like Cassie), work in a way that you know you will get things done in a timely fashion.
During our fifth season, we had a friend in a coma for one month. This happened right as we premiered. She's is one of our closest friends, practically another sister. Doctors were telling us that she wouldn't come out and that they should just put her to rest. Today, she is alive and well. We were able to upload stories on time because they were done. During this time, we didn't do any writing. How could we with what was going on? This is called being prepared for the unexpected. Our Christmas episode, 5x14 "A Christmas To Remember" is dedicated to our friend and her new family.
Make The Most Out of Your Hiatus
Take time off from writing. You won't want to go any longer than a month, if you want to be far ahead in your season by premiere date. Our typical hiatus lasts six months. Yes, half a year. This amount of time allows you to refresh yourself as a writer (especially if your writing staff is you and one other person). After that month, begin writing again. Have a rough outline of story ideas for your upcoming season (fill every slot). Once your ideas are written and more developed, you can begin to reorganize your stories to better make sense for your continuity. Set air dates for your stories (for the whole season). This will help with mapping out deadlines for your writers to have final drafts to your webmaster for uploading on air date. Do not allow a writer to work on a story until the week or two weeks before it will air. Work extremely close with your writers. If you have a large writing staff, make sure everyone knows the season outline (send them a text file of episode summaries and keep this updated often). If they know what is going on, this should help eliminate any continuity problems that could occur.
Keep your readers coming. Have re-runs! Add extras. Keep them coming so they don't forget about you. Don't be afraid to talk to your readers, get to know them. It's more fun that way! Adding interactivity to any website makes people want to come back for more.
Promote Your Series
How else will anyone find it? Post to forums, post to mailing lists, let your friends know, contact webmasters near your premiere and ask if they can give you a mention in one of their updates, become affiliated with other related websites and virtual series, put graphics promoting your site in forum signatures, e-mail signatures, etc., submit your site to search engines, get your meta tags right, if you have other websites promote your series there. Whatever you do your goal is to catch the attention of possible readers.
If you suck at graphics, find someone who can help you out. Any artist wouldn't mind the promotion for their creativity.
Cassie: head writer, main graphics, print ad graphics, season outline, character profiles, content, website layout and design, message board moderator, series project manager (aka: makes sure everyone meets the deadlines), website/series promotion, foreign language researcher
Kristi: head writer, website organization, website layout and design, review organizer, print ad graphics, content, webmaster (frontend details: email management, files, cgi, etc.), criminal investigations research/technical advisor, vidder
But honestly, the most important advice we can give you if you want to write a virtual series... don't write for an audience, write to find your audience.