Yuri Baranovsky, writer, producer, director and actor, has made a name for himself as one of the pioneers of the web series. Founder and Head Writer at Happy Little Guillotine Films, Yuri is known for his work on a number of web series, from Break A Leg to the 7-Eleven Road Trip Rally and, most recently, Leap Year. I had the opportunity to ask Yuri a few questions about his experience with web series production—how he broke into the industry, his path to success and what advice he has to offer to others looking to follow in his footsteps. Read on to find out what he had to say.
I asked Yuri how he was thrown into the world of web series. He told me, “I originally wanted to be a playwright.” He wrote a number of plays, three of which were published, before one of his college friends suggested they make one of his plays into a feature film. He tells me, “The film was called LIFE NOIR—and no one will ever, ever see it. Not that it’s THAT awful, just that, well, we’ll call it my ‘early work’ and keep it in the basement for now.”
While they were editing LIFE NOIR, FX held a contest on MySpace asking people to pitch their own series. Yuri says, “On a whim, we grabbed most of our actors from LIFE NOIR and my brother Vlad and I wrote a 5-minute little short called Break A Leg. We didn’t win, but the five minute video got a bunch of people really into the series…so we decided to try and do a Pilot—which was 30 minutes long.”
“We released the Pilot in 2006, I believe. YouTube didn’t allow long videos, so we broke it up into 4 parts—each around 9-10 minutes long (which, I think, works like inflation—9-10 minutes then is like making a web show that is 700 minutes long now). People seemed to really dig it and came out in fairly big numbers to watch it. We made a second episode, and a third, and then we started getting a ton of press—Wall Street Journal, LA Times, SF Chronicle—it was mind-blowing.” Check out Break A Leg in the player embedded below.
I asked Yuri if he was surprised by the success of Break A Leg. He told me, “Oh, very much. I still look at our press quotes with wonder. We had huge help from one of the YouTube editors at the time, she was a fan of the series and a fan of web shows in general, and she would often feature the show on the front page. That really helped us grow our audience.
“In many ways, it was also all in the timing. There was no guidebook on how to make a web show, we just kind of fell into it and got very, very lucky that we fell into it at the right time.”
Now that web series have become more common and a lot more web shows have succeeded (and failed) I wondered if Yuri could pinpoint any elements that he thinks are imperative for creators trying to make a successful web series. He said, “I think, at the core, they’re the same elements that make any film or show successful. Good writing, good acting, high production values, a good idea, so on and so forth.
“People are going to tell you that you need to only make videos of a certain length, to aim for a niche audience, to do this, to do that—but this is not a world where standards stick. No one knows what really works yet, and things are literally changing month by month by month. So, go out, make something good and see what happens—this, more than anything, is the most important step.
“The other step is to approach it with an analytical mind. This is a very new genre—the “Wild West” if you will (and you will, because you’ll hear this term 17,000 times a day, and it’ll make you want to jump out of a window)—and your best bet is to see what works, what doesn’t, and then make your own conclusions.”
Yuri had the advantage of starting out early in the game. But what about the fact that today more and more celebrities are jumping on the web series bandwagon? Does the average Joe still have a shot at making it big in online video? Yuri thinks the average Joe absolutely has a shot.
He says, “We have to be even cleverer, we have to try harder, we have to really push ourselves to create really great content—but I prefer that. I like that people seem to be pushing one another to make higher and higher quality stuff now—and I think that’s partly because we feel the looming shadow of celebrity and the studios. We realize that we’re not just competing with one another anymore, we’re competing with the guys with the money, and that’s getting us to work even harder to make something good.”
Finally, I asked Yuri what final words of wisdom he had for creators trying to make it in the web series biz. He said, “You want to make money with your series? You want to be taken seriously? Don’t compete against other web shows. Don’t compete against dumb television shows. Find the cream of the crop—put West Wing, Dexter, Californication, whatever, on your pedestal, point at it, and say, ‘I’m coming for you.’ And then make something better.”
Now how was that for inspiration?
Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times. Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.