by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week I’m excited to have a review of Scriptwriting 2.0, Writing for the Digital Age, along with an interesting interview with one of the book’s writers, Yuri Baranovsky (who is one of the creators of my favorite web series Leap Year). A link to purchase the book can be found at the end of this post–a portion of those sales goes to help support KRL.
Scriptwriting 2.0, Writing for the Digital Age by Marie Drennan, Vlad & Yuri Baranovsky
Web series are becoming more and more popular as people are watching more of their entertainment online, and the quality now can rival shows produced by big networks. It can also be a great opportunity for a writer to get their ideas onto a screen. But if you don’t know how to write a web series what do you do? When I was searching for a book that could help, I came across Scriptwriting 2.0, which looks to be just about the only book of its kind out there. I was thrilled to find out that one of the writer’s is one of the writer’s and creators of one of my favorite web series, Leap Year, Yuri Baranovsky!
As a writer for many years, there were a lot of things in the first part of the book that I was able to skim over–however, they are important things and if you are not already a professional writer in some area they will be invaluable to you–and even if you are, they make for a nice refresher. The rest of the book though is just what I was looking for because I would love to write a web series myself someday and it tells you pretty much everything that you need to know to get started, including the basic structure and format, production, and finding your audience. Being a very visual learner, I was also happy to find a sample script in the back of the book–and doubly happy to see that it is a script for an episode of Leap Year! I also know that I can trust what they are telling me in this book because I’ve seen the finished product of their work and it is as good as any network TV show.
So if you’ve ever wanted to take a shot at writing a web series, or even if you just want to get an idea of what it is like for those who made your favorite web series, don’t miss this book! It is a must have!
Interview With Yuri Baranovsky
KRL: How did it come about that you wrote this book?
Yuri: As with all things, it was a really drunk kind of night and we thought, scriptwriting book? Scriptwriting book. No, actually, it was a really slow churn. Vlad and I have been writing and producing series on the web for many years – since 2006, in fact. Sometime, probably in 2007, I met Marie Drennan – an English teacher at our local University (San Francisco State). Marie was at an event where I was speaking – probably poorly – about our series at the time, Break a Leg. I believe Marie was on a fact-finding mission — the web series, as a genre, was just emerging, and we had the luck to be on the forefront of that at the time. So, she was researching what the whole thing was about so she could teach her students.
Marie and I got along and stayed in touch. I even spoke to her classes periodically and used some of her students as PAs for our shoots. We eventually realized that Marie was actually one of Vlad’s English teachers when he was at University – so, in many ways, it felt like kismet. This is a word I learned in 7th grade when I played Aladdin in a school play — I’ve been saving it for this exact situation. Anyway, at some point, Marie asked whether we’d be interested in helping her put together a textbook for writing for new media. We did want to, and the rest is textbook-writing history!
KRL: How long did it take?
Yuri: The writing took maybe a year or two. It happened in two sections – the outline, which we pitched, and then the book itself. It’s all a blur of writing, to be honest.
KRL: I understand there are 3 of you who wrote it. How did that come to be? And how did that work?
Yuri: One of the three is my brother and writing partner – so that was an easy call to make. Marie was really the driving force behind the book. She had the idea, she contacted us, she pitched it to the publishers, and she organized it to be easy and painless, so I give her full credit for the thing even coming out. It worked surprisingly well. Once it was outlined, we each took a third of the chapters and ran with it. Once we were all done, we sent it to the group for edits. Vlad and I write very similarly and Marie is a great writer herself so once we found a middle ground for style, it was, again, surprisingly easy. It helped that we all had a lot to say about the subject.
KRL: What is the writing and web series background of each of you?
Yuri: Marie, as I said, teaches English and screenwriting at San Francisco State University. As for Vlad and I – Vlad was always the writer in the family. He’s older and he’d often be writing short stories or giving up on half-finished novels. I tried mimicking him but was pretty terrible at it. In College (College of Marin) I started writing sketch comedy. It seemed to click for me, and before I knew it, I was writing one-act and full-length plays. I published the first one – 11 Variations on Friar John’s Failure – when I was 19 and it’s still being performed in schools all over the world!
At some point, a few friends of mine wanted to make a feature film and we decided to convert one of my plays for it. The film never saw the light of day, but we had built a crew and a cast we loved, so, when MySpace had a “make your own sitcom” contest, we did and it was called Break a Leg. It didn’t win but suddenly, the short pilot had fans and we decided, hey, maybe this is a good way to showcase our work.
Fast-forward eight years later – Break a Leg became a very early web series hit (and how I met Marie) and Vlad and I co-founded a production company called Happy Little Guillotine Studios. With the company, we’ve produced a ton of branded campaigns – and series – for the web, making our living off of it. It’s been an interesting road.
KRL: Why do you think a book like this hasn’t been written before?
Yuri: I think because digital entertainment is still seen as “YouTubers Blogging,” despite how many digital series there are flooding the market now. The other problem is people think that digital doesn’t need the same structure as traditional media – which is a crazy, crazy myth that hopefully we’re dispelling with the book. The main reason, though, really, is that it’s still a really new genre, so people are still trying to figure the whole thing out.
KRL: Why did you feel it was important?
Yuri: We’ve always been about elevating digital entertainment. This is my business and I want it to be known for innovative, interesting storytelling. To do that, we need to teach the new class of filmmakers the basics – ideally, that’s what our book can do. It’s an intro to the digital space and a guide on how to create a good story online.
KRL: What did you feel were the most important things to include?
Yuri: Structure. Structure, structure, structure. People think because it’s a new medium that structure doesn’t matter – and it shows. I really wanted the book to teach people standard screenwriting structure and apply it to the odd world of digital.
KRL: I’ve noticed there are a lot more web series out there now, so why do you think that is?
Yuri: There are, at my last count, something like eighteen billion.
It’s a bunch of factors. Equipment is way cheaper, so anyone with a DSLR can go out and make a nice-looking product. The business is incredibly hard to break into, so instead of waiting around for a “yes” people are seeing the web as a place to showcase their work and build their own audiences. Finally, thanks to brands, a bunch of digital outlets and YouTube, independent creators are making, literally, millions of dollars online. So, the better question is, why not make a web series?
KRL: What are the hardest things about writing a web series?
Yuri: I think the difficulty in this genre in general is it’s still highly unstable. The idea of what’s working and what’s not changes year by year. As an example, long-form, branded series were becoming a big thing, but this year is the year, once again, of the YouTube creator. Is that bad? No, of course not, but it means writers have to really watch trends and figure out what’s a good story to tell and how to tell it. Is it long-form today? Or do we make a 2 minute pilot? Who is our target? Who is funding this? The hardest thing about writing a web series is you’re not just a writer anymore; you’re a businessman, a producer and a trend forecaster.
KRL: What has been the most rewarding?
Yuri: I get to work with my closest friends on projects that I control. Is there really anything better than that? Wait, I’ll answer. A mountain of gold. But this is a close second.
KRL: Why did you decide to write for the web?
Yuri: That was honestly never the goal. We stumbled on it and, surprisingly, were one of the first people that helped make it a thing. We didn’t decide so much as want to use it to showcase our writing. When it took off, we really started seeing the potential of it and, well, we’ve been doing it ever since.
KRL: Where can your book be purchased?
Yuri: For individual copies, you can buy an electronic or physical copy on Amazon, and for school copies, teacher editions, etc, you can buy it on Holcomb Hathaway’s website: www.hh-pub.com/Scriptwriting-20-P106.aspx
KRL: What do you think the future has in store for web series?
Yuri: I think that’s a question that everyone wants to know the answer to. I think you’re seeing the future happen with places like Amazon, Netflix, etc. – everyone has a series now. I think that’s where it’s going professionally – networks and big brands with distribution platforms are all going to expand their digital departments and make great shows online.
For independent creators? Who knows? As I said, it’s constantly fluctuating but I think it’s always going to be a place for people to experiment, create their own content, build their own audiences and, hopefully, continue getting rich!
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Yuri: Sure! Buy our book! Hell, buy ten copies of our book, then you can make a DIY book-bookcase that holds our book. Just a thought.
Use this link to purchase this book & a portion goes to help support KRL:
Check out KRL’s other web series reviews & interviews with show creators in our web series section.