The Startups table read in June 2012. Lots of fun, lots of tea.

We’ve just posted the pilot episode of Startups, which is the first episode of a web series (or webcom*) we began working on last year. Watch it and let us know if you’d be interested in seeing more content like this.

We started writing almost a year ago, and were thinking of shooting all 4 episodes before we decided we still didn’t know enough to pull off a whole series. So, we scaled things back to just the pilot.

Scaling back may mean we don’t ever get to see who wins $10,000 from the investors (spoiler: the scripts are all posted under the “Why Did You Make It” tab on the Startups page) but it allowed us to focus on the writing, acting, production, and editing in more detail. Our goal is to keep learning as we make things, so we can get to a place where we can rip off a whole web series in one shot, or something even bigger, and not worry about everything being out of focus.

Lessons we learned and even more fun after the jump! 

Things we learned about writing: Take the time to write and re-write. And re-write. Sally and I wrote the pilot episode around a year ago. Then we recorded ourselves reading the whole thing. Then we re-wrote and punched up jokes. Then we cast the main roles and got everyone together for a table read at Cha Island Tea Co.

The table read allowed us to see how some of the characters might come across and which jokes were working. Watching the recording of the table read also gave us some ideas on which characters needed a little more to do, or how we could make their motivations more clear. That meant more re-writes.

We also re-wrote the entire cold open when it was clear our 2 page version was going to be too long for the episode – both in terms of all the shooting and locations required and the flow for eventual viewers. So we wrote a shorter version, a couple of weeks before shooting, that stuck to the main ideas of how we wanted to introduce everyone but put them all at the same place in one continual scene.

Things we learned about acting: This was our first time working with lots of actors, many of whom were not first-time actors themselves. Along with producing, Sally was the director and made sure the actors had character profiles, wardrobe options, and she rehearsed with the main actors about a week before shooting.

In terms of actors we didn’t get as much time with before shooting, we had fairly good ideas of who everyone was – even some of the students you never hear a word from. That allowed Sally to communicate what the characters would be doing during class, how they’d dress and act, and what their pitches would be like. (With the drafts of the rest of the series written – episode 2, episode 3, episode 4) we had a good idea of who was taking the BusinessStart class.) Some of the actors also figured out their characters on their own, taking things in even better directions.

Things we learned about producing: Everything! We had previously produced lots and lots of news and fact-based content for the edmontonian, including live web shows and a 6-part TV series for Shaw. And we shot a short film in the fall. But we had never undertaken such a large production with so many people involved.

The biggest takeaway has been to plan, schedule, prepare, and get ready as far in advance as possible. Pre-Production work on Startups kept Sally and I from going crazy during the very busy weekend we shot.

Doing the table read last summer allowed us to have time to re-write before what was going to be a fall shoot (we ended up shooting this January). Setting the date made sure we had our main cast available (one actor still changed just days before because of calendar conflicts) and allowed us to recruit a full crew and extras.  It also meant we could go over our checklist again and again, making sure we didn’t forget an important crew role, a casting decision, equipment rental, or any other items we might need on set (lots of food for everyone!).

We also learned that lots of people want to get involved in film and tv. We posted a recruitment video back in December that helped us find folks who wanted to help. That included people with lots of experience shooting video, and some people who, like us, were not all that experienced. If you’re looking to get involved we recommend connecting with the Edmonton film (and video) community through the YegFilm group, which meets the last Wednesday of the month at the Startup Edmonton space and is very busy on Facebook, and you can check for all #YegFilm action on Twitter.

Click to enlarge (Photo: Adam Roy)

Things we learned about editing: Do storyboards. We shot plenty over two days, but if we had storyboarded before hitting record we would have had more takes of key dialogue and more cutaways and cover shots to spice up longer scenes. We have quickly learned this lesson, storyboarding for the final elevator scene which was shot last month.

We also attempted our first real sound mix on Startups. Previously, most of our sound and audio editing happened in the video editing software we were using (Final Cut Pro and now Premiere), but this time we utilized the power of the Adobe Cloud and mixed a lot of the audio in Adobe Audition, which gave us a better platform to work on and smooth integration between the two Adobe programs. (And I finally used my audio background instead of making Sally do all of the post-production.)

Please, let us know what you think of Startups – sign up if you’d like to see more from us. And we’d love to hear your tips, failures, and successes from when you started getting more seriously into the art or passion that drives you.

*consider a new term coined, Sally