Thursday, 29 October 2015

7. Marketing a web series - easy tips

Here's the thing. Get ten people in a room and you will have ten different versions on how to market. Just the same as if you got ten people in a room and asked them about a script. They should hold creative marketing lessons for anyone studying creative writing, or any form of art including acting. If you want to do any art, someone has to pay, and that requires an audience. If you work in the arts, by default, you work in marketing. let's face it, it is not always art, but it is always marketing!

So, this is just my view.... and who am I? What do I know? As my son often asks and he was mocking me just last week. Let me tell you this story first..... I was telling him that I went to Sussex University to study Physics and Maths under parental pressure, but I wanted to be a DJ on the pirate radio ships of the late sixties early seventies..... the ships were being closed, Radio 1 had just started and there was 208, Radio Luxembourg. I was hammering on all doors - marketing. I was then the DJ at the Lyceum Ballroom (now theatre) in The Strand and The Empire Leicester Sq, probably the two biggest ballrooms in the country, and I only played band breaks for the first few years as live music was still the key. I spent almost no time an Uni and I wrote to every music label, sound studio and record producer to try and get a job as a sound mixer or record producer as a fall back. I was interviewed by Phillips in London, it was very secretive, I was the only applicant as there was no job advert. My letter, my technical credentials and music background, and shear push had blown some dust of a suited team's desk. They had a new invention which was a new disc format that would not scratch, could not be destructed like vinyl. It was to be, many years later the CD / DVD. They wanted me as a conduit between tech and sales - a go between. An imagination to what was the then unknown. So my son laughs .... but yes, it is true, I was a marketeer, just like he is now at his tech company Nudge Digital.

..... He laughs that I could have even been at the start of the CD, but I was nearly. However, it was not my dream and I got offered positions at both Radio Luxembourg and BBC Radio at Radio 1 and 2. Luxembourg I would have got on the air, at the BBC, I was on the bench training and waiting and I might get through. It is like being offered to play for Arsenal and Walsall, I took the big name and never really got off the bench. Wrong choice one might suggest. I spent three years assisting, being posted to a radio station in Beirut and back again, to radio London and back again, I started the old Radio 1 Roadshows before they were roadshows, and then left in sheer frustration as I knew, now 1978, I stood more chance in commercial radio. So to get there I joined EMI as a record plugger in their marketing department. The small world continues and I made life long friends with Vic Bateman who when I was a producer years later at Fugitive Films and we made The Krays, and his United Media had just gone bust, we brought him in as our in-house sales.

So, having been to Cannes, AFM and Berlin Markets for over 25 years, and walked the red carpet at
Verona, Cabourg, Porto, Breckenridge (actually won Best Director) ... and many others, I have been in marketing for years. I still have a huge connection in music which explains the Kemps in The Krays and Status Quo in Bula Quo and work with many music marketeers as well as have released with Universal and Icon as well as various sales agents.

You learn it is hard. - No it is not!

Marketing is EASY. Getting a response to it is HARD. Differentiate between the two. Now.

For example let me explain a record label. Each week I got two new singles to promote. Why two a week? Because that figure fitted everything from factory reproduction, to distribution. So, each Monday I would listen, realise they needed all the help they could get, and I would make a plan for each. Even if all I had was the close down music at ITV before it was 24/7. My first hit was taking the forgotten and unplayed Mink Deville, Spansh Stroll and getting it as my colleague Paul Burnett's record of the week. The rest is history, Willy Deville remained a friend until he died.

Each week many of the major distributors release two films. Some only one a week. Smaller one a month. To be taken on, you need to take a slot from another film. There are only so many slots. When they have wined you and dined you, promised you the world, got you to sign, they move on, away from you to sign the next people. You now have a contact, or a label manager. They automatically outsource your trailer, your poster, your magazine screenings, your press screenings and they all happen at trigger points in a calendar. So the poster designer is getting two a week, the press screenings are getting two a week. It is a simple format lead business and the bus posters, tube posters and adverts are all outsourced. Once outsource, another person looks after you. Eventually you only talk to accounts. It is easy, it is transparent, it is formulaic though budget and style effect decisions trust me little is new.

These are machines. there is no machine for a web series. Worse still, it is timeless television, it has no date. Even if you have a release date it means nothing. You are not the next James Bond, no one will care.

So, how did I treat my idea of web series promotion? I decided that I could not shout about the unknown, unless I shouted into the unknown. I felt I needed a product base to say look, here is a series. I figured we would target 80 episodes, load one a week and that would be about 18 months to 2 years. I figured that until series one was up, we should do nothing that cost time or money. No marketing, just get a base, get a product up, and gain a few views and more than it being new, zero.

We released in June and I knew that was a time no one watched because of summer, Wimbledon and The Scarlet Tunic during a world cup as the audience was not clashing, no, wrong. So I knew the first episodes were about joining the dots and having the first viewers show us what they expected.
football competitions, I have tried to release through them all. I even release

I figure that in 20 weeks I would have a series, a web site, a bunch of blogs, be on Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Zooli, Facebook and have character accounts and reading and support material. None of this was easy and as we got up a head of steam and hit the charts in the USA which we never knew existed, we got hacked and sabotaged. The YouTube channel came down overnight, it took nearly 4 weeks to get back and we had lost all the momentum and much of the audience. It did make us work harder and complete other platforms like Daily Motion and Vimeo and Zooli.TV as well as start with Disney's Maker Studios.

So, we focussed on some tent poles. Tent poles came too late because Halloween and Christmas were not planned when writing. We had not charted each episode with a release date. The episodes were juggled a little and re - written slightly but it made us focus. We are now shooting with Derek Redmond who is an Olympian, and a celebrity, and his episodes will be out just before the Rio Olympics.

So at Halloween, episode 24 this weekend we are just starting to think about marketing having got a few connected ducks in a row. our sites link to each other, the videos have annotations, and because web series has no established route to viewer other than Netflix etc we have developed one. We have written the first 40 episodes into a book and Kindle for this Christmas market, WHO DIES TODAY, and paid and appointed a world press agent for books. After each chapter it takes you to the episodes on the web to show you what the director and cast did. The second book will be done next summer and be the next 40 episodes.

A stage play Shades Of Bad has been done, and that is three different treatments and formats of the same material, and that is with a publisher for early 2016 release.

So apart from a little spend here and there, and I mean little, on a Facebook blog, we do not market. A small spend has been done on Doris looking back at season one, it is a 15 minute special of her chatting about the season with clips from 20 episodes and is very different and aimed at a different market.

So, our charts, analysis and viewers show we are not as female heavy as we might expect even though we are a female lead show with three women. The audience is age mature heavy, but not overly, and every 25 it kicks in on both sexes. So, we are not quite The Golden Girls. That said I do not think we know enough to have a target to focus on so the plan is to just bide time until after the Boxing Day episode with TV and Radio celeb James Whale who comes in as a detective. We will see the effect that has.

As for awards and festivals, for the moment I think they are all apart from the established Indie Series Awards in Hollywood, a bit of a waste of time. It appears everyone who makes a web series tries to hold a festival and focus on promoting their own series or stars.

So for me, to go to all this work you need a long term plan. You need a product base. It will take time. You need stars and anchors.

Our long term plan was always to make enough product to cut at least 8 x 30 minute TV slots, which with lengthened advertising allowances is not no more than 21 minutes 30 seconds for a half hour TV slot. We have already got more than that. So, in 2016 we will start to cut long form, and continue to grow. As for marketing, it is routine, it is obvious, it is not rocket science. You can buy views, you can buy fans, but they are worthless.

Plan before you start, market before you start. By that I mean start the web site, the Twitter sites, etc, Establishing a working method to handle all these. The film making is easy by comparison. If you are just doing it to sell your self or try and make the big movie, put your efforts into the movie, for you are not making a series. You are making a short film or two.

Look at the chart, series now means many episodes. Most series in the chart run almost continuously. Here is episode 33 .....

And remember this is timeless TV. People will show you success stories of shows that started in 2012, 2013..... get them to show you an instant success. It is not instant. Series means long term. Series means can you afford what you are doing. We budgeted 80 episodes, we have so far shot nearly 50.

here is the 15 minute special - Doris review of season 1

here is the first ever episode of Shades Of Bad.

here is the Shades Of Bad web site.

Amazon Author biog

Tips on making a web series start here.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

6. Continuous drama output should be easy after 30+ years

Stuart St Paul the creator talks about continuous output. His Amazon profile. IMDB Credits.

CONTINUOUS - means it does not stop........... series means more than just a few.... and we set the task of Shades Of Bad being weekly.

You get to live with continuous story telling after 40 years in the business. Last year I did a series of Strike Back for HBO in Hungary and it is no different to doing Emmerdale for ITV which I did for 26 years. Given the time and budget, production always demand more than is possible, you always want to give more than maybe you should.

I had been working on all the soaps for some time in between some huge films, the likes of Bond and Superman, when I was asked to go up to Leeds to discuss a special project on Emmerdale. That was the plane crash. That was the event that would take them out of the afternoon soap label, to doing what the movies do. I must have done a pretty good job because I stayed there as one of the main creative heads right up until I left to direct Bula Quo with the rock band Status Quo in Fiji.

I saw the show, Emmerdale, go from 2 each week, to three, then four, then five then six, and for a while we were also shooting DVD films for the Christmas market. You learn about scheduling, delivery pressure, and that there is no excuse or place for failure. Having always been a writer at heart, and having got close with writing some TV series (Smith and Patel was optioned from me by Fugitive, who optioned it to Noel Gay, who optioned it to the BBC for two years)..... I did mainly single dramas.

Emmerdale was 6 transmitted episodes a week, which means you have to make 6 x episodes each week without fail, and pile the ones for the crew Christmas break. That is done by having three teams on a rota, each making 4 episodes in a two week period. That gives you the 12. As broadcast TV is very like a factory, with permanent staff, the 40 hour week is almost observed, so each unit works a 4 day week, of 10 hour days. We have a crew of one and maybe a bit... that is it. Buster does sound and camera and lights, the girls assist and do all in front of camera from art to make up. One editor, then one sound mixer/composer.

Shades Of Bad was meant to be 3 minute episodes, and we tried to shoot 4 a day but no one liked long film days, so three a day became normal. It drops to two as the episodes get longer. And we shoot a few days a month. So why the change from terrestrial TV to web?

The advent of web programming and downloads is now at the point where most people have AT LEAST three or four screens. The prediction is we are expected to have ten each within years, it was obvious at some point I would have to explore the web. I was informed at a lecture by Eileen Naughton that the UK is one of the most progressive web users with a billion in trade surplus, five times that of Germany and the USA put together. 91% of the UK adult population owns a mobile phone and 75% of those are smart phones, and she should know those numbers. That was one of the private lectures we have at the British Screen Council and web and web viewing has come up a lot over the last year. I like new things and had decided I would go into web programming.

The task I set myself was to make 80 x 3 minute shows which would be just over a year at one a week, and would cut into longer segments. We have cut the first 20 together as an internal experiment and it is 47 minutes. A BBC TV hour. That is with just the one title. The episodes are getting longer but I see that 65 or 6 seasons might offer a TV series.

The idea was to make each show short, like a Dan Brown chapter, easy going, driving the story forward, starts and jumps straight in, but ends on a knife edge pivot that leaves you wanting more.

Being for the internet I was not going to copy a broadcast soap, it had to be fantastical, it had to go to places un trodden. So I start with a female Psycopathic serial killer (no one dies until episode 23, Halloween 2015) and then the bodies start to drop. It gets darker. It will go to a place no one is expecting, which not Emmerdale or Coronation Street could do. But then why make a series that is the same as broadcast TV, the web demands more. Doris will take over the world, at the moment only I and Doris know how.

It was a shock to get a review in the USA, now we get mentions all over the world. That is so different to UK broadcast TV. We need to get back into subtitles, we stopped because the software is not yet available for MAC the operating system we use.

As season 2 plays we are filming season 3, and the foreign parts of those shoots have been done. Clips of those appear in the second Behind The Scenes film. We are now shooting the matching UK side with our new star, someone who will have some relevance just before next years Rio Olympics when the episodes air.

So we are way in front, episodes pilled ready to go up, the book is out of the first 40 episodes, WHO DIES TODAY and a change version is available from us as a three woman stage play. I am now looking at doing another movie and getting back to Shades before the episodes run out.

Shades Of Bad season 1 playlist is on Vimeo, Daily Motion, Zolli and others, this is the YouTube link.

Please LIKE our Facebook page, it means a lot to the team to be able to be in contact with those who view the show.

And as there is a weekly world web chart which is part made up by votes, please do visit the site and vote.

5. Doris on completing Season 1 of SHADES OF BAD

We have finished our first season of Shades Of Bad so I was having a little look back. I can’t say it hasn’t been challenging. As an actress I am used to turning up on set, at the call time I have been given, going into make up being given a cup of tea and then going to set which has been dressed and made ready by somebody else.

On Shades of Bad, I am the person that gives the call times, I dress the set and then go and do my own make up ready for when everyone else arrives so I can make them a cuppa and give them a bit of breakfast. We were aiming to shoot 3 episodes a day. I am not naturally an early riser so the call time I gave on our first day, though popular with everyone was far too late. We started at 10am and consequently we had to do some pick up shots as we didn’t finish the 3 episodes. I was also caught out because the scene required great chunks of dialogue from me when I am pretending to read from my kindle. Great I thought, I won’t have to learn that bit I can read it. When we got on set, first problem was I couldn’t read the print without my glasses and second was that as Wilma was positioned behind me she couldn’t see my face so the director, Buster asked me to look over the top of the kindle so it was clear to the audience that I was making the dialogue up rather than actually reading. Good job I am a quick learner. I have gone through the episodes picking out some of my favourite lines.  My favourite lines from ep 1 were
We tested the first episode on a group of women and they roared at this line.
Episode two turned out to be a very intense dramatic episode. It was shot very close up and Doris is playing with Wilma. She knows Wilma has been having an affair with her husband.  She taunts her with the fact that
At the end of episode 1 Wilma is so upset she drops a cup, so we had to use one of my own cups that I had broken previously. At the end of episode 3 I say
Doris: “I used to have a full set of these cups and a husband” which is a line I loved, so cutting and dismissive.
Episode 4 was one of my favourites. Doris explains why everyone will think that Wilma killed her husband because she wrapped his sandwiches in foil bought from Lidl.
Doris “Bought from Lidl, we never shop in Lidl, I wouldn’t be seen dead there, so no-one will suspect me” Hilarious. Doris is such a snob. I also love the line
Wilma “Have you pressed the end in?” Doris “Not lately Wilma have you?” This episode also gives a very helpful household tip that none of us knew. Stuart the writer found it on the internet, and that is if you press in the end of the box of silver foil, the foil stays firm in the box and doesn’t move around. Try it!
Wilma has to know whether Brad was only attracted to her because he wanted revenge for Doris having an affair in Episode 5.
Wilma: “Your affair, before or after we started?”
Doris: “Ever since my u bend was blocked”. No idea why but u bend is such a funny word. It just makes you laugh.
Doris just gets worse and worse. In episode 6 she tells Wilma to go and get Bill’s chair because as Wilma is sleeping with her husband it is only fair that she gets her mother in law so she should put her in Bill (her husband)’s chair and wheel her next door to live with her. Wilma says: “What do I tell Bill?” and Doris callously says “He can now have his chair back!”
I had to do this line a few times before I could say it without laughing
In episode 7 we get to meet Elsie, Doris’ mother in law. This was great for me as I have worked with Donna Flinn who plays Elsie many times and we have always had fun. This was no exception. Doris even has her own language sometimes and she explains with a straight face that because Wilma has been sleeping with her son Bradley that
“Quasistatusartus, technically you are now her mother in law”
We learn in this episode that Brad has not been poisoned by the sandwiches because he forgot to take them to work so in episode 8 Wilma actually throws the poisoned sandwich to Elsie.
Elsie “You dare to give me white bread from Lidl” echoes the Doris theme, but the funniest line in episode 8 is
Elsie: “I’m not into bandage” This made me really laugh because in real life Donna often gets her words mixed up.
In my opinion episode 9 is the funniest episode. I must admit that I was shocked when I first read it and said that we couldn’t possibly have a child locked in the cellar it was too awful. But on reading it a second time I realized that it is so surreal and ludicrous that no-one could possibly take it seriously.  Lynn who plays Wilma plays it brilliantly when she says.
Wilma: “You had a child what happened to it. Did you lose it?”
Doris: “No I know exactly where she is. Locked in the cellar”
Wilma: “I never knew you had a ……cellar. We don’t!”
Episode 10 was another one where I found it hard to get my words out without laughing. There are several lines I struggled with. Namely
Elsie: “Where do I live?”
Doris: “Would you like to live in my shed Elsie?”
And also
Doris (to Elsie) “Don’t mention the mother child suicide bonding pact you have with your son. I don’t want to have to deal with her jealous and disappointment of missing out on something special” It still makes me laugh now.
Episode 11 is another very funny episode. I love it when Wilma says.
Wilma: “If I walk away, who will you watch Jeremy Kyle with?”
Episode 12 is another one I struggled with. Again because it is so dark. Elsie goes down into the cellar to help Doris’ daughter pack the drug shipment. All Doris is worried about is that she didn’t do a very good job.
Doris: “She’s probably ruined the whole shipment!” Again when you think about how far fetched the whole thing is you just have to laugh.
In episode 13 Elsie comes back up from the cellar and she is high. Se has inhaled some of the cocaine. She sees Doris and Wilma’s reflection in the oven and thinks they are inside it.
This was quite a difficult episode to shoot because you had to make sure that the camera and the cameraman were not also seen in the reflection.
Elsie: “What are you doing in the oven?”
Also Doris shows her real psychopathic self here. Wilma says
Wilma: “You’re a drug dealer”
Doris “Only part time and only in schools” as if that is complete justification.
In Episode 14 she is boasting about how taken with her the pig farmers were.
Doris “They thought I was a very stunning, cunning pusher”. We find out she is not only a drug dealer but she has also dabbled in prostitution. Very interesting to play. A complete psychopath who honestly can’t see that she is doing anything wrong. It is all perfectly logical in her head. She is just trying to make a living. Her husband was having an affair with her best friend and she had to find a way to build up some resources and protect herself.Even the affair with the plumber had a practical motive.
In episode 15 Elsie is still stoned and rambling. Doris decides it would be nice for Elsie to have a boyfriend, and maybe she could make some profit out of it. Elsie is mumbling so she throws the tea towel over her head and says
Doris: “I had a budgie like you once, went on and on till I threw the towel over her cage”.
Episode 16 is another one of the funniest, in my opinion. Elsie is flirting on the phone and Mark Blackledge our composer does a hilarious  improvisation of the man on the other end who is a prospective client. Mark’s music really does add to the series but I think in another life he could have been a very good actor. My favourite lines from this episode are
Wilma: “What shall I do with the pig?”
Doris: “Tell him to throw it downstairs.  Suzie’s training to be a butcher. Good to have options.”
By episode 17 the brothel is in full swing. Doris believes she is doing Elsie a favour as she hasn’t had sex in a while. A line that still makes me laugh is when Wilma comes in to announce there’ s another pig farmer at the door Doris decides she doesn’t actually want to be a prostitute herself any more but Wilma can do it.
Doris: “Tell him you’re o special, half price” That line really tickled me. So cold and hard but it is funny.
So to the last three episodes. I struggled again with Episode 18. It is sooo cruel. Doris and Wilma try to convince Elsie who is a bit absent minded that she has facial recognition dementia. This is so that she can sleep with a variety of men believing that they are all her boyfriend Bill. Of course the drugs help addle her brain. In the end it is so ludicrous it is funny and you just have to play it straight. At the end of the episode Wilma annoys Doris and Doris says
Doris: “Have you eaten Wilma?” referring back to the poison sandwiches.
We are all great fans of Breaking Bad and episode 19 is our homage to the fly episode in that amazing series. In this episode Donna playing Elsie does her first stunt. She falls back off a chair after trying to trap a fly on the ceiling, and in doing so breaks another of Doris’ best cups. We were lucky that Stuart, the writer is also a top stunt coordinator so he was there to catch Elsie as she fell and also knew how to make fake blood with washing up liquid and red food colouring. At the end of the episode Doris says
Doris: “It’s not all about the fly Elsie, that would just be stupid!” ……Our homage to breaking bad.
So the season ends. We find out that Suzie, the girl who lived in the cellar and was there when Doris bought the house escapes, the brothel is doing well, and Wilma is now packing the drugs. At the end of the episode 20 Doris says to Elsie
“We’re here for you Elsie” then turns to camera with a horrible smile.
Up till now everyone has escaped being murdered but something tells me it is only a matter of time.

This blog will be cut to a video of clips introduced by actress Jean Heard, and it will be available here.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

4. TIME - how it evaporates

Time is a constant enemy that tortures deadlines. There is no doubt those who took/hacked our YouTube channel down did what they set out to do, which was give us extra work. It is for those unknown disasters, when work turns to survival that you have reservoirs of episodes ready to be uploaded. We are now back on YouTube, as well as many other platforms so the disaster made us grow stronger. All the links below and channels and pages below are back, they were all taken down.

This weekend (Oct 26th) we upload episode 23 of Shades Of Bad, but I have just today edited episode 38 which has been on the desk waiting for about 4 weeks because of our work turning to channel maintenance and survival. YouTube down is explained in another blog but the work became about functioning links away from YouTube that did not work for us, to Vimeo and Daily motion. Every mention on Twitter and Facebook, etc had to be changed. Now YouTube is back we have to remake links though the referrals that go to DailyMotion will stay, we like Daily Motion. The YouTube links will go back but our audience did move and we are finding new audiences starting from Episode 1.

Why were we taken down. I guess when we went into the charts it caused attention and a few others may have gone down a little, but we have stayed world top ten since the summer, so we thank everyone at We Love Soaps and Indie Series Network in the USA who also had extra work changing links to keep Shades in the race to be voted for. They had seen YouTube Channel removals before so had some very supportive words. Eventually it gets sorted.... eventually you get back.

So although we were taken down at about episode 16, episode 16 went straight up on Vimeo and Daily Motion and ZooliTV, and we never missed a week. We had about 32 finished episodes so could have not filmed for another 16 weeks and still been in front. The temptation is to just load everything when they are finished, but having been on Emmerdale for 26 years you learn to set a schedule, stay to it, and build the reservoir to stay in front.

Having just edited 38, I now jump to 43, the ones in-between are done. They were done out of order because they were ambitious episodes, a huge fight, a night shoot etc etc... Episode 43 is the first one we shot abroad, and the rushes have been on the drive for months. The UK side of that episode and the ones to 52 when I think Norway ends, start shooting at the weekend with our new star. He is an Olympian and we will start to leek that information next year. Coincidently, if you work out our schedule, you will see those episodes all release in the run up to the Rio Olympics - isn't that funny how these things happen. Then episodes 58 to 60 are the Barcelona episodes and again the Barcelona parts are done. They take us well into next summer.

We will then spend the time editing mega episodes, which is the joining together of three of four. Again that sounds easy, but it is not. The episodes are designed for a 3 minute slot, and are music heavy. They drive themselves as little programs. We edited the first seven together and whilst we all felt they worked better, the story seemed stronger, we noticed that the edit needed a little attention as there were repeat moments to go. The thing we noticed most was, the music then seemed too heavy. Mark Blackledge the composer who watched it separately in his studio in the East of England came back with the same comments.

As season 2 runs, it is all done, all ready. We are filming season 3 and we want it to be better. But, we are looking at new ideas for a second series.

We also have to get more involved with Maker Studios, and work more on the spin offs that we so desperately wish to add to the channels. We have so much experience in publishing which we feel can help the self publishers, just as we have learnt so much from the web publishers, us only having been in major film. So, do we still make films, YES ... and tomorrow I have a day away from Shades as I read a script I am to produce with two A list stars.

Team wise I have Buster editing an episode so he can see what he delivers as the director to the edit suit. The cast are thinking Christmas, Lynn (Wilma) is in panto. I am off to the USA with Doris ..... which means I will miss some of the great season's BAFTA voting screening, but having already seen Steve Jobs with Boyle, Sorkin, Fassbender, Winslet, Rogen, Daniel et al, and The Martian with Ridley Scott and Matt Damon all doing post screening Q&A's it has not been a bad start to the season.

To close, I thought we might be fully operational and on all platforms by the end of season 1 which has come and gone, I now think that is will take until the end of season 2 for me to get the whole TV channel fully running and have another series plus other content like our previous films Bula Quo, Freight, The Scarlet Tunic, The Usual Children, and Devil's Gate. Then we will have a channel with content. Two series is the exact length of the first book, Who Dies Today?

If you have questions, do send them to us. We have started a blog of FAQ.

Just to say, episode 23 is this weekend, and it is Halloween..... so, given we are a web series about three women, a kitchen and a serial killer it is about time someone died.

Monday, 5 October 2015

3. Sabotage on YouTube

For many weeks I have not blogged, as we have all been very busy dealing with the sabotage of our Channel(s) on YouTube. Yes, so maybe this tale is worth waiting for. There were a lot of things we did not know when we started the web series, and one is that there is a weekly world chart. A dedicated team based in New York compiles the chart. The main review site is called WE LOVE SOAPS and for nearly 10 years they have followed and supported non-broadcast series with a sister site called INDIE SERIES NETWORK. Despite us having no knowledge of the chart, Shades Of Bad charted with an early episode and has remained in the chart ever since. We have hit the top three a few times and Jean Heard who plays Doris has hit the number one actress spot. Our combined channels had nearly 1 million views on YouTube and Shades Of Bad gained 7000 views in less than two months.

Shades Of Bad agreed to join Disney’s Maker Studios as a label manager and start to build a proper Web TV channel. Just as Shades Of Bad escalated our whole YouTube Shades Of Bad was suspended, that means taken down - deleted. The Channel and all it’s managers, which included me were issued with a lifetime ban from uploading to YouTube or creating other channels. One by one all my Google plus pages and YouTube channels came down, from the innocent Scarlet Tunic and the children’s site Usual Children through to Bula Quo and Freight. 

I need to say here that my channels and I are not new to violations, we have had many. When you make product that you then license to the majors, the copyright spiders will challenge you even when you are supposed to be ‘white listed’. By example I will explain; we had a recent violation warning on a Bula Quo clip that had been live for about three years. Two claimants, Universal UK and Constantin, asked YouTube to imposed a world ban on my clip. There is a system to appeal, which we know it well. We appealed that clip; I explained that I, as the copyright holder and creator of the film, I had licensed it to Universal for the UK and Australia only and to Constantin for Germany only. I explained neither could impose a world bad. Nor as licensees did they hold the copyright, I did, they just had a limited license to use it. That violation was overturned in my favour, then another violation came up on another clip, the Bula Quo Kava clip. It was still in place at the time of the suspension and I had just contacted the legal divisions of both companies.

Anyone who runs a Film or TV company, however small is busy enough, but our YouTube suspension meant every video profile for every strand of every film we had ever made was being suspended one by one by association. There was no reason, no warning, no recourse to this suspension. We were in shock. We ran an appeal through the YouTube system and had a fairly quick reply, which said the suspension was upheld and there is a policy to not reinstate suspended channels.

We contacted all the companies we license to asking them to ensure that we were white listed, but that was not the cause. It may have been the history as a repeat offender that stopped immediate re-instatement, but it was not the cause.

As it looked like the end of our life on YouTube (YouTube were insisting this) we had to first turn elsewhere. We uploaded the current episode of Shades Of Bad on our sparsely populated Shades Of Bad Vimeo Channel to ensure we still released one episode a week as promised. Then all the episodes released so far were uploaded to our Daily Motion channel, which had only a couple of episodes posted to date.  But each film in vision referred to the YouTube channel, which meant each film had to be changed and reloaded.
The priority was to establish the complete works on Daily Motion and make that our new Channel. Then we had to go through all our blogs and postings, Facebook and Tweets, and all the pages of our web site and delete all LINKS and references to our now defunct YouTube Channel and films. There were over 300 links and our web site architecture on the video pages did not support Daily Motion, so we had to learn some additional coding to place badges and carousels.

As all of this work went on we keenly communicated to our viewers and fans of the show in every way we could; blogged and tweeted that we had moved to Daily Motion. We informed third party sites that referenced our old YouTube links like Indie Series Network and web series listings. Multiple layers of jobs took every waking hour, and there was little sleep as well as continuing to approach YouTube to try and find out the reason for the suspension.

The suspension and appeal just met with the answer that we should have been sent emails, notifications before suspension and there were web links to explain why in general channels are suspended. The violation rules were broad and without very much actual detail on yardstick examples but the strangeness was that we had no warnings. It was looking suspicious as well as annoying. As we looked for answers our other YouTube channels or Google+ page were being taken down. We even tried to migrate channels away to new owners but they were found and fell. We took out links placed on Google plus, but they were still connected. No clever moves were helping. Everything we had was interconnected as Google plus had suggested, everything had an association and everything was going to fall. I even had a fan Google+ page for my daughter Laura Aikman which just playlisted all the many fan films and showreels people had posted, and that went down. Had she been a manager of that site, she would also have been banned. Just how extensive this is, is worrying.

We eventually told by a YouTube helpline in the USA via a co producer partner there who managed to get through to another level of help, that yes, they would all come down. So we watched months of work and interlinking all fall. It made us realise how dependent we had made our selves on a single third party platform over which we had no control and little chance to communicate.

Approaching YouTube via the on line appeal process the help line kept referring us to for suspended sites no longer worked for us. It appeared to suggest the email address was no longer valid after the first appeal was refused. We tried through other email addresses but they had no complaint to appeal to so would not accept an appeal. The help lines just informed us of process and confirmed everything will eventually fall, the computer would find everything that was connected.

Spamming. We scratched our heads for reasons. We had been tweeting, as marketing, but not excessively. We had made an internal decision not to market the series until season two in the fall and establish ourselves with Maker Studios first. We knew we had linked Google to Facebook and Google plus and YouTube, so it was possible YouTube might monitor our traffic and might have considered we were spamming, but surely not on the low traffic.

Multiple uploads. We had also, up to about episode 10 or so, been putting up three versions of each film, one English, one with Russian sub titles and one with Norwegian sub titles. Technically this is not allowed and there is a sub title facility within YouTube. We had noticed this mistake and just stopped that multiple upload. Surely that was not the violation, but maybe a computer would think it continued abuse.

Metadata. We had also used meta data TV and film titles which they may have thought we had no right to, but they were shows that either I or the cast had been associated with. Using other people’s shows to try and draw attention to your site is a violation.

Copyright. Maker Studios managed to first establish that episode 8 was the violation. They viewed it and could find nothing wrong, other than they asked if we totally owned it as it looked like a show made for TV. Surely we were not banned for being too professional. We explained our background and that was cleared up and passed up line to YouTube. But they did not budge on the suspension.

Content. We were at a loss how the content thus far was strong enough to cause a violation. There is no doubt some people might find Shades Of Bad offensive if they didn’t get it, it was very dark humour, very edgy and a touch political in that it is aimed at showing people just how they had come to accept crime. That aside, with harsher episodes due we made a decision to go 18+ on every episode from number 7. Shades Of Bad was not meant for children and they would not understand the innuendo.

All films on Daily Motion were marked adult viewing and a warning was added to the front and YouTube references removed.

Eventually we got through to YouTube with the help of Maker Studios whom we had just partnered with. After calls to YouTube USA we found that we had had only 3 complaints, they all arrived at the same time, and all about one film. As such the system takes the channel down before the violation emails can be sent.

We never had any other complaints or violations. By having three at once, the system took the channel down before it could email us which the problem on the episode which was episode 8. Eventually it became obvious we had not violated any terms, that there was nothing wrong with episode 8 and we were re-instated, but it took just over three weeks. We lost pace and viewers and still did not figure when searching. We deleted some old films from before we started and started to climb again.

On the good side we are now on multiple channels, the platforms, the sites and web site went through an overhaul, and we have learnt more about marketing. It did slow us down, but there are hackers out there so beware. Or maybe your competition will take you down. Your whole business can be taken down from any platform for violation of their rules, and computer makes that choice with very little human touch other than those who complain and possibly in an organised manner. Read the rules and use more than one platform.

Now some 4 weeks later we will start to get back to where we were. To start thinking about sub titles again, and to understand Maker Studios more and combine our works into one web TV channel.