Web Series are gaining popularity more and more everyday. With so many people watching videos online, it's not as required to have a major distribution deal to get your project seen. In today's post, I interview Filmmaker Eric Won on his indie web series "The Division."
I first learned of "The Division" about a year ago, and got to know Eric a bit when I found out he was a user of our products. I got to work on a couple VFX shots for the series, and we've been in contact ever since. It's quite amazing what he's accomplished so far with the web series, so I figured my readers and I would benefit greatly from what he has to say. Below is our interview.
Hey there, Eric! Before we start, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
First of all, thanks for having me Rodolphe! Well where do I start? I’m from S. Korea. I studied fine art and sculpting when I was a student and did some freelancing sculpting works for a few years back in Korea. I came to US in 2004 to pursue my dream to become a filmmaker. I studied at The Los Angeles Film School and made my first short film called Ken. After making couple of shorts, I started my own web series called The Division and here I am!
Take us back to the beginning of “The Division.” How did it all start? Why did you want to do this project?
After I finished my feature script, I wanted to make a feature film but there was no way I could do that with small budget which led me to think ‘Why not make another short film?’ Then I started to think about having series of short films with connected story lines. I decided to call it “Web Series” only to find millions of other web series already existing.
Anyways, I’ve always wanted to make conspiracy thriller and always loved action genre so I picked one of the story notes I had for a long time and I started writing The Division. I think I wrote first 3 episodes in less than a week.
How is making a web series benefiting you as a Filmmaker?
A lot I think. I can tell you for sure that I learned more making The Division than my time at the film school. I get to make mistakes, try new things (within budget), learn how to handle crew, see what works and what doesn’t and etc... I think this whole process will be tremendously beneficial for my future career.
At the same time, I never want to play safe or not take risks for any films I’ll be making. It takes countless trials and errors for one artist to settle into their true style whether you’re painter, sculptor, designer or even an athlete. I think directing is the same thing. You make mistakes and make bad movies until you find your style and reach the level of a master.
Now that you’ve been producing this show for over a year now, are you happy with your choice to make a web series and not a feature?
In a way, yes. It got me where I am at today and I’m very proud of my show. Of course there are lots of things that could have been better but you kind of have to learn from your mistakes and move on. I also met some great people along the way. The entire journey has been priceless for me.
I know a lot of my readers will be interested in knowing your budget (I know I am!). What is the estimated budget per episode? How did you raise the money?
The budget ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 per episode and the cost is definitely rising every episode. 70% of the budget is self financed and about 30% comes from fundraising on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and ad revenues. Somehow I didn’t have much luck with fundraising campaigns but I’m beyond grateful for the people who believed in me and helped with the campaigns.
What are some of the major drawbacks you’ve experienced because of your budget?
Number one drawback is not having enough time to shoot. We usually shoot over the weekend to save money but the pages we have to shoot are more like three days worth materials. This creates whole other problems like cutting down shots, change of script, lack of communication with actors and crew which affects directly to the outcome of the movie.
Sometime we have to steal the location and that doesn’t always end up good. Even if you get away with the footage, you’re constantly worrying about being kicked out of the location or something and this affects my performance as director.
Besides actual production, not being able to pay my cast and crew what they deserve is probably the most heart breaking thing I think. I can go on and on about this issue but it’s all part of the game and you just have to embrace it. You have to make the best out of what you have.
How did you get everyone on board to be part of The Division?
I don’t know if I was convincing enough on explaining them about the project but thankfully they are with me. Hahaha. I’ve work with most of the key crew members already so there’s that mutual respect and friendship with each other. If I don’t know them already, then most of them are referrals.
Putting together a reliable cast and crew on a low budget can be tough. What advice would you give to indie Filmmakers building up their team?
It’s simple. Go through audition process if you can. Also building trust with your actors can be extremely beneficial. I often just talk to them about anything and everything over coffee. I want to get to know them and I want them to know me as well. I think this builds trust and makes the whole process easier. You do not want your actors to doubt you. You want them to trust you 100% and do whatever you asked them to do.
Also honesty is a huge thing for me. If you can’t pay your crew their usual rate, just be honest and tell them the situation. If they don’t take it then you can move on but you’d be surprised how many people will just work for almost nothing as long as you treat them with respect. That doesn’t mean you can abuse them over and over again. If you promised to give them copy and credit, please keep your promise. I’ve seen so many actors and crew who never receive their copies or credit for the projects they have worked on. This is probably the worst thing you can do to a person who’s working for that exact reason. I try to treat every single crew the same way whether they’re Production Asst. or Producer. Be nice to everyone.
Tell us about marketing and distributing the show. One of the hardest part of indie Filmmaking is getting the finished project in front of an audience. What’s that been like for you?
This is not an easy one but I do whatever I can to get it out there. Updating Facebook and Twitter regularly, promoting not only the show but its extra contents to keep them interested. Marketing is especially tough for our show because the time between the episodes are pretty long and it’s hard for us to keep the momentum going but whenever we release the new episode, new audience finds us which is a good thing.
You think that if you have a good content, the content will find the audience. True but not as many as you hoped to be. You definitely need relentless marketing if you wanna meet bigger audience. This is a puzzle I’m still trying to solve.
I was excited when I learned The Division was coming on Hulu! How did that happen? How have it benefited the show so far?
Thanks! It happened kind of unexpectedly. We recently made a deal with AWN(All Warrior Network) which is a brand new network that’s still in soft launch. Luckily AWN was launching on Hulu and that’s how we got in. I haven’t received any stats yet but the fact that The Division is on Hulu definitely raises the legitimacy of our show. I sound pretty casual but I was actually super excited when I saw The Division on Hulu for the first time.
Now let’s step away from producing a bit and talk about the story. What goes on in The Division writing room? How does writing a web series differ from writing a short film or feature?
Writing The Division is fun. In fact, when the writing goes well, it doesn’t matter what genre or format it is, it’s always fun and exciting. Even though I have future episodes written out already, once I produce the episode and watch the final version, sometimes it’s a little different from the script, so I have to make necessary changes to the later episode scripts.
Because it’s in episodic format, I get to play with the plot and character dynamics a little more than traditional formats. Even though the story is connected, I focus on having distinct beginning, middle and end.
Do you know how the story will end? Or do you write it as you go?
I know exactly how the story is going to end. I also know how I’m going to shoot it and how it’s gonna look like. It makes me excited whenever I think about the ending. I’m currently writing episode 8 and 9 and trying find a bridge between the ending that I have and the previous episodes without being forceful.
If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently on the show?
This is tough question. Hmm… (Spoiler Alert) There’s a scene in Ep. 3 where Nick and Michelle meet for the first time since her fake death. I shot that scene in cuts but now I look back I wish I shot it in circular move in single take, from Nick’s close up to Michelle’s full shot then to her close up. (Hope it makes sense.)
In Episode 2, the last face off between John and Nick, I shot it facing away from the window, but I would shoot it facing the window if I shoot again so I can capture the silhouette of the characters to increase the intensity of the scene.
To be honest, there are many things that I would have done differently but I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far. One thing for sure is I’d really try hard to hire a good 1st AD which I never had.
Two more questions. When things get tough, what are the moments that make you feel like it was all worth it?
When you’re sitting in the editing room and watch the final version of the show and you see it working the way you pictured it, that’s the moment you feel like it was all worth it. I also love it when someone tells me that they enjoyed the show.
Based on what you’ve learned on this journey, what advice do you have for all the Filmmakers who have an idea, but don’t know how to take the first step?
At some point, I heard this a lot. “Just go out and shoot”. I think this is a terrible mistake. My advice is “Don’t just shoot it! Plan it!” Go over your shot list over and over again and ask yourself “Is this the best I can do?” If the answer is “Yes” then you find the best crew, plan your shoot so that you’re not wasting anyone’s time.
Once you’re 100% ready, then go out and shoot. Shooting a bunch of coverage won’t make you a good filmmaker. It will only confuse you and make you look like you don’t know what you want. Don’t be so quick to release it. Take your time on editing, sound FX, Music and the entire post-production process. At that point, it’ll be pretty clear to you that if you did a good job or not.
Important thing is that you finish what you started. Release it and learn from your mistakes but completing a project and showing it to your audience will make you a better filmmaker. It feels like you’re naked in front of people but you can’t be afraid of people’s criticism. It will only make you a better filmmaker.
I’m sure some of my readers will also have questions for you. Would you mind sticking around the comments section a bit and answering a few questions?
Thank you for reading this post! If you would like to ask Eric a few questions you may do so in the comments below. Be sure to check out http://whatisthedivision.com/ to learn more about the Web Series. Until next time!