How to Start Making a Web Series – Mark Gantt of Bannen Way

Posted on: by Michael Tringe

You have an idea for a web series. Now what? Mark Gantt is an actor/writer/director who took matters into his own hands…

and co-produced and starred in his own project, “The Bannen Way”: an action comedy web series now on Sony Crackle that got 14 million views in its first six weeks, and also earned four Streamy Awards. Here’s Mark’s story behind the story in his own words of how he made “The Bannen Way.’ If you’re wondering, “Where should I start if I’m making my own video or web series?” Mark’s story is a good place to start.

“Five years ago, I was just a frustrated actor/writer/director who felt like I was basically at the whim of my agents and managers to find me work. I was in an acting class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and Alan Barton was teaching that night and he was telling another student who was having problems and frustrated with her career – ‘You should build your own door, and walk through it. This is a great opportunity, and there’s no better time to do your own projects.’ And that night I realized I had all of these great opportunities in front of me to go ahead and create my own projects. I had production experience, and I knew people who were making films. So that night, I went home and I wrote on my whiteboard – ‘Today, I stopped fighting.’ So what did I do next? Tune in to watch the recorded broadcast of Mark’s livestream here to see how he answers your questions about “How to Start Making a Web Series”:

For the complete “How to Start Making a Web Series Course” with a step by step toolkit, Mark’s full course is available hereWatch Mark’s Full Course on Developing Your Web Series

“The next morning, I made a list of three writer/directors I knew who wanted to work with me. Jesse Warren was the first one on the list. He had a script that he had already written based on this character Neal Bannen. So we got together, and we struggled a bit as to whether or not it was going to be a short film, or a feature. And I suggested web series. So we did some research, and found that there was nothing like the kind of project that we wanted to do online: this action/sexy/comedic style of project. And so we spent six months working together, five days a week we wrote: we came up with characters, story, what the world was going to be, and kind of worked backwards in a way. We saw who our audience was first, who was going to be watching it online, and then wrote for that. We pitched it around town, we had this pitch website, that had pictures of Clive Owen, some pictures of me, some other videos that were showing this is the look that we want, these BMW films, we put things like product placement including brands, story, and basically everyone said – it’s too expensive. A friend of mine said, no offense, but you’re not George Clooney, and Jesse you’re not Steven Soderbergh, so no one is going to give you that kind of money. It was a little depressing at first, and then a couple weeks later we said – let’s just shoot this. Here’s what we said to ourselves.”
Let’s do the first two episodes, and we can show this proof of concept, if nothing else, it’s a calling card for us. At the time, we had a budget for the first six episodes we had written. And that was somewhere around $140K, which was obviously a little more expensive than something we could afford. So what I did, was I took the excel sheet, and I just started knocking off things, like ‘Oh, we can get this for free, we’re only doing two episodes, we can get this location for free, we can get this car for free, we can get all these kind of things.’ And what ended up happening was, we got it down to $10K. It was not realistic, but you know what, lie to yourself so that you can get this thing done. We talked about splitting it, but at the end of the day, what we were able to do was that Jesse and his wife were able to front that money and take that risk, because we both believed in the project, and so did she. So then what?
We set out to do a four day shoot over the Valentine’s weekend. And it was one of the best opportunities we had. We had a great crew, we worked with great people. It took us about seven months to get it into post-production, and be finished with color correction, sound, the editing, and at the end of those two months, we had these amazing two videos, and an awesome trailer, and a new website that had photos of me, and our actors, and video of what we had done, the full character breakdown, the season arc, why this show, and a lot of really great elements that we could basically sell this project. We did everything we could so that there was no way anyone could say no. We sent out an email to our list of 600 people to say ‘Hey, our site is up, you guys have heard us talking about this for years, here it is, and let us know what you think. And the first person to respond was the same guy who said, ‘You’re not Clooney, and you’re not Soderbergh,’ and his response now was, ‘Let’s sell this.’ So we spent the next 3-4 months meeting pretty much every studio and network in LA, and found that Sony was the perfect home. They were looking for a web series / feature film, which is what “Bannen” was. We created it as a feature because we knew if we couldn’t sell it to a studio or a network, that we could at least sell it as a feature, and then distribute it that way. At the time, there was really no one else doing that, and we were really the first people doing that kind of thing.
We made the deal with Sony, adjusting it to the budget we said we could do, we spent 19 days shooting in Los Angeles at Lacy studios, all one location, we shot the hell out of that location, the streets, next door, everything. Edited in five weeks, posted in January of 2010, and in the first six weeks we had 14 million views, we later ended up winning four Streamy Awards for “Best Drama,” “Best Director,” “Best Actor,” “Best Editing” – and nominated for two Webby Awards. It’s now available as a DVD, Video on Demand, internationally distributed as a feature film, and also through Crackle’s website as 16 episodes. And now we’re developing and pitching it as a TV series. My goal, is to share my experience, strength, and hope with you, and hopefully over these next weeks, I can get you excited with some simple actions to take to be able to build this project, this team, and to be able to start shooting something, and get it out in the world.”

Mark had an idea of the kind of character he wanted to play, and the kind of projects that he liked: a slick fun action stories. So what kind of audience goes after the “Ocean’s Eleven” style of project? The unsexy part involved research: what kind of projects were out there that involved a similar process of making a video or web series, how could his project match certain aspects of those projects, but also be completely unique because of his own creative vision. The next part involved putting together a pitch package that allowed him to show off his idea. You may be thinking, “making my own video or web series is impossible.” But Mark knew if he could make his special, it would stand out. So he developed a concept around that character, world, and tone – and baked in products that seemed to make sense for that character and world: BMW for example. By putting together a teaser that showed off his concept with the resources he had (himself as an actor being a big part of that resource), he was able to share his vision. So whether you participate in Mark’s lab or decide to take Mark’s course to help you build up your pitch for industry, Kickstarter, Film Break, or your own network of connections and resources, you can learn the process of making a video or web series, discover different ways to make a video, and build out action items that help you complete your project. You won’t just be figuring out different ways to make a video or create video clips, you’ll be learning how to use video to tell a story. Please post your questions and project idea below for Mark to address in future labs.

For the complete “How to Start Making a Web Series Course” with a step by step toolkit, Mark’s full course is available hereWatch Mark’s Full Course on Developing Your Web Series

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Written by Michael Tringe

Mike Tringe earned his MFA in Film Production from USC and has worked at Creative Artists Agency Film Sales (Paranormal Activity, Black Swan), Vuguru, Michael Eisner's multi-platform studio, (The Booth at the End (Hulu), Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Snag), Little Women Big Cars (AOL), and Blip Networks (300 million monthly views, Smosh, Annoying Orange, Nostalgia Critic).

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  • SAOB

    The Project Story Line is a Situational Comedy walking the edge between legitimate professionals and the fraudulent wannabe.

    I have a story, I have a script, I’m an actor and can organize people. I have a co-collaborater. I’ve never produced in this genre or medium. Where do I start?


    • Hey Steven — With all of those elements in place – you’re close to ready to go. Mark talks about just getting out there and doing it after doing some research and making sure your show has an audience and a good angle. As covered in the lab, you should start by identifying other shows you like or think you have a similar target audience as, and being clear about how your project is different and unique. Choose the number of episodes you have the resources to shoot, pick a shoot day or dates that your team can do it, and go. You want to try and have a clear distribution strategy in place though too, so you’re not just shooting content and sitting on it, or releasing it all at the same time. Hope that’s helpful – and let us know if you have more questions!

  • Jennifer H

    I’m an actor and developing a series with another actor friend and combined, we still have 0 behind-the-camera production experience. Would it be nuts of us to try to shoot everything all at once (prob 10 4-min episodes), or should we take our time and shoot like 2-3 at a time? And how crazy would it be for us to try to do everything on our own?

    • Jennifer H.

      We have access to equipment, but if we needed to invest in crew, what should our priority? In other words, what would be hardest for us to learn? We’ve already resigned to the fact that this will be a painful production experience. Got to go through it at some point, may as well be now.

      • Your two key hired crew should be camera and sound. They will help you make it look and sound professional, and take your production to the next level. But again — it depends on the kind of show you’re making. You may want something that feels more “homemade” – in which case, it maybe wouldn’t make as much sense to have “perfect lighting” etc. If you can tell us a bit more about your show, I can give you a bit more specific advice.

    • Hi Jennifer — That’s not nuts! Obviously your shooting strategy and style will need to be able to fit that kind of shooting schedule, which just means you can’t do a ton of takes or get “extreme coverage” of every shot. You can do things on your own with some expert advice helping you — make sure you have a good plan to get what you need on set, and that your sound and lighting is good. If you have no production experience, consider doing mostly exteriors or well lit interiors and make sure that your sound is good by testing shots with an external onboard microphone for example. Try to keep it simple – and know that you’ll have a higher level of production quality if you can at the very least get someone to help you with your sound by “booming” your shots for you. I think it’s the best use of your resources to shoot as much as you can and edit after, so that gives you more time to focus on distribution and marketing of your content. But if you want to keep it fresh and trending, 2-3 at time may also be a better match. It really depends on the kind of show you’re trying to make for all of these questions.

  • Drago

    I am Western filmmaker at the Eastern front ( Shanghai, China )
    Mark and I have something in common which is writer-director-actor also I edit my Web series Wise Hit … Thanks for checking it out What I would like to do is get my character ” Wiseguy” to fly over to LA and do some ass whipping with Mark character something like that, combined the two wise guys.

    • Hi Drago — Thanks for your note and cool show! Mark has been working on some new projects with new characters, did you see his announcement to work in “The Night Visitor”?

  • What is your pre-production process? Have marketing and distribution already been decided for the webseries before you begin production?

    • Hi Sylvia — As Mark talks about in the lab — the answer is generally yes, you do want to have a clear marketing and distribution plan in place before you shoot as much as possible. You want to try and nail down your target audience and make a show they want to see, so your marketing and distribution plan are baked in to your production of the project. You can even get feedback from your audience before you start shooting to get some ideas about what they might like to see!

  • Drago

    Here is my Martial arts comedy webseries WISE HIT
    shot in Shanghai, China (I am the writer, director, editor and actor of this
    popular web series) Wise Hit

    • Cool! He’s dangerous AND funny. Very fun. Did you have a specific question for Mark about it — are you doing season 2?

  • I have a high production value web series I am launching on Wednesday. It is based in the 1950’s and features house wives with super powers. We were able to complete 6 episodes. How is it best to get it out there? How can we best find the funds to create season 2 or the rest of season 1?

    • Hey Nicholas — Sounds awesome. Have you created a list of target blogs and publications around your key audience group to reach out to and ask about embedding your first episode? Building up your season audience is the best way to help launch season 2 if you decide to do Kickstarter or not, you’ll want to grow your following and engagement to leverage that next step.

  • AS3

    I have an idea for a web-series, but I don’t have a crew (only a few friends that are willing to help.) I would like to know how to get started, should I go through Should I go ultra low budget? I have all the equipment I would need, just need to get started. Thanks

    • How many episodes would you say your project is and what is the scope of it in terms of story and characters?

  • Please let Mark know what questions and project ideas you have in the comments below!


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