“I think the secret to creating a successful web series is having a strong creative vision and a strategy for release” – Julie Grob
By Elia Esparza
Recently we caught up with Julia Grob one of the geniuses behind the very engaging, funny and warm loving web series, East WillyB, to talk about how they were able to get their online show to the level of success it is currently enjoying.
Congratulations on EastWillyB’s success. In a nutshell, what is the series about, and what was the motivation behind creating it into a digital series?
Julia Grob: The series chronicles the adventures of Brooklyn Sports Bar owner “Willie Jr” [played by Flaco Navaja] and his motley crew of bar regulars as they deal with the trials and tribulations of living in an ever-changing Brooklyn.
This season is really complex and deals with so many issues of our generation—from love to identity to community to change. When Yamin Segal [Co-creator/filmmaker] and I developed the show, we wanted to tell an American story about how cultures collide in the face of gentrification, but tell this through the voices and experiences of Latinos.
We felt like, while we were telling a local story set in Brooklyn, our communities nationally were experiencing gentrification, whether it be the Mission in San Francisco, or East Lost Angeles. Telling it digitally allowed us the creative freedom to tell the story we felt needed to be told, and to find our audience authentically, versus needing approval from networks or executives.
For you the filmmakers, what was the biggest hurdles in raising the $50K on Kickstarter? What strategy help turn the page on the fund raising campaign? Was it enough to cover your budget… for how many webisodes? Can you share the approximate cost per webisode?
JG: Raising the 50K was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life! We literally pounded the pavement for 50 days (not to mention the 30 days leading up to the campaign launch when we worked on strategy). We called, emailed, and Facebooked literally everyone we knew! I think what was so amazing is that press and donors alike really responded to the message—to create the first “Community Funded Latino Sitcom”—because they felt that East WillyB represented them. Our donors really took ownership of the success of the campaign and towards the last week we saw so many people raise their pledges and spread the word. In the end we raised close to $60K, which allowed us to shoot six episodes.
To date, so far so good, East WillyB is a social media hit! Who on your team is driving the social media/online machine? And, what have some of the challenges (if any) been. In your opinion, what is secret for a web series to be successful with the online PR?
JG: At the heart of it we created a series that had a unique voice and is unlike anything out there. I think that is what has made the series so popular… filling the void by creating quality entertainment for the New Generation Latino. We’ve received a lot of love from the press, which has definitely helped extend our reach. Last year, Jazmin Chavez joined our team, and she is a social media visionary. She really helped get the word out around the Kickstarter and constantly has creative ideas on how to engage and grow our audience.
The major challenge is we have no marketing budget. Online media is often driven by “bought media”… Facebook or Google ad buys which drive people to your site. We have never bought any media so our social media engagement is completely organic. I think the secret to creating a successful web series is having a strong creative vision and a strategy for release. Also, creating content for a niche audience should be a driving force for any web series. You don’t have to reach everyone like TV does… but you can find a strong audience that is underserved.
In New York, EastWillyB is a huge success, how has the response been from the West Coast. Bronx is a long way’s from Los Angeles?
JG: It’s funny you should say that because our second most viewed city is Los Angeles! I truly believe that the story of East WillyB is universal. The new generation of Latinos is not divided by ethnicity, or language, or coast, like maybe we were in the past. Our culture is more fluid—we like authenticity—and we live and breathe hybrid culture, which is what is the hallmark of East WillyB. This season I’m sure our audience will expand because while the story continues to be driven by the local environment, the issues extend beyond race, age, and locale.
What advise or tips would you give other filmmakers venturing into the digital series?
JG: DO IT! East WillyB started because Yamin Segal and I just started playing around with characters and casting our friends. If we had waited to make the “perfect” series, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Stop thinking about it and do it your self! If done right, a digital series can be an amazing calling card within the industry.
Tell us a little something about filmmaker(s) and main actors.
JG: We have an amazing team and I’m so thrilled to work with every one of them. Yamin Segal and I created the series. We have known each other since high school and wanted to create a show that showed the beauty and comedy of a real Latino barrio. Yamin serves as the head writer and director on the series and creatively we compliment each other so well. Together we assembled a cast of top tier actors: Flaco Navaja (Willie Jr) who is often compared to a young Hector Lavoe or Marc Anthony, Danny Hoch (Willie’s nemesis Albert) who is an amazing solo performer and one of the originators of “hip-hop theater”, Shirley Rumierk (plays Maggie and last seen in Gun Hill Road), who is literally about to blow up professionally! And, Raul Castillo (Bless Me Ultima).
This season we have some great guest stars including Rick Gonzalez (War of the Worlds, Old School) who will play Willie’s brother, rapper Joell Ortiz making his acting debut, and Jaime Tirelli, a true Puerto Rican legend, best known for playing Michelle Rodriguez’ coach in GirlFight.
East WillyB is hailed as “1 of 3” Web Series to Watch by the New Yorker Magazine. The New York Times abeled it as “The Latino Show for a New Generation.” Latin Heat Entertainment calls it the “Most Successful Latino Web Series of 2013!”
For more information, visit: http://www.eastwillyb.com. To read Mary Chuy’s review and more about East WillyB, click here: http://www.latinheat.com/2013/04/21/latino-web-series-levels-the-filmmaking-playing-field/
More on EastWillyB: http://www.eastwillyb.com/#sthash.3IcmgTub.dpbs