Julie Kalceff: Web Series Pioneer

January 19, 2019
The web series format is the newest storytelling tool at the disposal of the filmmaker, but how do you keep up and make it stand out from the crowd? We spoke with one of its most successful proponents.

Before #OscarsSoWhite and years before diversity became such a crucial part of the entertainment industry, fledgling filmmaker Julie Kalceff put everything on the line by creating Starting From Now, one of the first successful dramatic web series, which has paved the way for various other web series and television shows in Australia and around the world.

“The thing that most inspired me to make Starting From Now was the lack of diversity on screen in mainstream media at the time, particularly in regard to roles for women and LGBTQI+ characters,” says Kalceff today. “I knew that there was an audience for more diverse content because I was part of that audience. Making a web series seemed to be the most effective way to directly engage with an audience and prove that there was a real hunger for diverse content and representation on screen.

“I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. I didn’t know anyone who was an out lesbian and I certainly didn’t see any positive representations of lesbians on screen,” she continues. “If I did, it would have had a very profound impact on my identity and sense of self. I wanted to create Starting From Now because a show like this didn’t exist when I most needed it. The messages, comments and emails we received (and still receive) from audience members tell us Starting From Now has helped many of them feel less alone and more confident in who they are. The series has recently broken 120 million views – one of the most watched web series in the world – but the impact it has had on people’s lives is worth so much more than the view count.”

Kalceff’s series has inspired dozens of filmmakers, but which web series was she using as inspiration back in 2013? “There weren’t a great deal of web series around at the time that were dramas,” she answers. “Most of the series were comedies and there was a prevailing thought in the industry that the only thing that would work online was comedy. If it was short and funny, people would share it and you could grow an audience. If it was episodic and needed to be viewed in order, then it would be difficult to attract viewers, especially if it was a drama. This is clearly not the case. More and more people are solely viewing their content online, both dramas and comedies, and much of it is episodic. I often think back to this and I’m reminded, to paraphrase William Goldman, that not only does ‘no-one know anything’, but the online landscape is constantly changing. You don’t know what’s going to work until you try.”

When asked what sorts of things that she learnt through the process, Kalceff asks where does she start? “I could fill the whole of FilmInk with this answer,” she laughs. “Making five seasons of Starting From Now, the equivalent of 30 short films in three years, was an incredibly steep learning curve. I learnt a great deal about audience, how to build an audience and how to keep them engaged. I learnt the value of interacting with the audience, reading the comments, and focusing on the facets of the narrative and characters they were most invested in. Another thing I learnt from doing that I wish I’d known in advance was you can’t do everything. Circumstances were such that I wrote, directed and produced Season 1 on my own. When it came to making Season 2, one of the actors, Lauren Orrell, came on board as a producer and we produced that season together. For Seasons 3, 4 and 5 another one of our core cast members, Rosie Lourde, stepped up to produce and we worked together to produce those three seasons. There’s often a tendency with short-form online content for one person to try and do everything. Writing, directing and producing are all very demanding roles and it’s almost impossible to do any of them to your full capability if you’re trying to do all three. Collaborate, build a team, and share the load.”

Since completing Starting From Now, Julie Kalceff has been writing various projects, including a feature film, and has directed a short film [ABC’s First Day] that is being developed into a half hour series.

“It has most definitely been a gateway to other opportunities,” she says about web series. “I see a number of web series creators moving from short-form to more traditional formats, and then back again. There was a time when web series were looked down upon as being lesser than other formats and merely a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. That’s no longer the case. The number of streaming platforms actively seeking short-form content highlights this, as does the number of more traditional filmmakers looking to move into the short-form episodic space. By making a web series that works, you’re demonstrating you have the ability to create a longer, more complex narrative than is possible in a short film. You can also prove you know how to tap into an audience. This can open doors and can be the catalyst for other opportunities, both long and short form.”

Julie Kalceff is teaching ‘Learn to Write a Web Series’ at AFTRS, starting from February 18, 2019. For more information head to https://bit.ly/2AJwBDu

Photos by Ella Mackenzie Taylor

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