A vanguard of black filmmakers is capitalizing on this trend to tell stories that previously might have had no other outlet. (Full disclosure: I am a black filmmaker taking advantage of this opportunity. I write, produce and direct ‘Choices,’ choicestheseries.com, a racially diverse soap opera-style dramatic web series shot like a daytime soap. The characters’ lives are interconnected, and have been profoundly affected by each others’ decisions.)
In 2009, actor Al Thompson (valdeanent.com) made the profound decision to start his first web series after a producer friend marveled at his many contacts among film crews. The Harlem native had found success acting in film and television, but saw a web series as a way of taking more control of his career. Thompson then created and starred in ‘Johnny B. Homeless,’ a web series about a loveable couch surfer who wakes up to a new adventure in a different apartment every webisode, and submitted it to film festivals.
For his efforts, Thompson garnered the New York Television Festival’s People’s Choice Award, coverage in the Wall Street Journal and acquisition of his series by Comedy Central’s online distribution portal Atom.com. “You have to have your head on straight to write, produce and direct a web series,” Thompson tells TAP. Clearly he was doing something right.
Soon Thompson found himself with less time for auditions as he spent more time working on the digital series he was starring in. He has gone on to produce and star in ‘Lenox Aveune,’ a web series about a group of bachelors in a Harlem brownstone, which was acquired this year by BET.com. Thompson’s science fiction series, ‘Odessa,’ is set to launch on BET.com in 2012.
“Film and TV are great but I really love the digital space,” says Thompson, citing the “fans, interaction and promotion” as benefits to the medium. Some of Thompson’s favorite web series include: ‘On the Stoop’ produced by Stephanie Parrott (stephanieparrott.com); crime drama ‘The Bannen Way,’ broadcast online through Sony’s Crackle.com online division; and hip hop thriller Rhyme Animal (rhymeanimal.tv).
Mainstream stars are also giving themselves the green light online. Los Angeles-based trio Brown Paper Dolls (brownpaperdolls.com) and executive producer Idris Elba are launching ‘Milk + Honey,’ an upcoming drama/comedy web series about young black women trying to make it in Hollywood while staying true to themselves. While working towards the goal of racking up one million hits for their trailer, Brown Paper Dolls seeks to pitch the series for television and online distribution ultimately. Several well-known black actors, including Tatyana Ali, Kenan Thompson, Michael K. Williams and Malik Yoba, have also joined the online mix.