Complete Works, produced by Kingdom for a Horse Productions, is a web series that recently premiered on Hulu. Here, producer Giancarlo Balarezo talks about how the team pitched, cold-called and networked their way into the right VOD distribution deal for their show.
The five-part comedy series follows Hal, a naïve, Shakespeare-obsessed community college student from the Midwest who finds himself at the finals of the American Shakespeare Competition. Complete Works was released on Hulu and Hulu Plus on Wednesday, April 23, in tandem with the celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.
When we set out to make the show – a process that began in 2010 – we had wanted to make something that was good and felt true to our interests and senses of humor. Which is to say, we didn’t exactly know what we were doing, and we didn’t necessarily consider where the show would fit online (YouTube? Maker? Blip? Hulu?). We shot in July and August of 2012, and were in post until the fall of 2013.
Once the show was nearly finished, we began submitting it to online networks, channels and companies, almost all to no avail. We literally called all of our friends to see if anyone knew anyone at a company that would be helpful for us. We even submitted it to Hulu once, but we originally submitted it to the Development department, not the Acquisitions department. There was the rub.
We heard lots of differing opinions on how to get our show out there. Some folks were of the school of thought that we should try to get the show online as quickly as possible and build a following through YouTube (The hope with the YouTube route was that we would publicize the show well enough through the first season that our online presence would gain enough notoriety on its own, and someone would step in and help finance a second or third season.) Others told us to get a representative (also known as an aggregator) and try to sell the show to a portal like Hulu, Comedy Central, etc.
There are so many shows that have found success through YouTube, but for us, it didn’t seem to make as much sense. Originally, we had 14 7-10 minute episodes. In a free portal like YouTube, we thought we’d be drowned out by web series with 100+ 3-minute episodes, as the show is kind of a slow burn. And while we love social media and have had a ton of fun marketing the show, we’re not experts in social media marketing, and the success of many shows on YouTube comes from a great social media campaign.
After reaching out to lots of friends and contacts, we got lucky enough to end up at an agency, but it was hard for them to make us a priority project, since we were new and they had so many clients who were already making a lot of money. Luckily – and here’s where your eyes will roll – one of our cast members and good friends has a sister who happens to work at CAA. She’s an amazing, dynamic, fearless person who doesn’t even work in the Digital department, but she loved the show and was willing to help us. She submitted our trailer to a contact in Hulu Acquisitions; the contact liked it, but was leaving Hulu, and was going to pass it along to the new heads.
This was in December of 2013. Those acquisitions executives responded later in January that they loved the trailer and were interested in watching a few episodes. We showed them a few more, and they liked it, but mentioned that they traditionally delivered longer content. We then offered to re-cut them into five half-hour episodes, which Hulu encouraged (The new format actually enhances the experience of watching the show.) Anxiety-filled weeks went by, and then they responded that they loved the re-cut, wanted to take the show, and that they had the idea to premiere it on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. Needless to say, we pretty much exploded with happiness.
In terms of contract negotiations, Hulu has a basic deal that it makes with almost all of its acquisitions: non-exclusivity but without a licensing fee (a fee paid to the creators for the network’s right to play the show on for a period of time) and instead, 50/50 profit share. The show is also “evergreen,” which means it will be available on Hulu forever and anon. Hulu is a U.S.-only service, so the contracts cover the domestic rights for the show only. On the one hand, this is advantageous because we could presumably try to sell the show overseas separately, but it’s also tricky for those with friends and family abroad who can’t (or have to be crafty to) watch the show online.
Once everyone was on the same page, we set about publicizing the show. This involved a social media campaign, which you can find strewn all over our Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Since the show is also about Shakespeare, we reached out to as many Shakespeare-related blogs, companies, theater companies and educational organizations as we could to try and get them to support us on their websites or through social media. Many were very receptive, and have been extremely helpful in helping us to promote the show. Beyond that, it’s been another effort of calling everyone we know to see if they know people at publications, PR firms, etc. The process is ongoing, but it’s fun and scrappy and we all feel like we’re building something from the ground up.
The main takeaway from our experience has been to allow the content of the show to dictate the path towards where it ends up. We’ve also learned the value of a good pitch e-mail and the power of good old fashioned gumption. It’s been such a thrill ride so far, and we hope that being on Hulu will help Complete Works reach audiences of Shakespeare nerds and comedy fans alike. MM
Watch Complete Works on Hulu here, entirely for free.
All photos courtesy of Kingdom for a Horse Productions.