DoXa: Writing, Producing and Distributing My First Web Series
My first web series titled doXa (6x16) was launched on May 10, 2018. From writing to distribution and all the way through the shooting and editing stages, here is a condensed account that summarizes the creation of this production that has been viewed close to 500,000 times in the space of less than two months.
The script: a strong concept and tauter writing
I wrote the script of doXa at the beginning of 2015 alone in my room one evening after work. I wanted to deal with a complex political subject as a way of setting myself apart from traditional comedies. After careful research, I laid my hand on a theme that had never (or very little) been examined in fictional settings, i.e., polling institutes. Soon after, I tested the presentation of my series through storytelling with my friends while enjoying a cup of coffee. I was ready to rewrite the entire thing if I did not see a gleam in their eyes within the first minute.
In the space of a few months, I managed to come up with a synopsis for doXa:
“Head of studies for a polling institute, Arthur is a statistical genius who rids his daily life of its greyness between artificial paradises and virtual worlds. One day, he inadvertently inverts poll results and nobody notices the error. Worse yet, his conclusions stand the rigor of validation. Fully aware of the power he holds, Arthur shall begin using it to his advantage.”
At the same time as this solitary writing process was unfolding, Studio 4, the France Télévisions group’s web platform dedicated to fictional web series, launched in May 2015 a call for projects with authors that had neither experience nor producer to count on. The watchword was simple: no imposed theme or topic, few constraints. Participants were required to include with their application a presentation, an editorial and artistic intention memo, the narrative structure of a first season and at least one dialogued episode. One of the web’s strengths is its ability to favour the emergence of young authors by giving them access to a mass distribution platform. It is therefore not a coincidence if my first work of fiction is a web series.
After having been selected by France Télévisions’ new scenario manager, I needed to choose a producer and I chose Jérémy Pouilloux of La Générale de Production. I worked with him during close to six months to write the 120 pages of the first season’s script. He initially encouraged me to write without thinking about budget constraints. What was important was to focus on my series’ central issue. By working on the core of my fiction, we were able to refocus on the main characters and get rid of others. That is how the protagonist’s family disappeared completely and appeared only in the form of text messages. This tauter script also had the effect of limiting the number of decors.
Throughout the rewriting process, we sent the work in batches to Studio 4’s teams, who never asked us to format or time the episodes. “The script will determine the format,” had told me Antonin Lhote of Studio 4’s editorial committee. As a result, the episodes last an average of 16 minutes, which is more than twice the average length of the videos broadcast by Studio 4. Yet, it’s another of the web’s strengths: given the absence of a format by which to abide, there is a great level of writing and rewriting freedom, from scripting to editing and shooting in between.
Production and postproduction: requirements close to those of film using the means of the web
Once the script was validated, I chose a coproducer because I felt the need to be accompanied during the production of my first 96 minutes of fiction. That is when my producer introduced me to Olivier Marquézy, with whom I also rewrote certain scenes. Together, we reflected a great deal on the series’ audiovisual identity. Our references spanned from Fight Club to Jacques Tati along with the Yes Minister, Atlanta and Man Seeking Woman series. No reference whatsoever to a web series…
Fully funded by Studio 4, the Centre national de l’image animée (CNC) and La Générale de Production, the filming of doXa unfolded over a three-week period in July 2017 in the Île-de-France region. We reorganized two locations (Arthur’s apartment and the IFLOP’s offices) during a week and also filmed scenes in a kebab, a restaurant, parks, a square and several Parisian streets.
We were to film 5’30 per day, which corresponds to standards close to those of certain television series. Several actors even informed me that the paces imposed by certain TV series were sometimes much higher. With respect to production, the frontiers between television and web series seem to be increasingly fading.
During the filming, the actors—all very active on social media—began posting its first images. The doXa name was already in circulation!
With respect to postproduction, we were lucky enough to count on the assistance of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, which provided us with excellent editing conditions. Following discussions with television, web and film editors, we decided to collaborate with Carole Le Page, an excellent editor who works almost exclusively in cinema and never edited anything for the web.
Postproduction was completed in the space of ten weeks and it was time to celebrate Christmas.
Broadcasting: when the old and new worlds come together
To broadcast the web series, a certain number of constraints needed to be taken into consideration. This set back the broadcasting of doXa by several months. Firstly, as is the case of any classic television channel, Studio 4 has a very full broadcasting schedule. A slot therefore needed to be found in the grid, and that required going back and forth a few times.
Secondly, the Studio 4 team wanted our production to follow a web series with a similar audience in order to create a rendezvous with the 300 000 subscribers of its YouTube channel.. Seeing as the Martin Sexe Faible web series ended at the beginning of May, we were able to occupy its timeslot seeing as both series had similar tones.
Thirdly, and finally, our producer wanted to register doXa with major series festivals that demand worldwide exclusivity. We were selected at Lille’s Séries Mania festival and thereby had to wait for the festival to end before distributing the first episode of doXa on the web.
Many journalists were present at Séries Mania and we therefore benefited from major press coverage (LeMonde.fr, Télérama, etc.), including several radio capsules (France Inter, Europe 1, Radio Nova), as early as the first week of distribution. This mediatization, combined with an advertising campaign on YouTube, enabled episode 2 to register the best performance of the entire series: 60,000 views in 24 hours and 48 hours trending on YouTube France. This traditional media exposure was followed by a host of blog posts and invitations by emerging podcasts during the six weeks the series was broadcast.
Furthermore, some of the people involved in the distribution, such as Aude Gogny-Goubert and Sébastien Chassagne, actively contributed to the broadcasting of the series through their social networks following the release of each new episode. The reach within their communities played a determining role in the distribution of our web series.
doXa in statistical terms
doXa has been viewed 447,545 times over a six-week period, which works out to an average of 75,000 views per episode. Each episode has been liked 5,000 times and disliked 50 times—an impressive ratio compared to normal averages. Each episode is the object of some 250 or so comments (mostly positive), with the exception of the last episode which boasts 800 comments crying out for a second season. Let’s hope that Studio 4 takes these comments into account! Reading the comments posted following the broadcasting of each new episode was a jubilant experience. My coproducer and I spent every Thursday evening from 6 PM to midnight replying to the various comments posted.
A majority of our audience is male (64% men vs. 36% women) and aged between 18 and 34 years (80% of the audience), which corresponds relatively well to our initial expectations. As for devices, the series is viewed on mobile (52%), PC (40%) and tablet (6%).
On a geographical level, seeing as the broadcasting of the series was geolocked, thereby limiting its access to the French territory, we received many messages from Quebec, Belgium and Switzerland from people who were upset of not having access to doXa... However, the rights apply to France only, and doXa can therefore not be made available elsewhere unless a channel purchases the rights to it. Even on the web, television somewhat remains television.
The web series as a free format
All in all, after taking stock of the three years of work on doXa, I am satisfied with what was accomplished. What pleased me the most during the production of this web series was the total freedom that I had at each step of the way. I was never required to comply with the codes of a specific medium: the visual references were cinematographic, the scenarios were inspired by TV series, comic strips or sketches... In other words, I tried to produce the web series that I felt like watching myself, without ever asking myself what viewers wanted to watch. And I believe that that is what pleased them the most. At least, that’s what I believe.