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Web Series Spotlight: WHRO's The Scene


The SPI team sat down with WHRO's Online Media Officer Dina Richards for an exclusive look at their successful digital web series, The Scene. In the interview Dina outlines the genesis of the project and the role PBS Digital Studios played, cross-platform marketing and promotion efforts, lessons learned, and what's next for the series. 


How did the idea for the show come to be? 
As part of WHRO’s strategic direction to create distinctive, locally relevant content that is responsive to our community’s interests, we considered several topics that resonated with our mission, including the local arts scene.

The idea of telling the stories of under-promoted and emerging local artists stemmed from the interest and motivation of a couple of staff members who had a connection to the local arts scene, and their desire to highlight artists’ work and expose it to a larger WHRO audience, as well as reach out to an untapped, younger demographic that is plugged into the local arts scene.

Can you outline the success of the show so far? 
We launched The Scene's website (whro.org/thescene) in July of 2014, which initially consisted of interviews and articles featuring local artists and musicians. About that time, we begun the planning stage for the video series and produced a video trailer that was submitted to PBS Digital Studios as part of the most recent DSLR grant application. We won the equipment grant, and were on our way to embark on this project. 

We launched our first Indigogo campaign in the Fall of 2014, and were close to reaching our goal of $10,000 with the help of some corporate underwriters. With that accomplishment, we had secured the financial resources to complete the first eight webisodes, which were also part of our grant commitment to PBS Digital Studios.

Word in the community spread quickly thanks to the the introduction of the 757 (our local area code) video releases on Facebook, on Wednesday nights at 7:57pm.

We also established a close relationships with local contemporary art museums (Virginia Museum of Contemporary Arts 'MOCA' and Peninsula Fine Arts Center 'PFAC') who helped with promotion of our work and the artists we were featuring.

PFAC showcased a video of the local artist, Asa Jackson. The work was noticed by a supporter of PFAC who owned a gallery space and was looking for the right person to take over the space and make it local and unique to this area. Asa is now the curator of the space, 670 Gallery and not only uses the space to showcase his own work, but work of other local, emerging artists. For more on how that gallery was spurred by The Scene webisode, view the piece by Virginia's Daily Press.


Why use DSLRs? 
The plan was always to shoot the series with a DSLR camera. Firstly, it would allow us to capture footage while being more intimate in smaller places with less lighting, thus enabling us to get up close and personal with artists and musicians without interrupting their creative flow. Secondly, DSLR equipment allows for higher dynamic (or cinematic) range than traditional broadcast or industrial cameras, and therefore creates a visual style that resonates with the topic of emerging artists.

Since we didn’t have the equipment at the station initially, we rented it for a week and shot as much as we could within that timeframe, in order to develop a trailer to present to PBS Digital. It was a very challenging experience, and we realized how critical it would be to use DSLR equipment in the future, if we were to capture the true nature of the artists in their own element.

What if any training did the staff go through?
With the tight turnaround time of our equipment rental, we had to do a lot of on-location training. Shooting with DSLR comes with a whole different set of advantages (i.e. lower light needed thanks to the faster glass, more control over depth of field, smaller camera rigs can be moved about easier and faster, etc.) and disadvantages (less connectors means more adaptors, audio is always an issue with DSLR rigs, monitors get tricky and need to be planned out, and batteries in DSLRs don't hold up like the larger broadcast batteries we were used to). Vimeo offers tons of tips and tricks on how to get up to speed using the equipment.

What if any cross-platform marketing, communication and promotion efforts did WHRO do?
We utilized our website (whro.org/thescene), along with the station’s parent website (whro.org) as a vehicle to showcase the videos. We used Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even Pinterest to promote the videos for our weekly 757 releases. We created an e-news subscription list that grew very quickly and has an open rate of 50%. It was also important to get the artists in the community to start cross-promoting our initiative on their social media platforms.

We organized and filmed a launch party at a local brewery. We invited local bands to play while artists (many of them featured in the web series) created paintings during the afternoon.

We promoted The Scene on our radio and TV stations. The series was also distributed on COVE, making it available on OTT platforms such as Roku and Apple TV, as well as PBS Video App. We are also considering repurposing this content for on-air broadcasts as interstitials or a long-form show.

Has the success of this project carried over into other areas or projects?
The success of this project has been a motivating force in production of web-based video content from our own talent pool of producers, shooters, editors and storytellers about the stories that matter to our community, including our most recent Veterans initiative (whro.org/veterans)

Any lessons learned? 
EVERYTHING was a learning experience for us: from how to use a DSLR camera; figuring out how to get the subjects to open up and tell their stories, to finding the best strategy to promote the videos. It’s all still a work in progress.

Advice we have is: Experiment with an idea or technique and observe how the subject responds; how that approach translates into a story in the video. Be flexible with each subject, as that has been a key component of capturing intimate and personal stories.

While most of the production work was done primary with a tireless dedication of two staffers, Shannon Bowman and Kenny Hopkins, the project had a buy-in from the senior leadership, our Development department, and lots of dedication and work from our talented designers, web developers, radio personalities, on-air programmers, just to name a few.

What's next for both the show and the station? More web series? 
We are currently in pre-production stages of Season 2 of The Scene which has been funded by grants from the Virginia Arts Commission and the arts commissions from the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Newport News. The 12 webisodes, funded by grants from state and local Arts Commissions will highlight artists from four cities in Hampton Roads area. In Spring of this year, we’re planning a live concert with our alternative music radio personality and host of Out of the Box, Paul Shugrue. The concert will feature new and emerging local musicians and will feature the work of local artists. There maybe an opportunity for a weekly TV arts series.

By Dina Richards | Online Media Officer | WHRO and Jennifer Carter Hinders | Assistant Director | PBS Digital

**Last Updated: 2/12/15 at 11:14AM EST

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