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Raindance: Wanja Sellers on Web Series ‘Love Street’

Director talks about spliffs, swearing and renting parrots

LONDON — The Raindance Film Festival is the U.K.’s only film event with a strand devoted to independent digital and streaming series, and this year it’s dedicating seven separate programs to the genre. Titled “The World of Today,” “Industry 5.0,” “Love and Death,” “The Age of Absurdity,” “The Otherworlds,” “Thrilling Life Predicaments” and “Adulting,” these offer insights into web series from around the globe.

From Italy comes “Love Street” by Wanja Sellers, in which a married couple become bored with the restrictions of domesticated family life. Self-made and self-financed, using family and friends as actors, the series is a good example of the flexibility and fluidity of web series, operating outside the norms of traditional film and TV budgeting, although Sellers does have a cautionary tale for anyone thinking that web series come without the usual expenses of casting.

“There was a parrot in the story,” she recalls. “I felt it was an important character, but I didn’t know anyone with a parrot. So I had to rent one. That bird was such a diva! And he was also the only actor that got paid.”

How would you describe “Love Street”?
“Love Street” is actually a fantasy. After all, don’t all parents, no matter how much they love and adore their children, fantasize, at least once in a while, about the carefree old days before parenting? A time before having to deal with teachers and homework help, vaccinations, dental braces, PTA, lice, etcetera… [Central characters] Nina and Nick Love are constantly struggling — and failing — to be good parents and when they realize one day that their four unusually mature and responsible offspring don’t appreciate them, or indeed actually need them, Nina and Nick decide to run away from home. They sneak out one day while the kids are at school. The first three episodes of “Love Street” are enough for us to understand that this choice is the best for everyone!

When and why did you decide to make it as a web series?
I originally wrote the outline for this series about two years ago — it was intended for TV. At first I wrote it as a half-hour pilot. I lived in Rome at the time, so — of course — I took it to RAI. After weeks of meetings and raised hopes, in the end, it didn’t get anywhere. It sat in the drawer for a year or so and then I decided to do something with it. I chopped the script into three 10-minute episodes, shot it cheaply, and threw it on YouTube. People really seemed to like it and the short episode format worked for it. So I decided I wanted to continue the adventures of the Love family.

What are the attractions of the web series format?
I really like the web format because of the very short episodes. It’s not only the fact that it goes on the web that makes it a web series — although it’s great to have a place available for those projects without distribution — it’s also the format that I really like, which is very unusual on TV. In Italy RAI has occasionally funded and produced web series — the first and most famous being “An Imperfect Mom” — but in those cases there was an outside producer and quite a good budget. This isn’t typical for most web series, which usually have little or no funding. Mine, for example, was made without any funding.

How did you finance it and put it together?
The way I funded my series, as many webbies do, is to not spend any money to make it. I shot this in my home with my husband’s camera and using family and friends as actors and crew. Luckily in my case my family and friends are mostly film people, so I got quality despite the lack of budget, despite the fact that I couldn’t really pay anyone.

Who do you think the audience for a webs series is, and how do you see them being consumed?
For the most part, web audiences are a bit younger than TV audiences, so one must bear in mind the target audience. They aren’t all 20 years old though, some are in their fifties or more, and others are very young — school age — but they aren’t the TV audience. They are a little hipper I guess. I like shooting for web because it frees you a little, compared to TV. Like in mine, I guess if it was TV they wouldn’t be cursing and smoking so many joints and stuff. Also, for web you have to shoot a little different than for TV or film because it is important to remember that this is content that is watched on small devices, IPads or cellphones…

The other thing about the web is that it’s international, so it has to be universal and it really has to be in English. This was the problem with mine. Since mine was intended for Italian TV, I shot it in Italian. When I gave up on TV and put it out on the web, I had to subtitle it and it’s just a drag to read subtitles on a tiny screen. This is why, although I have outlines for the next 20 episodes, I didn’t keep shooting. The next step for me is to rewrite the script in English, and set the whole thing in London, where I now live.

What are the challenges — if there are any — of making a web series?
The challenges are fewer in a way — you can shoot these things with little money and throw them online. The problem is, it most likely ends there. Only a few web series actually get to a point of making money. And as we know, the more money you have to work with, the more you can do and the better your product. Plus we need to live. We can’t dedicate ourselves to our art as well if we are working full-time at Boots [the British pharmacy chain].

Is there a strict script/structure or is there room for improvisation/last-minute changes?
Web format is still pretty free. Mine is structured and shot quite traditionally, because I come from a cinema background. But everyone can do what they want with a web series, it depends on your taste, style and where you want it to go.

What’s next for you?
Working at Boots. Kidding! The next step is finding a U.K. producer and continuing the series in English.

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