Just a half-decade ago, talk of web-series – both as a medium and as a standalone industry – fell on deaf ears in certain major media markets. And so the task fell to a handful of evangelists to go out and bang the drum.
“We believe in short content and our mission is to convince others that it is the future,” says producer Anton Kalinkin, founder of Russia’s Red Carpet Studio. “But five years ago, we were the first to talk about it in Russia. Back then no one even knew what it was. Every time we had to literally explain in very simple language what we mean when we talk about a web series.”
Kalinkin opted to lead by example, setting-up the Nizhny Novgorod-set Realist Web Fest in 2018 as a way to popularize the concept. “Our goal has always been to get everyone – producers, authors, viewers, production companies – acquainted with the web series format,” Kalinkin explains.
“This was not at all a secular festival,” he continues. “It was, I would say, more of an educational screening. Without modesty, I can say that because of Realist and our systematic work, now almost all Russian streaming services have web series in their libraries.”
Through his Red Carpet banner, Kalinkin has tried to push that evolution, launching the streaming platform Chill, which offers international and domestic fare, founding the Association of Web Series Producers to coordinate a regulatory framework, information exchange and outreach measures through a single professional organization, and creating the National Web Industry Award to highlight and celebrate accomplished productions at home.
With his acquisition of Webfest Berlin, Kalinin now begins to look abroad. “Our next step is to enter the international market,” the producer explains. “It is important for us to cover the distance and get to the center of Europe, the core of everything modern and creative in the industry. Webfest attracted us precisely for the possibility of direct contact with the global industry [in order to] build long-term partnerships with foreign colleagues.”
In practical terms, Webfest Berlin will continue much as it had before, offering nearly 30 screenings and professional panels from Dec. 13-15. Due to ongoing travel and public health concerns, this edition will be online only, but Kalinin and the festival team are already looking ahead to subsequent (hopefully) in-person editions, where they plan to boost industry initiatives.
“Next year we plan to hold international pitch sessions, which will increase the number of collaborations,” says Kalinin. “Now we are starting to work with European funds to support short and web format, because we see the interest of European markets in Russian content.” Indeed, screening at Webfest Berlin this year, the viral smash “Russian Cyberpunk Farm” (pictured above) has already racked up nearly 12 million views on YouTube alone.
“As part of the festival, we are planning to create a distribution company that could connect foreign producers with Russian streaming services and present Russian content on the world market,” Kalinin continues. “And, of course, it is very interesting for us to show Russian web series on an international platform.”
Of course, the industry days will be open to players from all parts of the world, and the festival itself remains a spotlight for global productions. And despite the hurdles facing international confabs, the producer is looking to develop the festival’s industry arm in the hopes of turning the event into an epicenter for global co-production, to turn Webfest Berlin into a networking hub where like-minded professionals can connect and collaborate.
“The world of web series is a world of enthusiasts, an open democratic space where every member of the community is making a contribution,” says Kalinkin. “Having been engaged in web series for the last five years, we [know] that this format crosses borders and is understandable all over the world.”
“[We want] Webfest Berlin to become a midpoint for connections between Europe, Russia and other active participants of the web series market,” he adds. “[Because] the industry is becoming universal – now only your experience and your talent are valuable, not where you come from. And that’s great, especially when the world feels closed and disconnected.”