We recently covered the ITVFest, an awards gala that aims to recognise rising and outstanding talent in Independent Television, Web Series and Film. Founded in 2006, the ITVFest was notable for its forward thinking, which put them ahead of the curve, as an organisation with their eyes fixed firmly on the developing web series format. This unique perspective made the ITVFest one of the first events of its kind.
Seven years later however, and this once uncommon attitude – that web content can be worthy of award – is no longer remarkable; it’s with this revelation held firmly in mind, that some of the smaller cogs of the ITVFest’s well oiled machine seem to be getting a little wonky, because the entire events premise is in need of attention.
The organizers behind the event this year – a different team than those who founded it – were to some extent aware of this fact. In a move I can only describe as “delightfully hipster-ish”, the LA based event shrugged off the shackles of the big city, picked up sticks and moved itself all the way out to beautiful Vermont, where it can focus “on what its true purpose is: showcasing the world’s best independent new talent”.
In our original article covering the (then upcoming) event, we asked whether a festival that still described itself as “the place to jumpstart a career in television” was genuinely taking steps to nurture and help develop the web series scene. We found it discouraging that their emphasis when marketing and promoting the festival was split 20/80 on showcasing new talent/dropping big television names, (see video below) and we couldn’t help but wonder why an event celebrating independent creations would cite selling pilots to FOX, NBC and Virgin as successes?
These concerns might sound like sour grapes to you if you’re one of the self proclaimed pragmatists that think that creators should be thankful for any opportunity or venue to create; but if this is only because you and I are both looking towards the same event with wildly different expectations.
It wasn’t until I read Gabriel Neil’s controversial slamming of ITVFest winner “The Men’s Room” that I realised this; the ITVFest is effectively a web series event organised for people who hate web series and want to escape it. While that rules out a great future collaboration between ComedyTVisDead and the ITVFest, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Because as crazy as it may sound to those of us who love web series, are bored of television and enjoy the diverse and interesting stories that only seem to get told online – there are undoubtedly many, many creative people out there making web series to get their foot in televisions door. People who want to do the filmic equivalent of a 9-to-5, people who thrive under creative constraints and advertiser demands. People who don’t mind tailoring their work to meet the needs of a committee, if it means that their work gets seen by prime-time audiences.
There are probably thousands of different “types” of people in media, but for the sake of brevity I’ll say that there are in fact two. People who think TV is here to stay as the dominant entertainment format, and people who just plain don’t. Unlike any other web fest around, the ITVFest manages to pull in both of these crowds, and does a fine job of making them each feel like the event is catered towards them. Its focus on providing independent creators a relaxed and sociable environment to rub shoulders with big producers is a good thing, even if this friendly shmoozing happens to lead to purchases, deals and acquisitions that funnel fresh talent away from the web, and the no-holds-barred creative freedom that comes with it.
And there is another big issue I’m sure we’re all aware of; People who wouldn’t mind getting paid for their hard work every once in a while. The profitability of web series is not forthcoming for most.
Yes, for web series enthusiasts like everyone here at Comedy TV is Dead, the ITVFest it flawed to almost the point of worthlessness because they’re not exploring, developing and defining new media landscapes anymore. They don’t distinguish their content in a meaningful enough way (for instance, anything over 22 minutes long is no longer a web series, but a television pilot, in spite of where and how it’s created, distributed and consumed), and their event undeniably is, at its heart focused on poaching talented and passionate people away from the web instead of driving them towards it.
But these “flaws” are only subjective. Someone on the other side of the fence can easily look at all of these points as a positive, and some clearly do.
The ITVFest may be geared towards television, but the organisers behind the event are very much aware of the ideological conflict between TV and Web Series. They may cater more fully to people who want to “get out” and onto TV, but there’s still plenty of reason to attend if you’re happy where you are. This odd contradiction at the ITVFests’ core is actually one of the most interesting things about the event, and served as the topic of focus for many pf the panels this year. Philip Gilpin, the events organizer and executive director even stated: -
“This tension between the freedom of the “indie” world and the need to pay bills in the “homogenized” world isn’t lost on us – in fact, we find it one of the most fascinating pieces about ITVFest.”
If you hate the web, and are looking to get out, submissions for the 2014 ITVFest will open on the 10th of October. If you love the web, and are happy producing content for it, then I suppose you’re still more than welcome to submit and participate, meet, greet and have a good time. Events like these are what you make of them, and even the independent creator needs to network from time to time.
The 2014 event will again be hosted in beautiful Vermont, so at least the scenery will be pleasant.