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Held April 2-5, the webseries festival is a mashup of panels, parties, and screenings. And awards—lots and lots of awards. Anyone who claims he entered a series for competition at the prestigious event for free hors d’oeuvres and a few attaboys from peers is kidding. Recognition of the industry’s best series, actors, writers, and directors is what this annual gathering is all about.
As the webseries world evolves, those who produce or fund this new breed of content look to Web festivals as a way to get exposure, funding for additional episodes, or, best yet, the greenlight from a studio or network for inclusion in its lineup. There also are cases where a webseries or particular actor catches the eye of TV of film execs, leading to starring roles in new network programs or feature films.
LA Webfest 2015 features 14 series competing for best drama. While they generally are of superior quality in terms of production, writing, and acting, there are a handful of standouts that are worth the cost for the chance not only to screen these webisodes in person but to meet the folks whose hard work is represented. If a trip to California is not in your interest or budget, here’s a look at some of the standouts that you can enjoy via YouTube, Vimeo, or other Web channel.
1) Tammi Mac’s Bag Lady
I was ready to hit fast forward with boredom after a few seconds, when actress/radio personality Tammi Mac appeared on the small screen as a bag lady in Los Angeles in this heartfelt drama. Things rapidly turned around when the raggedy wanderer encountered a woman on her way to seeing her fiancé after a few days away. Tammi Mac reached out to her with some prophetic words that stopped the woman dead in her tracks, leading to a beautifully acted and carefully written scene where the rather surprised recipient of the bag lady’s words of wisdom accused her beau of cheating. I’ll stop there as not to ruin the great plot twist.
Two of the other bag lady episodes were on par with the pilot, and one was well-acted but confusing in its message. In terms of impact and message, Tammi Mac’s Bag Lady is at the top of the drama nominees in this year’s LA Webfest. The series was funded by a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, along with the Houston-native’s one-woman show.
2) Perfect Girl
In many ways, I liked Perfect Girl more than Tammi Mac’s Bag Lady, but I ran into the inverse of the issue as Netflix had with Orange Is the New Black. The Perfect Girl is a dramedy, but it’s more comedy than drama. Whatever the category, this is a clever series that will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has had a first love.
Stan and Jenny are star-crossed lovers who met in middle school in Singapore. They have drifted in and out of each other’s lives, holding a strong affection all along. As adults they run into each other at the same apartment complex, with each secretly wanting the other to boldly make a romantic gesture. Yes, a simple plot, but Stan is a mathematician who has to analyze and justify every move until it leads to romantic paralysis. The Perfect Girl is far better than most every lame sitcom on television, and every episode leaves you wondering what will happen next.
3) Quella Sporca Sacca Nera (The Dirty Black Bag)
Anyone who has seen Clint Eastwood’s skein of spaghetti Westerns made under the direction of Sergio Leone, knows the antihero drifter the man with no name. This gory Italian webseries is an homage to those ’60s films, done with great cinematography and just the right underdone of looming menace. The plot involves a hard-hearted bounty hunter, Red Bill, who is in search of two bandits, and he aims not only to catch them, but to return with their heads.
The plot meanders a bit, but it evokes the quiet terror of a man who is willing to not only kill but behead anyone who stands in his way on his brutal mission. The dialogue is in Italian, so be sure to turn your caption translations on in YouTube.
I am on the fence about this foreign import to the LA Webfest. Visually stunning, this webseries is a modern-day fantasy that takes place on the island of Elba, the refuge to which Napoleon was exiled in 1814. The plot involves two competing tour guides who encounter a magical medallion that once belonged to… well, you guessed it—Napoleon. The tension that leads up to the discovery, and some of the action that follows, is cute (again, this is more comedy than drama) but things bog down with all the phony time travel, where one of our main characters becomes the former French leader.
The film appears to be funded by the tourism board of Elba, and from that perspective, it presents the Tuscan island as a beautiful place to spend a leisurely vacation. If there were a category for best travel brochure, here’s your winner.
Screengrab via TammiMac TV/YouTube
Allen Weiner has been a market research analyst in the area of new media and technology since 1994. He’s worked as writer, publisher and newspaper executive. He is the co-founder and publisher of Kombucha Network and the former managing vice president of Gartner.