Long story, short. Me and a very small group of people spent years working on an animated show for the web.
Funny thing was, once we unveiled it, the reactions, were, well… odd.
We received a few kudos, but the typical reaction was either, a) silence or b) pure unadulterated hate.
It’s hard to tell which was more bizarre. Granted, it was a web show, financed out of our own pockets, but some people seemed to expect Pixar quality animation or something, which was well, kind of weird. Not too many people rip on a video shot on a webcam because it’s not on Hollywood 35mm.
But the general silence and lack of enthusiasm, from even friends and family ranging in age and demographics, is probably stranger. Many people didn’t even bother to give us a polite ‘congrats’ or patronized us with a mere ‘cool’. It’s hard to tell if they even watched it.
I don’t get it. The show doesn’t suck. It’s based on an original concept, yes, but it’s not like some abstract, experimental, avant guard production. Maybe not for everyone, but nothing offensive or inflammatory.
Honestly, it almost feels like people really need to be told what to like, and then it’s ok.
As an industry vet, does any of this sound familiar? I truly believe we have a good show with a great concept.
First, let me offer you sympathy and commiseration. I’ve been there. I’ve killed myself writing things that were met with indifference. It sucks.
Over the years, my skin has gotten thick enough to handle most criticism, but there’s no way to prepare yourself for crickets. Creating something is like a pitching a ball. You expect someone to catch it. So when they stand there with their arms crossed, letting it roll on the grass, your frustration is justified.
But where do you focus it?
Do you blame yourself? If I’d just worked a little harder, they would have loved it.
Do you blame your friends? If they’d just been more enthusiastic, and forwarded it to their friends, it could have gone viral.
Do you blame the audience? They’re sheep who won’t embrace anything unless someone else tells them it’s cool.
If you’re like me, you probably cycle through all these blame targets repeatedly.
I don’t have any great advice for what to do with your web show. Switch mediums? Change a major element? Hope it becomes big in Japan? Maybe you made the next Hello Kitty, and just don’t realize it yet.
A few suggestions might point the way going forward on new projects:
Let yourself fall in love again. Once burned, you may be reluctant to fully commit to the next idea. Don’t be. Let yourself get obsessed and passionate. Caution rarely leads to awesome.
Given the choice, fail quickly. This animated project took years, so the emotional cost was very high. If you had been able to make a version of the idea faster, you would have learned whether it was likely to work.
Preselect your superfans. I have a few people who tend to like everything I do. And while I value their insights, I mostly value their praise. Yes Men are fine as long as they’re not the only voices you hear.
Plan your launch as carefully as you plan everything else. As I’ve written about with the struggles of indie films, you have to think about the end of the project right at inception.
Keep in mind, you could take every word of this advice and still face crickets. That’s simply the risk of trying anything creative.