Master of ‘Indie TV’: Joe Wilson and his VMob funders

Joe Wilson is mastering the online realm of Indie TV where serialized stories don’t have to end, audience members become producers by donating funds, and the creator of a star-studded series shares dog photos and talks directly to viewers all over the globe through social media.

When he was in his early 20s, after attending art school to study photojournalism, Joe took jobs as a server and bartender in hotel restaurants. Some of his customers happened to be Mafia members and, although Joe didn’t know it at the time, they would later serve as character references for the web series he is working on now.

Joe experimented with various careers including video installations, acting, screenwriting, stand up comedy, and eventually moved from Boston to Los Angeles. He learned to make short films for the web, and won the Best Short Under Five Minutes award at the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival in 2008 for writing and directing ‘The Swear Police’. In the meantime, he earned his living as a private investigator. It was while undercover on the job one day that he had the idea of combining the resilient genre of mob movies with the flourishing prevalence of vampires. ‘Vampire Mob’ was conceived.

Joe originally planned to make ‘Vampire Mob’ a short film, but upon mining his profuse creativity (and personal knowledge of the mob) he realized there was enough material for an online series. ‘Vampire Mob’ is now the story of a hit man who conveniently combines his night work with his new life as a vampire. His wife, in-laws, colleagues and neighbors make up the cast of characters.

Joe takes responsibility for all aspects of production, but says the biggest challenge is finding an audience in the crowded online marketplace. “Technically it's just a tremendous amount of work and I knew going in that shooting two to three cameras to speed up coverage, to make things look more expensive, was going to be more work in post. But as the storyteller, once you tell the story you've got to find somebody to actually listen to the thing.”

His solution is to dedicate substantial time to conversing with viewers and other filmmakers through Twitter, and sharing clips, blooper reels, photos and thoughts on his blog. “I think the advantage of being one guy is when people talk to me on Twitter they know they're talking to the person who made the show. In most cases that isn't available … And it's worldwide. I talk to people all over the world every single day who've sort of become friends because you know, they see the show.”

The appeal of making a web series is in having complete creative freedom, and not having a defined end to the story - like he would with a feature film. He is also uninhibited by executives or broadcasters dictating the style or content of the episodes. He says, “I do rewrites. I do table reads. So it's not like I think I'm some crazy genius who bangs out one draft and shoots it. But when you're working for a company that needs to make a profit, they need people who think it’s their job to make things that are going to make a profit.” The feedback he seeks from colleagues is solely aimed at telling the best story possible.

Joe filmed the first six-episodes in 2010, acting as producer, writer, director, camera operator, and full post-production department. He used a pair of old standard definition Sony camcorders, and gathered locations and crew from his network of neighbors, fellow comedians and artists.

The accomplished group of ‘Vampire Mob’ performers has collective credits including ‘The Simpsons’, ‘The Bob Newhart Show’, ‘The Sopranos’, and ‘Twin Peaks’. Most recently, Tony-award winning actress Rae Allen joined the cast. “It's just ridiculous the amount of talent that I get to work with on this project,” Joe says. “And everybody is in it just because they like the project; they're all having fun. And that's why I do this. There's no drama on my sets, we're all there to have a good time. Why wouldn't we be? Nobody is making any money. Just go have fun and tell a good story.“

With passionate audience response from wide-ranging viewers, and more story ideas brewing, Joe knew he would need a bigger budget and better equipment for the second season. He got active on Twitter, added PayPal buttons to the show’s website, established a dedicated fan-site, and managed to raise over $10,000 in donations from fans, whom he affectionately calls The VMob. Contributions to the show earn ‘Supporting Producer’ status in the credits.

Joe studied filmmaking blogs and talked with friends to discover the Canon 5D and 7D DSLR cameras. He recognized they would be affordable, nimble, and would probably work with his collection of Canon lenses. He also invested in a Zoom H4n audio recorder for good quality sound, which led him to the PluralEyes plug-in, which proved to be essential for audio synchronization.

Now completing season two using the new DSLRs, Joe directs and shoots along with other camera operators, and still uses gear that any resourceful person could rummage up. “The monitors we have are on-camera monitors. Everything is hand held; there's no tripod in the room. It's all lit with China balls or Home Depot lights, there’s no lighting kit. I either use two 5Ds and a 7D, or two 7Ds and a 5D, all three with a 24-70mm Canon L series [lens] on it because it's sort of the proximity we need.”

After backing up all footage fourfold, Joe employs PluralEyes to sync each camera’s footage separately to the master audio track before beginning his edit in Final Cut Pro.

Season one of ‘Vampire Mob’ is complete and online. Season two is being released serially as episodes are completed. Joe will continue making the show as long as he’s got the resources to do so, and the creative juices keep flowing.

The investment of his highly lauded cast members, and the growing VMob is a reflection of how generously Joe shares his enthusiasm for this project. His blog is full of behind-the-scene anecdotes and personal greetings from Joe and the crew.

“I'm hoping the audience will come and support the show, will share the show, and we'll be able to make something that can continue. Right now we're like a really tiny band that people think makes good songs, but not a lot of people have heard those songs. So it's really just trying to get the word out and let people know, ‘Hey, there's a show for adults out there that's funny, that's got really good acting.’”

Vampire Mob, now in Season 2. If you like your comedy with murder, we highly recommend it.

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Consultant and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.

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