On June 17th the submissions to the Webfest Berlin will close and while waiting for the 2018 edition, we decided to interview Meredith Burkholder, founder and director of the festival.
The Webfest Berlin will have, on September 7th and 8th, its 4th edition. Preparations are well under way, but there’s still a lot to do and there’s still time for submissions, which will close on June 17th (so if you want to submit, click and check out the 20% OFF discount code). Stealing some time from her really super busy days, we made an interview with Meredith Burkholder, founder and director of the Webfest Berlin. This edition of the festival promises a lot of great things and Meredith totally rocks as you’ll see reading the interview below.
The 2018 edition is coming closer; can you tell us how was the last WFB and which are your expectations this year?
Last year was our biggest and best edition to date. We had a record number of attendees, submissions, and series screened, plus a record number of sales and development deals as a result of the festival. This year, I’ve been totally blown away by the quality and number of submissions so far. It’s going to be a great 4th edition!
What’s new in this 2018 edition?
This year, we’ve added a Branded Series category. I’m really excited to dig into this topic. It’s a great time for producers to have a better understanding of how Brands are approaching web series and for brands to discover new talent to work with.
We also have a lot of new and VERY exciting prizes this year, including a spot in the Marseille WebFest writers’ residency (expenses paid), and a €2000 cash prize for the best pilot. I can’t tell you about the rest yet, but there are absolutely more prize announcements to come, stay tuned!
Creating a web fest is a huge challenge: what did encourage you to build up the Web Fest Berlin? And when did you found it?
I founded Webfest Berlin in 2015 after helping out on a web series production here in Berlin – Mission Backup Earth. That show won the Grand Jury Prize at the Melbourne WebFest, which meant that the show got into the Marseille and LA WebFests. The creator of the show, Alexander Pfander, came back from LA and said, “The director of the LA WebFest, Michawl Ajakwe, said he thought Berlin would be a great place for a Webfest, what do you think?“. After that, I started to tune in to the conversations surrounding the format. I immediately fell in love with the spirit of web series – the creators, the risk-takers, the stories and styles I had not seen before, it was something I could get behind. I spent many years working in advertising and television, making things that I wasn’t necessarily proud of, and working with really talented people, who were working for very little pay on something they were not passionate about either. Web series really refreshed my outlook on the industry and, with the support and encouragement of Michael and the community he introduced me to, it became something I wanted to devote my time and work to moving forward. As you know, Mike passed away recently, and I cannot stress enough what an impact he had on me and so many others. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy will live on.
Tell us about the WFB’s team.
Well, they are, in fact, the ‘Dream Team’! There are 3 members of our board of advisors, Joël Bassaget, Anne Santa Maria, and Lucas Fortes DaSilva. Joël and Anne have a huge amount of professional knowledge surrounding web series, all the way from pitching, to writing, to selling, to producing, to marketing. They are ears that I rely on to bounce ideas off of and ask input from on tough decisions. Lucas’s background is in marketing so he really has a fresh take on what we’re doing from outside the entertainment industry. It is really invaluable to have him on the team; we can easily get trapped in our ‘web series bubble’! I’m also incredibly lucky to have an amazing group of freelancers to make everything happen. Georgina Foley is our Event Manager, but she does far more than that. She is truly passionate and involved in the Webfest creatively as well. She also happens to be a very talented creator! Our super design team, of Chiara Ciccarello, Jaime Falomir, and Christin Schneider are back again to keep WFB looking great. Andrea Kaul has joined our team this year to head up the branded series initiative. She comes to WFB with more than 20 years experience at international media companies and was recently named one of 100 Influential Women in Native Advertising by the Native Advertising Institute. Also new on the team in 2018, is Susan Kent, our Communications Coordinator. Susan is a fantastic writer and storyteller, with an organized brain, quick wit, and sense of humor to boot. I couldn’t be luckier to work with such an amazing group of people! And, of course, during the event, we have the BEST team of volunteers around! Several have helped year after year, including our fantastic Awards Ceremony host and moderator, Anthony Straeger. I can tell you for sure, that the event could not happen without them!
How many web series attended the 2017 edition and where were they from? Can you tell us how is the submission situation for this 2018 at the moment?
In the Official Selection in 2017 we had 38 series from 13 countries. Across all selections, we have 51 series from 15 countries. Last year, we received 200 submission, and we are on track to easily surpass that this year. We’ve still got some time to go, but so far we’ve seen submissions from 28 countries, and the quality, originality, innovation is amazing! It’s going to be a really tough selection process.
Last year there were the “SPECIAL AWARDS”: would you like to tell us more about?
The special awards are awards which are not only decided by the festival or the jury. They are our first ever HG Distribution Best Pilot Award and the Audience favorite. The HG Distribution Best Pilot Award is decided by the festival and HG Distribution and the winner won a cash prize. The audience favorite is decided by online voting.
Which are the other awards for this year?
We may have some surprises up our sleeves, but for now I can tell you we will have the same awards as last year:
Grand Prize Winner, Best Drama, Best Comedy, Best Animation/Puppetry, Best Non-Fiction, Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror, Best Action/Thriller/Suspense, Best Branded Series, Best German Series, Audience Favorite, HG Distribution Best Pilot Award, Best Berlin Selection, Best Returning Series Selection, What’s Next: Writer, What’s Next: Director, What’s Next: Producer,
plus the new Best Branded Series Award.
Last year the official selection had the “official selected series”, the “returning series” and the “Berlin selection”. Would you like to tell us more about this tripartition? Will be there a tripartition also for this 2018 edition?
The official selections are the series in competition which the jury decides the awards for. We don’t have a lot of screening time in just 2 days, but so many great shows to screen! Thus, this year we added the Berlin Selection which we screened during our Friday night Berlinorama party. Series in this selection are recognized for representing this unique spirit of the city – multi-cultural, community oriented, and one-of-a-kind. We added the Returning Series Selection for series showing sustained excellence over multiple seasons. In Berlin, our motto is “Be What’s Next”, thus we want to show the newest series around. However, just because a series is in its second or third season, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out…thus, the Returning Series Selection was born. We will have all three selections again in 2018.
What do you think is/are the main purpose/s of a web fest? Is the WFB reaching it/them?
To me, the main purposes of a Webfest are to highlight and bring recognition to the digital short form series on a global level, to educate and move the industry forward, and to inspire and encourage production of new web series. In my opinion, we are absolutely meeting these goals. We have exposed German audiences, broadcasters, and producers to series and ideas from around the world. In Germany specifically, it has been an exciting couple of years for web series, and more and more people are curious to get in to the game. Webfest Berlin provides this platform for people to learn from industry insiders, be inspired by some of the best series on the Internet, and of course to get these series or ideas sold!
At the Webfest Berlin, you change the main topic every year, right? In 2016 was “WFBCONNECT”, in 2017 was “WFBSTRATEGY”, this year is “WFBLEVELUP” and it’s reflected by your main hashtag. Would you like to explain us this choice?
Yes, in 2016 the theme was WFBCONNECT. The goal was to connect the different players in the industry – to get buyers, distributors, broadcasters and independent creators all together to make these really vital connections. After successfully completing this mission, in 2017, we felt that since we had already connected, it was time to develop a WFBSTRATEGY together. So, last year we focused on strategies for producing, directing, marketing, and selling digital short form series. This year’s theme is #WFBLEVELUP. Over the last four years, we’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in the number and quality of digital short form series. Thus, in order to stand out from the crowd, you’ve got to take things to the next level.
Looking back at the two past editions, what do you think about your webfest?
I’m really, really proud of it. It has grown bigger and faster than I anticipated, and the opportunities and education we’ve provided for creators is really top notch. It’s amazing to see connections made at Webfest Berlin grow and flourish. Seeing shows and concepts which were discovered and commissioned because of Webfest Berlin, start to pop up here and there, is incredibly exciting!
Last question: can you describe the Webfest Berlin and its spirit with three adjectives?
INSPIRING – After 2 days of innovative series and thought provoking discussions and truly innovative series, it’s really hard to walk away unmotivated to make your own series or find more great short form series to watch!
OPPORTUNITY – I realize it’s not an adjective, but this word really describes a lot about Webfest Berlin. We are creating fantastic opportunities for learning and networking that really can’t be beat.
FUN – I know Webfest Berlin can be really intense, we start early, we end late, and we cram a lot into two days. But, it’s a really fun time also!! We’ve seen friendships, relationships, collaborations, and business partnerships flourish over these three years. This community is tight knit and always open to new people. It’s the perfect mix of professionalism and comfort which has built a solid foundation for digital short form series in Germany.
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