Thursday, February 26, 2015

Interview: Jonathan Robbins, star of Out With Dad

Out with Jonathan Robbins

by Allan Tong

Jonathan Robbins is dad in Out With Dad, the most successful Canadian web series today with over 24 million viewers across all platforms, averaging more than 300,000 views per month online, and attracting over 35,000 Subscribers on YouTube. The numbers are all the more impressive when you considered that the show is almost entirely audience-funded. The drama is about about teenager Rose coming of age and coming out of the closet with the support of her single father. At this Sunday's week's Canadian Screen Awards, Out With Dad is up for Best Original Program or Series produced for Digital Media – Fiction. Jonathan is also the creator of Clutch, a crime/thriller web series.

Chino Kino chatted with Jonathan at the start of CSA week in Toronto:

CK: There are hundreds of web series being shot in Toronto. Why has the city become such a hotbed of web series production?

JR: Toronto is a uniquely diverse and culturally aware city. We have stories to tell that aren't being told elsewhere. We are also blessed with an extremely supportive community. The Toronto Web Series Community Facebook group is the largest in the world, and a supportive funding system from organizations like the IPF, the Independent Production Fund.

CK: From an actor's point of view, what is different about acting for a web series and a network TV series and a feature film?

JR: Not very much as far as the process goes, but what is different are the roles. I left the actors' union, where I had been successful doing commercials, but otherwise was lucky to audition for a two-line role in a TV series, because the depth and range of roles available to me in the web series medium was too appealing to miss. Ironically, since doing so, I have been a steady working actor and found a renewed love of what I do that was lost in the world of networks and gatekeepers that traditional media lives in. Now, I am able to tell stories that reach people all around the world and there is nothing more rewarding than that.

CK: Have you been involved in the production and/or fundraising side of Out With Dad?

JR: I was the pinch hitter First Assistant Director for two days, including on the ever-challenging musical episode. It was wonderful to be able to see the set from that side for that short time. I've also participated in the social media and representation at festivals.

CK: What advice would you give anybody launching a web series today?

JR: There are two pieces of advice that cannot be said enough:

1) Listen to the sound person's advice. Good sound goes a long way, to say the least.

2) Build it and they will come is a myth. Developing and cultivating your audience is the key.

This is something I've watched [series creator and director] Jason Leaver do with Out With Dad extremely successfully, and it has certainly paid off.

CK: What is the goal of Out With Dad and Clutch? Namely, are you aiming to land a network series or feature film deal?

JR: Neither Out With Dad or Clutch were ever intended as a stepping stone—they are a destination goal. Both projects have continuations of some form in the works, which may include television and feature film, but the web will always come first and foremost.

CK: Have you or Jason made any money from Out With Dad? If not, how do you get by job-wise?

JR: Jason and the entire team from Out With Dad created the first two seasons in kind, and when the series was licensed by France Television, Jason put the money right back into the show by using it as seed money for Season 3. Combined with donations from the audience (which are perpetually accepted through and ad share from distributors, there was enough of a budget to pay everyone involved a small wage, which afforded us the time to work on it. Like any actor, filmmaker or artist, we just about all have some form of other job. Would we like to change that? Of course, but not at the expense of sacrificing what we do. I, for one, make my income from a variety of sources, including acting in commercials and the occasional paying film or web series, arts administration, and writing and directing gigs.

CK: In the future, will web series be self-sustaining, or will they increasingly become stepping stones to TV series?

JR: I believe web series are well are their way to being self-sustaining. As more people discover them, and as more content is created, curation becomes more relevant. People will pay a small amount of money to save themselves searching for content, as has been proven by growing successes like, Maiden Comics (who offer paid access to download their catalogue which includes Clutch), IndieFlix, and the upcoming door9 in the UK. Additionally, as advertisers discern an appropriate model to measure success on the digital platform, more money will be available to support it. We have already seen this happening rapidly.

What will happen, is that web series will become more like TV series, in that mainstream material will become the prominent content in the space, and the independents who began the revolution will find it increasingly difficult to survive. Depending on the outcome of Net Neutrality, this could be more so true.

– Allan Tong is a Toronto filmmaker who is directing his own web series, the dysfunctional rom-com, Modern Love Is Hell.

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