What the hell is going on in LA?

I love the web series community.  Love it.  99.9999% of people I’ve met in the past three years have been awesome; talented, brilliant, kind, supportive, inspiring and creative people.  Web series have entertained me, inspired me, at times challenged me, and have definitely given me some lovely, cherished friends.

So, when someone messes with the community, I get a bit annoyed.  And that is precisely what is going on right now in LA.

There are three web series events coming up in LA. LA Webfest, Hollyweb Festival and The Indies Series Awards.  Hollyweb and LA Webfest are festivals, The Indie Series Awards is, as the name suggests, an awards show.  I attended all three of these events last year – as luck would have it, they are all held at around the same time in late March/early April.  This is wonderful for non-LA based web series creators, like me, who can then justify the expense of the trip with the triple whammy of events, meetings and networking.

So, I was pretty shocked to hear that, this year, LA Webfest decided to put in place an exclusivity clause, banning anyone from entering LA Webfest and also the ISAs and/or Hollyweb Festival.

I was even more shocked to hear from web series creators themselves that, following the ISA nomination announcements on Wednesday, emails were sent from LA Webfest to ISA nominees demanding that they withdraw from the ISAs within 48 hours, or be banned from not only LA Webfest, but also from KO Webfest, in Korea, which LA Webfest are programming.

Where did this bullying of web series creators come from?

My husband Elisar Cabrera, who is the founder and producer of Raindance Web Fest and who also runs MCM London Comic Con Vid Fest UK, was on the international web series festival panel at the 2014 LA Webfest. During the panel, he talked about the increasing numbers of Web Festivals across the globe and that, within twelve months, he foresaw competition among festivals for the best series.  He was roundly shouted down by one or two people, including Michael Ajakwe, the owner of LA Webfest, moderating the panel, who stated his intention that web series festivals should all be working together for the greater good of the web series creator community.

In hindsight, these seem like hollow words.

Now, I understand that LA Webfest was the first web series festival – it launched in 2010 (the ISAs actually launched the same year, but were an online event in year one). I can appreciate that they want to protect their business, but penalising web series creators is not the way to go about things. Can you imagine if McDonalds put out an email stating that anyone who eats in Burger King is no longer welcome in their restaurants? Ludicrous.

All this situation does is hurt the web series community and, specifically, web series creators.  Most creators work with little, or no, money and deciding to visit a festival is a big decision.  Unlike the film industry, much of the web series industry is not based in LA, so undertaking a trip is a big commitment, both in time and expense.  This often comes off the back of an even bigger commitment of time and expense in making a web series in the first place!

To get an individual series noticed in an increasingly crowded marketplace is a difficult job, and creators rely heavily on laurels as a testament to their show’s value.  It seems unbelievable then that LA Webfest, so passionate about web series and the community that they took the time and trouble to set up the world’s first web series festival, now wants to close shop and are chucking their toys out the pram at anyone who doesn’t acquiesce.

It’s commonplace in the film industry to have exclusivity clauses on festival screenings, but, let’s be honest, this ain’t the film business.  Web festivals are in their infancy, and although massive strides are being made, the industry is nowhere near that stage yet.  Having several events in close proximity, like these, can only increase the number of attendees making the journey, and strengthen the community as a whole.

The big question is – why? Why put in an exclusivity clause at all? Why send emails demanding creators withdraw from the ISAs – again, not a festival folks, an awards ceremony. I assume the same will happen when Hollyweb announce their selections.

I don’t have a vested interest in any of these events.  I’m just a web series creator who hates seeing what this is doing to our inclusive industry, and one who hates the fact that new creators, submitting to the LA festival scene for the first time in 2015, will find themselves in the middle of this terrible mess.

The team who run The ISAs and the team who run Hollyweb Festival are hardworking, brilliant, supportive members of the web series community who run two awesome events.  The fact that they are caught up in this completely avoidable situation is no fault of their own.  Unfortunately, it only takes one event to cause unending problems for everyone else.

So, LA Webfest, please rethink this policy.  Please consider the damage you are doing to the community and to creators with this silly spat.

Please see sense.


17 thoughts on “What the hell is going on in LA?

  1. Don’t bother with LA Web Fest. It is an industry joke. Michael Ajakwe is interested in only one thing: the promotion of Michael Ajakwe. Hell with him.

    • That’s funny…the only one who has helped me along while I push along is the LAWebFest…..knock it all you want…there are some who still appreciate it…at least we were made welcome by them as opposed to others….

      • I’m pleased that was your experience, Clepto, however it doesn’t change the fact that LA Webfest are putting a lot of creators in an impossible situation and hurting our industry with this stance.

        Furthermore, their erratic behaviour on Twitter in the past 48 hours can be described as hostile at best, and downright aggressive at worst. Calling people ‘bitches’, making spurious and murky allegations and refusing to engage in a thoughtful, mature or even straightforward way with those of us who have reached out, politely and calmly, to them is difficult to defend.

        On another note, I am happy to have all posts on this blog – positive and negative. LA Webfest are deleting any posts on their Facebook page that question the exclusivity clause. Why do that, unless there is something they wish to hide?

      • I’d also point out, Clepto, that of all the posters on here thus far, you are the only one who does not identify who you are, by name or series. If you really feel you want to defend LA Webfest, stand up and be counted, as those of us have who are speaking out.

    • I definitely agree with Leon. I’ve worked as volunteer for this years LAWEBFEST and this was the first and the last time! Mike is absolutely unorganized and so disrespectful. I came to LA from Germany, because Mike gave a talk at my university in October – paid the flight on my own and also a rental car…but during the festival Mike got out of control. The whole team worked from 8am till 12pm and sometimes we even didn’t know where Mike was – later someone told us he went to dinner or had a nap at his hotel room. Even when we prepared the award show, everyone was there expect Mike..more and more things happened, so that most of the team was really angry. Due to the fact that Mike didn’t come to the award show preparation, my boyfriend and I left the hotel for just ONE hour to see something else. We went back at 2pm and worked at the award show…at 4pm Mike showed up just for 5 minutes…I didn’t have internet in the ballroom, so later I received an email from Mike, which he already wrote before he showed up in the ballroom… he’s such a cowardly dog, because he didn’t mention the mail, when he talked to me in the ballroom..and here is something from his mail:

      “I think you have forgotten why you are here, that you are here to serve me, not me to serve you. This is not YOUR SHOW, this is MY SHOW. I brought you on board to be a help not to suddenly start telling me what you will and will not do, through your boyfriend Dennis.”

      –> I told my boyfriend the day before that he should go to Mike and ask him (because I hadn’t time and call him is expensive with a german phone) if I can leave out the last video from the award show, because it wasn’t ready (and it took 6 hours exporting the show) and he said it’s ok, but then he wrote this bullshit.

      “It is not your place to dictate things like that, Daniela,because you are not the producer of the show, I am. This is not your show. You are here to help me, not to take over using Dennis as your pitbull. ”

      So actually we didn’t show up at the award show, because we were so angry. We spent nearly 3000$ to come to LA and support the festival. A week after the festival my boyfriend wrote him an email and only told him what went wrong at the organization. We didn’t get a response. After writing Mike in Facebook a short reminder for answering the email, he only deleted and blocked my boyfriend on Facebook. How childish it is! Till now we never got an apologize from him – and unfortunately I think we won’t get one in the future.

      We already recognized at the festival, that this is not our way of work, so we took him on our side and talked to him. And his only arguments were: You are fresh from school, I’m working since 25 years in this business and I’ve got an emmy for production – so why he isn’t able to organize a good festival?!

      • Thank you for having the courage to speak openly about what you experienced. Until everyone is prepared to stand up and speak, nothing will ever change.

        I am so sorry you had such a horrible time, and are left so out of pocket. Please consider visiting other festivals in future and don’t let this put you off. Most festivals are wonderful, and very well run, and you will meet great people who are passionate about web series and creators.

        There’s a great Facebook Group ‘Creators United’, which you’d be made very welcome in – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1540662652886375/?fref=ts

      • Danny,

        I am so so sorry this happened to you. Please know it is not indicative of our usually supportive community. Mike has taken a turn and been saying a lot of untrue things about a lot of people. He takes misunderstandings such as the one with your boyfriend and makes them facts in his head and cannot be convinced otherwise, even with the very reasonable explanation of ‘it’s too expensive to call from my German phone.’ It is unfortunate and I hope it doesn’t taint your Hollywood experience, because truly there are creators here that are nothing like Michael. I did some fact checking back a few months ago when I felt like I could be unbiased (I can no longer claim that I am. I fully support Dan & Jen Doherty, Roger Newcomb and the ISAs, and the IAWTV as I am a volunteer for 2 out of 3 organizations now.) One of the best things about streaming series are their ability to reach around the world from L.A to England to Germany. Please continue to have an interest in filmmaking and content creating. Mr. Ajakwe is the exception, not the rule.


        I probably should update this to reflect more recent events. I will eventually, but I am currently recuperating after award season.

  2. Full disclosure- I have never submitted my series Wallflowers to the LA Webfest. After our first season, I looked into it and they were asking for way too much (high submission fee, promo materials that were specific to their needs, etc.) that I chose to hold off until we were better situated to justify the costs. I did check the festival out in person, though, and I was supremely unimpressed, so I chose not to bother submitting with our second season. I also have submitted to a handful of other webfests around the world and continue to do so, some of which my show was accepted into, some not, and have generally had positive experiences with those festivals. At best, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and made great connections and gotten some lovely, in-person feedback. At worst, it’s been no harm, no foul. I support these organizations and hope they can grow to a place where they can really benefit a content creator and get their work seen and noticed. This is a very young industry, full of uncertainty, and it’s going to take time for that to happen.

    And, truth be told, most webfests haven’t yet figured out how to maximize exposure for the shows they program or how to get interest- interest from audiences who can see this stuff for free at home, or interest from the press who are already burned out on the sheer number of web series (of various quality) that are multiplying daily and who never really took us seriously from the beginning. And let’s face it, the way The English Patient suddenly became the face of independent film in 1996, thereby putting an end to all truly indie cinema, Netflix and Amazon are now what’s being considered “web series,” so we have to fight even that much harder for recognition.

    Ask any of the award winners at many of these web festivals what their wins got them, other than momentary personal satisfaction. Ask the content creators who, exactly, is sitting and watching their shows at 10am on a Thursday morning in the meeting room of the Burbank Airport Ramada Inn. Ask them where the $70, $80, $100 submission fees are going, since they aren’t going to PR.

    BUT- we submit to these festivals because, although we are hoping to get more exposure for our shows, we also want to connect with others in the web series universe, swap war stories, and generally support each other and feel part of a community. We’re filmmakers who have by and large taken our own money (at least from the beginning. Our show was fortunate enough to be funded in its second season, and many others have run very successful online funding campaigns, but I paid for Season 1 out of my own pocket, willingly, and I know dozens of others who did the same) knowing we were never going to see a penny back from it, and giving our work away for free. Because we had something to say and wanted to share it. Our work belongs to the internet now. I’m fine with that. I’d like to, at some point soon, figure out how to make a living from it, but I also realize that’s going to take time, and it’s not my number one priority. And we trust that these festivals will grow along with us and figure out their best function in the community.

    To ask exclusivity from any content creator whose work is out there to be seen 24/7 on any streaming device, 99% of the time for free, is piggish at best. I’d call it despicable, myself. Web Series are still looked upon by the industry as one rung below grad student films, despite the great strides we’ve made with them in a very short time. There are people out there doing television quality work, work that isn’t being seen because of people like the heads of the LA Web Fest, who want to limit our exposure and the possibility for recognition, asking us to pay for the privilege. Were our series not freely available to be seen by everyone, I could almost understand the request for exclusivity from other local festivals. But that’s not the case.

    However, to demand a content creator who was fortunate enough to have their series recognized by a straight up awards organization like the ISAs or IAWTV (who don’t even screen the series at their ceremonies), withdraw from those awards in the name of “exclusivity,” there really are no words. Not only does it hurt the creators, it also hurts these organizations who have formed for the same (supposed) reasons as LA Webfest, to be a vital extension of the web series community.

    I fail to see the efficacy of this maneuver other than greed and ego. And LA Webfest, I can tell you from firsthand observer experience… the size of your ego does not match the size of your package. Get back to us when you have something to offer. In the meantime, I think all content creators need to re-examine whether they wish to be involved with an organization who would treat them with such disregard while sticking their hand out asking to paid for it.

    • Well said Kieran. LAWebfest is shooting themselves in the foot here. They might not believe it but they are benefiting from Hollyweb & the ISAs. I would bet that this policy causes a bigger hit on attendance at LAWF than the ISAs and Hollyweb.

    • Hi Kieran,
      Lauren here from NYC webfest. Thanks for this.
      (And Lisa thank you for this blog post)
      It’s important to get as much exposure/PR for the selected series as possible. That’s what we’ll be focusing on this fall. We’ve actually already begun working on it…
      I’m very saddened by what’s happened in LA because I feel like it “cheapens” what we’re all trying to do – support content creators and each other.
      I wish you guys continued success.

      • Hi Lauren-

        Happy to hear that. I think just establishing yourself in the first year is tough enough and if you can get press and coverage, that’s amazing, but learning how to get a festival up and running, smoothly and efficiently, and making your audiences and filmmakers walk away at least not feeling like they wasted their time, is a feat in and of itself. I think that any content creator understands that a first year festival is going to be limited in terms of what they can provide in press and we’re cool with that. I submitted Wallflowers to your fest last year (and we were selected) simply because not only are we a NYC-based show, but I’m also trying to be part of the community and support festivals so they can grow and they’ll hopefully support us, remember us for the future and maybe in a few years, both of us will be at the next level.

        I’m excited to see what your second year brings!



  3. I’m in this boat. Our series Down Dog, for which I’m the writer and creator, got nominations from both LA Web Fest (6 of them) and ISA (one nomination). The amount of nominations doesn’t matter. What does matter to me is that I have a wonderful actress nominated for ISA and three great actors nominated at LA Web Fest. How do I tell either of them that their nomination has been pulled? I can’t do that. Take my comedy writer, director, or best series nomination if you must, but I won’t be forced to pull that for these actors who worked on deferred pay under SAG (and lets be real, that means no money in webseries) and could really use this recognition. The organizers need to chill. Some of us are just trying to make people laugh.

    • Don’t pull anything. If LA Webfest disqualify you, it’s on them. You should NOT be bullied into this.

      FWIW, as a creator with both LA Webfest and ISA Awards, the ISAs opened big doors in my career.

  4. Pingback: LA WebFest Strikes Back Against Competition. Creators Caught In Crossfire. | Snobby Robot

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