FilmL.A. has kept an annual tally of permitted production days for TV webisodes, mobisodes, and podcasts going back to 2008. One permitted production day, or PPD, is defined as a single crew's permission to film a single project, at a single defined location in the Los Angeles area, during any given 24-hour period. In 2008, there were 386 PPDs. In 2011, there were 1,116. Already in 2012, there have been 704, according to the not-for-profit, which coordinates permits for on-location motion picture, television, and commercial production.
Those PPD projects can refer both to a slapped-together improv production or the $100 million production of Netflix's "House of Cards" starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Typically, low-budget web series don't offer unionized roles, but the larger productions do, according to SAG-AFTRA.
"We are not seeing a trend of big-budget online-only projects hiring nonunion performers," says Ray Rodriguez, SAG-AFTRA's co-assistant national executive director for contracts." Indeed, the bigger the budget, the less likely a producer is to jeopardize the success of their project by utilizing non-professional performers."
Union roles in web series are governed by SAG-AFTRA's New Media agreement, which Rodriguez says needs to "evolve" to adapt to the changing landscape. Union officials say the agreement must be made to look more like the agreements governing traditional media productions.
An actor's career development will undoubtedly incorporate web appearances as the medium evolves. For instance, companies are increasingly sponsoring web series to promote their products as commercial breaks disappear from the television viewer's lexicon. That's good news for performers with the right qualifications.
Because web series tend to rely more on sketch comedy, improv experience is a plus, according to Cathy Reinking, who has cast web series sponsored by companies including Subway and Nike. "If you don't have improv experience, you won't get called in at all," she says.
A strong presence on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook is also a selling point. "We're starting to look at that sort of stuff," says Eric Day, co-founder of Trium Entertainment. Day's company has launched the Everyday Health Channel on YouTube, which includes "Fitness Guinea Pig," a show that features actors and comedians testing fitness products.
Day, who previously worked at Microsoft producing content for MSN and Xbox Live, says the company didn't rely on agents and managers to submit their clients for casting. They watched YouTube videos to find the right performers. "So we know what we're getting when we pull them in," he says.
With the clutter on the Internet, getting your videos viewed by guys like Day can be difficult. With that in mind, digital media executive Steve Raymond and former reality-TV producer Sarah Evershed partnered in 2011 to form Big Frame, a talent management company for online performers.
"Even if you create a great web series, it's very hard to make money doing it, and the reason for that is it's hard to market," says Raymond, Big Frame's CEO.
The company is focusing on content producers who are working primarily through YouTube -- SAG-AFTRA membership isn't a requirement -- but Raymond says crossover is happening in both directions. Performers serious about distributing their content online can partner with a service such as Big Frame to promote their material to a targeted audience, according to Raymond, a former executive with Comcast Digital Entertainment.
Some of the performers who work with his company are offered entry-level Hollywood development deals and turn them down. "Entry-level deals in Hollywood are worse than what they're getting right now," Raymond says, noting that some contracts offer performers $5,000 for a web pilot and 10 episodes.
The money is different for actors working online. Marc Hirschfeld, who casts Netflix's "Hemlock Grove," notes there's a wide disparity in terms of web productions, but the big-budget ones tend to offer competitive wages.
"While they might not pay as much as network prime-time series, they are competitive with ABC Family, MTV, and other basic cable series in order to attract A-list talent," he says. "Web series are only required to pay California state minimum wage but can pay upward of that."
Meanwhile, Raymond says performers need to start looking at the web as a tool "to take more control" of their careers. "It gives you a lot more opportunity to hone your craft," he says.