Riese: From Bytes to Broadcast

In May I attended Melting Silos Case Study – Riese: From Bytes to Broadcast, a talk in the What’s Going On Salon series. From the talk description:

Join Riese series creators Kaleena Kiff and Ryan Copple as they share their combined learned experiences in navigating the constantly shifting landscape of new media in taking their Vancouver based web series production mainstream. Among their unique insights are models of remaining adaptable as the landscape shifts, strategies for harnessing a fan base and planning ahead for the jump to mainstream media. They will showcase their multiplatform property including examples of their ARG and their iPhone game app.

Kaleena Kiff is no stranger to television production. She worked as a child actor in California and after getting her BA from McGill moved behind the camera (though she does have bit-part credits on Supernatural and Smallville). Ryan Copple graduated with a Masters of Forensic Psychology in Nebraska then moved to Vancouver to pursue a film career. Their presentation was a rapid fire staccato of detail organized into topic areas. Unlike so many presentations, the detail was imbued with their personality and experience, making for both an entertaining and informative session.

Kaleena Kiff and Ryan Coople at What's Going On Salon

Kiff started by pointing out these are still early days for Riese. Though progress is excellent, the presentation was framed as success to date, not the final summary. Here, with no specific narrative, are my notes from the presentation:

  • From the beginning they knew they were dealing with more than the content production. Their plan was cross-discipline, taking into account branding, fan outreach, website and game tie-in.
  • They positioned themselves to "look big". Riese was going to look like it was done by major studio. Kiff: "We knew we could make it look good for a web series, but we wanted to make it look good. Period."
  • Riese was a show that happened to be online. In other words, no skimping on production because of the web format.
  • Part of this decision was hiring professional actors.
  • Professional actors also bring a fan base, which helps with promotion. Within the SciFi genre, Vancouver has a great pool of actors with fans.
  • Only 2 visual effects in all of the 90 minutes because when they did them they had to look awesome.
  • Branding was a priority and tightly controlled.
  • Kiff/Copple didn't expect to make money directly from the show. They looked for opportunities "around the edges".
  • On promotion, Copple said "Viral is a myth unless you're a sneezing panda".
  • Kiff/Copple did a big promotion push at the 2009 Comicon.
  • The 2009 Comicon promotion also turned into fan research. Rather than a classic us-to-them style promotion they engaged with the fans. It turned into ad hoc fan research. The Steampunk aspect of Riese happened because they discovered the fan attraction at Comicon.
  • They gained 2000 fans on Facebook from Comicon, this before anyone had seen a single episode.
  • In many ways, the fan base on Facebook legitimized them in the eyes of the outside world. It also led to people finding them for things they'd expected to have to search for. One example, the Riese game author approached them.
  • In terms of promotion, the game was good but game management was a time sink. Next time they'd probably farm management out.
  • Because of a series of fortunate events, the game only cost them $200!
  • Banners and skins were not as valuable for promotion as they thought.
  • Facebook ads were good before they were known. After they were known, not so much.
  • Using actors with a fan base was excellent for promotion. The actors' fans created Riese fan sites before the show aired. Coople said, "I was really open with them and they got invested and wanted to help."
  • It's really important to retain all of your rights and only license the content. Do not sell! Be wary of low-ballers, you don't have to take the first offer that comes along.
  • Although they didn't expect to make money directly from the episodes, they were approached to license them for broadcast. They didn't expect it, but it was definitely cool.
  • When they sold broadcast rights the web episodes had to come down. They were open with the fans about the reason and the fans "were generally great" about it.
  • Because of the buzz Simon and Shuster approached them about books. They're doing a novel on the backstory.
  • There's a vibrant web community in Los Angeles around the creation of web based content, but not in Vancouver.
  • Kiff found it interesting and healthy that the current web media community is working on different kinds of projects, not clustered in one genre. The medium has broader appeal than one specific group or demographic.
  • Mainstream broadcasters are sadly clueless on the opportunities web broadcasting and cross-discipline marketing present.
  • You need to be open to "re-packaging" your content. It's a great opportunity, because it means you're reselling your content to someone new. International projects typically want something a bit different than domestic, so it's important for other markets. Also important to know who/what and orient accordingly. e.g. DVD vs broadcast
  • Web based series are not a magic bullet, you still need a good idea that people are attracted to.
  • In terms of financing, Riese is privately financed. The first 5 episodes cost $200,000, the next 3 cost $300,000.

Kaleena Kiff and Ryan Copple gave a great presentation. Not only was it interesting, the breadth and generosity of information provided much insight into their success-to-date. The only thing I could have wished for was more discussion of their mistakes! They alluded to a number of them but never really discussed them full on, except to say using a wolf was far more challenging than they'd expected.

- Riese Web Site
- Riese (The Series) on Twitter: @Riesetheseries
- Kaleena Kiff IMDB Entry
- Ryan Copple IMDB Entry
- Ryan Copple on Twitter: @rwcopple
- What's Going on Salon
- Melting Silos


They had a show summary circulating which was poorly written-rather long winded and disjointed, grammatically speaking:

"In a hauntingly familiar dystopian world, Riese, a seemingly random wanderer, flees across the dying lands. Hunted by a terrifying religious group, The Sect, Riese must evade the assassins that have been sent to kill her and discover their true objective.
Her past is shrouded in mystery as even Riese can’t recall the events of the tragic night when her entire family was slaughtered and she was forced to flee. On her journey, she’ll piece together her past and her destiny, in a struggle that will hold the fate of the world in the balance - and the once peaceful kingdom of Eleysia will be the battlefield. Despite the impending doom, Riese emerges as the sole beacon of hope."

I suggested they rewrite it as:

In a dystopian world, a lonely wanderer named Riese flees
across the dying lands, hunted by the assassins of a terrifying religious order known as The Sect. On an epic journey, she must discover their true objectives; piece together her shrouded past and her destiny, and engage in a struggle that holds the fate of the world in the balance. The once peaceful kingdom of Eleysia will be the battlefield, and Riese its sole beacon of hope.

Never heard back-doesnt matter since they sold it. I hope the show scripts are better than the summaries(which traditionally, one is told to put a lot of care into).
Riese demonstrates the value of marketing over content(as well as having some good US connections and personal money to play with).
Is it really applicable to Vancouver filmmakers? I don't think so. It is another foreign production in a sense--but not with the budget of many millions.

Vince, what point are you trying to make with the description rewrite? I can't figure out how it relates to the summary.

Not being a filmmaker myself, I can't make a definitive comment on relevancy. Speaking generally, I find your comment surprising. It seems to me that studying successes and failures are always relevant, regardless of where they originate.

In any event, sometimes knowing what's irrelevant is as important as knowing what's relevant. Perhaps the summary was useful to you in this respect, at least.