Russian web series This Is Me (Eto Ya) was born from a small budget and big hopes.
Overflowing with millennial angst, the show channels cult online comedies such as High Maintenance. Uploaded straight to YouTube in bite-sized episodes, the story follows 23-year-old art grad Katya in her traditional coming-of-age quest to conquer life and love — you can call it Russia’s indie answer to Girls.
“We wanted to prove that it is possible to make a film on our tiny budget”, says series writer Liza Simbirskaya. “I’d read about web series creators who funded their first season with their own money, then ended up with sponsorship. I thought: why can’t I do that too? Obviously, I knew that these schemes usually work well in the US and almost never work in Russia — but the risk was worth it, because I had nothing to lose.”
With low start-up costs and the chance to reach a global audience without the backing of a studio or a production company, the web series format is a liberating boost for filmmakers, particularly in countries a strong national cinema industry.
The budget for the first season of This Is Me, funded entirely by Simbirskaya and series director Andrey Fenochka, reached just over $800. The gamble paid off. As well as donations from its growing fan base, This Is Me secured sponsorship from Russian website Digitalreporter.ru for its second series, snagging a budget of almost $3000.
Money aside, Simbirskaya says that there’s also other advantages to the web series format.
“Web series are a better and most accessible start for filmmakers who are interested in reaching real people, rather than a few hundred critics at a festival showing”, she says. “They give complete creative freedom. On social media, you get that real, instant feedback in the form of comments, likes and reposts: it helps you understand what you’re doing right and what doesn’t work.”
With the show’s second series now up on YouTube, it’s clear to see that The Is Me is evolving along with its cast and crew. Gone are the dream sequences, and Katya is slowly growing her own sense of security and confidence- much like the creators themselves.
The show is now set to appear at web festivals around the world, as the team starts to chase an international audiences. A third series is already in the works for shooting this summer.
“There are almost no web series in Russia — literally just one or two and us”, says Simbirskaya. “We want to communicate with the authors of web series from around the world. We don’t want to be cut off from the whole world — it’s important for us not just to represent ourselves in Russia, but also beyond.”