Steinar Ellingsen | MWF Festival Director

As Melbourne WebFest (MWF) concluded their fourth year, we had the opportunity to chat with Festival Director and Co-Founder, Steinar Ellingsen. He's no stranger to web series having created one of his own and produced a few others. Check out our interview with him below!

netTVnow: How did you get involved with MWF?

Steiner Ellingsen: I’m one of the co-founders. In 2012 I went to LA with my series The Inland Sea: An Australian Odyssey, and met a bunch of content makers, many from Australia— and Melbourne. It was a big event with hundreds of creators attending, with around 200 series showing. Australia was the third biggest country in terms of how many series were screening in the program. It was pretty obvious we needed to something similar in our own backyard. 

netTVnow: How has MWF grown since it started and where do you hope the festival will be in the next few years?

SE: We just finished the fourth year, and it’s been a steep growth over the four years. We started as a one-day festival in studio building in the Western suburbs in Melbourne. It was cool. A bunch of creators hanging out on bean bags, drinking hot chocolate and beer (not at the same time), and eating food from food trucks. We had screenings, discussion panels and awards. It was a great start, but we always wanted the festival to be an event for everybody. We want it to be for general public as well as for creators and industry people, so it was an important move to the CBD and Fed Square in the second year.

We’ve always been about acknowledging amazing work done by creators and crews and about creating a space for networking. In the last couple of years we’ve stepped up the program a lot in terms of professional development to help creators get better at what they do. In terms of appealing to general public, we’re still very much running an awareness campaign, showcasing some of the best digital series from around the globe — helping people cut through the noise that is the internet, and to also present content that is yet to be publicly available. 

This year we also ran a pitching competition for the first time in association with digital platform ABC iview, which we were really excited about. We had been talking to the ABC about this for a while, and earlier in the year the stars aligned. It’s great that we’re able to not only recognise work that has been done, but that we’re also offering opportunities for new work to be made. 

We’re always trying to get better at what we do — and that is to offer value for content creators and for attendees of the festival. We hope to be able to offer more opportunities for people make new work in the future. 

netTVnow: What's your background in the industry?

SE: I’m a journalist by trade; I worked for a Norwegian newspaper for a number of years before relocating to Australia, and moving into academia. That’s actually how I stumbled into web series. When I started my PhD in 2008, I wanted to do a creative project involving video on the web. When I came across the label “web series”, it was like discovering a door a secret new world. It was amazing. 

netTVnow: I know you've created some web series of your own, can you tell me about them?

SE: I made The Inland Sea: An Australian Odyssey as part of my PhD. It’s a travel series in 15 parts, where three Norwegians and an Australian travel through Australia for the first time. It was a ten-week journey thatstarted and finished in Melbourne, after trekking 16,000 kilometers via Adelaide, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Alice Springs, Darwin, Broome, Perth and everywhere in between. Along the way we visit ecovillages, spotted some wildlife, interviewed seemingly random people, searched for UFOs, and had a sit-down with royalty.

Since then, I’ve executive produced a couple of series, including a series I made with my La Trobe University students, called Magnify Melbourne, which is currently doing the rounds at webfests around the world. And, this year we made a web series for our own festival, called Melbourne WebFest Presents: 2046 (but I should credit the creative team for this — Alexander Hipwell, Richard Khouri, Phoebe Williams and Harrison Lawrence).

netTVnow: I know that the Australian web series community is extremely supportive, can you tell me more about it?

SE: It’s a great network of creators and crews. It’s an inclusive and fast-growing community people. I’d like to to think that Melbourne WebFest has played a significant in that. It was the main reason why we started. 

netTVnow: What are some favorite moments from this year's MWF?

SE: I absolutely loved the pitching competition. Deakin Edge is a huge and intimidating space to deliver yourself in like that to an audience, to a panel of judges, and on top of that we had a maniac of a timekeeper who was screaming at people when their time was up. But all of those who pitched owned the space entertained everyone. It was the first time we did it, but I hope it was the start of a tradition. 

The awards night is always great fun - the icing on a multilayered and amazing cake. 

netTVnow: What do you love most about web series?

SE: The fact that there’s no barrier to entry, and the freedom to whatever you want. 

netTVnow: What do you think it is that attracts people to web series?

SE: At its best web series is offering a real alternative to traditional media. New stories, real stories, new perspectives on traditional stories. It’s offering a diversity that you simply don’t find in film and TV. It’s more relatable to a lot of people, and people are fast coming to realize that independent series or low budget in digital does not automatically mean low quality. Look at the Official Selection for Melbourne WebFest this year. There are no big budgets there, though some series certainly had budgets (like The Katering Show, Wizards of Aus, Arthur, Der Lack Ist Ab and more). It’s just great quality storytelling. 

netTVnow: Do you have any advice for those wanting to get involved with web series?

SE: The default response to that question is often “Just do it. Just go out and make your stuff.” But, while I absolutely agree with that sentiment, there’s so much work out there now, and so many stories and anecdotes from people who already “just did it." I think the best advice is “just do it.” But before you go and do it, consume as much content as you possibly can. Watch the best stuff that’s out there. Read all the stories and the anecdotes from creators and pay particular attention those about what they think worked well and what they wish they did differently. Make contact with creators and ask your own questions. Be an active part of the community. Tell your own stories, and love the stories that you tell. And if you can, (you should) avoid doing something that’s already been done to death.

netTVnow: Anything else to add?

SE: Your hair looks amazing!

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