Case in point: the YouTube channels that are sponsored. Specific case in point: WIGS, which is the #1 channel for scripted drama on YouTube. It features high-end, original series, short films, and documentaries–all starring women.
I wrote about WIGS when it was first launched last year by the heavyweight above-the-line threesome, Jon Avnet (“Black Swan”), Rodrigo Garcia (“Big Love”) and Jake Avnet. Then, I was supporting WIGS mostly for feminist reasons. We complain long and often that Hollywood ignores smart women, so when that changes, I believe it’s incumbent on us to rally round equally long and often.
One of the most successful of WIGS offerings last year was “Blue”, the story of a single mother whose life is balanced on a well-crafted web of lies that challenge her at every turn. Julia Stiles stars as Blue, the mom of an adolescent son, whose day job in an office is supplemented by her night job as an upscale escort. How that web of lies evolves was the stuff of the 12-episode Season One.
Now WIGS has produced an extended second season of Blue. Twenty-six episodes in all, the first seven went live in March with the rest being released in increments every Friday through April 5th. Written and directed by WIGS co-creator Rodrigo Garcia, Blue also features Mark Consuelos, Holly Robinson Peete, Kathleen Quinlan, Carla Gallo, James Morrison and Uriah Shelton . Karen Graci is co-writer on the series.
I recently had the chance to talk to Julia Stiles, who also wrote and directed Paloma, a series due out later this spring, about the making and the watching of this new form of drama. Initially, she had concerns about digital drama. “I was a little bit reluctant about the idea of a web series only because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But I was intrigued also by the idea because I thought this is kind of the wave of the future and the way that people [will] watch shows more and more.”
Making the series, however, was not so different from making a movie or television program. “In terms of technically it’s really not that different. We use very professional crews and good production value and the cameras are pretty sophisticated, but creatively it’s different.”
That difference translates to much more freedom and collaboration between director and actors than one gets in a studio film. “When we were making Blue it was really about my collaboration with Rodrigo and when I was making Paloma I would look to Jon Avnet, our producer and the creator of the channel, for guidance. He gave me so much freedom to just go with my vision, and that’s really different from I think when you’re working on a studio film. You have a lot of executives with opinions and usually valid opinions but because there’s so much more money at stake I think they’re a lot more people to answer to.”
In the end, however, Stiles found the whole experience unique. It was, she says, “the first time I felt like I’m part of a community….I’ve developed a closeness with Rodrigo Garcia and Jon Avnet, and they were wonderful mentors to me.”
Coming up with the idea for Paloma which she describes as “basically a rumination on love and how delicate love is” gave Stiles the kind of creative control that makes for some hard choices. At first “I thought, should I write something really political and intellectual and meaningful. Instead I decided to write something that I would want to watch.” Starring Grace Gummer as a young woman dealing with the unpredictability of relationships, both in romance and in the workplace, Paloma also features Rhys Coiro (“Entourage”) and Garret Dillahunt (“Raising Hope”).
When I first started watching WIGS last year, I wasn’t too sure about how successful the YouTube format would be for something like serious drama. But the genre–and the platforms we watch on–has come far enough that watching those first seven episodes of Blue, I forgot I was using my iPad. There is an incredible intimacy that comes from watching Blue on the smaller screen which Stiles credits to Garcia’s being a master of “emphasizing the moments between dialogue.“
FOX and WIGS have formed a programming, marketing and distribution partnership designed to expand the breadth of offerings through the WIGS channel, and test and nurture dramatic concepts and talent in the digital realm. Under the terms of the partnership agreement, FOX will assume a collaborative role in developing and marketing the channel to grow its base of female viewers, with an eye toward building content that can be programmed on FOX and/or other channels.
Bottom line: this has got to be great for all of us. Support them. Watch Blue. Come back and tell me what you think.