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Q & A: Rodrigo Garcia and Jon Avnet Break the Mold with Star-Powered, Women-Centric Web Channel, WIGS

Q & A: Rodrigo Garcia and Jon Avnet Break the Mold with Star-Powered, Women-Centric Web Channel, WIGS

WIGS is a YouTube channel, but don’t let the platform scare you off. Filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia (“Albert Nobbs,” “In Treatment”) and producer-director Jon Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Up Close and Personal”) have created what may be the first scripted, professionally developed web content aimed at women: WIGS.  Starting with the launch of its first series Monday, WIGS promises to fulfill an untapped market of dramatic, high quality, women-centric short films on the web.

In our interview below the jump, Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia detail the inception of the channel, the scandalous and mysterious women WIGS will profile, and the frightening excitement of the internet’s immediate feedback loop.

The WIGS roster boasts both star power and salacious stories. Upcoming series and shorts showcase Jennifer Garner, Virginia Madsen, Michael C. Hall, America Ferrera, Jane Kaczmarek, Jena Malone, Caitlin Gerard, Stephen Moyer, Catherine O’Hara,  Allison Janney, Julia Stiles, Sarah Paulson, and Dakota Fanning.

WIGS gives an opportunity for writers, actors, and directors who want creative freedom, says Garcia.  This isn’t cable, it doesn’t have the scrutiny of a network show, and it’s not a $20 million feature with an expensive release. “These are funny, intimate, and moving series for directors and writers trying to find new outlets,” says Garcia.  Avnet adds, “They are hopefully entertaining, exciting, informative, and best of all worlds: addictive.”

Monday, WIGS launches its first series: “Jan,” (watch the first episode below and here).  Caitlin Gerard (“The Social Network”) plays the titular Jan, a disheveled innocent who bumbles about breaking all manner of objects not nailed to the floor.  Virginia Madsen (“Sideways) plays her boss.  She’s an intense, dominant photographer–a fierce Annie Lebowitz in black and bangles, who takes photos of women just after they’ve had sex for a series called “After Glow.”  It’s what the tagline promised: secretive, screwed up, sinful.

WIGS is an ambiguous acronym: Where It Gets… Spicy, Secretive, Screwed Up, Sinful, and other sexy “S” words.  The title of each show names the central female character and focuses on her mishaps, dilemmas, downfalls, and occasional breakthroughs.  For Jon Avnet, the shows are really about “second impressions,” or as Garcia put it, “secret lives.” The two directors love exploring these women’s private experiences.  They revel in whatever lurks behind the smooth surface.

Their creative goals will either take advantage of or challenge YouTube’s natural format.  The set-up of the platform tends to favor our most attention-poor moments.  But as Avnet says, our cultural consumption patterns now are suited to bursts; he mentions his rush through the first season of “Mad Men” in less than 24-hours.  YouTube’s constant prompts to click to the next video might carry the viewer through several episodes of the series if the directors dole out the mysteries enticingly enough.

For more on the seductive future of WIGS, read Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia’s Q&A below.

TOH: Tell me about the beginning of WIGS.
JA: It started off rather modestly. We worked on this script about all these different women, with Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, and Cameron Diaz – “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her.”  Three years ago, we were having lunch and talking about the internet and the world of film.  Women’s roles came up.  We thought about doing a bunch of shorts, professionally shot, one day per short.  We met with [YouTube] and we decided we wanted to do a channel.

TOH: What’s the goal of WIGS?
JA:  Rodrigo had a phrase about the internet: ‘It’s there for a second, then it’s not.’  We wanted to make something that might be lasting.  What he wrote was very exciting and challenging: how do you tell stories in five to eight minutes?  When you walk outside your comfort zone you learn a lot.

TOH: Why YouTube?  What are the benefits of this format?
RG: We both worked on movies with female characters and targeted towards a female audience.  We thought: why not the web?  It felt like an underserved segment of people – adult women – and the fastest growing one…What the internet offers, and YouTube represents a clearly incredible platform where the numbers are staggering and you get instant feedback. People immediately tell you what they’re thinking.  That’s frightening and pretty exciting. You have a dialogue with the audience, it’s not just a one-way thing you get from critics.  This is a platform where things can live and better and find an audience. There’s more time.

TOH: Who do you imagine will be the audience for WIGS?
RG: Well, WIGS is different because it’s not targeted to really young people. A lot of the series could be interesting to teenage or college age, but we wanted to target full grown women. Mature women. When we say mature, we mean about 24 onwards.

JA:  Having done movies that have reached a large audience, it’s difficult to guess who is interested. I haven’t successfully guessed the audience yet.  For “Jan,” I guess 15-year-olds could find it enjoyable, they might like the guy in it.  But this is for people who are going through their first job or have been through it: it’s a romanticized nightmare.

TOH: Are YouTube channels and short series the wave of the future?
JA: Rodrigo and I don’t know, we aren’t experts, we’re filmmakers and storytellers.  But it seems likely.  Everything is going to converge over time, so I think any of us aren’t going to surprised that there will be a proliferation of real content, professional content on the web. If this is the watershed moment, that would be great.  What we have going for us is great people, the support of a large platform, and real advertising backing the play.

The question is: will an audience want to consume it on this platform?  I think we spent our life trying to make things as good as possible, making content that’s moving and entertaining, but it remains to be seen whether these things will happen.  Targeted audiences can be capricious consumers.  There will be others and other great stuff, made for the same reasons we are doing it for — the freedom.

TOH: What about this short format; does writing for the web is cutting things short?
RG: It’s not either-or.  This gives us the opportunity to tell the stuff in shorter segments. Some things are suited to three hours on the large screen, or some things are suited to one hour episodes.  Everything has to do with pacing. George Bernard Shaw said the length of the play should be dictated by the size of the human bladder.  Web suits shorter episodes, for watching on the phone or iPad perhaps. It’s another great way to tell stories.

TOH: Do you see the pace of consumption changing?
JA: I missed the first full season of “Mad Men,” and my lawyer send it to me in Blu-ray. I watched the first season in less than 24 hours.  I think my experience doing that, with downloads, people can watch 12 episodes of something in a row.  Or as a guilty pleasure at their desk during lunch.

TOH: Tell me about the range of characters that you will explore in WIGS?
JA: We do a lot.  The first one were doing is about a young woman’s first job; we thought it was something most women experience. 

RG: Next, we have a short film with Jennifer Garner about a woman in a confessional.  And then a woman struggling with a secret she keeps from her son, one with aging parents, a woman obsessed with food over sex.

JA: The one we referred to as food porn.

RG: And a professional poker player. We narrowed it by calling each one after a woman’s name, looking at her life, her hurdles, her problems.

JA: We have a woman in the army, nurses in the recovery offices, a yoga therapist, one or two actresses. It’s a pretty broad group.

TOH: ‘Jan’ is your first series.  What’s the most thrilling thing about the debut?
JA: I was interested in exploring a woman’s first job. It’s like a right of passage, and I thought that in life you never know how it’s going to end.  It was liberating to me to write it, watching a life unfold in dramatic circumstances, almost a guilty pleasure of watching voyeuristically something you’re about to go through, you’re going through, and the unlikely relationships that form under pressure.  It’s like that saying, ‘I make a great second impression.’ People are far more complex than they appear to be.  People are harsh and make harsh judgments.

TOH: Mr. Garcia, you’re doing the next piece, “Serena” a short with Jennifer Garner and Alfred Molina.  What’s the hook of this show?
RG: I love taking a situation where you think you know what’s going on, but you don’t know the secret lives of people. This about about the way you cannot tell what’s going on with someone. The setting of the confessional is a place that the truth will come out, but there is still a great room for surprise where people are ostensibly speaking the truth, but there is something about her we don’t know.


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