One of web content’s greatest obstacles in the march to legitimacy is the fact that while some genres thrive, others struggle — especially dramas tailored to the over-25 set. But with each year, we see new in-roads, and the success of WIGS this summer is showing that with the right approach and star power, there is an audience for original adult drama online.
Launched last May by noted producer Jon Avnet and writer/director Rodrigo Garcia and produced as part of the YouTube made for web initiative, WIGS features both episodic and stand-alone stories targeted directly at women over 25, each revolving around an eponymous character struggling with everything from a son discovering his mother is a prostitute, to a young woman’s night of speed-dating, to a female soldier investigating another soldier’s claim of rape.
Avnet and Garcia were long-time collaborators prior to the YouTube opportunity (Avnet produced Garcia’s 1999 film Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her), and the pair had been interested in developing serious content for women on the web for a while: “It was clear back then, three or four years ago, that women over 25 was an unserved demographic on the internet,” Garcia said in a joint phone interview with Avnet. “It was a no-brainer.”
Although that audience isn’t as native to web content as, say, a 18-year-old video game fan, WIGS has managed to attract viewers: While it goes up and down on Deadline’s weekly YouTube channel charts, WIGS is consistently present, as it’s quickly found an audience, racking up over 15 million views and over 75,000 subscribers — in just three months.
One reason for that is perhaps the most obvious: The short films and miniseries which make up the WIGS channel have frankly one of the most jaw-dropping talent pools I’ve ever seen working in online video: Jennifer Garner, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera, Stephen Moyer, Dakota Fanning, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Beals, Maura Tierney, Jason Isaacs, Rosanna Arquette, Allison Janney, Alfred Molina, Jena Malone, Alison Pill, and a whole bunch more. “We had the value of these actors who have these followings,” Avnet said.
But in addition, there are heavy-hitters behind the camera, with an emphasis on female writers and directors including award-winning Betty Thomas and Lesli Linka Glatter. While in 2011, only five percent of Hollywood films were directed by women, “Half of [WIGS'] directors are women,” Avnet said. “That was very important for us to do.”
“You’re not going to get notes — that’s something we offer our collaborators, and that’s something that’s gotten us the people we’ve worked with. There are limitations, but you will shoot what you pitch us — not the bastardized version,” Garcia said.
When asked what kind of notes they give each other, Avnet laughed. “Why did we decide to do [the equivalent of] six movies in five and a half months? We ask ourselves that all the time.”
The amount of content generated, though, meant that not only did WIGS give established filmmakers and actors a chance to do what they want, but relative unknowns were also given an opportunity to emerge.
“One of the things that we want to do is use this platform to discover new talent, so that we’re not just bringing people to this, but also finding people.” Garcia mentioned as one example the actor Caitlyn Gerard, who played the lead in Jan alongside Stephen Moyer and Virginia Madsen.
Jan, like many other WIGS series, is long enough to be edited together as a feature film, but while Garcia says that while cross-platforms opportunities could definitely rise up in the future, right now the plan is to stick with YouTube. “Could deals be made to play elsewhere? Yes, because so much stuff is moving from platform to platform, but right now we want them to have their life on WIGS.”
The first cycle of YouTube-funded episodes have wrapped production and post-production. But according to Garcia, “it wouldn’t be impossible to start up again soon.”