Director Thomas finds passion project online

AP News
Posted: Nov 02, 2012 3:19 PM
Director Thomas finds passion project online

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Director Betty Thomas neatly sums up the benefits of making a low-budget online series: a lack of high-level meddling.

"There's no network saying, 'Oh, Betty, I'm not sure viewers will like that character if she picks that banana up,'" the Emmy-winning actress turned director said. Mention that the character enjoys fruit, she said, and the network comeback may be, "But what does a banana symbolize?"

The independence Thomas enjoyed making "Audrey" for the WIGS YouTube channel came with its own challenges, including limited resources for the half-dozen episodes that are seven to eight minutes long.

"You get whoever you can force to work for no money," she said. She had the advantage of cajoling previous collaborators including Gary Cole, whom Thomas directed in the big-screen "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995).

"Audrey," about a woman whose great passion in life is food, also allowed for the discovery of relative newcomers Kim Shaw, who plays Audrey, and screenwriter Leah Rachel. New episodes debut Monday and Friday through Nov. 16.

Shaw "is so spectacular in the piece. She came out of nowhere for me but really works in ways I couldn't have imagined," Thomas said. Rachel is "such a hip girl, with a voice I never heard before, certainly a voice I've never been able to direct before, a young, free voice."

Thomas, who won an Emmy for "Hill Street Blues" before turning to directing — with the 1997 Howard Stern film "Private Parts" among her credits — is equally enthused about the veterans behind WIGS.

Launched last March, WIGS is the brainchild of filmmakers Jon Avnet ("Black Swan," ''Fried Green Tomatoes") and Rodrigo Garcia ("Albert Nobbs," TV's "In Treatment"). WIGS is an acronym for the channel's tagline, "Where it gets interesting."

The programming, including original series, short films and documentaries, features lead female characters and stories that the channel vows will be provocative and "addictive."

"Many people are doing Web series but not in the way Jon and Rodrigo are, being supportive of women ... It's an exciting place to be," Thomas said, adding, "It's crazy, it's hard," but it encourages creativity.

Some in the entertainment industry are reluctant to get involved in online projects because they don't see any profit potential, Thomas said. She believes that will change.

"In the long run, there is going to be money in it ... and if that's true, there's going to be money for everybody," Thomas said. "I don't think they (the naysayers) have a wide enough view of what's going on."