In a scene that’s like Mad Men meets Wolf of Wall Street, the premiere episode of Whatever, Linda shows 4 beautiful women meeting in a ’70s New York City office, laughing and fanning themselves with stacks of cash.
The 10-part web series, which screened last night in Toronto and is slated to debut in the coming weeks, is an ambitious original scripted series from digital agency Secret Location and Touchpoint Films. It follows a group of secretaries who are positioned as the real brains behind the Ponzi scheme investment scandal. In reality, former financier Bernie Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence for this crime that spanned decades and conned people out of $65 billion.
The series was created by Julian DeZotti and Hannah Cheesman, who also stars as the title character in the show — a broke, recently single woman, who’s at first thrilled when she scores the job as “Paper Pusher in Skirt,” as the first episode is called.
After bringing Mackenzie Donaldson (Orphan Black) on board as the co-executive producer and Matt Eastman as the director, the show was presented to Secret Location, whose team put their “incredible digital minds” to the idea, Donaldson explains.
“We brought the creative scripted side but I couldn’t tell you how to build a website if you ask me — none of us could. They brought that other half of that knowledge: who to go to and how to put these applications together to make them shine,” she says.
One of the unique technical features to be unveiled with the series by Secret Location, which has done interactive spinoffs for web series like Big Brother Canada and NBC’s The Blacklist, is a layer that sits on top of the YouTube video player that will make it easier for fans to share on Facebook or Twitter their favorite clips and screenshots. When an episode is paused, the viewer will have the option to share that image of the frame, or the previous and upcoming 15 seconds of the video.
“It’s a platform that we’ve been developing for a while and it seems like the perfect project to push it beyond the prototype and make it public,” says James Milward, co-founder of Toronto-based Secret Location.
The tool will undoubtedly be a hit with anyone who’s ever wanted to share a hilarious soundbite with their followers, but it’s also a great marketing option for the show. A lot of effort has been placed on generating buzz and publicity for the series, which is being profiled in an ongoing series by the Globe and Mail newspaper. The series also features guest appearances by Graydon Sheppard (pictured left), of “Shit Girls Say” fame, and veteran actress Sheila McCarthy as the women’s no-nonsense boss.
Whatever, Linda received $300,000 in financing, split in half from the IPF and the OMDC. About $190,000 of that went to the production budget, with the rest of the money going to marketing, building the show website and other costs. It was filmed in a studio in Toronto, although the exteriors were shot in New York.
“I’m a little cynical of the viability of web series in and of themselves,” admits Milward, when asked about what drew him to the project as a Secret Location original format. “So we waited, and we’ve been reviewing projects until we found the right one. We try to think of this as premium cable quality for the web, and the digital aspects of it can help franchise that,” he tells StreamDaily.
The series has screened at multiple international festivals including Raindance and New York Television Festivals. While the target demo skews younger (18 to 35), Donaldson says the show has been testing well among a slightly older crowd.
“I think that just speaks to the nostalgia of the era, and also the feminist side of the project,” she says. “I think we’ll definitely see a baby boomer audience, as well as that sweet-spot of (18- to 35-year-olds).”
Touchpoint, Secret Location and the creators, producers and director all share the IP rights.
“When you put 2 years of unpaid love and work into something, everyone wants to own it together and that’s how it should be,” says Donaldson. “We got here for a reason because everyone put in their blood, sweat and tears.”
Check out the trailer here: