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At the Streamys: Illeana Douglas Hearts Ikea

Indie film icon Illeana Douglas has been busy these days with her web production company Brando TV. The company has finished the first season of its Ikea-sponsored series “Easy to Assemble,” in which Douglas, playing herself, takes a job at Ikea in an attempt to escape from after-40 Hollywood hell. But leaving showbiz behind is not so easy: Her celebrity friends, led by Justine Bateman, follow her and end up at Ikea as well.

She and her executive producer, Chris Bradley, spoke to TheWrap at the first annual Streamy Awards.

How is your relationship with Ikea going now that the first season of “Easy to Assemble” is over?
Illeana Douglas: Great. We can’t say anything official yet. But what’s happening now is, our Ikea contact, Magnus, it seems like he really wants to be in business with us forever.

Chris Bradley: As a company we’re really catching this wave of branded entertainment. Our angle is that it’s all very celebrity based. It’s original fictional stories with real celebrities doing it. It takes it to that next level. We bring A-list talent. We have Keanu Reeves in the next project, for example.

ID: A lot of really cool people are in it. We can’t talk about it yet, but it’s a spinoff from “Easy to Assemble.” Also, there’s a cool thing happening in that Ikea will be marrying Sony in a sense — it will also be distributed on Sony Crackle.

CB. Were afforded a lot of creative freedom. We’re getting big corporate brands to pay for it, and A-list talent, and we have total creative freedom, which we wouldn’t be getting with all these pieces in place if it was a big movie or something.

How do you feel like web TV is relating to traditional Hollywood? Is it taking off on its own, or merging into it, or ….?
ID: I think web TV is really the new independent film. Even the conceit of our new show is that it’s a documentary film from the 1970s presented in 13 parts, as a public television 13-part thing. But essentially it’s a Swedish documentary film from the 1970s. So it’s very much a film, and a lot of us come from a film background. The people who are in our web comedies are actors, they are not necessarily comedians or web comedians. All of us bring a film sensibility to what we do, and I think that’s what differentiates what we’re doing from other people. We’re not doing the fat guy falling out of bed. We’re doing very intricate, interesting stories.

CB: The spirit of making it is that bootstrap, independent film idea. Everyone’s doing a lot of jobs to make the piece work. We do have a lot of room for actors to improvise. They’re not just sitting in a trailer the whole day and coming out to say one line.

So it sounds like it’s a really energized environment.
ID: Oh, for us it’s been incredible. I see other Web shows and it’s like, they’re holding the product and the product obscures the content. That’s why we lucked out with Ikea. We don’t have that. We established with “Easy to Assemble” that they can trust us. Now they know we’re not going to do any damage to the brand. So it gave us an ability to have a very different creative style, a visual style, and one that uses music.  And we have celebrities …  other people don’t have web shows with 15 celebrities in them. To me that’s a television show.

CB: Back to what you were saying about the Hollywood crossover to web, and the independent film angle — I think what these web series are becoming is what independent film was in the early 1990s. Right now to be a quote, independent film, you have to be a hit at Sundance, you have to be bought by Fox Searchlight for 3 million or 11 million dollars and have a huge marketing budget … that’s not really how independent film started. That’s where it’s evolved to.

So right now it’s happening on the web — anyone can make a good product, it just takes talent, good people, good actors. It doesn’t matter where it’s being shown. Five years ago it didn’t matter how good the film is or how hard you worked, in the end its got to get into the theaters. But on the web anyone can see it instantly. So the distribution side is cut out.

What about the possibility of taking a web show onto a network or cable channel?
ID: The problem is that when they go to television they recast the web show, they tamp it down, and it becomes part of the corporate machine. I mean, we had an opportunity to do this as a TV show, we took a meeting with a company that wanted to do this as a TV show, but what’s the benefit for us? We’d lose all creative control, we wouldn’t have a chance to do our thing.

So I always say that if somebody came to us right now and said do you want to crossover, why would I do that? I would rather stay with Ikea and get them to increase the budget than go to network TV.

What about the chance to make something longer, though, than the short web format?

C: For us, they are longer. You have your DVD release, you put them together for longer footage — whatever people want.