Fast Chat: Julie Warner

Queen of Web series on the joys, perils of getting in on the ground floor

You might remember actress Julie Warner as Chris Farley’s co-star in Tommy Boy, or the object of Michael J. Fox’s affection in Doc Hollywood. Or maybe you were a fan of the late 90’s drama Family Law.

But more recently, the actress has made a name for herself as a go-to for Web series. Last year, she appeared in Supermoms, a branded entertainment show funded by Clorox. Currently, Warner is headlining AOL’s scripted sitcom Little Women, Big Cars—a product of Michael Eisner’s studio Vuguru. And this week marks the second season of Leap Year,  a startup-themed Web show underwritten by the small business insurance firm Hiscox. Warner will make several appearances this season.

Warner spoke to Adweek about how she became involved in Web shows, whether AOL plans to renew Little Women and why the business model for online content is so challenged.

Adweek: You've had an interesting career of late, starring in a lot of Web shows.

Warner: I guess I’m the queen of the Web series. Yeah right. I’m not at all. I’m on Leap Year, and previously I’ve done Supermoms and now AOL’s Little Women, Big Cars. That supposedly did very well.

How did you end up doing Leap Year?

My friend Craig Bierko [an actor] said, “Hey do you want to do a day of work on my friend Wilson [Cleveland]’s show?” So they changed a male role to a female role and I was on board. Wilson [who stars in, produces and promotes Leap Year] was happy with glee. And I was happy.

We shot two episodes in San Francisco. It was one day of work. This year I’m back. And there are a few more big people like Steven Weber and Emma Caufield. It’s a really nice group. Wilson’s kind of a genius.

How did you make a branded entertainment show that wasn't awful?

With Supermoms, my ex-husband and father of my 15-year-old child was a writer producer on that project. We’re both of the mind that we should try and handle these changing times as best we can. He’s very forward-thinking about brand marketing. He had American Dreams on the air [on NBC] and they were telling him that the budgets are too high, so they started doing product placement like the old days they did on TV. All of a sudden you had one episode had a lot of Campbell’s soup. He’s very smart, very aware of the changing times, of advertisers' problems, our ability to speed through commercials. My dad's a jingles producer. And I grew up with advertisers.

I get sad when I see this. I mean, I understand why. But that’s the revenue that’s always supported the TV model. Unfortunately for shows like Supermoms, the pay is so low. We basically don’t get paid. That’s a problem for [this medium] if as actors we don’t get paid. That has to change. Now with Little Women, Vuguru got sponsors like Hefty [trash bags]. I’m sure Hefty paid Vuguru paid quite a bit of money. It’s the same issue.

What can be done?

Everybody I’ve spoken to in the industry is talking about this issue. My agent now has a digital media guy at his company. And everybody’s still trying to figure out how to monetize Web video content. It’s got to trickle down. On these shows I’m working the  equivalent of a movie shoot and I’m getting paid the equivalent of a guest spot of CSI. It’s ridiculous. You can’t make a living on this. I‘m all for these projects. There’s no bureaucracy. It makes you wonder whether someday I might do my own show. We’re all in this together.

With Leap Year, Wilson was the one who got this show sponsored. He’s very smart about it. With the Clorox thing, clearly had it not been in the hands of talented writers like Michael Barnett, who’s a real commercial director and has done some real narrative stuff, he’s got his own crew, etc., it could have been in the hands of less talented people….I’ve never been on a set with more different parts of the business there. You had the agency, the advertiser, the creative people, it was really quite interesting. I don’t know if it worked for them. I don’t know if anyone at Clorox is saying, “Oh, our sales went up.”

Did you have any fun?

Working is working. I love to work. And I really do feel like with Wilson, and with Eisner’s company, we’re actually at the forefront of things. I thought the actresses were really good. I just wish I got a quarter every time someone clicks on Little Women, Big Cars. We had a 125-page script for this show. We used the creator’s house to shoot. But it’s expensive to do these shows. They’re eventually not going to be able to get the quality of actors.

Do you think AOL will do a second season?

[The show’s creator] Sherry Coben (Kate & Allie) already has a script written. It was originally written as a TV series. But getting all the actors back in the same place at that price, it’s going to be impossible. You have to make it profitable.

Do you think you’ll do more Web series?

Most actors in my position, at 47, you want your annuity show. You want your Marg Helgenberger role on CSI. But that’s like winning the lottery. So you try and keep yourself sane. I was never about being a celebrity. Maybe when I was very young but that goes away quickly. I’ve met almost every famous person I want to meet. It’s a very tough business and its changes [are radical]. When I started, there was no such thing as the Kardashians or Jersey Shore. People with no discernable talent. So it’s tough. And now you have people like Tom Hanks doing Web series. Some of these people are not worried about getting paid. But you really can’t do a Web series every day of the year to support yourself. But like I said, I do think I’m sort of getting in on the ground floor. And I really enjoy going on the Internet, on AOL and seeing an entire series I’m in. I think eventually, you’re not going to be able to differentiate between a TV show and a Web show and then things will start to change. Like I said, we’re all in this together.

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