Illeana Douglas is flying high lately. The comedy web series in which she both created and stars, Easy to Assemble has been picking up steam this winter. It’s become not just a popular success—over 5 million views so far—but also a business one, with Madison Avenue trade Advertising Age calling it the “most-watched sponsored web show” in a recent in-depth feature in the magazine.
The success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the show’s main sponsor IKEA, which opted to fund an additional four episodes, extending the season beyond its initial ten. The new episodes, which they are calling a miniseries in its own right dubbed “Flying Solo” premieres Jan. 20 on MyDamnChannel.com, and the trailer was just released online (above). In the episodes, viewers will finally find out who won the season’s Co-Worker of the Year contest between Douglas and Justine Bateman.
Michael Kang, who had worked with Illeana before on a film, was asked to direct the four bonus episodes. Young celebs like Disney Channel star David Henrie (Wizards of Waverly Place) and Korean star Sung Kang (Ninja Assassin) were tapped to broaden the show’s appeal.
Doing some embedded journalism, I spent at day on the Easy to Assemble set last month as they were shooting the bonus episodes on a mock airplane set inside a drafty North Hollywood warehouse. I was joined by a few other new media folks, all of us doing some unpaid extra work filling out the few rows of seats behind the main action. And it was there that we really got a sense of the alchemy of improv that happens only when putting talent like SNL vet Tim Meadows together with a young comedian like Henrie and letting them play.
Eric Lange, who plays the jovial IKEA branch manager, seamlessly dropped into a Swedish accent—from his Ohio standard—without missing a breath. And the low frills set—no trailers, and a shared bathroom that eventually gave out by day’s end—gave it a clear sense that the cast and crew were doing this for something other than the paychecks.
More recently, I had a chance to sit down with Illeana at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past weekend after she spoke on a panel on new media creators and the creative convergence. On the panel, which was attended by about 200 conference goers, she spoke of how she pays her actors and crew about three times what other funded web series do, using the term “conscious capitalism” to characterize her philosophy, and that of IKEA, on the production. See our impromptu interview below, making the best of the only quiet space we could find from the throngs of CES attendees.