Creating content exclusively for the web is a growing area for mega TV and film personalities – just this week Larry King launched an online news network and Jerry Seinfeld’s web series is also coming soon – but the latest to join in the interactive content game is Tom Hanks, whose new animated web series, Electric City, premiered on Yahoo! Screen Tuesday.
The series is set in a seemingly peaceful but troubled city, a settlement that has sprung up in the aftermath of a series of ecological and human-caused disasters. Hanks, who also wrote the series, voices Cleveland Carr, a mysterious man of mixed morals, in the dystopian city where there are two ways to access news and information: newspapers and radio, both easily controlled by the powers that be.
“The theme that drives the plot of every episode is ‘Who’s gonna control the information?’” Hanks explained to a group of reporters via conference call. “And are those people gonna be benevolent and tell the truth, or are they going to be proactively lying in order to promote their own agenda? That’s Electric City in a nutshell.”
Though provoking relevant questions about our own society, the series presents a world with some evident contrasts to the one that Hanks brought the project into: one where the Internet provides a platform to communicate and distribute art for everyone from Hollywood producers like McG to a parking garage attendant-turned-viral video star.
But Hanks started the project several years before sites like YouTube and Hulu created new distribution opportunities. He began writing Electric City in 2003 (fun fact: he typed it on an Olivetti Lettera 22 portable manual typewriter), back when he and his company, Playtone, originally intended for the story to be presented via traditional half-hour episodes. Once he decided to write it for the web, Hanks and co-writers Josh Feldman and Bo Stevenson reworked the story for five-to-seven-minute episodes.
Watch the series (the first episode is below – and there are more on Yahoo! Screen with some interactive features), and you’ll recognize a few voices other than Hanks, including a few people the actor/producer has worked with before.
“We pulled from essentially friends of Playtone, people that we’d worked with. There’s a couple of boyfriends of people who are also voices in this,” he said.
Jeanne Tripplehorn, who starred in Playtone-produced HBO series Big Love, voices Hope Chatsworth, news anchor for Electric City’s wire service.
“Her voice is like butter,” Hanks said. “We begged her to come in and do it, and she didn’t need to be begged. She said, ‘Of course I’ll come in and do it.’”
Fellow Big Love alum and current Once Upon a Time star Ginnifer Goodwin also voices a character on Electric City, which completed its voice recording about two and a half years ago, Hanks said. The project finally found a home on Yahoo earlier this year.
Reliance Entertainment funded Electric City, and Yahoo took on distribution duties, but Hanks, who lent his own voice to the series’ main character in part for budgetary reasons, admits, “There’s no money in [TV created for the web]. You might be able to make the salaries of the people that help you do it. But it’s literally in order to be creative. I guess money is made somewhere up the huge corporate ladder somehow, but…really, it’s like self-publishing your own poems. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad. But the good ones are pretty cool.”
The first 10 episodes of Electric City are now on Yahoo! Screen. There are 10 more completed and ready to hit the web – they’ll be available over the next two days.