Paul Vieira was on a bus when inspiration struck.
The 42-year-old North Kildonan resident was watching an episode of the web series Leap Year, a web series launched in 2011 with major sponsorship from Hiscox, a Bermuda-based insurance company looking to make inroads in the American market.
"Their episodes are six minutes long. Every time I have a few extra minutes, I have some downtime, I can watch another episode," he recalled. "I thought this was really the way media was going — a real on-the-go, on-demand type of consumption of content."
Vieira took that inspiration and created WindCity, a Winnipeg-set web series that launched Jan. 7. The show follows struggling couple and business partners Dylan (Adam Hurtig) and Kate (Rebecca Gibson) as they seek to reconcile their relationship and run their consulting business.
Along the way, the characters interact with local businesses and companies as they navigate their feelings for life in the city. In addition to getting capital funding from the featured businesses to put the show together, Vieira noted incorporating existing landmarks into the show adds a sense of authenticity to the program.
Vieira, who taught language-training courses for the Province of Manitoba’s immigration department before creating the show, said aside from local places and references, the characters also act in ways unique to the city.
"All of us have gone through this as Winnipeggers — there are times where we love Winnipeg, and there are times where we really hate Winnipeg — and we don’t really hide that in the show," he said. "I talk about celebrating Winnipeg through the show, but you certainly see our characters struggle with different aspects of living here. Winnipeggers will be able to connect with that."
In order to make his dream a reality, Vieira partnered with St. James-based companies Frantic Films, Midcan Production Services, and FRANK Digital to produce a pilot to pitch to businesses. He acknowledged there was some skepticism from businesses at the outset, but received the first boost from RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg president and CEO Klaus Lahr, who played a major role funding the pilot episode.
"We didn’t have a proven track record. We didn’t have a show that already had an audience. It was something completely new, something no other city had done before," he said. "We had to sell the concept and its potential to some innovative, entrepreneurial types of organizations that would be willing to take this jump with us."
While ensuring the proper brand placement is one of the driving forces of the show, Vieira said placing the emphasis on entertainment first was paramount. Gibson, Sarah Constible, and Trish Cooper wrote the show with Vieira, while also appearing as actresses. Former Kids in the Hall cast member Kevin McDonald makes a cameo appearance, and also served as a script consultant.
Vieira added the parameters set by the promotions were a help, not a hindrance, to the creative process.
"When it’s an open sky and you’re ‘Where do I start?’ often, it’s hard to be creative," he said. "We made our sponsors understand that the story was first, that this had to be entertainment first.
"Nobody wins if the viewers turn this off because it feels like it’s an ad."
WindCity episodes are featured online at http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/multimedia/windcity, where visitors can also find blogs and behind-the-scenes content from the show.
There will be six episodes posted each Tuesday until Feb. 10.
Vieira said the story is left open for a Season 2, and additional sponsors have expressed interest in signing on if the debut season is successful. He hopes to net 100,000 views from the first season.