Interview with a Caption Manager

27 Nov

The style of the Lizzie Bennet diaries implies DIY production; if we believe the show, Lizzie and Charlotte are sitting in front of a webcam and editing the segments themselves. In reality, LBD is created by a large team of writers, actors, and producers. They have a “transmedia producer” AND a “transmedia editor”. But to interview one of these career-web-series-producers would be against the spirit of the series. The Bennet sisters’ lives have a constant theme of grad school, unpaid internships, and making your own way. That’s why I interviewed my friend Taylor, the caption manager for  The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Taylor is the character that Lizzie Bennet plays. She’s a contributing editor for an online magazine, an avid vlogger, and a jack-of-all-social-media-trades providing various services for four different web series. Taylor’s immersion in the world of web series’ gives her a unique perspective on the consequences of the medium. Without further ado…the interview!

1. How would you describe the relationship between LBD and its source literature? Do the creators put a lot of stress on staying faithful to the book? Have they all read it like a thousand times? 

The writers have all read the book a handful of times, and when episode assignments are handed out to the writers, they are accompanied by corresponding chapter numbers, so the entire process of creating – from conceptualizing to producing – is heavily informed by the text. That being said, the source material is treated as more of a guide than a Bible. The goal is to tell the same story, even if the modernizations stray far from the source. For example, Kitty Bennet is a literal kitten, and Mary Bennet is both the forgotten cousin and she has a boyfriend. Major aspects of certain characters have changed, but the story is still the same.

2. How do the “self-referential” elements of vlogging and of Lizzie’s academic study of social media interact with the very analog source material? Are these elements just a consequence of the form, or were they incorporated because they align in some way with the pre-existing story? 

I can’t say whether or not Hank Green and Bernie Su went into this project prepared to deal with all of the implications of the self-referential aspects of Lizzie’s vlog, but the writers have certainly capitalized on it. At this point in the story, awareness of Lizzie’s vlogs has become a kind of key to the Bennet family. (For example, Caroline’s awareness of the videos made it all the more scandalous when she hid Jane’s true feelings for her brother from him, etc.) Though many of these elements are consequential, as the initial goal was to give Lizzie a plausible reason to share her life with the internet, the creators were well aware of the tension between public and private that would inevitably come into play down the road.

3. What was the genesis of the LBD project? Why P&P? Why YouTube/web series? Why vlog format? 

Actually, Hank Green got the idea because his wife is a massive fan of Jane Austen, and Pride & Prejudice in particular has been adapted in so many ways (I’m thinking of Lost in Austen) that the bizarre new adaptation seemed viable. As far as understanding why it’s a vlog? Green makes his living as an internet personality, so it’s a forum that he was familiar enough with to comfortably conceive of the adaptation. He pitched the idea to head-writer Bernie Su, who developed the actual content.

4. Do the creators have long-term goals for the series? Did they explore any other potential formats, or did they enter into the project intending to create a web-series in vlog format? 

The only long-term goals for the series are to finish it. The show is a little more than halfway through the text now, and it will continue on the same schedule until the story is over. The creators absolutely went into this project with the intention of releasing a web series on YouTube in vlog format, although both Bernie and Hank have publicly mentioned that a DVD release is possible in the future. Bernie said on his blog: ” When people think of DVD’s they generally think of behind the scenes, commentaries, and other bonus content. And yes we are thinking of those things as well. But what’s most important to me for an LBD DVD set is that it has the ability to let the viewer experience everything (or almost everything we’ve done). The tweets, fashion blogs, tumblers, all of that. The LBD is so much more than a video diary, it’s a whole experience and any DVD set should reflect that.”

5. The Q&A shows confuse me, because I had assumed that most people are already familiar with the plot. But, is LBD the first introduction some people have to the P&P story? Is it most people? 

The Q&A shows are not designed to introduce new viewers to the plot or to break the fourth wall as it were to discuss P&P as it relates to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. The point of the Q&A videos is to both add credibility to Lizzie’s role as vlogger (answering fan questions is kind of a vlogging pasttime) and to add content to the channel. Some of the questions are fairly innocuous (pirates vs. ninjas), but occasionally Lizzie will have a sort of moment of truth.

6. Was LBD one of the first successful web series’, or was it responding to a preexisting canon of web programming? What is its current place within the web series landscape?

Though LBD is unique in format, its success definitely is not. The web is gaining momentum as a credible platform for producing and distributing independent serialized content. Shows like ‘The Guild’ have earned both tremendous success with fans as well as official distribution deals through sources like Netflix. Other web shows, like Squaresville, have earned significant critical acclaim through the IAWTV (International Academy of Web Television) Awards.

7. How would the viewing experience of LBD change if it were on TV? 

LBD would lose more than it would gain by switching to television. That is because the show is surrounded by a rich, interactive transmedia universe. While some mainstream shows certainly have started using social media as a platform for expanding their fictional universes by creating twitter accounts for characters, etc., the LBD actually relies on the transmedia universe to drive the story forward and develop characters. For a while, characters like Caroline, Bing, and Darcy only existed on Twitter. Georgiana Darcy still exists exclusively on Twitter. Jane has a Pinterest and a Lookbook for her fashion. Lydia and Lizzie have Tumblrs. George Wickham has an OKCupid profile.

And while all of these things could theoretically exist if the show were on TV, the vlog format is still specific to YouTube culture, and it allows the interactions between the characters and the fans to be seamlessly incorporated into the story. It is plausible that a vlogger like Lizzie would gain an eager fanbase (especially when you look at personalities like JennaMarbles and DailyGrace). The show lends credibility to the transmedia universe, which in turn adds depth to the story. It’s the ideal format.

8. Other thoughts?

The most important thing to takeaway from all of this is that the medium is absolutely essential to the story.

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