A game changer.
That is the simplest and most succinct way to describe the web series phenom that is “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” On the surface, the LBD concept seems almost too formulaic to work: take a beloved piece of old-world literature (Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice”) and adapt it for a modern generation. You look at similar successful projects — “Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet,” “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Cruel Intentions,” to name a few, but they’re all big screen, high profile stuff with budgets in the multi-millions. Lizzie Bennet is, on the other hand, something entirely new, experimental and highly risky. Not only does the show play fast and loose with the source material’s conventions — there is risk of a sex tape getting out at one point! — but there is also the matter of, for the first few dozen episodes at least, the series being shot in pure exposition style, with the principal cast explaining everything directly to the camera in a vlogger format. No, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” was not a guarantee at all — by some accounts, it shouldn’t have worked at all. It lacks the razzle dazzle and special effects that seem to accompany so many web series today; it eschews fast-cut editing and flair in favor of, well, a 100-year-old book.
Choosing substance and storytelling, co-creator Bernie Su and his team of talents created something refined, enduring and perhaps most important in this business — profitable. The series, which largely existed in a single bedroom and saw a producer double as a caterer (and set designer amongst other things) to keep the show’s budget in check, was successful in its attempts — during its run it routinely pulled down between a quarter and a half a million views per episode, but it was only in the aftermath of its Kickstarter DVD campaign that we realized YouTube, and web television at large, was just hit by a tornado.
Certainly the show had fans, we all knew that via its strong interactive social media presence, but when it tried to crowdsource $60,000 to put all 100 of its episodes onto DVD format, we got a taste of just how truly remarkable it was, as a series. Instead of capping the Kickstarter at the $60,000 minimum, fans contributed $462,405 — an astounding 770% of their goal. That’s nearly enough to reanimate Jane Austen and make her write a sequel. And remember, this is a show that is, in its entirety, free online in perpetuity. So far, we can’t only guess at what the resulting ripple effect will mean for the rest of the web television world, but the implications are HUGE. Quite simply, Lizzie Bennet’s fan success and involvement should (and does) change how every web series is marketed and handled from here on out. To say that all future web series owe “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” a delicious muffin basket is an understatement.
Fortunately, the Su crew aren’t slouches. They’ve decided to stick on in the Jane Austen world and adapt Austen’s final work, “Welcome to Sanditon” for the Lizzie Bennet format (though the show will focus on Gigi, as LB already got her “happily ever after”). As Bernie, Hank Green, Jenni Powell and Jay Bushman have doubtlessly come to realize, treat the fans and the source material with the reverence they deserve and you will reap the benefits of that loyalty.
So as NMR says goodbye to our friends at “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” with the third installment of our coverage — an interview with the principal cast — we do so with heavy hearts, but also baited breath — for we know good things are ahead for them — and for us — when we explore what Sanditon has in store.
Had you read “Pride & Prejudice” before you got involved with the LBD?
Ashley Clements (Lizzie Bennet): Yes. I first read “Pride & Prejudice” when it was assigned in high school. I was already an Austen fan because I fell in love with the ’96 film of Emma, but it really escalated in high school. I reread it when I was in the audition process for LBD because thinking so much about it made me really want to read it again.
Laura Spencer (Jane Bennet): I was mostly familiar with the story through my university’s production of “Pride & Prejudice.” While working on “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” I became more familiar with the novel by reading along as we adapted it, and by watching pretty much every version of movie or miniseries ever made.
Daniel Vincent Gordh (William Darcy): I had basically no familiarity with the story of “Pride & Prejudice” before my first audition for the show. I knew the book was a classic. I knew it was written by Jane Austen. And I knew that one of my good college friends was obsessed with the 1995 miniseries and constantly swooning over “Mr. Darcy” in a faux-British accent. And that was basically the extent of my knowledge.
Mary Kate Wiles (Lydia Bennet): Yep! I’ve been an Austen fan all my life.