The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: context

1.4 LBDPreviously – 1: An introduction (1/6)

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (LBD) launched on Youtube in April of 2012 in twice-weekly instalments, each episode with a run-time of approximately four minutes. A modern take on Austen’s most beloved work, LBD recreates twenty-year old Elizabeth Bennet from the 1813 novel into a present-day twenty-four year old graduate student in communications. As part of her studies Lizzie and her best friend, Charlotte conceive the video series as their response to a class project.

The structure of Pride and Prejudice and its characters lend to some effortless translation. Bingley becomes Bing Lee, injecting diversity into the cast along with his sister, Caroline. Charlotte Lucas is recreated as a fellow grad student and Girl Friday, Charlotte Lu. The Bennet parentals never appear on screen – their presence is felt second-hand via the story elements retold as costume theatre. This serves two functions; limiting the number of cast members necessary, and signalling to the audience that their protagonist’s perspective might not be completely correct.

The female characters aren’t the only ones that have undergone changes for the time period. Whereas Bingley’s weakness in the original stems from his sisters’ use of him as a puppet, in LBD his malleability stems from uncertainty in his career direction. Wickham becomes an even more frightful character as he uses his charm to weave an inextricable hold over the youngest Bennet sister, preying on her vulnerability.

The storyline is firmly rooted in the 21st century with the hundred episodes detailing Lizzie as she and her sisters learn to understand themselves and each other better. Some creative licence was necessary in order to streamline the narrative arcs. Five Bennet sisters become three with Mary and Kitty making chuckle-worthy appearances as the emo cousin and the family pet respectively. The wit of Austen’s work was retained with the use of more modern concepts of sarcasm, snark and parody. Costume dramas enable events taking place elsewhere to be retold to the camera in Lizzie’s bedroom.

Marriage proposals aren’t the goal for this interpretation of the Bennet girls (though don’t tell their mother). The big decisions of the series revolve around independence, creative freedom and their future career goals. Concerns about Lizzie’s ‘mountain of student loans’ and the precarious nature of the family finances aren’t all that removed from the circumstances of the source material. Some tweaks have been made to reflect a modern sensibility, Bing Lee is less mislead by his sister and more overcome with indecision about his future career. Charlotte’s decision to work for Mr Collins is less about settling and more about her grabbing an opportunity and twisting it to her own advantage. When Lizzie leaves home it isn’t to visit family but rather to gain more experiences through work experience with Mr Collins’s company and intern at Pemberly Digital. It is a clever conceit that works within the narrative framework and for the experience of the contemporary heroine.

Completely separating from the text is the way the writers capitalised on the use of multi-platforms and the fanbase. Lizzie and Charlotte broadcast from VidCon, a (real) annual event for online video viewers, creators, and industry representatives worldwide. It’s a career move for the two characters with fictional and real life merging. It is also used as the catalyst for Mr Collins’ integration into the narrative through their shared interest in video production.

Interspersed throughout the series were question and answer session hosted by Lizzie (as seen below). Questions sourced from Youtbe, Tumblr, Twitter etc, crediting the real consumers of the series were answered in-character, fleshing out the world of the Bennet’s and drawing in the audience further. Even the merchandise (sold by the creators) was integrated into the videos as a way the two girls could earn some money from their creative efforts.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries experience was crafted to be viewed in a myriad of ways with the core intent being the consumption of the videos. With the linear nature of these videos, released biweekly over a year, viewers could choose to opt further into the lives of the characters or remain with the core video feed. Less tech-capable viewers were more likely to access the series via Twitter whereas the younger viewers did so via Tumblr. Regardless of their pathway into Lizzie Bennet’s online existence, it targeted a wide diversity of online users.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has been critically and commercially successful. An independently produced web series, the production team were able to gain a sponsor, and offset costs with advertising revenue by the midway through the series. As of August 2013, the core Youtube channel had in excess of 220,000 subscribers and over 37.3 million views A follow up Kickstarter campaign leveraged this plentiful (and now invested) fan base to fund DVD production and a follow up series. This effort surpassed its $60,000 goal in the first three hours with an eventual 770% raised of its target goal. A further feather in its bow was the announcement that the Lizzie Bennet Diaries won the 2013 Emmy for Original Interactive Program.

Next up: Transmedia (3/6)

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