I confess it. I love film adaptions of classic novels. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, especially since there are plenty of bad ones. (I’m talking to you, 1940s MGM Studios.) But just like a great song can transcend genres, great stories will survive and even thrive in adaption to new formats.
A couple of years ago, a transformative way of retelling the classics burst on the internet with the line, “My name is Lizzie Bennet, and this is my life.” The brainchild of Hank Green (who, with his brother, author John Green of The Fault In Our Stars fame, turned vlogging into a lifestyle), and Bernie Su, a writer, director and producer, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a multiplatform, modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. It started with the question, what would these characters be like in our modern world? The outcome: a new way of storytelling, and I was hooked.
Lizzie Bennet, reimagined as a grad student in communications, posted vlogs to YouTube as a part of a class project. She also had Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook accounts and a website. Out of budget constraints, Lizzie vlogged from her bedroom and used “costume theater” to re-enact events, sometimes alone, but often with the assistance of her best friend, Charlotte Lu, or her sisters Jane and Lydia. At last, we could do what so many of us wish we could do – immerse ourselves in the story. In the process, a loyal fandom was created that at times even influenced how the story was told. By series end, it had expanded into four spinoff vlogs and multiple transmedia accounts.
The series was a phenomenal success, resulting in a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, a novel, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, (coming out this month), and the formation of Pemberley Digital, dedicated to retelling classics for a new audience on the internet.
Since Lizzie Bennet, Pemberley Digital has produced Welcome To Sanditon, the currently running Emma Approved, and has several forthcoming projects, including the just-announced, Victoria Frankenstein, M.D. with a female Dr. Frankenstein.
Welcome To Sanditon, took the transmedia experience one step further. Based on an unfinished Austen novel, the audience was encouraged to create role-play accounts and become residents of Sanditon, California, a fictional coastal town, located “about midway between Sunnydale and Hill Valley,” says Jay Bushman, co-creator of the series.
The delightful Emma Approved is a contemporary telling of Austen’s Emma, with Emma Woodhouse a lifestyle expert who documents everything in her office for a future tribute video to her life as part of a lifetime achievement award. Alex Knightley is her CFO, and she befriends Harriet Smith when she hires her as her personal assistant.
All three stories exist in the same universe, and at times, to the fans’ delight, they also intersect. But say no more – that would be spoilers.
The innovation has inspired a host of other independently produced vlog series that have attracted an audience excited for more good retellings of classic favorites. Each has its own unique character, and audiences can’t get enough of them. Still, there is something special about Pemberley Digital. That may be why fans can’t wait for more.
Catch up on the entire series of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, with this nifty playlist below: