YouTube’s Hidden Masterpiece Theater Is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Co-creators Hank Green and Bernie Su turned “Pride and Prejudice” into a viral sensation. Her name’s Lizzie Bennet - and here’s how the series gets made.

You might know Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. Maybe you know Lizzie Bennet from her vlog on YouTube, a channel that has over 135,000 subscribers and more than 17 million total channel views.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was created by Hank Green (of VlogBrothers) and Bernie Su (of BlackBoxTV), two storytellers who wanted to utilize YouTube’s full potential.

“I make video blogs, and I know what a powerful medium they are,” said Green. “I also know that they’re cheap to make. I saw them being mostly ignored by story tellers, and I thought that was dumb.”

They wanted to do something brand new on the Internet, which meant they had to get noticed and have a compelling story to tell.

“I think with anything on the Internet, it’s always challenging to get discovery,” Su said.

As showrunner, Su is involved in the storymaking process from beginning to end, from writing to rehearsal to shooting. In one day of shooting, the team can go through up to 50 pages of script. lizziebennet.com

Were you one of the LBD fans who caught up on the whole series in about a day or so? Funny, because that’s essentially how they film episodes.

Ashley Clements, who plays Lizzie Bennet herself, has a lot of lines to memorize just for one day of shooting.

“We shoot one month of episodes in a single day, which is something we can do because the episodes are short, but it means a lot of dialogue for me,” Clements said. “We shoot over 50 pages in a day, and Lizzie is usually on all of them. I have a lot of lines to learn and very few chances to rest on the day of the shoot.”

“We shoot out eight to 10 episodes, roughly 50 to 80 pages in a day,” said Jenni Powell, LBD’s producer. “On normal sets, that is an absolutely impossible task!”

Thanks to the “format, which is locked camera, and our amazing cast who do numerous rehearsals and preparation before coming on set, we’re able to accomplish it,” Powell said.

“The work is very challenging, but so rewarding,” said Su.

“I hope that more creators take advantage of the Internet’s unique storytelling potential,” Clements said.

That’s what makes the LBD so refreshing: where it takes place. It’s a webseries retelling a classic novel; combining those two things could potentially create quite a challenge. How do you take a book and make it interesting to YouTube’s diverse users?

“I think more people are choosing to watch things online,” said Clements, “and one of the things LBD has done well is design our show specifically for that medium.”

“The most exciting thing for me was the idea of creating a new way of telling a story, which I think we’ve actually done,” Green said.”I don’t mind that it’s largely ignored by mainstream media as some kind of fluke. They’ll get the memo eventually.”

“Bernie and Hank had this really well-thought-out marketing plan that was meant to take place upon launch of the show,” Powell said. “We were going to do our big media push after three weeks of content was out so that there would be a good amount of content for people to watch.”

The team never needed to put that marketing plan into place. The first episode received such attention and notice that fans were able to discover and love the series on their own.

“I was actually prepared for people to hate it, based on stories of anonymous online haters, and I expected that to be directed at me, because I’m the face of the show,” said Clements. “I was very happy to discover that none of that happened.”

Lizzie and Darcy interview each other in the latest episode of the series.

There were plenty of goals behind the creation of the series. What did Green for the future of LBD?

“To introduce a new generation to Austen, to make money, to create something new and interesting, to show that you could tell a story from a 100 percent first-person perspective and keep an audience extremely engaged,” Green said.

Instead of the usual downward slope of popularity of web series, LBD has only seen more and more growth.

“The fan art is my favorite,” Su said. “Those always make me smile more than anything.”

Green said he hasn’t seen so many comments-per-video for a series as he has with LBD; plus, the off-YouTube engagement is “crazy.” Twitter and Tumblr have wholeheartedly jumped on the LBD supportive bandwagon.

For fans who might be concerned with how finite the plot of a classic novel is, Green said they are “working on what happens after the Pride and Prejudice story ends, and I think everyone will be pretty excited.”

“There is this great GIF going around Tumblr,” said Powell, “that reads ‘it took a modern adaptation to get me there’ and it has pictures of The Fellowship of the Rings, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers, and us. To be considered among that group is just so humbling.”

In addition to inventing a new and engaging use of YouTube, LBD has also inspired new readers of classic literature — y’know, the form of entertainment before e-books and Internet.

“I know we’ve inspired young readers to read Jane Austen,” Green said, “and I love that, always hoped it would happen.”

Storytellers Su and Green put their noggins together to figure out how to tell the novel, which celebrated its 200th anniversary this week, in an entirely new way.

“My personal goal was always to present the story in an innovative way,” said Su. “This involves telling the story through multiple points of view across multiple platforms. Getting more people to read classic literature is an awesome bonus. Promoting literacy? Always a good thing.”

“I think what a lot of us who work on the show,” said Powell, “find extremely gratifying is when we hear, ‘thanks to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I’m now going back and reading Pride and Prejudice and it’s amazing!’”

Before you crack open your worn out and dog-eared Austen novel, catch up on the entire Lizzie Bennet Diaries series then have fun finding all of the characters on Twitter. And mark your calendars for what’s coming soon

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