Welcome to Sanditon‘s transmedia producer Alexandra Edwards responds to fan criticism of the show, navigating fan expectations from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and more.
There has been some discussion in the Welcome to Sanditon fandom recently that the transmedia elements are overwhelming the plot on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries spinoff. Hypable speaks to transmedia producer Alexandra Edwards about the differences between fan interaction and transmedia, how the Sanditon team balances the abundance of in-character social media accounts, and what exactly a transmedia producer does, anyway.
If you are interested in the intricacies of transmedia, be sure to check out the interview Hypable conducted with Jay Bushman, who was the transmedia producer on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
Hypable exclusive interview: Alexandra Edwards
Describe your role on ‘Welcome to Sanditon’ for us
As the transmedia producer, I coordinate all of the transmedia elements of the show—basically everything beyond the webseries videos themselves.
You went from Transmedia Editor on ‘Lizzie Bennet’ to Trandmedia Producer on ‘Welcome to Sanditon’ – what does this mean in layman’s terms?
It’s a really exciting promotion! For LBD, I did a lot of organizational tasks like script breakdowns, maintaining spreadsheets, and the like. But I was also really lucky in that Jay Bushman, our transmedia producer, encouraged me to have creative input as well. So I wrote some Twitter scripts and took charge of certain elements like Gigi’s This is My Jam account.
This time around, I was involved in the creative process from the beginning. We tried to integrate the transmedia with the videos earlier on, so while we were breaking the initial story, we were also thinking of what elements we could include in transmedia. Since I’m on the east coast, I would Skype into writers room meetings and participate that way. I was also asked to write an episode for the series, which is hugely exciting for me.
So far on ‘Sanditon’ we have seen the Domino portal, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr, the videos on YouTube and This Is My Jam – how do you find a balance between all of these mediums?
It’s definitely a challenge. After the videos, Twitter is definitely our first and foremost platform. It’s the easiest place for characters to have conversations. But we’ve tried to approach each of the other platforms as if our characters were using them in real life. So Ed might post a video to Reddit that shows the town in a positive light, but he wouldn’t post one there that shows Gigi fighting with the mayor.
I think the trick to balance is to always think about these kinds of character voice decisions. That being said, though, it’s always a work in progress and we’ll probably never feel like we get it totally right 100% of the time.
How has your approach to transmedia been different from ‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ to ‘Sanditon’?
A couple of things are different. Like I said before, we thought about what transmedia elements we could bring into the show from the very first meeting in the writers room. We also wanted to try out some new platforms, like Reddit, just to see how those would work.
Aside from that, I do a lot more things in the moment now, rather than always pre-scheduling them. So much of WTS is about interacting with the community that it feels more appropriate to have characters react on Twitter to things in the moment. Like LBD, those Twitter interactions can’t have an immediate effect on the story that’s being told in the videos, but unlike LBD, our characters this time around are more likely and more able to chat with people and really respond to them.
There has been some criticism amongst fans that ‘Welcome to Sanditon’ has become too transmedia based – particularly focusing on the episodes which feature the Domino portal. What is your response to this?
First, I want to distinguish what we consider “transmedia” from the interactive, role-play element of WTS. Those things aren’t the same, at least not in terms of how we approach them, though they do interact with each other quite a bit. We still have the same approach that we did with LBD, only now with an added layer.
So viewers can just watch the videos and get a complete (though much smaller and shorter) story, or they can watch the videos and follow the official transmedia, or they can watch the videos, follow the transmedia, and role-play along. Or, I guess, any combination of those three things.
That being said, what I really hear is people missing Lizzie. And I totally understand that feeling! I think we would have gotten criticism no matter what approach we took—it’s really hard to follow something like LBD, which so many people were so emotionally invested in.
But at the end of the day, I’m still really proud of our work and our community, and I would never want to make a show that asked for fan interaction without showcasing and praising that interaction the way we’re trying to.
Was is difficult dealing with the level of fan expectations coming off ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’?
Definitely. At our first writers room meeting, we talked a lot about when to launch our summer series, and I was adamant that we give fans time to sit with the end of LBD and really feel it. You have to mourn a bit. And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, of course, which is part of the reason we had about a month and half between shows.
Aside from that, though, we didn’t spend too much time thinking about the negative aspects of that expectation. We approached it more from the perspective of “how can we do something really different and fun with this series?” As a member of the creative team, I think it’s really important that we didn’t approach WTS thinking that we had to live up to the LBD legacy. Because when you start thinking that way, it’s really crippling. So Bernie, Jay, and Margaret were really great at never letting that kind of attitude define what we did.
Were you surprised by the level of fan participation in the roleplaying element?
Yes and no. I knew that our fans were immensely creative, passionate, and energetic, so I had no doubt that they could pitch in and really help create this world in ways that we had never imagined. But I was surprised at how fast it took off, before we even really explained what we had in mind!
Tell us about the process with the two fans who purchased themselves a ‘Sanditon’ character on the ‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ kickstarter.
They’ve been really great to work with. We asked them to give us some input into their characters, then we shaped that a bit to fit into our world. But they really run those accounts themselves, and I think they’re both great at it. Sometimes we’ll come to them with the idea for a conversation we want to happen, but we don’t script those for them.
So for instance, when Clara asks Robyn for a book recommendation, the person playing Robyn knew to expect that tweet, but she answered it in her own way. It’s a lot like doing improv, and it’s hugely fun.
Will you be working on the next major series?
I’m not 100% sure yet, but I hope so! Bernie plays things so close to the vest that it’s a bit like being in the CIA. I love that about him, because it means I get to be surprised by my own show, but it also means that I probably won’t know anything for sure until it’s time to start actually doing the work.
Photo credit: Jennifer Hofstetter, courtesy of Alexandra Edwards