Hypable’s exclusive interview with Jenni Powell, producer of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Get the inside scoop on the casting process and more.
It’s time to get more of those behind-the-scenes details, this time straight from Jenni Powell, Producer of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. We are totally hooked on this modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so much so that we need to know every detail about it, from both the cast and the crew. If you missed them, don’t worry. Catch up now on our whole series of exclusive interviews with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries team:
Ashley Clements (Lizzie Bennet): part one, part two
Jay Bushman (Transmedia Producer): interview
Hypable’s exclusive interview with Jenni Powell
Jenni Powell is no stranger to the world of web series. She first became involved as a fan of hit show lonelygirl15: “I started making my own parody series called lonelyjew15, which was me being Anne Frank, vlogging to the camera.” She went on to work on the final season of lonelygirl, then as Felicia Day’s assistant on The Guild, and then with Hank Green on online video convention Vidcon, amongst other projects.
Hypable: To start us off, can you describe your role in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?
Jenni Powell: Ah, how long do you have?
I am the producer of the show. What a producer’s job is basically the hub that keeps everything else running. I’ve been friends with Hank Green [co-creator and executive producer] since about 2006, and I’ve know Bernie [Su, co-creator, executive producer, directer and head writer] for about as long. When they connected (because they actually didn’t know each other – they both knew me and then separately connected) the three of us were like “Well, the three of us should do it. That makes the most sense.” Because Hank isn’t in L.A. it makes my job doubly important, because I’m his eyes and ears out here.
I help run the set, I also did the casting, so I was involved with that from the very beginning, and I do everything from find the location to make sure everybody eats on set, I actually cook lunch almost every time because we’re a small crew and I can get away with that. We shot the majority of the show in my apartment, because Lizzie’s bedroom is my old room in my apartment. So all of that stuff, making sure everybody gets paid, making sure everyone is getting stuff done and just generally just making sure the ship is moving forward.
Hank’s original idea was to do The Diary of Anne Frank, which you did with lonelyjew15. In hindsight, how do you think that would have gone? Do you think it would have been as well received as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?
No, and ultimately that it probably one of the big reasons we didn’t do it. I had actually talked to Hank about it being Diary of Anne Frank years before we actually got to the point where it became Lizzie Bennet, and one of the reasons he talked to me about it is because I somehow was able to do lonelyjew15 and have it stay respectful, and I never really got a lot of flack for it.
Everyone once in a while a troll would come by and be like, “Oh my god, this is ridiculous, why are you making fun of her,” but either the other people watching the show or I would take the time to say “This is just me getting to be somebody that I admire, and trying to bring her to you in a modern day.” So Hank saw that and was like, “Well you were able to do it.” And there was a couple reasons why I did it – one, it was comedy, and I was never trying to make it dramatic and I made sure to say “This is parody, this is me not trying to be disrespectful.”
I also never had to do the thing – there’s an Anne Frank Foundation. Her image, and anytime you want to do anything mainstream media (or bigger than a little fan video which is what I was doing) everything has to be cleared by the foundation, and they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. They didn’t understand, “Oh wait, she’s video blogging, what is that?” Originally [Hank] was like, “Well we should try another book as a proof of concept to show them what we are trying to do.”
When we first started it, he hadn’t yet given up the idea of trying to do it at some point. But then obviously Lizzie Bennet took off and we went in a different direction. Ultimately it was the combination of one, trying to get the rights would have been crazy and two, how do you take that situation and put it on a modern day context where it even comes anywhere close to what she actually went through? How do you modernize it? There’s nothing any of us will ever experience that comes close to what she experienced.
There’s no equivalent. And Pride and Prejudice has a lot of the lighter material as well. What was your experience with Pride and Prejudice prior to this project?
I had read it in high school and I remember reading it but I don’t remember it making a lasting impression on me. I was more of a Shakespeare tragedy girl. And we’re talking the really bloody, like “Everyone’s dead at the end, yes!”
Hamlet, Titus Andronicus is actually my favourite Shakespeare play. And it’s awful, girls getting their hands and tongues cut off, I was a dark child. But I did read it and I remember reading it, but it wasn’t until we starting working on this that I dived into it a little deeper, and because technically my job is not on the creative side, I didn’t dig as deep as the writers had to, to really dig into that world.