In part 2 of Hypable’s exclusive interview with Jenni Powell, the producer of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Powell talks production challenges, merchandise, and possibilities for the next book adaptation.
In part 1 of our exclusive interview, Powell gave us an extensive look into the casting process on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, as well as into Hank Green’s original idea to adapt The Diary of Anne Frank. In part 2 we discussed the possibilities of merchandising, production challenges Powell has faced on The LBD, and her dream book adaptation.
Hypable’s exclusive interview with Jenni Powell
Hypable: What for you has been the biggest challenge producing The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?
Jenni Powell: The biggest challenge would be staying within the confines of what we have available in terms of resources. We don’t have the biggest budget in the world, and we especially didn’t in the beginning when it was just us doing it on our own. But at the same time, it has always been important to Bernie [Su, co-creator, executive producer, director, head writer] and I that we pay the crew, that everybody makes at least something, even if it is much less than what they might normally make on a traditional media show.
So balancing keeping the look and feel of the production very high quality, while at the same time balancing that with having enough left over so that we can pay the cinematographer, and the writers, and all of that.
Has the show become more financially viable as it has gone on?
Well the only nudge up that occurred was it got to the point where Hank [Green, co-creator and executive producer] was no longer having to help us with financing because we were making enough off of our CPMs, and then DECA, who is our sponsor now, actually came in and they supply our budget. But we never had a real need to make the budget larger. There was talk about what if we wanted to start doing walking and talking, because that’s how lonelygirl went – it originally was the locked camera with Bree just vlogging to her webcam, but eventually they expanded out from that and started carrying the camera, still keeping the first person style.
I remember that coming up a couple of times with Bernie, but he was like “You know what, no, I think we just keep it. It’s working, the locked camera style is working, why mess with anything that’s working?” Obviously the Lydia spinoffs were a little bit different because she was filming those on her camera phone, so of course she did need to hold it in her hand, but other than that we have’t really varied from that locked camera style and just letting the acting be the voice and be front and centre.
Is more merchandise something you’re looking into?
That’s funny that you should say that, I had a merchandising call just a few hours ago, this morning in fact.
Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Nothing that is set in stone. We definitely are looking at doing more merchandising. It’s something the fans want, it’s something we want. Once we finish major production we can spend a little more time focusing on that. So it’s definitely something very important to us.
Speaking of finishing major production – what will happen when you finish the book? Will the videos and transmedia be phased out slowly, or will it all end abruptly? Has a decision been made either way?
That decision has not been made yet. I swear, I don’t know.
Let’s talk about the medium itself. Are web series something you see yourself staying in for now, you don’t feel any urge to run across to television?
Nope. I’m here to stay. I love working in online video, and it’s not just producing content, it’s on the whole I just love the fact that it’s doing things your own way, creative people coming together and being able to have access to one another.
There’s not as much ego in this industry – there probably will be, we’re getting there. As we get bigger those things come into play and we are already seeing some of it, but on the whole I feel like I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and stay true to what I like to do. There will always be other people who want to come along with you to do that. I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.
Do you think online storytelling is becoming more recognised as a viable option compared to television?
I definitely think so. I think a huge credit has to be paid to YouTube for that. When a company says, “I’m going to invest $200 million into content for the web,” it’s not billions of dollars, and millions of dollars are spent on one movie sometimes, but still – it’s the biggest investment anyone’s made into our space. People are going to take notice. Unfortunately it sometimes takes money to get people to go “Oh what? This is a real thing?” and the fact that advertisers are starting to realize, “Oh my gosh, there are all these kids and some of them don’t watch TV.”
I don’t watch TV, I don’t have cable. I watch everything through the Internet, through Hulu, through Netflix, I don’t need a cable connection, I have cut all those ties and everything I watch is online, and there are a lot of kids that want to hear, “Hey Philip DeFranco, what movie should I go see? Hey Olga Kay, what’s your favourite designer, I wanna wear what you wear.” And there’s a lot of power in that, and advertisers are like, “Oh my gosh, I want to figure out a way to be a part of that.”
So I think it’s a combination of YouTube investing in original content and the power that some of these creators have to say, “You can go to my site and look at my numbers, they are right there for you. That’s my power right there.” It’s a very exciting time.