Bernie Su and Hank Green captured the hearts, iPhones, Pinterest pages, Instagram accounts and GetGlue music playlists of teens across America with their 2012 series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which updated Pride and Prejudice to modern life through real-time transmedia storytelling. The series consisted of 9½ hours of content stretched over 160 videos on five YouTube channels plus 35 social media profiles. It earned more than 40 million views, picking up a Streamy Award for comedy writing in the process.
In addition to Lizzie's weekly YouTube video diaries, which made up the meat of the series, viewers could follow all the characters on Twitter, Facebook and more, experiencing additional storylines by observing their interactions. Fans also could interact with the characters, who would respond to viewers' tweets and posts.
Co-creator and showrunner Su hired a transmedia producer, Jay Bushman, to streamline these interactions. "He would go through the script and say, 'Make sure you take an Instagram photo of that moment and that moment,' " Su says. "Then he would release it in real time when the episodes aired."
Su, Green and Bushman are using a similar approach for their new Jane Austen modernization, Emma Approved, which they plan to release in October.
Austen's Emma focuses on the trouble caused by a wealthy 20-year-old when she decides to use her influence to become a matchmaker. While the 1995 film Clueless famously updated the novel, the 2013 Emma will have far more technological tools at her disposal. And while Clueless' Cher Horowitz was a queen-bee high school girl, Emma Approved's Emma is a mid-20s, Oprah-esque life coach and entrepreneur. The workplace comedy will focus on Emma and Alex, her business partner behind her lifestyle brand "Emma Approved," which they promote through all the social media channels where we are used to consuming Martha Stewart, Gwyneth Paltrow and other advice givers.
In 19th-century England, reputation and influence spread at the speed of a letter or a horse-drawn carriage visit. Today they travel at the speed of a tweet or an unflattering Facebook tag. Su feels that the new Emma's advice on how to managing those interactions to achieve love and success is a relatable take on the original character's mission.
He's probably right: The series' blank YouTube page already has more than 6,100 subscribers. The creative team announced the show at the YouTube convention VidCon last month and fans have already created their own personalized "Approved" stickers based on the show's logo.
Digital studio Deca TV, which came on as a producer of Lizzie Bennet after the first three months of the show aired, were happy to fund Su reinventing any classic for his next series, but Su only had eyes for Emma. "She's an 'ends justify the means' character with a heart of gold," Su says. "What she perceives may be incorrect, but her intentions are genuine. Given that she's so driven and has a lot of resources, she's incredibly powerful. And in a connective world today, she has all these resources at her hand and [is] capable of everything."
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Now that's someone you'd want to follow on YouTube. Or Twitter. Or Instagram... --Stephanie Carrie