Now, the new video seemed to suggest, the web series was back. Which is true, in part — but the new lonelygirl will also be much more than that.
Jenni Powell and Miles Beckett, two of the producers of the original series, hope to reinvent online storytelling a second time, doing with Snapchat, Facebook Live and other as-of-yet unrevealed platforms what they did with YouTube in its infancy.
“To give you some context, when Lonelygirl came out, Myspace was the only social network,” Beckett said. “There was no Twitter. No iPhone. The landscape was completely different. There were things we dreamed up that we couldn’t do. Now we can.”
That is, after all, what made the original lonelygirl so compelling. Sure, the story is kind of fun: It follows the life of a quirky, homeschooled high-schooler named Bree, who reveals, over the course of several hundred short videos, that her family belongs to a secretive, cultish religion that she feels she needs to flee.
But the format, more than anything, was revolutionary for its time. The initial story unfolded through Bree’s video diaries on YouTube: short, apparently unscripted, webcam-captured snippets of her life. The actress who plays Bree, Jessica Lee Rose (now 29 years old), was so convincing that it took the better part of three months for the channel’s fans — as well as various reporters — to realize it was fake.
The series continued after that big reveal, but it was never quite the same. Viewership of Lonelygirl and it’s various spin-offs and sequels, including Kate Modern in the U.K., dropped precipitously after its first “season,” when the storyline no longer revolved around Bree.
Its creators went their separate ways: Beckett, who co-created the original Lonelygirl, launched a digital media company called EQAL with the show’s legal advisor, Greg Goodfried. Mesh Flinders, another co-creator, moved on to separate projects entirely. Powell, who had joined the series somewhat later, went on to produce The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a modern vlog take on “Pride and Prejudice” which became the first YouTube series to win a primetime Emmy.
But as the 10th anniversary of the first Lonelygirl episode approached, Powell and Beckett began to think they might want to join forces again.
“We have two high-level goals with this,” Beckett said. “To tie off loose ends for the hardcore fans, yeah. But also to engage a new audience: We’re seeing thousands of comments from young people who are 14, 15, 17, who never had the lonelygirl experience.”
They’re vague on the details for the new show, which they say has begun filming but has not been finalized. They do know it will be bigger, in terms of its ambitions, than Lonelygirl ever was. In addition to the YouTube channel, Powell and Beckett hinted that there are also negotiations under way for a more conventional scripted series with a TV network or online distributor. And the characters will continue to engage online as if they were real people, interacting with fans across a vast transmedia empire that spans a number of the most popular social networks.
Even as Bree was posting her first YouTube video, in fact, the series’ other lead character, Bree’s friend Daniel, was sending snaps to his fans from the handle @therealdbeast and streaming a Facebook live video. You can even friend “Daniel’s” personal Facebook profile.
“We did that for the hardcore fans,” Powell said, “but also to play in different sandboxes, to kind of hint to people that we’re going to play in different spaces.”
Powell and Beckett know the environment has changed since they started out: Most importantly, perhaps, the market is vastly more crowded than it was 10 years ago — and what they’re doing is no longer entirely novel. Both of them have, in fact, already done the very sort of interactive transmedia series they’re proposing now, Powell with The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, and Beckett with a 2008 webseries called “Harper’s Globe.”
Bigger names have gotten in on this particular game, as well: For several seasons, the BBC has maintained a portfolio of blogs and Twitter accounts for its popular Sherlock characters. The Tribeca Film Festival has begun screening short films shot entirely on Snapchat; YouTube, far from a playground for upstarts or underdogs only, now produces entire feature films with its most popular creators.
Still, Powell and Beckett remain optimistic. (Or “psyched,” as Beckett says several times.) They won’t reveal the exact details of what they have planned, but they’re confident it will push the boundaries of storytelling online.
“We’ll never convince the world that Bree is real again — the environment is different,” Powell acknowledges. “But we can still tell a story that’s engaging and compelling, and really draws someone in … And there are so many new technologies now that we didn’t have access to then.”
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