Last month, I was lucky enough to sit down with the makers of the beloved web series Green Gable Fables and discuss their first season. I was introduced to three marvelous ladies who have come together for the love of their project and the original text. If you didn’t already know, web series based on classic Literature has become the next big thing on Youtube. With new series popping up every other day, it seems impossible that a group of girls who don’t live geographically close to each other have been able to come together to create a world that is so familiar to many readers in a modern setting.
I sat down with Marie Trotter, Mandy Harmon, and Alicia Whitson, the core three of the project, and discussed the experience of making the series. When asked to describe the series in their own words, they talked about it being a modern adaptation of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. How is was a vibrant, revitalized, fun, an engaging telling of the story as to be relatable for the modern world. They strive to foster the story outside of the video with their transmedia elements including Twitter handles for most if not all of the characters. Finally adding, “Trying to bring a story and world to life with a medium that will make them seem like real people.”
When asked how the project started, Alicia talked about the idea of classic literature becoming a web series. She described watching the Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Squaresville and thinking about various people who could help her bring the idea to life. She thought of Mandy, who coincidentally has Anne’s famous red locks, but also has written with Alicia before. They saw the Canadian mini-series and thought it would be a cool idea. By episode 4 they were contacted by Marie to help and since has become an important producer to the show. Alicia described how they had chemistry but Marie’s chemistry, “amped it up.” What makes this series unique from others is that the three girls have never met face to face.
As a Canadian fan to a very Canadian story, I had to ask: How do you keep Canada in the project? Marie took over this question as the Canadian in the group. She discussed that they wanted to keep the story in Canada as it is very famously set in Canada. She talked about how when she first started, she was the Canadian Consultant. She worked in the Canadian elements through transmedia. She laughed about the early scripts and how a line would read “insert Canadian thing here” and she would. She talked about the small things that you wouldn’t think about unless you lived in Canada, like the difference in school system. But they all conceded that there weren’t too many fundamental differences between Americans and Canadian, not really anyway. They discussed, Mandy (Anne herself) having to avoid American logos and having to film away from the mountains in the background as to not ruin the effect that the character is filming from Avonlea. Interestingly, the series doesn’t take place in PEI (instead it is set in Avolea Saskatchewan). I asked them about it, and Alicia started by saying that it was important for them to set the story in an actual place, since they wanted the characters to seem like real people. Also, the fact that Utah, where the series is filmed, looks more like the Prairies than the Maritimes.
Having episodes released every Wednesday, the release of an episode was on the exact day of the 2014 Parliament shootings. Coincidentally, the video was about Anne visiting the Country’s capital. We talked about this coincidence and whether they thought about postponing the video. Marie said that the video was both filmed and edited prior to the attacks and was queued to be released that day. The footage from Ottawa is from a week before. Rather to delay the video it was decided that they would reflect the day’s events on Transmedia. They were conscious not to include the tragedy in the story because they felt it would be disrespectful. Alicia added that the comments in the video on the day were reflective of how beautiful Ottawa is. She ended by talking about how people were moved by it.
We changed topics trying to lift the conversation. We talked about the casting process. Jane and Diana were friends with Mandy, and Mandy was excited to invite them into the project. Chris Jones, who played Mathew Cuthbert was a family friend who was known for his love of theatre. Marie was put in charge of casting the other characters. We talked about a very important character to the series that fans had to wait to see. The ever famous Gilbert Blythe joined the cast a little later than most of the other characters although his presence was talked about from the beginning. Marie talked about using various sites based in Utah (even though she lives in the Greater Toronto area) to try to find interested actors for both Gil and Josie. Alicia explained that the interested parties were asked to film auditions using monologues that Marie wrote, so that all three of them could watch them.
It has been a trend in these webseries to not show adults in the series. They do this in two ways: one by talking about the adult but never showing them on camera (ie in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Lizzie dressed up as the adult characters instead of having them on camera), or by making the original character younger (in Nothing Much To Do the Duke becomes an older brother). In Green Gable Fables, the characters are already a little younger than the average web series protagonists. We talked about the importance for them to have Mathew appear on camera. Alicia started by saying that it was important for them to show Mathew on camera to build the relationship between him and Anne. They wanted to explore their dynamics. They thought it would be more realistic to see him than to have him never show up. At the same time, Alicia continued, it would be less likely for the character of Marilla to want to appear in the videos. Marie said that although it the idea of having Marilla on screen is not opposed, it wouldn’t be practical or realistic for her character to appear.
Nearing the end of the first book, I had to ask whether they considered continuing the series through the next few books in the series. Marie took the reins on this questions saying that they could make no promises. That the project is done for love, but that at times it can be difficult to continue it and be at their best. Their current situation doesn’t allow for that, it depends on time and money.
We had fun discussing other web series that the team enjoyed watching. Some that Alicia listed included, Job Hunters, LBD, anything by Pemberly Digital, and In Earnest (they hinted at a cross over that happened via twitter a little while back). Mandy mentioned one of my favorites, Nothing much to do and Marie listed some non-literary ones including, The Vault, and Submissions Only. She also enjoyed the New Adventures of Peter and Wendy. They all got excited when talking about Yulin Kuang’s work and we proceeded to have a fan girl moment about both Kuang’s videos and Shipwrecked’s videos.
I couldn’t let the interview go without asking about the transmedia. This series in particular I must say is constantly on social media. It’s uncanny how much the characters interact with both fans and each other, it’s almost as if they’re real. Maria explains that in other series, “transmedia only existed to convey plot, instead I was interested in character development. The characters are teenagers so they have to use social media like teenagers would. It started with twitter and it branched out to Snap Chat (Mandy takes care of the snap chats). It’s cool because [fans] can have personal connections with Anne Shirley.” They then went on to say that they were proud to how fans were responding to not only the show but the transmedia elements. “Without the fans engaging, none of it would have been possible.”
I have to say that talking to the team was a pleasure and that the series is doing some interesting things. Right before Christmas, fans were overjoyed by a few weeks of vlogging from other characters including Gilbert Blythe. It is my hope that they continue the series, maybe not right away, but I love the original text and the series too much to see it go in the future. As always, Happy Watching!