Welcome to Sanditon Production team members Margaret Dunlap, Jay Bushman, Alexandra Edwards and Dana Shaw chat with Hannah W. about the transmedia elements of the show.
Welcome to Sanditon, a spin off of the popular webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Executive Producers and Co-Show Runners, Jay Bushman and Margaret Dunlap, Transmedia Producer and Writer, Alexandra Edwards and Transmedia Editor, Dana Shaw about everything from the adaptation process, to transmedia, to the interactive elements of the show and more.
Be sure to also check out our recent interview with Welcome to Sanditon actors Kyle Walters, Joel Bryant and Lenne Klingaman.
How has your approach to transmedia changed between The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Welcome to Sanditon?
Alex: I came into LBD several months after it had started and after most things were established and my role was really more to facilitate, to help keep up with the process and to help make sure that things were running smoothly. So for this one, being involved in the creative process from the get go was such a cool and different kind of experience.
The very first day in the writer’s room, we said, “What’s the story we’re telling in the videos?” but then we also said, “Now what’s the story we’re telling in transmedia?” Which is not something that really happened on Lizzie Bennet in quite the same way. We got a chance to bake in and really plan how we were gonna do everything right from the get go and how things were going to work together and stuff like that. So taking that longer view of, “We know in week eight this is going to happen and we know there’s a corresponding transmedia beat to that and we know it before we’ve even gone into production,” has made some things easier to plan, has made things more complex in some cases.
I also do a lot more stuff in the moment and Dana can probably speak to this as well, ’cause we are frequently on gchat discussing what it is that we’re doing in the moment. We didn’t really do that with Lizzie Bennet, I mean, I think Bernie would hop on sometimes and tweet as people live, or Rachel would hop on and tweet live, if Lydia was at a party or something. But, for the most part we scripted things out and we scheduled them days in advance. We still script a lot of stuff and plan it out and we still are thinking ahead of time about everything, but with the nature of Sanditon, there are some things you just have to react in the moment.
Dana: It’s been fun. There’ve been a lot of trans-media only events that we’ve had, like craft night. You don’t see craft night ever actually happening on the videos, but you have all of these people who are coming in who are crafting, who are like “Why is Ed in the corner? Is he knitting? What’s he knitting? [He’s a] terrible, terrible knitter.”
And we’ve also had some of our larger transmedia events too like the opening of the beaches which was one of those things where we scripted it out. I wasn’t on Lizzie Bennet, I was brought in for
Sanditon; but there’s so much more to do in terms of interacting with people because there’s more people just inhabiting the world. So you’re able to create moments where people are interacting with the canon in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to in Lizzie.
They could talk to Lizzie as though she inhabited this world, but they weren’t a part of her surroundings, and weren’t a part of her community the way that the citizens of Sanditon are part of the Sanditon canon.
Alex: And we leveraged some new platforms. One of my favourite things that we did was the Reddit AMA because people didn’t know our Ed that well and particularly where we went with him. Dana and I had so much fun and that was really reacting in the moment ’cause we didn’t know what kind of questions we were gonna get. We didn’t know if we were gonna get questions. We had a contingency plan we didn’t end up needing. Bringing in the new platforms and trying to see how we can use them in a native way; how we can use them in a way that other users use them, has been a fun change, I think.
Dana: It’s also just been nice to add to what people know about the characters. There was a point in the AMA where Ed was asked, “If your house caught on fire, what would you save?” and the obvious answer would be, “I’d save all of my sci-fi posters and books and movies,” but he was like, “I’d save my family photo album, because my family’s been here forever.” There was also an interaction that Alex and I talked about with Robyn, our town librarian, where we decided, “How can we show that maybe Clara and Ed are not as much at odds as people might think?” So we decided that Clara was a horror fan. Sweet, wonderful, nice, Clara really loves reading about people getting killed in horrible ways.
Alex: And I have to say that was one of the interesting moments about doing things more in the moment, or quickly. We don’t always make the right decisions, I think we’re all big enough people to be able to admit to that, and so I actually emailed our Kickstarter backer who plays Robyn and I said, “Can you answer Clara and tell her that Ed has the book out?”
If I’d had 16 more hours to think about that, I’d have been like, “Wait a minute, that’s a huge privacy violation and no librarian would ever be like, ‘This is the person who has the book out.'” And of course everyone picked up on it immediately, understanding library protocol. She actually asked me in the email, “You really want me to say specifically that it’s Ed?” and I was like, “Yeah, absolutely!” So, just to set the record straight. We can maybe say it’s a small town and everybody knows everybody’s business.
Margaret: I blame the influence of Domino.
Jay: Yes! Always blame Domino! Powerful algorithm! But that also brings up something that’s been really, really neat; our two Kickstarter backers who bought the characters for the show & the fun that we’ve had in incorporating them wherever possible.
I’m always concerned, every few weeks or so, “Have we checked in with them? Are they okay? Do they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth? Should we use them more?” But they seem to be having a great time so far. We asked them up front, “Are you comfortable being on video? Do you want to submit videos?”
One of them said, “Yes” and one of them said, “You know what, no, I don’t really need to be on video, I’ll just do twitter and social media.” So finding ways to work them in wherever possible has been fun.
Margaret: We approached them and we were like, “Can you tell us about yourselves? What kind of person do you think you would be in this world?” And it’s an interesting storytelling challenge, telling a story and making it a positive, fun and engaging experience for them, ’cause you know, we’re definitely grateful for their support. [We want to make] that both fulfilling for them as participants and also for a broader audience that’s participating in the whole. But they’re both great people and we’ve really enjoyed working with them.
Alex: The hilarious thing from what I can tell about them, [is] they could not be more different people. Which is amazing to me. They’re both so great and they’re both so smart, and they’re really diving in and having a lot of fun with it and participating better than we could have ever dreamed that random kickstarter backers who paid a certain level of money would do. So we’re super lucky in that way. But it’s fascinating to me to think, “What was the thought process that made these two, so vastly different people, want to contribute to the project in that way?”
It’s really like improv, you know, we asked them to give us some things and then we trusted that they were gonna say yes to what we told them and we say yes to what they tell us. Lydia has some immortal words about improv, “You don’t deny your partner’s reality,” so we just have been living with that sort of rule.
Jay: Which is why Sanditon has 37 bookstores and no police force as far as I can tell.
Margaret: I think somebody else pointed out, in addition to the book stores and tea shops, we also have a lot of yarn stores in Sanditon.
Alex: Crafting is really important to people.
Dana: Crafting is huge!
Jay: And of course we have the dragon, which is really important.
Dana: And the ball of twine.
Jay: The ball of twine which is my favourite.
Margaret: Grandpa’s Chair.
Alex: Speaking of some of those more outlandish accounts, that’s always a really weird line to walk. That I think comes the closest to what we experienced on Lizzie Bennet where people were like, “Oh Lizzie, you’re gonna fall in love with Darcy,” and Lizzie couldn’t be like, “Oh, am I?” She can’t acknowledge that and so it is kind of similar in that way because I don’t know that Clara would tweet the town dragon. Maybe? I don’t know.
I have a decision making process every single time it happens saying, “Can she tweet the chair? Can Ed talk to the Sanditon ruler?” Like, where’s the line there?
Dana: Well, there’s definitely joke accounts that exist in real life as well. I don’t think there are many people who are like, “Oh yeah, I saw the Sanditon Dragon today! We got biscuits and bought a book.” But I do think that’s a weird line to walk.
Alex: That’s true, I hadn’t thought about it as if they were joke accounts in the world of Sanditon. That’s actually a good approach to take.
Dana: That’s how I always saw them.
Margaret: I mean we did put the Sanditon Cat into the first User Generated Content video.
Alex: The Sanditon Ghost visited us!
Jay: That was wild. That was amazing. When I saw that, I was like, “That has to go in!” You know, one of the things that I really look for in those videos are people who go the extra mile. So like there’s the one with Kacie and Kelsey from a couple weeks ago where they did the phone call, where I was like, “That’s awesome, they did an ‘in world’ phone call. That’s amazing!”
Margaret: Or the girl who runs the candy shop who did her own recipe video complete with Domino tabs coming in with her ingredients. I know Adam [Levermore, Art Direction and Visual Effects] was excited to be able to provide graphic assets for people who wanted to incorporate them in their own videos and seeing somebody taking advantage of that, that’s really exciting for us.
Jay: Yeah, anytime somebody uses the tags those are great.
Speaking of the portal, because you also have it so people can submit photos and blog posts, do you keep track of those as well?
Jay: As much as possible. We don’t track them as closely but we do track them. If there was an easier way to incorporate them in the videos, that would be awesome, but I don’t think we have that at this point. If we had a little more time, I would love to be able to put Domino tags for each person when their clip comes up so it says who they are and their twitter handle, but there’s just no time in the work flow to do that. It’s a shame.
Alex: I’ve said this on tumblr, but I think that Jay deserves a huge round of applause for the work load that he manages with those UGC videos, because he’s sorting through hours of footage every single time.
Margaret: And Jay watches every single video that gets posted to the Domino Portal.
Jay: I do, I watch them all.
Margaret: If you ever wonder, “I’m putting up a video, is anyone on the team watching it?” Yes.
Jay: We have an intern in the office now, a young woman named Bria, who helps out enormously with tracking that stuff. I couldn’t do it without [her]. The first time I did it, I didn’t have her help and it almost broke me. I saw Margaret the day after and my wrists and elbows were on fire from all the typing.
Jay, Margaret, Alex and Dana can be found online in the following places: