Lonelygirl15: A chat with the creators

(here’s a blog post I put up earlier today at globeandmail.com, related to a story I did for the newspaper)

Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried still look like the upwardly mobile twenty-somethings (surgical resident and entertainment lawyer respectively) they used to be a year or two ago. But now — along with friend Ramesh Flinders and Greg’s wife, a former executive with Creative Artists Agency — they are the co-creators and producers of the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon.

In Toronto for the FITC design and technology conference, they talked about what it has been like since “Bree” was revealed to be actress Jessica Rose last September.

They also talked about the website, which is built on a hacked version of WordPress, with widgets from Revver that play the videos (both the ones uploaded by the characters and the ones uploaded by fans); there is a chat room where there are usually between 20 and 50 people at a time, and the site has a Wikipedia-style show encyclopedia called LGpedia — which a fan created — that has over 3,000 articles and has received more than two million page views.

: “I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos, and after awhile it was clear they were going to become the leader, so [after we came up with the idea] I decided to upload something there rather than try to get people to come to our site. From the beginning, the idea was to create a sense of mystery, so we started posting comments and video as this character — interactivity was very much a part of it.”

Greg: “Miles said we’re going to do this for a few months and then we’ll be on the cover of magazines, and I said you’re crazy.”

Miles: “After we put the first video clip up as Bree, we got about 500,000 views in 48 hours… we both grew up in L.A. and we’ve been around the industry and I knew that most TV shows get maybe 500,000 viewers in a week, so I knew we had something.”

Miles: “The initial idea was to create this thing, see if people respond to it, then make an independent movie or something out of it. At the time I didn’t think Internet video had developed to the point where it could sustain an audience, but it quickly became obvious that wasn’t the case.”

Miles: “I knew you could get a viral video that gets a lot of views and then disappears, but when I saw we were getting 500,000 on each video, I figured the model wasn’t just to use this as a jumping off point to TV or movies. I realized it was possible to create this new form of online entertainment.”

Greg: “We read [the chat room] every day… and we have done live in-character chats as part of the show. At one point Bree’s hotel room was broken into, she uploaded video and said she would be in the chat room later, and all those people knew she was fictional but they still came… a character named Jonas offered to let Bree come to stay with him, so we picked a real fan to decide whether she should do it or not, so the community effectively made that decision.”

Miles: “When we started this, we didn’t really know where it was going to go, and then it exploded… so what we did was we really responded to the community and let that determine where we went with it. I think that’s why were still around now.”

Greg: “We met with the heads of most of the TV studios, and we got offers to do production deals, but we decided not to do that — because I don’t think they really understood what we were trying to do… plus they’re huge bureaucracies. It’s not that they’re not interested, because they are, they just can’t move fast enough… and the copyright fear is just massive.”

Miles: “The traditional entertainment model is that you create content, license it and then make money for eternity… but DRM [digital rights management] is BS — anyone can get around it, and consumers hate it. We think of our content as more ephemeral. I don’t plan to make money off old Lonelygirl15 videos. I want to keep creating new videos.”

Greg: “In one episode, Daniel gets drunk and goes bowling… and we got a call from the agent for Katherine McPhee, who was a runner-up for American Idol and he said she had a new album coming out and could she appear in the show, which was really cool.”

Miles: “A couple of years ago, her record company would have gone to the O.C. or something like that. It shows that the tide is really turning, and the power is in the hands of the little guy now.”

Greg: “[Even from the beginning] I thought that people wanted to start getting their content in this way — short-form, serialized, interactive content — they just didn’t know it. And all the people who came before us were giant conglomerates who were either repurposing television or making these really lame webisodes.”

Miles: “Definitely when I had the idea, in my mind it was a race against time to do it, because I knew that someone would think of it. I was on every day and watching other videos of real video-bloggers and I’d be paranoid that they were scripted. If they had more than three videos that were well done I would be worried that they were fake.”

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