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Little Women, big vision

By Will Sloan

March

The March sisters are modern-day vloggers in an interactive webseries from the Transmedia Zone.

The Civil War is over, and the March sisters are modern-day students, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s the revelation of The March Family Letters, a unique multiplatform webseries from Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Taking a cue from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a popular webseries that adapted Pride & Prejudice to a vlog format, The March Family Letters will transport the familiar story to the current era. Jo March is now an “independent tomboy and feminist with a passion for filmmaking,” who dreams to direct a female action movie; Amy March is a talented artist and “wannabe hipster”; hard-working Meg March is aiming for her Bachelor’s of Engineering; and everyone has their own Facebook and Tumblr pages.

While the series doesn’t officially begin until December, The March Family Letters’ characters have already built a following through their social media, vlogs, and burgeoning book club (the reading list, partially crowdsourced, includes Divergent, The Princess Bride, and A Dance with Dragons). And despite these new media bells-and-whistles, the creative team finds that the spirit of the story remains.

“The book is very much about the family, and how they bring other people into their circle,” said showrunner Sarah Shelson. “The way our characters exist in a transmedia landscape, with their Twitters and their Tumblrs, it’s very much connecting the audience with that family and making them feel like they’re a part of it.”

The Cherrydale Productions team pitched the project to the Independent Production Fund in March, and is producing the series in association with the Transmedia Zone. “They needed us to do a proof of concept video,” said Wil Noack, executive producer. “A lot of people do trailers; we went out and did a full pilot. So we already have an audience building up that knows about the project and is excited about it.”

The webseries will run December to June, following the first half of the Alcott book relatively faithfully, but with social media initiatives supplementing the main action.  “We’ve built it so that the videos stand alone, so if you’re not on Twitter or Facebook, you can watch the videos and be okay with the series as it is,” said Lauren Evans, transmedia producer. “We’re going to have a newsletter as well, which will make it easy for people who don’t follow Twitter to make sure that they get all of those secondary interactions. However, the beauty of our audience is, they love the interaction.”

“If you want to just watch the videos, that’s fine,” added Shelson. “But we’re hoping to build this community around the people who live to delve in.”

The team, comprised of recent Ryerson grads, thought that the interactive project would be an ideal fit for production at Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone. Part of the zone learning initiative at Ryerson, the Transmedia Zone, is aimed at helping students develop their creative, business, and social venture ideas in the digital content sector. The zone has provided funding and resources for The March Family Letters, and also fostered a strong creative atmosphere.

“The Transmedia Zone is really great, because it provides mentorship from the codirectors, Richard Lachman and Ramona Pringle,” said Noack. “It also gives us a space to operate – we can have writers’ rooms, and a place to hold meetings and Skype calls with potential partners. It also provides us with equipment we can use to actually produce the content.”

“We’ve had great sounding boards with the other Transmedia residents, just bouncing ideas off them has been fantastic,” Shelson added.

With season one adapting only a portion of the book, the creative team hopes to continue past the first season before exploring other storytelling opportunities. “One of our goals with the production company is to have The March Family Letters as a flagship project, and then hopefully continue our endeavors of creating webseries from there,” said Noack.

To follow The March Family Letters, visit marchfamilyletters.ca/

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