The lonelygirl15 web series franchise has always drawn its success from its fans. But ever since its original creators changed their focus to branded content over original, that has literally been the case thanks to The Show is Yours project, which allowed members of the community to submit their own series for production. And while the first round of the The Show Is Yours resulted in a bit of internal drama, it did keep the show’s brand going with minimal investment from EQAL and renewed fan engagement.
Two weeks ago, the second series to be commissioned under the TSIY banner, LG15: Outbreak launched under the creative lead of Gregory Austin McConnell, known originally to members of the fan community as Greg Mason, a fictional critic of LG15.
While it’s common for LG15 fans to create their own contributions to the series’ narrative, though, McConnell didn’t start off as a fan: “I really didn’t like the show,” he said via phone. “And being the sort of mean-spirited guy I am, I thought I’d give them a piece of my mind, so I created [Mason] within the universe of the show to criticize it.” However, the community responded positively to Mason’s comments, so he continued producing videos critiquing the show — and submitted his own idea when the second round of TSIY came up, figuring that he “could do a better job than they’re doing.”
The result, Outbreak, is a mystery-laden new entry focused around Crystal (Dani Martin), a mysterious and attractive young woman who refuses to discuss her past with her new YouTube friends, but appreciates the support they offer when, her first week in her new apartment, she experiences a strange break-in and advances from a creepy neighbor. The narrative so far is pretty light, with the focus on building up character taking precedence even over kinda-big plot developments like the Eiffel Tower being destroyed, but the fan interaction and use of text and video content is classic LG15.
The only notable difference is that Outbreak videos are filmed with a lot more visual flair than previous LG15 installments — a change to the house style, but cleverly explained. In Crystal’s case, the production quality of her videos are explained by her being a film school dropout who studied editing and animation; in the case of Mason, whose updates are the biggest hint at the larger mystery at work here, the dreamy style fits his circumstances.
A Missouri-based filmmaker, McConnell found the $5000 budget sufficient for putting together the show, though his production company, Tempest Films, already had a full complement of production equipment. Outbreak is scheduled to run for eight weeks, with new video or text content being posted every day. “Now that I’m doing what they did,” said McConnell, “I understand exactly what it takes and the kind of investment you need.”
From the very first episode, he and his team have been working to make sure that they kept the audience fully engaged with the narrative, in some cases rewriting entire storylines when fan response went in an unexpected direction. “In the first episode, Crystal pulled a book out from a box,” McConnell said. “It was a last-minute prop, because what we wanted was for people to ask what was inside the box. But instead they focused on the book, so we had to sit down and figure out how to build the plot around the book instead.”
But McConnell sees this sort of twist as key to the interactive nature of LG15. “You can’t really run a show like this without looking at the fan perspective,” he said. “The show thrives on having an audience who’s willing to play along.”