How one Web series brought ‘Northanger Abbey’ into the 21st century
A few weeks ago we introduced you to two web series updating Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” What exactly does it take to bring the novel into the 21st century? We caught up with Ellen Lloyd and Chelsey Saatkamp — the screenwriter and executive producer, respectively, of “The Cate Morland Chronicles” — to find out.
Tell me about your company, Apple Juice Productions.
Saatkamp: Apple Juice Productions started with “The Cate Morland Chronicles” in 2016, and has since expanded into other fan-related projects, including a modern update of the Baby-Sitters Club, “Stoneybrook Revisited,” and a Marauders-era short film, “Lily Evans and the Eleventh Hour.” Founded by Amanda Taylor, we’re a group of women and fangirls dedicated to giving an outlet to fellow women filmmakers and to telling fandom stories from a female perspective.
What made you decide to adapt Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”?
Lloyd: Our producer Chelsey came to us with the idea of doing a modern literary vlog-style adaptation as a group. I had previously thought about writing a modern fan fic of “Northanger Abbey” where Catherine Morland is a fangirl, but I thought it could work for this vlog-style as well. Once I proposed it, I think we all just clung on, because you realize how relatable “Northanger Abbey” becomes when you make her a fangirl. It’s at least a very relatable thing for our team.
What aspects of the novel were easiest to update? What were the hardest?
Lloyd: The easiest part was definitely just the character of Catherine Morland. Austen even has portions of the book that are essentially rants about people demeaning novels. This is just so relatable to fan culture. We are all about impassioned rants. I got a sense pretty quickly of how Catherine Morland needed to become our Cate. The hardest part for me, just in terms of updating the novel was figuring out how the drama with General Tilney and that with Isabella and James should translate. You want to try and maintain the essence of the book while making it believable for the time.
In the series, Henry and others watch Cate’s videos, learning her thoughts and feelings just as the audience does. Did that change how you adapted Austen’s novel?
Lloyd: The vlog-style made some things really easy but others a little more difficult. Cate is putting her life out there on the Internet. Henry is an avid watcher, her friends watch some of them, so it became a minefield at times to make sure she didn’t say too much but also enough. Ultimately, it’s putting her life on the Internet that gets her into some trouble. Also, just in terms of the romance angle, it was sometimes difficult to show the audience enough for them to realize that she has feelings for Henry but not enough where Henry, as a fan of her vlog, is going to feel 100 percent confident in pursuing her.
Was there a theme or part of the novel that you wish you hadn’t left out of the series?
Lloyd: Part of me sometimes wishes I had put Frederick in our version, but I also like him being this guy who we never see. It makes him even more mysterious and aloof. I just couldn’t imagine that he would deign to be on this girl’s vlog.
Before CMC there was “Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Emma Approved.” Did you take away any lessons from those adaptations or did you try to avoid watching them?
Lloyd: We were obviously fans of those series, but the main thing I strived to do while writing it was to not copy some of the storytelling mechanics they used. Believe me, it was really hard to not have or characters do “story theatre” like they do in “Lizzie Bennet.” It would have made things so much easier! That’s why you see us use some “found footage” moments. There were also times I just wanted to see Cate and Henry meet rather than her just tell us about it.
How long did it take to film an average episode?
Saatkamp: We filmed five to eight episodes in a day, so each took about one to two hours. The “found footage” episodes and the ones that were a little more complicated than the normal episodes (road trip, Comic Con, etc.) took a bit longer. We filmed over the course of two months on weekends! Still so grateful to our cast and crew for being available all that time.
If you could adapt another classic novel, what would it be?
Saatkamp: Our other projects aren’t strict adaptations, but they have all stemmed from literature. I think that counts in some way! We’ll see what’s next 🙂
What’s next for your production company?
Saatkamp: We just announced the next installment of our Lily Evans series, “Lily Evans and the Stroke of Midnight,” [released] Oct. 31! You can stay tuned for more on that and future announcements at any of our social channels.
Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Find her on Twitter: @nextjen.