Are you a book lover? Can you binge watch nerdy shows? Do you wish you lived in 19th century Britain and think that Amanda Price from ‘Lost in Austen’ is your spirit animal? If so, fellow human, we have just the thing for you! Last week, yours truly got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to video interview the most amazing cast and crew of transmedia webseries, ‘Classic Alice‘. We talked for an hour and a half; about cats, the show’s characters, Kickstarter, and a bunch of other cool and nerdy things. And guess what? Just because we at Geek Insider love you all so much, we’ve brought to you the exclusive (and somewhat edited, for the sake of your sanity) transcript of the interview. But first, since we suspect some of you have been living under a rock for the past few months, let us give you a quick crash-course on most things Classic Alice.
Classic Alice is the brainchild of Kate Hackett, who writes, produces, and stars as the main character of the show. The YouTube series follows the technical format similar to shows like the ‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ and ‘The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy’, but…with a twist. You see, Classic Alice isn’t a modern retelling of your favorite English novel. On the contrary, it chronicles the life of Valeton University student Alice Rackham (Kate Hackett), who receives a “bad grade” in one of her English classes and (spoiler alert!) resolves to live her life as characters from classic novels that she has never read before. Her rich and spoiled “friend” Andrew Pritchard (Tony Noto) decides to film her attempts for a class project and lo and behold! The world gets to meet Classic Alice!
After running a successful first season (or ‘book,’ as Classic Alice likes to call it), the crew turned to crowdfunding sources at Kickstarter for help in financing the rest of their show. On April 18, 2014, the project was fully backed, and today, as promised, Classic Alice already has quite a few new episodes from Book 2 up on their YouTube channel. For the truly curious, the classic they’re covering this time is G. B. Shaw’s Pygmalion (I know, right?! *squeals*) and for those desperately awaiting the answers to our Classic Alice interview questions…you may now finally encounter the awesomeness that this awesome team creates!
Kate Hackett – producer, writer, stars as ‘Alice Rackam’
Tony Noto – co-producer, stars as ‘Andrew Pritchard’
Elise Cantu – stars as ‘Cara Graves’
Chris O’ Brien – stars as ‘Ewan McBay’
Josh P. Compton – director
Exclusive Classic Alice Cast and Crew Interview
- How did you come up with the idea for Classic Alice?
Kate: I was asked to write something that would bridge the gap between a kind of hosting thing and a job giving out book recommendations, but I didn’t want to do a host job, so I told them that I’d write something with more of a narrative. And when they asked me what I meant with that, I just said that I’d do a vlog because that would be easy and to shoot, but it would have a story, so it would be scripted. They asked, “Oh, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?” and I said “sure.” I wrote the first one in a mock-umentary style, and wrote six more, but then the company fell apart (which I can’t really talk about).
- Ah. How did you deal with the company falling apart?
Kate: Well, it wasn’t a big deal. It happens all the time, people parting ways and stuff. So I just asked them whether they would mind if I made the series by myself and they said that would be okay.
- So how did everyone else get involved?
Kate: Well, I’ll let them answer that!
Josh: I was back home over Christmas and Kate just called me and asked whether I wanted to make some nonsense with her (haha). I remember telling her that I didn’t want to produce anything and she said that I wouldn’t have to. Well, we’d worked together before, we’d made a short together (almost two years ago, now!), and we’d been friends for a while, so…we finally got to work on this big project together!
Elise: I was actually friends with Kyle Walker, from The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, and he introduced me to Kate because they were friends from acting school and she got me into the project. I’m really into media that is written and produced as female-empowered and I stalked her until I got to be her roommate, basically.
Chris: That’s how I got involved! Somebody on Twitter was like “Hey, Classic Alice, you should cast this guy in the upcoming season!” and Kate tweeted saying okay. So basically, somebody on Twitter connected us, we (Kate and I) met up for coffee, we got along pretty well, and I auditioned. (Kate and Josh weren’t there so I overdid it and actually recorded around 20 or so tapes of the two audition tapes! *cue laughter, friendly banter*)
Tony: So…Kate and I have a mutual friend who was also my co-worker…and she introduced her and I came over here and knocked on the door. Kate threw a script at me and watched me read it and said, “Ok, let’s go!” So we read a couple of the scenes and I could hear the theme music playing in her head as she slowly began to fell in love with me…Some of that story is true, I’m gonna let you figure out which part, though.
- When did you guys realize that you’ve made it? Have you felt that way yet?
Kate: None of us feel that way.
Elise: I was pretty proud of ourselves after Kickstarter…
Tony: I think we’re more making fun of the idea of anyone saying “made it,” but the idea of “making it” is not very real. We’re all very proud of what this has become and all the work that Kate has put into it. To see the response that this has received is amazing and we’re all very grateful, which goes without saying…
Kate: So it’s that we think that the show is not doing well and that we’re not proud of it, but I think as an artist, you always want to do more so “making it” doesn’t really exist, it’s not really true. Also, I still can’t pay my bills just by acting, so…
Elise: But speaking more personally, I think I felt like we made it when Drunk Austen made the sock-puppet version of Classic Alice!
Chris: It’s funny, that part. I’ve been in a couple of video-series and this is easily the biggest one that I’ve been a part of. But even if the most massive webseries that you can think of have a bigger viewership than something like an HBO show, yet, as as an actor who go to a casting and go up to the casting director with your resume, and they’ve never heard of it. So it’s a weird thing where the web world is kind of blowing up right now but a lot of people still haven’t caught up to it.
- How did each of you first get introduced to the world of video blogging and webseries? How does it work?
Kate: Well, vlogging is still beyond me, but I knew the web community from years ago. I had a friend who invited me to a premiere party (which was just before LBD) and that’s where I met a bunch of people like Bernie Su and Jenni Powell. Then I went in for LBD and I just kept the contacts since it’s a world where everybody knows everybody and you know what works and what doesn’t. The format is so cheap to make that it is very appealing as a producer. I mean, you could never do our 130 pages plus the confessionals in 6 days like we did in such little time and with so little money.
Josh: Well, I had no idea that these vlog-style shows existed. When Kate described it to me at first, I kept asking why we were doing it that way because it didn’t seem very cinematic and even though she said that that was the point and that people like it, I didn’t believe her. So she sent me links to different things like the LBD and another show or two, which I finally watched an episode of after we wrapping the production on two episodes. So it’s definitely a foreign format for me but I just accepted it, embraced the limitations, and we keep trying to come up with new and creative ways to keep things alive and interesting…
Kate: Yeah, all the goofy text gags and the little silly things that we have? It was Josh’s idea to put them in and I really like them because it gives a sort-of…wink…and there’s a hidden layer to that. There’s also editing, so it’s not just performing in the moment but the characters then take the footage and edit it and put their little stamp on it afterwards, which is a cool way to make it less static or visually boring, which is always a struggle.
Josh: It also gives us a chance to redeem jokes or moments that didn’t land perfectly on set, or embellish the moments.
Chris: I never really vlogged and it was not something I was very familiar with. Before Classic Alice, I’d heard of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. But I guess in terms of webseries, about ten years or so ago I started watching videos on Rooster Teeth, like Red vs Blue, and that was my introduction to the web world of scripted content.
Elise: I like watching vlogs…
- So how did Valeton come into existence? Also, please explain “Top Aces!”
Kate: Valeton is an Ivy-league college that’s a combination of Yale and Princeton. On the first day of set, someone said that we should have a mascot and someone else said that we should be the Ocelots,which would be the most ridiculous and pretentious animal we could think of (although Tony wanted us to be ‘the Fighting Crickets’).
As for “Top Aces,” I think we were shooting the third episode where Alice is talking about how the guilt is overriding her and she is writing an email to her law student friend, and at some point the line just flew out of my head and I said “Top Aces!” and we cut, but it just stuck. I think I was trying to say something like “You’re aces!” or “Top of the world!” but they just squashed together and became this idiocy…
Tony: Or this brilliancy, that is “Top Aces!”
- Okay. Let’s talk about your characters then!
Elise: I really like Cara. I feel like she’s a good mix of getting where people come from but just assuming that they’ll figure it out. She had no idea what was going on at first but now she’s participating more and in Book 2, she and Alice have bonded. Cara kind of dances to the beat of her own drum and she’s the popular girl but she’s also one of those rare people who honestly doesn’t worry about what people think which makes her cooler.
Kate: She (Cara) is also a math major so she sees things that are ahead. She understands where things are going; she’s already there and she waits for everyone else to get it, but she’s cool about it although some people can be impatient. She’s also quietly entertained by the drama going around her.
Tony: As far as Andrew, when Kate was first telling me about his character, she told me that he was a prototype of the character of Jeff from Community. So Andrew is a rich, smug kid who has pretty much gotten anything he’s wanted…but he hates it and he wants to make something of his own, which is why this documentary is so important to him. And it so happens that he’s in love with the person in front of the camera. With Andrew, it’s kind of a love story and he’s using everything that he possibly can to get his feelings out there (without actually saying anything).
Chris: My character? Well, playing Ewan was interesting. We talked about a bunch of different ways we could create a socially awkward character who is nerdy and things like that but no matter what, I wanted to make sure that we weren’t making fun of people like that. Of course, the part of the plot is that he’s going to change but we discussed about ways to carry through the core of the character, the person that he is deep down, as his appearance changes.
Kate: I think if you watch closely, and once the change happens, you’ll be able to see how it all leads up (but I don’t want to give anything away right now).
Chris: Some of it is really subtle, actually. I’ve been drawing web-comics for five years now and Kate asked me whether I could draw some for Ewan’s character so I hid some of those things in the comics sometimes. So once Ewan’s transformation happens, you can even go back to the transmedia stuff and the vlog entries and tweets and you’ll be able to see the seed of the future. One of my favorite things about playing Ewan, however, is that his character is a little nerdy but not unbecoming. Everyone’s been in a position in their lives when they’ve felt out of place and haven’t had as many friends as they’d like and needed just somebody to hold their hand and show them how to do things. I wished that when I had just gotten out of college, someone had just told me what to do. I mean, so many of Ewan’s lines have come up just because I’ve improvised them because I’m like the character. We’re all big nerds and dorks here.
Kate: And I don’t even know what to talk about Alice. I don’t relate with her. She’s so different and she’s very dorky, but very invested in succeeding academically, which is very unlike me.
Chris: Wait, didn’t you (Kate) graduate college when you were 19?!
Tony: Yeah, like Chris said Kate was one of those people who graduated high school at 16 and finished college at 19. She’s always academically ahead of everyone and super book-smart. She’s been putting off going to Yale to keep making Classic Alice. But then Alice keeps wanting to do things the right way and by the book (literally, haha).
Kate: I think the story for her is how much do you let outside things come inside to your world, which is actually from a Charlotte Bronte novel that we have on our shelf in every episode, and if you watch very closely, you’ll be able to tell what we’re actually doing!
Tony: Alice is someone you want to root for. You want to see her grow from her experiences…
Chris: Because it’s hard to have experiences out of things that you do from day to day.
Kate: She’s kinda neurotic and a little uptight, and she changes but doesn’t lose herself.
- Next question. Kate mentioned in one of your interviews that one of the goals of Classic Alice is to enforce positive role models and encourage reading. Do you think that’s working?
Kate: I don’t know…it’s rather difficult to gauge. The show is designed into each book according to how many weeks it should take someone, who has a job or even kids, to read along with Alice as we’re filming. In theory, people are reading the books with us but I don’t know whether it’s happening. However, I’ve noticed with this new book (probably because we have a bigger viewership) that people don’t think ‘My Fair Lady’ is an accurate retelling of the Pygmalion.
Tony: But we’re also asking people to read a classic novel which is sometimes the opposite of watching this.
Kate: I think people can do both. They can watch the show and read along, and it would be great if it encourages reading. What I really hope happens is that some middle-schoolers decide to only watch our show and not read the book, because that would be hilarious. They would do so poorly on their tests! (And then they’ll probably learn to actually read.)
Elise: I always loved reading but what I actually love about the show is that there are two strong female characters who aren’t constantly worried about who they’re going to date or what they’ll going to wear. They’re a lot more relatable and more real.It’s an interesting story about a smart girl who has bigger problems than that and I don’t think we have enough of those out there. Also, I like the idea of having a girl who isn’t always confident enough to go up to someone and say “I like you,” because although that happens a lot in movies, it’s very different in real life.
Kate: Our show obviously doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test because we’ve got a “dude” in pretty much every scene, but Alice isn’t beholden to him in a romantic way and she doesn’t need him like that. I was really conscious about the test, but then, men will always be around. Women just shouldn’t be there to serve their story solely; everyone should be playing off of each other’s character.
Tony: And going back to the reading topic, if you’re reading the book along with us, you’ll catch the inside jokes and all the literary references we make…so don’t just watch it for the pretty girl.
- Great! Now let’s talk Kickstarter! Why did you decide to do crowd-funding? Did it work out well?
Kate: We did crowd-funding because we’re poor! (*laughs*) But actually, that was always the plan. We did the first six (episodes) just to see how they’d do and then turned to crowd-funding to see if we could keep going. That way they could be standalone and that would’ve been the end of the show, or it could keep going.
So we started the Kickstarter and it was not at all successful during the last week. Actually, it started okay but statistically, if you don’t make a third of what you’re asking for in the first 24 hours, then you’re not going to make it…we did not. So I kind of geared up and did tons of interviews, and appearances…I was everywhere. And it was SAT/ AP season (I tutor), plus this whole crowd-funding thing, and we were still doing the show and we were still shooting and editing, so it was a long and very busy process, but the last week, it finally all came together.
Tony: Well, let’s be honest. That last week, Kate had thrown in the towel and she just looked at me so I said, “How about you film me in the bathroom?”
(*Skype suddenly freezes* Elise: Your arrogance froze the camera!)
Kate: Hahaha. But yeah, to be more serious, I guess the fans finally found us…and the Lizzie Bennet fans found us.
Elise: I also started tweeting at every hashtag I could think of. I tweeted at all girl who read, anyone who likes reading…the works. I stalked pretty much every community I could find there; schools,women in film, stuff like that…anybody I could think of who’s be interested in the project and who hadn’t had the opportunity to see it yet. From that, we had fans pick it up and start campaigning for us, which was really cool because we all like it and get something out of it but having people like it so much that they give their time to help us be able to do that? That was really awesome. And in a week, we raised all the money.
Tony: It was a two-fold victory in that way because we raised all the money but the community was also being built because of the Kickstarter campaign. I mean, to see that support come…in that last week…from out of nowhere was a great feeling.
Josh: There would be no show without the Kickstarter, definitely. It paid for the new show.
Elise: The thing about Kickstarter is that people have a sense of ownership and it helps build a fanbase.
Kate: On the flip-side, though, as the writer, I keep thinking that “I hope they like this” because with their sense of ownership, people feel like you owe them, which you completely do, but artistry is a weird line, but there are so many people that you’re trying to please… But I’m glad we did it and we got the funding but it was a long and arduous process.
*Chris distracts us for a few moments by digitizing his face into a giant teddy bear, a cowboy, and a bunch of other things*
- Is there anything that is new with Classic Alice now?
Kate: We actually have an announcement! Starting on Friday, August 29, we’re pushing a podcast. It’s Cara new podcast and it hooks into the show, so it’s her side of the story. It’s her introducing music that she feels reflects what’s going on in the show and her world.
Elise: Yes! It worked out really well. We were on set and since Cara is really into music and uses it as her outlet, I kept making nerdy jokes about standing with a boombox and playing some music to say what’s going on in the scene and set the mood for the characters when Kate just said, “Yeah, we’re having a podcast. I’ve already thought of that.” It’s a really fun thing, and it keeps up the idea that this world is real and it’s really happening in real time. It’s also a really modern way of telling the story, which is really neat.
Kate: The other thing that’s really cool is that…Lizzie Bennett did not do it! Lizzie hasn’t done it, and Emma hasn’t either, so we’re the first one who’re adding this to the arena. Plus, music is a huge part of my life and it’s nice to bring it in because it’s been very book-heavy lately (although, books are still a huge part of my life). So having Cara spearhead is that is cool. We’ve noticed our audience, too, like having discussions about music and like listening to music, so hopefully they’ll participate and introduce her/ us to new stuff and we will, too.
We’ve got 10 of those recorded for now and we’re going to see if Cara gets to continue them after the first 10. If she doesn’t, we’ll write that in and you’ll get to see how that unfolds…
- So, are we going to hear you (Kate) sing?
Kate: Yes, at some point.
Josh: Let’s just say they’ll get more than they’re expecting.
*Chris now has little animated stars circling his head and he cannot turn them off, Kate’s cat joins the interview, and Tony thinks that his biggest fear is being reduced to being “that guy who keeps taking his shirt off” in the show*
- Alright then. Bonus question: what is everyone’s biggest fear? Let’s talk personal, then about your characters!
Tony: My biggest personal fear is being out in the ocean, and drowning, and being eating by sharks. Andrew’s biggest fear is…not being able to tell Alice how he feels.
Kate: I thought his biggest fear was being known as a “Pritchard,” known only for his family.
Josh: But those things are connected, because it’s about his insecurity about being him and his unworthiness.
Elise: I think Cara’s biggest fear is being put in a box and not going to be able to get out (that’s going to make a lot of sense in 3 months!) Personally, my biggest fear is not being able to find out what is right or not, like career-wise and other ways too.
Chris: My biggest fear is losing my memory. I’ve had some severe concussions, so I’m very insecure about it. I’ve blacked out for a few seconds and woke up and didn’t remember anything. So that’s my biggest fear…because what are you, if not for your memories? Ewan’s biggest fear is that he’ll actually become invisible, literally.
Josh: There’s always the same thing as Elise, about not knowing what the future holds, but I also have another fear. Say, sometime in the future, we’re all relatively famous and people know who we are and in the past, while doing an interview for a web-series with about 5000 followers, I told people what my deepest fear is, and then 13 years later, a boxfull of whatever my biggest fear is arrives as my doorstep. That’s a neurosis, I guess.
Kate: Alice’s biggest fear is realizing that she doesn’t actually want to be a writer, because she’s already put so much into it. My biggest fear is…butterflies. But if I’m being deep, I guess I’m afraid of failing, especially at something I’ve tried really hard to do. I’ve had a large failure once and it sucked,so I’d rather not again. Now your turn, you have to play too.
*I try to get out of it, they don’t let me*
Ananya: Okay. Funnily enough, my fear is the same as Alice’s!
- Lastly…what advice would you like to give to your fans out there, and to all the young people who want to make something of their own, be it a YouTube series or
Chris: Don’t wait for the the timing to be perfect to make something, just start making it because the timing will always be not quite right in some way or the other. So if there’s something you want to create, just start doing it.
Elise: I’d also like to say, don’t make something because you think that other people will like it. We’re living in an age where people can connect even if they can never really meet, so if you want to make a series or something, you’ll be able to find an audience for it. So work on something that you really want to do because it’ll be easier to follow it through, because a) it’s a difficult thing to do, and b) you’ll always be able to find an audience for it.
Josh: I think, since we learned a lot of things from the Kickstarter project, if you’re trying to do something with a budget, crowd-funding has to be done very thoughtfully and carefully. You can’t just put in online and hope that people will discover it or click on it; you’ll need to have a very specific plan about how to target it, how to secure funding if it falls through, how to set up rewards…like, physical funds are really difficult to fulfill and are expensive.
Tony: I’m going to have to reiterate what Chris said, because that’s something I do personally…trying to wait to do something until the timing is right. But you need to try and understand that the “perfect timing does not understand, so try to create something you’re passionate about, don’t do it for anything else other than you because at the end of the day, it’s gonna fall on you and if you’ll burn yourself out doing it.
Kate: What I would say, first of all to our fans, is thank you. Obviously, our show is crowd-funded so we would not exist without you. As for your own work, if you’re running it, you’re going to have to do it. And of course, what everything everyone else said is for sure. Learn how to write people, people talk and act a certain way and you want to make sure you’re giving your actor something good to work with…but then, don’t be afraid that they’ll change it. When you’re writing a movie or a show, it’s different from writing a novel. With a book, nobody sees it and nobody touches it, but when you’re making a show, you have ten actors contributing their voice, you have the director, the D.P., the editor…things change in the editing room. But you can change the pace and tone of the show with the editor, so you have to be adaptable but you also need to know when to stand your ground. Learning to communicate is very important, and so is listening.
Ananya Shrestha, on behalf of Geek Insider thanks Kate, Tony, Josh, Chris, and Elise for their time, and recommends everyone reading this post to go check out Classic Alice right now! The episodes air every Tuesday and Thursday at 9am PST and new podcasts go live at 9am PST every Friday. Go ahead peeps, get your geek on!