I’ll have to admit off the bat, that I went into ‘The Classic Alice’ not so much with low expectations as much as I didn’t expect it to be for me. Evidence is mounting that I am not exactly the target demographic for the show, as creator Kate Hackett just tweeted me that her target demographic was women ages 13+.
That said, ‘The Classic Alice’ is an absolutely perfect web series. This is what works, this is how you do it. I’ll try not to gush.
First things first, this is a vlog style show, adapted from an original ‘mocumentary’ concept that was scrapped for budgetary reasons. That’s really the only reason why people make vlog style shows anyway… They are just so easy and efficient production wise.
Single camera set up.
Single light set up.
Just start shooting.
If anything I’m going to guess that the actors remembering all of their lines was the real bottle neck in production! Of course not! These guys are all pros… I’ll try not to gush about the acting.
I hate vlog style format, it’s sooo boring. It’s all this exposition, it’s bland visually, blah blah blah gross. Through some stroke of amazing talent ‘The Classic Alice’ is none of those. Let’s look and see why.
At it’s core, ‘The Classic Alice’ is essentially a group of 20 minute or so retellings of classic novels. Obviously, this show isn’t the first to adapt classic literature into vlog style web series, but this one is done with a new twist.
The structure of the show finds student filmmaker Andrew Prichard creating a documentary that follows his friend Alice Rackham as she lives her life according to the classic novel she is currently reading.
The first six episodes find Alice reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ which compels her into stealing a copy of an upcoming test from her professor’s office. This ‘crime’ leads to an awful lot of drama potentially including, wait for it… ‘punishment.’
The rest of the current set of 24 episodes follows Alice as she reads ‘Pygmalion,’ ‘The Butterfly,’ ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ and ‘The Wind In The Willows.’ There are more novels forthcoming.
The brilliance of the concept and its execution is what I find so impressive. These are all classic stories for a reason, and using them as a guide for a new story in a new format is a great way to, I don’t want to say guarantee a good plot, but really stack the deck in your favor.
What I also found interesting, is that while these ‘chapters’ follow specific novels, there is still a strong through line between the stories that is slowly starting to remind me of another classic novel – ‘Frankenstein.’ I don’t know how closely they’ll follow this story in the future, or even if the similarities are just coincidental, but it was fun reading into this show.
Another fear in the vlog world is in keeping things from getting too ‘exposition-y’ ie simply explaining to the audience everything that happened. This is easily the most difficult problem to resolve in the vlog world, and there is really nothing more you can do than damage control. With ‘The Classic Alice’ they diminish the problem in an assortment of ways.
The most effective method was clearly casting a seriously talented group of actors, most notably the creator herself Kate Hackett, whom I didn’t even realize played Alice until I went and double-checked it right now! Her natural energy and charisma on screen lends so much life into the story. She consistently nails that ‘OMG I just got home, you’ll never guess what just happened’ look.
Huge ‘props’ also go out to Tony Noto, Elise Cantu, and Chris O’Brien. There is so much dialogue, so many lines, so many opportunities for me as a viewer to be taken out of the story by a moment of inauthenticity that never occurs. Considering that the current number of episodes pushes the series beyond two hours, I’d have to wager that most of these actors have more lines than similar characters would in a feature film. Maintaining that believability and the necessary energy throughout such a significant time frame is amazing.
Secondly, maintaining visual interest in this format is difficult – almost as difficult as the exposition-y problem. So how do they do it?
Number one, they staged a lot of depth in the frame. There is plenty of room behind the actors and often characters get up, walk around, come in from outside. There is no reason to keep the characters seated at all times and the show feature a lot more dynamic blocking and stage direction than I would initially expect.
Two, they don’t always stick to the same angle. There are changes in location, there are different placements of the camera in different scenes and heck there is at least one tracking shot down a hall way.
And three, perhaps most importantly, PROPS (actual)! There is a good amount of effort put into production design here, especially compared with other areas that are trimmed down for efficiency. I particularly enjoyed the diorama of her professor’s office that is used to show exactly how Alice intends on stealing the test. Stuff like this is vital towards visualizing a story that is told mostly off camera. It also doesn’t hurt that the production uses social media accounts to augment the story in other areas.
Aside from the episodes ‘The Classic Alice’ YouTube channel features like a gazillion other videos, from out takes and bloopers, to character confessionals, teaser trailers and other random stuff – “Sock Puppet Theater” anyone? The amount of content is really impressive. Oh ya, there are even a ton of guest appearances from other YouTube creators. This is how you do a YouTube channel. I’ll try not to gush.
OK, OK, OK I know it’s time to wrap this up. I didn’t even get to mention how they’ve cultivated a fan base and pulled off a successful crowdfunding campaign all through social media. I think maybe I did just gush at some point. Either way, you are strongly urged to give ‘The Classic Alice’ a look, and you can do that by visiting their web page http://www.classic-alice.com