This is turning into something of a Golden Age for fans of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu‘s vampire masterpiece Carmilla. Really! The last film adaptation was in 1990, but now not one but two new film versions are on the film festival circuit right now. Live theatre versions have popped up in Chicago and Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Now we have a web series, one set in the modern day and with the lovely conceit of it all taking place in front of a web cam. I got to interview one of the makers of the show, which builds nicely on the trope of lesbian vampires by building the kind subtexty tension fans saw in shows like Xena and Once Upon A Time. Steph Ouaknine, producer of the Carmilla Web Series, kindly answered my questions:
In general, how this this production come to be? Whose idea was it? What inspired the creators? And how close is the actual web series to what was initially envisioned?
At Smokebomb and shift2, we wanted to tell a transmedia story spawning multiple episodes, meshing a modern twist on a classic novella with the vlog style YouTube form. Carmilla was the perfect source text to try this, as it hits multiple audiences we wanted to reach, hadn’t been done in a serialized way, and had an existing base of fans. Ellen (@anamatics) mentioned the novella on twitter, and then joined the team to develop the season with our lead writer, playwright Jordan Hall. We’ve followed the scripts pretty closely, save for some on-set notes and edits in post.
Had you worked with any members of the cast or crew before, and how did that impact your planning? What did any newcommers bring to the table?
We had not. Smokebomb had been in discussion with both Jordan and Ellen to pen other series, but this is the first time we’ve worked with them to produce a show. It was also our first non-union production and we’re thrilled to have nabbed such an excellent cast. A lot of them actually auditioned for different roles, but we saw they were versatile and charismatic actors we wanted in our series. Spencer Maybee, who directed the 36 episodes, put an obscene amount of effort into it. Since we were so attached to Jordan’s scripts and her and Ellen’s reimagining of the novella, we all put in 110% and I think the passion shows on camera.
This series has what seems to me a huge number of injokes, from “Silas University” to many of the names. Would I be right in thinking someone is a big fan of LeFanu and/or Carmilla from long before this production began to come together?
Hah! You’re correct. Le Fanu pushed a lot of boundaries for his time – and while many of his tropes were problematic, I think we subverted them cheekily and had a lot of fun with his world. Nice catch, by the by – the name for the university is indeed pulled from Le Fanu’s other seminal work, Uncle Silas. That said, I’d say over 70% of our fandom had never heard of the series. They came for the Buffy meets Nightvale tone!
Initially I was expecting a closure, as if this were an adaptation of just the novella. Now I understand it will have a second season? Why did you decide to go in that direction and how did you go about expanding LeFanu’s story in this way?
If you’re past episode 20, you’ll see this is not exactly an adaptation – but I don’t want to spoil you! It was our intention from the start to build a transmedia storyworld that could span multiple seasons. Jordan and Ellen have been fantastic in making that happen. If you want more on the series’ story structure and their process, I’d point you towards their podcast. It’s super informative! We’re hoping to secure a second season.
What are the “rules” for vampires in this series? Or have you nailed those down very much yet?
The interesting thing about this series is that we pull from vampire lore that predates Dracula – no bats, etc. – and Carmilla was actually one of the first vampires to transform into an animal. We adhere to most of Le Fanu’s canon but make up some new rules of our own. This is Silas, after all…it’s a weird place.
Is it at all likely you’ll pull a Penny Dreadful and start bringing in other characters or situations inspired by other pieces of gothic literature?
We’re pulling from more Le Fanu lore right now, but who knows where season two will bring us? It’s so fun to subvert literary canon to tell a modern story.
How have you reacted to the fan response?
We absolutely, absolutely love it – we have been in fandom for a long, long time, and we enjoy playing in that sandbox immensely. It’s surreal how big it’s gotten!
Here is the trailer for the web series, which can be found on YouTube.