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From e-book to e-series: Crowdfunding a lesbian story

“Television has been found guilty of murder in the first degree,” proclaims the Different for Girls website. And it’s true. On those rare occasions that a lesbian character makes an appearance on mainstream television, she is often quickly dispatched. So far this year, 12 lesbians have met their televisual demise, and while that might not seem like many, “given that in 2015, there were only 35 lesbian characters on primetime television in the US and the UK you can understand the fallout,” explains Jacquie Lawrence, author of the novel, Different for Girls.

Different for Girls was first published as an e-book in 2014, then as a paperback, and now, Lawrence has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to turn the novel into a 12-part web series. Given Lawrence’s background (former commissioning editor at Channel 4, where she co-commissioned the Emmy-nominated Celluloid Closet, and Sky One, where she won the channel’s first BAFTA for Ross Kemp on Gangs), you might expect her to go the more ‘traditional’ production route, so why didn’t she?

Lawrence tells me she originally tried the traditional publishing route for Different for Girls but was told “it ‘wasn’t what an audience was looking for’, which I read to be ‘too lesbian’.” Not put off so easily, Lawrence embraced the e-book revolution and published it herself via Amazon. “After six months it was in the top 50 in three different categories on Amazon.co.uk and was noticed by independent publisher, Zitebooks, who commissioned it as a paperback. It has since sold 11,000 copies. Not bad for a novel that wasn’t what an audience was looking for.”

Now the logical next step is for the internet to provide the platform to help fund the web series, and to eventually host it as well. And again, as Lawrence explains, this is because the online space was more open to the project than traditional routes: “I did go down the traditional broadcaster route but again, it was beholden to the tastes of a small group of people. So we decided to produce it ourselves and raise money from the potential audience. So in a sense, we chose Indiegogo for the sense of community. I wanted the potential audience to feel like they were part of something, however small the amount they donated.”

And the audience can indeed be a part of it if they want – some of the perks include walk-on parts, set visits, even invitations to the wrap party. Lawrence says reactions so far have been great, “It’s amazing how emotionally connected the contributors feel. People have been starved of lesbian drama, at least lesbian drama where lesbians don’t get killed or written out or left to whither on the vine of bad characterisation and bad storylines.”

But will the perks be enough to raise the money needed to make Different for Girls? A third of the budget had already been raised before the Indiegogo campaign started, Lawrence tells me, but they’re hoping backers will raise the rest. The campaign has a flexible goal, and Lawrence is prepared for a number of options: “Whatever we get we will add to the funds we already have and make the series accordingly. I have three versions of the script, with three different budgets. We are hoping we can make the highest end.”

And part of that ‘highest end’ includes drawing on talent “from the most talented lesbian, gay, bi and trans actresses and actors out there”. This is something that is “hugely important,” says Lawrence. “[It] was one of the motivating factors in my wanting to do this.”

Still, funding and creative benefits aside, why web only? “I know how difficult it is to choose one idea out of thousands for only one television slot and even then the process is agonisingly slow,” explains Lawrence.

“I heard one writer proudly proclaim that it only took four years from book to screen and I‘m not that patient I’m afraid. I began thinking about adapting the book at the beginning of this year and am confident it will be broadcast on the web before the end of the year. So we’ve been able to truncate the production process from years to months. I also wanted creative control over the ethnicity and age of the characters. It has been brilliant to be able to cast actors in their late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s to play sexy, sassy lesbians and gay men.” 

But a web series is very different to producing a series for Channel 4, as Lawrence has discovered, “The technology has progressed massively. It’s almost like having to learn a different language since the last time I produced anything.” And while producing the series in this way will allow more flexibility, there’s still hoops to jump through. “We are working within web production agreements, which didn’t exist when web production first started. It’s important not to exploit people just because it’s the web but it is new territory. If we license it to an established channel then we’ll be exposed to their red tape, and if we launch a channel ourselves, there’ll be a different set of parameters that we’ll have to work within.”

But Lawrence is also planning ahead – “I have bought the name ‘Lesbian Box Office’ so would be keen to see how that would play out as a channel in the future.” And that demonstrates the freedom that the internet has given to the LGBT+ community, providing a safe space online, and enabling authors to publish and producers to distribute their work via a medium that reaches the right audience.  

“You have those who produce their own content for free and those who produce for subscription channels like the marvellous Tello Fims, a sort of lesbian Netflix which commissions, licenses and produces lesbian drama and documentary. Then you have individuals or portals, like One More Lesbian, who curate existing material, mash it and transmit it with their own take on it. I can only talk about the lesbian content out there but the gay and trans content is just as fruitful. It also means that LGBT+ viewers can watch it globally. It can be seen in places where there is less freedom, equality and safety for LBGT+ viewers.”

And freedom, equality and safety for the LGBT+ community is an issue that’s getting a lot of media attention these days. We’ve covered the topic of bullying in the tech industry on numerous occasions, and more recently spoke with Avanade about the business case for LGBT+ inclusion, so has Lawrence herself experienced workplace discrimination?

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked for broadcasters and producers like C4 and World of Wonder (Ru Paul’s Drag Race etc.) whose mission statement was to commission and broadcast LBQT+ content… but I do remember one ‘right on’ boss telling me that no more lesbian or gay specific was needed because ‘we had won’, and this was before any marriage equality act. We will always be exposed to the risk of bullying until LBQT+ and female representation on screen and behind the camera is as prevalent as heteronormative representation.”

Which is what makes this series so important, and the journey of its production so interesting. Lawrence says she has wanted to makes the series “ever since a drama commissioner turned it down because ‘the audience can only cope with one lesbian drama series at a time’ (The L Word was airing at the time).” And now, thanks to the internet, it looks like it’s happening. Of course, there’s a lot of other people to thank as well, and Lawrence is quick to do so: “Thanks to the inspiration of other lesbian web drama producers and the incredible support structure provided by Campbell X, Felicity Milton and Jane Czyzselska and all the cast who have committed so far… but most of all the Indiegogo contributors; we are only one month away from filming.”

Personally I think the thanks should be going to Lawrence herself, because by putting the series online Lawrence is reaching out to lesbian and bi audiences everywhere, whether they’re in the ‘most gay-friendly country in Europe’, or in areas where falling in love could land you prison. And thanks to the global reach of the internet, now her ideas can be broadcast pretty well everywhere.

 

Back the Different for Girls Campaign here.

 

Also read:

InfoShot: Most LGBT friendly tech brands

InterTech: Taking pride in tech diversity

Meeting HER: The first lesbian community app

Netbiscuits CEO: I’m gay and this is why I’m being open about it

Tim Cook and the Inherent Decency of the Sector

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Infographic: The Future of eBooks

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eBooks: Multiple tiers of half-hearted luddites

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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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