HOLLYWOOD — A Rose by any other name ...
To millions of fans across the globe, she's Bree, a rebellious and often-naive teenage girl who has become an Internet sensation, starring in a series of YouTube video blogs under the handle "lonelygirl15." But as it was revealed this week, Bree isn't really Bree at all — she's Jessica Rose, a 19-year-old actress struggling to make her way in Los Angeles.
(Watch Jessica Rose tell the truth about Bree in this video interview.)
"She's quirky, she's fun — she's naive and sweet," Rose beamed about her character. "She is somebody who everybody can relate to in some way. She's the Everygirl. She's just somebody you would love to meet and be friends with."
To Miles Beckett, Ramesh Flinders and Greg Goodfried, the men behind the groundbreaking series of frequently forwarded video clips, Bree is more than just a friend — she's the epicenter of a new form of collaborative online entertainment.
"It was our idea from the beginning for a story [to be] told in these short episodes with a video blogger, but it was also to create a community in which audience members can interact with each other and be real participants in the show," Flinders revealed. "That's really what 'lonelygirl15' is — a place where people can come and upload video responses which makes them characters in the show."
|Lonelygirl15 Speaks Out
Jessica Rose says she isn't lonely at all and hasn't been getting hate mail. Watch our own video clip of the YouTube phenom.
"I never really thought so many people would care about my life," the New Zealand-born Rose confessed. "It's been insane. I've had so much attention given to me that I didn't expect. This is not what I'm used to doing in my daily life."
Due to the nature of the series, Rose was unable to reveal her true identity until recently. Creators thought — correctly — that fostering the illusion that Bree was real would lead to more fan support and participation; they said knowing about Rose was "not why people watch the show."
"The appeal of the show, partly, is that we've created a world," Flinders said. "Within that world there is 100 percent reality. For people to step out of that world and interact in the real world, it's just not appropriate. It's like watching 'Star Wars' and before the credits roll Luke Skywalker says, 'I'm not really Luke Skywalker, I'm Mark Hamill.' [Fans] want to believe in the characters."
All this secrecy meant Rose had to live more or less incognito. She compared her recent lifestyle since lonelygirl's debut to being "like Madonna" and revealed that she has had to spend the last few weeks in self-imposed "house arrest," just like her fictional character Bree.
"For the past three and a half months we've been filming this, Miles ... has been telling me, 'Pretend that you're Madonna.' He's like, 'Wear a hat, wear sunglasses.' In the beginning I was going out a lot more, but towards the end it was too much of a hassle. I was worried I was going to be the one that ruined the project."
For the aspiring actress, her newfound attention has been all the more coincidental because of her initial reservations about appearing on the show.
"The project was pitched to me as being an Internet story. I was hesitant because [I thought], 'This is weird, this is the Internet. Who's going to watch this?' " Rose admitted. "I just graduated from acting school and my teachers were like, 'Just be careful. People are going to make things sound wonderful to you, and they're really not.' I didn't realize how big the Internet really was."
Just as the creators had hoped, that vast space has been filled with an emerging community dedicated to lonelygirl15. Rose says she's received copious feedback from across cyberspace.
"I've had so many positive e-mails sent to me. People were concerned that I was going to be getting hate mail, which I haven't," she said. "All of their e-mails are like, 'I'm sorry for all the hate mail that you must be getting.' And I'm like, 'I'm not. There's none.' I've had so many positive and lovely messages, so it's been really nice."
While lonelygirl15 gained fame on YouTube, she now has her own home at LonelyGirl15.com. The site gives fans the opportunity to contribute to the world of the character, communicate directly with the creators and post their own video clips. Flinders said the episodes were conceived, written and shot individually — as opposed to shooting a cluster of videos at once — so the group could respond to viewer feedback in each blog. He points to the relationship between Bree and Daniel (Yousef Abu-Taleb) as an example of where audience input changed the course of the series.
"We did a video that was from [Daniel's] point of view, filming her on a hike," Flinders commented. "After the video, just from the way it was shot, all the fans wrote in and said, 'It's clear. He's 100 percent in love with you.' If people want to take this in that direction, we need to address this. So the next video she looked in the camera and said, 'You're right. He really does like me. I asked him if he liked me and this is what he said.' That was not our idea — that was [all] the fans."
Rose says viewers having real input into a show is exactly what they've always wanted.
"It's like when you're watching a movie and you want to tell someone that there's somebody behind them — now you have your chance to say that, to tell that person, 'Hey, you should do this, you shouldn't do that,' " she said.
The creators hope the Web site blossoms into a lucrative franchise that would keep the lonelygirl15 fanbase hooked on submitting and viewing clips, fueling message boards and beyond. Industry experts have speculated that lonelygirl15 is a setup for a possible movie project, especially since the three creators have all recently signed with Beverly Hills, California's Creative Artists Agency.
If it is a movie that the creators have in mind, they're being remarkably coy about it. But, then, being coy is part of what made "lonelygirl15" such a phenomenon in the first place.
"Right now we want to focus 100 percent of our efforts on making this the best Internet show of its kind, and really the only Internet show of its kind," Flinders asserted. "And that is where our vision is for the future and for the present."
[This story originally published at 4:10 pm ET on 09.14.2006]