It turns out the people behind the wildly popular website lonelygirl15 are not studio executives, Internet moguls or, as some suspected, Satanists. Instead, they are aspiring filmmakers who met at a mutual friend’s birthday party in April: Miles Beckett, 28, a Web-obsessed medical school dropout; Mesh Flinders, 26, a screenwriter; and Greg Goodfried, a 27-year-old lawyer.
The lonelygirl15 story unfolded in a series of confessional video blogs, supposedly made by a home-schooled girl named Bree, Since June, viewers have questioned whether Bree and her friend Daniel, who also appeared in the videos, were real people or part of some larger project or promotional scheme. An ominous hint of a satanic plotline to come suggested a horror film in the making.
In their first interview with the media, the three video makers said they are amazed by the reaction to their creation, with audiences in the hundreds of thousands for each episode of their story, which was posted on websites such as YouTube.
“We did this with zero resources. Anybody could do what we did,” Flinders said Tuesday. The sum total of the equipment they used to create a sensation on the Internet, as well as perhaps the web’s biggest homegrown mystery: “Two desk lamps (one broken), an open window and a $130 camera.”
Goodfried said Creative Artists Agency in Beverly Hills got involved about a month ago -- well into the lonelygirl15 story -- through a friend who works at the agency. “We went in there one afternoon. I walked around the place, and met some cool young guys that got the idea and said they would help us,” he said.
A Creative Artists Agency spokesman said Tuesday that the filmmakers are now agency clients.
The lonelygirl15 story began early this year, when Beckett hatched the idea of creating a mystery story online, one that could roll out small mock-confessional bites in real time.
“Our goal was to tell a very realistic fictional story in this medium,” Beckett said. He dreamed of using the various technologies of the Web, from comment boards to social networking sites, to both build a rich identity for a character and to let fans influence the story’s direction.
In April, at a karaoke-bar birthday party, Beckett met Flinders, who had been struggling in Hollywood as an assistant in the entertainment industry and a maker of short films. Flinders’ recent screenwriting efforts had been focused on a recurring character, a shy but precocious teenage girl. “It was like I had found my creative mate,” Flinders said of Beckett. “We spent the entire night talking about the idea, the next day we talked on the phone, and the day after that.” The pair then joined forces with Goodfried, who supplied the know-how to make the shoot happen.
Through a friend who was a casting director, they quickly met with potential actors, using a borrowed room at the offices of the Independent Feature Project to shoot the auditions.
The filmmakers declined to identify the actress who played Bree. However, various websites Tuesday identified her as Jessica Rose, a 19-year-old New Zealand native who attends acting school in Los Angeles. Rose could not be reached for comment.
The videos were shot on a shoestring budget in the bedroom of a home “in the greater Los Angeles area,” Goodfried said. Contrary to Internet speculation that the videos were all shot at once and rolled out in dribs and drabs, the team revealed that each installment was filmed only after the previous one had been posted.
The intent was to allow fan response posted in the comment section of lonelygirl15’s YouTube and MySpace pages to determine the direction of each subsequent episode.
As an example of the fans’ influence over the story line, what the team calls “collaborative storytelling,” they pointed to an episode in which Daniel reveals his romantic feelings to Bree. “In the ‘Hiking’ video,” Beckett said, “where Daniel filmed her, there were a ton of comments saying, ‘Daniel likes you. It’s obvious that the cameraman was completely in love with you.’ We saw the comments and said this is the perfect opportunity to address this.”
But as the mystery unfolded on computer screens, fans who became obsessed with the series took the investigation in a direction the filmmakers had not expected, searching for their identities and the true nature of the production. Having decided to remain anonymous, they found themselves unprepared.
“Our hats are off to the really impressive investigators,” said Goodfried, who found himself on the hot seat when the news swept the Internet that an application for a trademark on the lonelygirl15 name had been filed by his father, Kenneth Goodfried, an Encino lawyer. “We really didn’t know what to do,” Greg Goodfried said.
As to where the story is going now that the veil of secrecy has been lifted, the team said the story of lonelygirl15 will continue, with the hope that the focus can now return to the on-screen mystery. They would not comment on whether the lonelygirl15 saga might someday leap to other media.
As for the efforts to conceal the actress’ identity, the team said they took precautions such as removing pictures of the actress from MySpace and the Internet. But throughout the furor, they said, she has been living openly in Los Angeles.
“There is no place better to hide then right in the middle of L.A.,” Goodfried said. “Everyone is so focused on themselves that I guess they don’t even notice.”