Trying to Look Pro
I was having a beer with a friend of mine this week and we were talking about the realities of YouTube. This guy has been in the game longer than Craig, had one of the first featured channels, but never hit the sweet spot where the channel blew up. We were talking about trying to overcome the mindset where having a few thousand views on something isn’t enough to motivate you to keep going. A FEW THOUSAND PEOPLE watching your work doesn’t feel like anything. Like me, he’s a film festival guy. He’s made shorts for years and got them into a bunch of festivals, but when a web series he made started tapping out at around 3,000 views per episode, he shut it down. The craziness of it all is that if you have a real life screening and 50 people show up you feel like you’ve just won a pushups competition in front of the cheerleading squad. It’s crazy. 3,000 people would have to stand in the aisles and start piling on top of each other to watch something in pretty much any theater. But since we know what’s possible–channels with 8 million subscribers and a viral video every time they upload–we get stuck in a draining mental cycle of stats and analytics. It’s like we’re suddenly trying to make numbers instead of movies. My buddy put it perfectly, “Why am I working so hard to make something with high production value when Jenna Marbles gets 15 million views for putting on her makeup in front of a webcam?” That’s the head space of trying to make something of quality on YouTube. I’m constantly reminding myself how amazing it is that you PoPS watchers actually show up to watch our show. I’m more grateful for every one person that watches all the way through the episode than if 10 million people clicked an episode part long enough to register a view before navigating away. The reality of it is that I was making these videos when my primary screening room was my parents’ living room for a captive audience of two people. And let me tell you, Mom and Dad are a pretty stacked deck in terms of audience reception. I’d probably still be making them for the same audience today, but I hit the jackpot and you guys showed up. Amazing.
As to the quality conundrum, many many many viewers on YouTube don’t care about the visual quality of your videos if they’re into the concept, the people, or the story your telling. For real. Part of the draw is the discovery factor. Part of the draw is that you’re NOT TV. You’re SOMETHING ELSE, something new. And the larger scale and more epic you try and make your little project look, the cheaper it’s actually going to appear. Because you can’t really do scale with no money. It’s practically impossible. Look at The Avengers. Huge movie. One of the biggest scale pictures of last year. Looks great. Now look at the city set piece scenes in Doctor Horrible, same amazing writer/director on a web budget. They still look good, fine cinematography, great acting, great writing, but the streets feel conspicuously empty, and there aren’t enough cars parked at the curb. It’s like this subconscious pull against your concentration. The surroundings feel too empty, too cheap, it destroys the reality of those scenes. Contrast that to the laundry mat scenes in Doctor Horrible. Populated to a realistic proportion. Even if it was empty that would be fine because we’ve all been in an empty laundry mat; it wouldn’t pull against our internal reality meter. I’ve never been on an empty city street. Well, I have, but never in broad daylight. We can’t compete with the bigs in terms of scale. We don’t have the means. We can take them in a smaller room though. You can do characters and conflict in a closet if you have to. In fact, that might be a pretty good hook. I can imagine being confined to a closet would cause conflict between any two personalities. And I’m talking literally here, guys. No closet metaphors. Although you could play it that way too to a very interesting effect. But I digress.
As I was thinking about all this stuff, I happened upon an interview on Ain’t It Cool with horror director Adrián García Bogliano and he said, “The problem is that film schools and technology have created a generation of directors too concerned with looking like pros, and the whole point of the non-Hollywood films we love of the ’70s and ’80s because they were pushing the limits in terms of content. They looked rough and they were taking risks all the time. And now we get to see B movies that try to recreate that ’80s feeling, but everything looks so fake and self aware that it’s simply boring, like they are trying to sell nostalgia, and they’re trying to wink at the audience constantly, and it’s frustrating.” That just nailed it for me. I have to try to remember that.
But while I’m still thinking about how cool our audience is, this one dude sent this our way. He used his time and talents to create a fan outro for PoPS:
How cool is that?
Thanks for reading, guys.