A YouTuber’s Place

This entry is a short meditation on the YouTubers place in the traditional industry. There are some great short films being made on YouTube, and the attitudes of the general public might slowly be changing but the industry still looks at popular channels on YouTube less as content creators than as part of the the marketing machine. It started a couple years ago, Pixar and Fox started flying YouTubers out for early screenings and interviews with department heads to broadcast on their channel. Or you’d see them standing red carpet-adjacent at premieres, maybe talking to stars (not usually), maybe just commenting on the excitement and spectacle of the event. Either way, the gist of the thing was grabbing people who had a lot of subscribers and getting them to talk about your movie on their channel. YouTubers aren’t filmmakers or video makers. They’re personalities. Talking heads, good for presenting the money-makers. The film industry sees popular YouTubers as the Ryan Seacrests of the internet.

A year ago, last January, I did a post about the breakouts. The guys who made YouTube shorts and than parlayed them into big industry gigs. The guy who directed the Evil Dead remake and the guy who lined up directing an major film adaptation of Y: The Last Man with his Portal fan film. Those are like the ONLY things on their channels. I know the Portal dude participated in other internet’y endeavors, but I’m saying that people who’ve made a “home” on YouTube are seen as presenters, not filmmakers. The industry doesn’t much care about subscribers. They care about views. The Portal fan film hit 1 million views in the first day. That’ll get your attention. They like the shock and awe factor of a viral video. If it also seems like something you could see at a film festival, then you’re a filmmaker. A filmmaker with a inherent understanding of this new media thing. Very valuable. If it’s a parody video, a sketch, or a vlog, you’re an internet thing. The industry doesn’t need to worry about you.

Then there’s dudes like Olan Rogers and Freddie Wong. Olan is always talking about how he wants to direct movies. He makes these really great looking shorts and series, talented as hell, watch a couple seconds of this and you’ll see what I mean:

What job does he get? He’s interviewing filmmakers and reviewing movies for Fandango. See? Presenter. Because he’s got a ton of subscribers but his shorts and series don’t pop a million views in one day. Freddie Wong is a viral superstar. I talk about him all the time. His shorts are all VFX sketches though based on video games. Unlike the Portal one that Dan Tractenberg did, they don’t have a short film tonality, they have a sketch comedy tonality. I don’t know if Freddie has been turning down offers to make traditional movies because he’d rather keep full creative control online, or what. The closest I’ve seen him get to the industry is, once again, promoting Cowboys and Aliens. Sure, it’s a much cooler version of promoting a movie by doing one of their amazing VFX sketches, but it’s still YouTube as another stop on the marketing pre-release schedule. Check it:

Even cooler is the behind-the-scenes video of the making of it:

I’ve seen British YouTubers ending up on a lot of red carpets lately. That’s what got this on my mind again. I just want to keep reiterating that although an online audience is a blessing, it’s by no means a stepping stone to the traditional industry.

The conundrum of it too is that guys like me—36,000 subscribers, episode parts with over 100,000 views, and total of over 4,000,000 video views, a multi-festival award-winning web series—we’re nothing to the industry. I just don’t pull the numbers. Just another drop in the YouTube bucket. But then this average guy who has a location he dangles in front of me for our current shoot, wastes my time by making me drive out to his location before trying to extort me at five times the rate I told him we could give him in our correspondence because our reel looks like Hollywood to him.

We’re in the perfect storm of a middle ground. I look like a low-rent presenter to Hollywood, and like Hollywood to the guy who I need favors from.

Once again, you guys don’t need to get worried or try to console me. I just needed to vent a little bit. It’s just been a tough couple of weeks. Tonight I get to do some more editing on the current episode. That usually makes me feel better.

Thanks for reading, guys.

–Jake

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