Is the Future YouTube? - Complications Ensue
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Friday, July 27, 2012

I've been going to the Just for Laughs Comedy Conference the past few days. I dropped in on an interesting little panel discussion called "Are YouTube Celebs The Future of Comedy?" They had EpicLLOYD of "Epic Rap Battles of History," which my stepson adores; Grace Helbig of Daily Grace; Shane Dawson, and the head of programming for YouTube, Ben Relles.

It immediately struck me how young some of these cats are. Shane Dawson is 24; he got picked up as a YouTube partner at 18. Grace Helbig is 27. If I wrote my notes down correctly, he had been making videos for a while before that. Wikipedia says "Dawson's career began when he and several friends would turn in videos instead of homework in high school. Dawson's first videos on YouTube were old assignments that he turned in during high school."

The point here is that there is a whole generation of kids coming up for whom video making is as natural as writing. Steven Spielberg made a lot of 8mm movies when he was a kid, but that was pretty rare. 8mm was a horrible pain in the ass to edit (the film is literally 8mm wide), and building a soundtrack is -- well, I don't even know how you would do that. These days everyone is making videos. My stepson had a couple of high school assignments where he was required to make a video. Because obviously everyone has a video camera and an editing program on their computer.

The old barriers to entry for video have dropped off the map. Anyone can shoot video on your phone, edit on your computer and throw it up on YouTube.

The new barrier to entry is just that YouTubers apparently upload as much content every 72 hours as has appeared on all the networks, ever. But it's hard to imagine a more merit-based world. Every video has a chance to go viral.

One takeaway I have is that if you are just starting out, you must get out there with your camera and shoot a bunch of videos. I think more and more, people are going to get hired based on what they shot rather than what they wrote. I am not a fan of the auteur theory. (I don't actually know any professional writers who are.) I think the collaboration between producer, director and writer can take a creation far beyond what any one of them could create. But this is what is happening now.

I was struck by a conversation I had last night with a sound designer friend of mine. We were talking about the Quebec student protests, and their failure to communicate what they want. There are a few videos of marches, and lots of videos of cops misbehaving. But where is the equivalent of the hilarious Culture in Peril spot from the last election. Where are the clever, viral spots that will convince people who don't already agree with them that education should be free?

I struggle a bit with this model. I'm used to a bigger production. We made my own viral teen vampire sex comedy, YOU ARE SO UNDEAD, with a $20,000 budget and a RED camera; my amazing producers at Cirrus, Anton Cozzolino and Melissa Pietracupa, probably brought in another $80,000 in favors. We had three days of color correct for the effect where Mary Margaret drains Jo of blood and she turns pale. I probably wouldn't consider shooting something without union actors unless I was drunk.

But that means I'm making one short a year, and fighting to put together a feature, and these guys are making one a week.

I don't know if YouTube celebs are the future of comedy. They are certainly a growing part of the present of comedy. They will tend to squeeze out some of the long-form higher-budget comedies, but probably only the really crappy ones. There will always, I think, be room for another BRIDESMAIDS. There are just too many stories that demand extras and things that go "boom."

But there's a lot of room for viral videos. Maybe some of them will be yours!

UPDATE: Incidentally, YouTube has a lot of information on how to make a good video.

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3 Comments:

What's the old adage? "If you want to get good in comedy you have to play the catskills... "

Meaning - if you want to get good you have to do it over and over and over again. You have to gain confidence, find your voice, pay your dues, get the feedback...

That is Youtube. This is why I advocate people make small movies and lots of them. I have no doubt you could do a small film, Alex.

You just have to get over the idea that you have to pay for everything... Or that there's only one way to get a shot... Or that you have to use professional actors...

When you don't have money you suddenly shed all of those barriers, and start thinking creatively, differently from the way you used to thinking. You can shoot a shot from the top of a ladder, you don't need a jimmy-jib and a grip to run it. You can shoot a scene with an interesting, narratively-potent, dangerous object in the foreground that the actors move closer and closer to, all the while the audience never realizing it's there to cover the fact you don't have a set on that side of the camera frame.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 9:34 PM  

My brother recently became something of a YouTube celebrity with his own viral video. And, familial pride notwithstanding, I have to say it was well deserved. This kid, ten years behind me, has been wowing me for decades now. At 11 and 12 years old he was reading all the books I brought home from film school. He'd play for hours with the family video camera (whereas I came out of that pain-in-the-ass super-8 mm school!) In high-school he created a kind of homage/spoof of "Taxi Driver" which blew me away. He'd been ready for YouTube at least a decade before anyone had even thought of a YouTube. In some ways it makes me feel like a dinosaur ... content to push my talents as a writer rather than try to break into directing. But realistically, I can look at my brother and see talent and passions that I don't really have, and I made the choice to focus on where my own passion and talents lie. But it does make me wonder where and how the writer will fit into this upcoming media model.

By Blogger JoshM, at 10:22 PM  

Pretty much what Cunningham said.

You have to adapt your model to the medium and not the other way around -- but you know that, you write TV :p.

YouTube is most effective when you put a up 1-3 minute short every week.

It's less about a show, or storytelling, and more about consistency. It's kinda the modern day equivalent of the variety show.

By Blogger James, at 11:47 PM  

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