The Rabbit Hole That Is YouTube

As many of my recent posts have made clear I’ve been experimenting with new gear for filmmaking. Part of how I get started and learn about new gear is by watching videos on YouTube.

In these posts I often reference specific videos by people like Philip Bloom, who makes excellent, long-form reviews that seem targeted at people like myself. When I say people like myself I mean people who are interested in using the cameras/tools more for narrative or documentary filmmaking, rather than vlogging, wedding videos, real estate or corporate videos (and of course he makes reviews of products for those things also because… it’s the Internet).

I’m taking a moment to explain this in detail because I’ve widened my range when using YouTube and I am watching work by many different creators. Many of these people make their living from the videos they post on YouTube and it’s a very different approach and mindset.

It is this mindset that has interested me over the past day or so, in particular because of several videos I’ve watched. Today I watched the following video by Neumann Films

And this from Corridor Cast (which I think is the podcast for Corridor Crew) –

I watched the Neumann Films’ video because I am considering buying a new camera. Since the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6k was recently released I looked at reviews of the camera.

The video is less a review and more a commentary about why people keep chasing new camera gear. The message being about evaluating what you really need and why you should reconsider buying anything. At one point Luke Neumann says, “Are you really thinking about buying this camera to make cinema? Are you making cinema? I’m not making cinema. I’m making short films and videos and tutorials for the web. I’m making things people are watching on their phone.”

Which I think is an important point to make. It isn’t that these videos don’t have value, it’s that there is this ongoing idea (for myself and many other people I imagine) that when we buy our next camera it needs to be capable of making a feature film. That the purchase needs to satisfy our current needs and the pipe-dream needs as well. Despite the fact that most people buying these cameras have nothing in the works to make these dreams a reality (in an immediate and actionable sense).

The Corridor Cast’s video is specifically about how having a successful YouTube channel doesn’t matter all that much if you goal is to make cinema (movies that are shown in movie theaters or on a major streaming platform is how I am defining this). I think many people will watch these videos and feel disheartened. I know that looking at the comments of both people seem either depressed or annoyed that having a successful YouTube channel does not directly lead to Hollywood access and success.

Which, prior to watching this video, isn’t something I had thought much about. Many people who create content for YouTube don’t strike me as people aspiring to make big budget feature films. Perhaps that is my bias.

A few weeks ago I watched an interview between Ryan Connelly (FilmRiot) and David F. Sandberg. It is interesting to think about this interview now because David Sandberg made the leap from web content to Hollywood films with what I think was a moderately successful YouTube channel (it certainly is moderate for YouTube now, so I have to guess back then it was much less so).

So in this context (and reading the terrible comments of the FilmRiot video) it provides an interesting example of how people do utilize the web to get noticed and go on to have a film career (which is not news, several high profile “discoveries” have been made via the Internet and lauded as a reason to put content on the web). I really thought the difference of approach between Mr. Sandberg and Mr. Connelly regarding the web (YouTube in particular) was worth noting. As far as I can tell Mr. Sandberg was not relying on web content as his primary source of income. Therefore he didn’t have to  create weekly content in the way that a channel like FilmRiot does in order to amass subscribers and generate revenue.

What I find interesting, relating to my situation (and the point of this post), is that David Sandberg did not use the DIY gear and equipment that made his short films when went to Hollywood. In this interview he speaks at length at how different the process was and how he had to figure out how to make a film in a Hollywood way (while also confessing that he snuck off with the actors at one point and shot footage with his BMPCC – but that this was frowned upon).

If there is a takeaway from my YouTube dalliances it comes from the channel Make.Art.Now. The creator of that channel, Josh Yeo, makes excellent videos that are different from what I usually see on YouTube. He’s not posting short films, much of what he shares are reviews/tutorials or in-depth looks at projects he’s worked on. His channel isn’t monetized so I suppose what feels different with his content is that each video he posts stands on its own. He’s making content when he wants to and how he wants to, rather than within a set time limit to keep subscribers and keep making money.

Interestingly because of this approach I keep getting seduced by gear he shows in his videos despite it making absolutely no sense for me to purchase any of it. In particular he uses a Segway miniPRO smart, a self-balancing transporter. It’s a rather ridiculous looking thing that he himself confesses he would never use outside of filmmaking. But he does use it because when used in conjunction with a gimbal it allows him to get incredibly smooth shots – without using large, more expensive equipment. The Segway also is able to do precise, controlled movements that other devices, like the Onewheel, cannot do.

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Jesse Driftwood with a Onewheel. He just looks so happy!

What I’ve learned watching these videos it’s how important it is to know what you want to do – before you start buying gear. A smart person (not me) would have a plan in place to make money before they buy anything. Forgoing that step it is also incredibly important to know what you want to do and buy accordingly. If you are primarily going to be posting videos on YouTube and you have a recent smartphone should you buy a camera? You could download an app like FilmicPro, purchase an inexpensive microphone for the phone and be up and running (I’m not saying this is the best option, but it might not be a bad one).

These questions lead to more questions and ultimately end in the world of ease of use and what works for you. For me, I have found a shift in my thinking regarding what is available to me and what is possible. In particular I’ve been looking at how YouTube is used versus what I thought people were doing – and it’s interesting.

A number of my subscriptions are for sites or people who used to share short form content (fiction or non-fiction) and how many of them have moved away from doing so. Even Philip Bloom, who I originally was watching for his mini-documentaries, posts very few now. It’s certainly worth thinking about.

I want to close with a video from my favorite YouTube channel which is structured in a clever manner. Great Big Story has genres or subdivisions on its channel which allows it to cover pretty much any topic. They also aren’t always short videos. They make excellent content and if you haven’t seen what they do you should check them out.

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