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”I don’t know of a more noble, a bigger deal as a filmmaker than to be a YouTube filmmaker.”
—Casey Neistat

”[MrBeast’s] giving a lot of kids a new path to take, to teach these young kids on how to be entrepreneurial, not just to get a lot of views or become famous.”
—Josh Richards, 19-year-old TikTok creator
2021 NY Times article by Taylor Lorenz

This isn’t really a fair competition since Tom Cruise/Maverick is a real person/movie character and Casey Neistat/MrBeast are a real person/real person—YouTube persona, but I think I can make a point here (especially to young people) about where we’ve been and where we’re heading.

As of today (June 9, 2022), Top Gun: Maverick has made over $300 million at the domestic box office and is pushing $600 globally. And it’s only been out two weeks today. It’s on track to be the most financially successful movie of Cruise’s long and distingushed career. When he turns 60 next month he’s got to be grateful of the run he’s had.

But, I do wonder if he were 19 years old and starting out today, would Cruise head to Hollywood to build his empire or would he head to YouTube? This is where Neistat and MrBeast come in. A 19 year old today would have been born in 2003. Two years after 911, and the same year when Neistat’s first viral video (iPod’s Dirty Secret,) gained attention. They were 2 when YouTube officially launched in 2005. And 11 or 12 when Neistat launch his YouTube channel in 2015. Casey went on a two year daily tear and racking up as many as 77 million views per video on his channel. It made him a very wealthy man, and he earned the nickname the Vlogfather.

Are you with me so far? Here’s the crazy thing,

In 2015, MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) hadn’t even graduated from high school. We’re only talking seven years ago! But what MrBeast had done was obsess with his friends about YouTube and what makes videos go viral. And with the threat of his mom ready to kick him out of the house unless he went to college or got a job, Donaldson cracked the code and MrBeast was born. His first branding deal in 2017 was for $10,000. At the age of 23 he is said to now have built a $54 million empire as a content creator. (Or was that just his salary last year? Hard to keep up with these numbers.) His main YouTube channel has 96.7 million subscribers. His studio in Greenville, NC, is one of the largest on the east coast. When Cruise was 24 Top Gun hadn’t hit theaters yet, and MrBeast owns a dang production studio and and is employing I don’t even know how many producers, directors, cameramen, editors, designers, etc., etc.

This is one more perspective, Mr.Beast/Donaldson’s philanthropic out reach has given away more money than most actors and filmmakers will make in their lifetime. He’s the most popular YouTuber in the U.S. (maybe the world) and many of you are thinking—“I’ve never even heard of this guy.” There have been major shifts in production over the years—sync sound in the 20s/30s, TV in the 50s, cable in the 70s/80s, the internet in the 90s/00s—but this shift toward streaming/YouTube/social media in 10s/20s is making this the greatest era in history to be a content creator—and especially for those outside of New York and LA. (MrBeast is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.)

This may be a sweeping generalization, but I think the rock stars of this young generation are the content creators. Young people want to be YouTubers more than they want to be the next Mick Jagger, Meryl Streep, or Spike Lee. And here’s the good news for them—that YouTuber dream is much more attainable. I didn’t say easy, I said obtainable. Lilly Singh talks about working 13 hour days creating content, Neistat when he was doing his daily vlog had a 6 AM to midnight (18 hours) schedule. And MrBreast said forget the 10,000 hour rule, he estimates he has already put 30,000-40,000 hours into his career. (He started obsessing about YouTube before he was a teenager.)

And to that point, this week I finished Casey Neistat’s Filmmaking and Storytelling course. There were 17 people in my group and only four people completed their two films within the 30 day period. Some people didn’t even start the first one. I made a five minute short video in 10 days that I think I worked on harder than any production I’ve worked on in the last 10 days. (I’ll share it later when I can write a post about the experience.) But I am reminded of the book by the legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser—“Art is Work.”

There is a sea of change coming and I will write more about that this month.

But one thing remains the same, Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses still look as cool today as they did in the 1950s and musicians and actors started wearing them.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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My love of travel is rooted in not traveling. I didn’t really start traveling until I was 21-years-old.  (And it light of the Coronavirus, this post is to encourage you that better days are coming.  A time when we’ll be able again to travel behind our front door.)

When I graduated from high school in Florida, I’d only been to three states in my life—if you include the Atlanta airport on the way to visit my grandmother in Dayton, Ohio. My lack of travel opportunities caused me in my late teens to make one of my goals that I wanted to visit all fifty states in the U.S. by the time I was fifty.

I made it with a few years to spare, and I was also able to backpack around Europe and do video shoots in South America and South Africa all before I turned 50. I thought I was doing pretty well until my wife began following Kara and Nate on YouTube a couple of years ago.  This married couple from Tennessee had an ambitious goal to take a year off starting in 2016 “before life got serious” and travel. That turned into a goal to visit 100 counties by 2020.

They not only hit their 100th country last month (just before the Coronavirus changed global travel for a while), they videotaped their adventures and built a very profitable following via YouTube. It was like a honeymoon that just kept going and turned into a dream job. (Here’s a sample of their work from a trip they took to Peru,  followed by the extended video they made after completing their goal that gives insights into their journey and how they built a YouTube following of 1 million subscribers.)

I was working on my master’s degree in 2017-2018, which occupied most of my nights after work. From time to time, my wife would show me some of her favorite trips that Kara and Nate took. Having worked in production since graduating from film school back in 1984, I marveled at how they were able to turn around engaging videos so quickly.

They weren’t as polished and produced as Anthony Bourdain’s travel around the world videos, but they captured something special. And they did it as a two-person team which amazed me. Nate took the lead shooting (including drone and underwater shooting), and Kara edited the programs. They both shared hosting the videos as well.

Nate also brought some business expertise to the table, and they were open at sharing  how much money they were making. I became enthralled by what they were doing and decided to breakdown what I think has made them successful.

  1. Focused — They had a clear goal. At first, it was to travel a year, and that turned into a goal of traveling to 100 countries.
  2. Adventurous — Part of traveling globally is embracing not always knowing what’s around the corner. Delayed flight plans, inadequate housing, and bad food may not be fun, but it’s the tradeoff for the really cool experiences. And the bad parts often make the best videos.
  3. Likable—Likability is a vital part of getting hired. People want to like someone there going to be spending a lot of time with. Likability is essential for getting a YouTube following. And not everyone is going to like you, so get used to that as best you can.
  4. Talented — Nate and Kara are not only the co-hosts of there videos, but the tour guys, the camera operators, the post-production team, and the business side as well.  That’s a lot of hats to wear, and you can only do that with a lot of talent. I don’t believe either has a production background. Kara shot and edited a wedding video for a friend and is basically self-taught. (Not sure it that goes under talent, or #5 hardworking.)
  5. Hardworking—If you’ve every had the equivalent of visiting Disney World in the daytime and even through you’re exhausted from a fun day you have to turn around and edit a video that night. They’ve done that kind of thing over and over again for over 500 videos. I’m sure some of their videos took longer to edit, but the turn around time is usually fast.
  6. Smart —They’re college graduates and have to juggle a lot of behind the scene planning, scheduling, and financing behind the scenes.
  7. Savvy—You can be smart without being savvy. You can be smart and lucky. But you have to be smart and savvy to build on what started as an adventure to do until their money ran out. (If I recall correctly, they started with a savings of $25,000.) But you have to make a series of savvy choices to keep that ball in the air for years. To not just ration your nest egg, but to grow it and multiply it greatly.
  8. Ambitious—It’s one thing to have an extended honeymoon, it’s another thing to make travel a business. And you can have a business thrive without having ambition. They’ve tried different things to connect with their audience, and learned what does and doesn’t work. I don’t know what their current cashflow is like, but I know at one point they were generating $30,000 a month. Granted that’s not Kim Kardashian money, but it’s enough for those who thought they were crazy of them to give up their dreams, to now say they’d be crazy to stop.
  9. Young—When they started this, they were both in their mid-20s (I believe) , and I think that’s a great age for YouTubers. They have an exuberance to them that is often lacking in older people who can have a little bit of “been there done that” attitude.  You can connect with teenagers and college kids who dream of living that adventure, people their age who see them as their friends, and a wide variety of older folks who, for various reasons, love to see what they’re going to see and do next.
  10. Variety—Twenty years ago, Rick Steves was one of the best sources of travel information, and his advice was crucial to my wife and I traveling throughout Europe in 1999.. (And the mention of his name alone got us out of a jam in Vienna.) But I clearly remember one morning in Germany when one of the pensions we were staying at had the majority of  people staring at their Rick Steves guide book.  We were all taking different versions of the same trip. Fast forward 20 years, and most people have seen their share of footage shot at German Beer gardens, countless museums, and must see sights (“Look kids, the Eiffel Tower.”). Kara and Nate have bounced around the world and showed many unlikely places where you go, “How did I not know that place existed?” For instance, there was that time they landed on the world’s shortest commercial runway on the island of Saba:

I have two primary travel goals on my bucket list. One is to literally fly around the world making various stops, including Australia (so I can visit my sixth continent), and then make a trip to Antarctica for the seven and final continent. Of course, Kara and Nate just pulled off visiting Antarctica.)

When people asked me how I hit two of my major travel goals I tell them that both goals were more than 20 years in the making. I wanted to do them while I was in good health because I’d heard that one of the main regrets of older people toward the end of their lives is they wished they’d taken more risks. As you get older, it’s natural to have more physical limitations and more concerns about your safety.

I always said that if the world went to “hell in a handbag”—are we there yet?— that I didn’t want to regret not taking more risks. Global travel—and the global economy— may be funky for the next year or two. Or five or ten. We don’t know yet what will be the fallout from the Coronavirus that’s currently impacting the world in significant ways.

But congrats to Kara and Nate on their crazy and venture and thanks for sharing it with the world.

P.S. One of the ways Kara and Nate have generated income is doing a tutorial called How to Edit a BlogIt’s $97 and even though I’ve been editing for longer than Kara has been alive, I wanted to support them—and also learn (and unlearn) some things from her. Since I sometimes work on logging videos for two weeks before I even start editing, I wanted to see how she edited an entire video in a few hours. Here’s the one thing I learned that made the course worth it for me. She edits chronologically. Simple, right? They start filming in the day and stop. And then she’s goes through the footage in the order that they shot it. Huge time saver. There is no logging footage in that system. It’s turn and burn. Find the best shots, sound bites, moments and move on. I believe Aaron Sorkin says something to the effect that most of his movies move forward chronologically. (Not a lot of cuts back and forth in the story.) And movies are rarely shot in chronological order because it does not maximize the shooting schedule. But it happens. Peter Weir chose to shoot  Dead Poets Society in chronological order so his young actors could experience the arc of the story.

Congrats to Nate and Kara on completing their 100 countries and visiting seven continents. It’ll be interesting to see what they do next in a post-Cornavirus world. And remember, the word for the day is chronological.

2021 Update: Nate and Kara made it to Iowa for Ragbrai.

Scott W. Smith 

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