Since the publication of the first edition of What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood, I’ve been telling directors, producers, actors, writers and other filmmakers to independently create content online in order to get noticed by Hollywood. The practicality of using public distribution channels like YouTube and Vimeo to distribute your filmed content to the world has proven to be both artistically liberating and, believe it or not, lucrative.
I recently interviewed Caryn K. Hayes, owner of the YouTube channel Hardly Working TV and the creator of two online dramatic television shows. Caryn told me that she takes her shows Breaking Point (link) and Entangled With You (link) very seriously—sticking to a weekend shooting schedule where she films an average of 8 script pages a day. The shows are kept to short episodes—roughly 12 minutes each—in order to fit the viewing trends on YouTube. Originally she shot 7 minute episodes but felt both the audience and the story called for more. One season usually requires 7 weekend days of shooting.
Although she is able to get actors to volunteer their services in exchange for the reel, the exposure and the credit, she must cover other expenses that are harder to barter—paid cameramen, renting extra cameras and lights and grip equipment like dollies. Her most surprising expense? Food—especially when people require special diets. Hayes says she’s asked cast to use their locations, exchanged editing or other filmmaking services to keep production costs low, but still they run from $800-1200 per day, $1600-$2400 per weekend. She has used online fundraising sites like Kickstarter with little success. Kickstarter only gives the money if the goal is reached. Her Kickstarter failed to reach the goal and led to nothing. She was however able to raise about 10-20% of her need through other fundraising efforts. Thankfully she has a reliable production partner in her mom who helps her bear the expenses.
Caryn says she’s been surprised by the sacrifices cast and crew members have been willing to make in order to work. “Sometimes they bring food to set on their own—even enough to share. Other times they volunteer transport services,” she said. She’s also been forced to learn editing programs such as Final Cut Pro and After Effects because “it’s sometimes hard to find an editor who can work as fast or as cheaply as I need.” The challenge has taught her how to color correct and sound correct her own work quickly and efficiently. Caryn says she hires cast through L.A. Casting and Actor’s Access and usually finds crew by placing ads on Craigslist. However, true to the relationship nature of Hollywood, many people she works with were referred to her by friends, other crew members or other actors.
So far, her TV shows have led to a few meetings with executives, but none that have materialized paid positions. Still she loves doing the work and plans to continue her independent work even if she does get a call from the head of Showtime or ABC Family—her dream networks.
I’ll post the complete interview with Caryn, which includes her background in my next post, but for this post, I want to focus on independent production.
Caryn says her show doesn’t make money because she understands that YouTube pays roughly $1 for every 1,000 views. She currently has 4,215 subscribers. But her series view rates have been rising—some episodes have as many as 47,000 views. According to what she told me, it means she’d make about $45 for shows with that many views.
When she mentioned this, I thought about the musician Psy and his massive hit Gangnam Style, which was the first video on YouTube to hit the 1B views mark and is now at nearly 2B views. Research shows that views of Psy’s Gangnam Style video have earned the musician more than $2M. In addition, there have been dozens of parody videos using his music, which have paid him more than $50,000. Add this to downloads, which is close to $2.5M from ITunes and other sites and about $5M in commercial revenue both from the video and outside of YouTube and it’s easy to see that YouTube can pay quite well. But Psy doesn’t just get views for Gangnam Style. His channel, Officialpsy, currently has 6.8M subscribers and a total of 3.5B video views in total. Psy was smart enough to load multiple Gangnam style videos, some of which have more than 100M views themselves. But it might surprise you to know that the 3.5B hit Psy isn’t the highest ranked YouTuber out there.
That’s where this got more interesting to me and I decided it was worth a closer look. I was very surprised at what I found. The first surprise was that depending on different methods of generating YouTube income—from Google Access, to product placement, to merchandise sales, to ads that run during or before your show generated either through Google or through various networks, YouTubers can earn between $1.38-$5 per 1000 views. You don’t have to blow up like Psy to make a lot of money on YouTube. Believe it or not, the person with the most subscribers on YouTube is a Swedish guy who calls himself PewDiePie who has 23.9M subscribers. What’s he do that’s so popular? He plays videos games and reviews them. PewDiePie has not only figured out a way to get paid somewhere close to $3M to play video games, he actually has more subscribers than YouTube’s YouTube channel. That’s like someone on Myspace having more friends than Tom. Or maybe I should say on Facebook having more friends than Mark Zuckerberg.
Exactly what I thought. If you go strictly by total views, you get a slightly different picture. Some familiar names pop up. PewDiePie drops to #5, RihannaVevo is #2 with 4.7B views, and JustinBieberVevo is #4 with 4.5B views. Our old friend Psy is #6 and EminemVevo is #7. That seems more like it, right? Young boys and young girls looking at Rihanna and Bieber all day long. Rihanna has 13M subscribers while Bieber has 8.7M and Eminem has 11M.
So who is #1? That’s a new thing I discovered, too. The number one spot in total views on YouTube is a network of many YouTubers called Machinima. What’s a YouTube Network? Good question. If you notice the musical artists above, they are all part of networks as well. Vevo is a video hosting joint venture co-owned by Universal Music Group, Google, Sony Music Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Media. Vevo hosts videos on its own site that have millions and billions of views outside of YouTube, which also pay artists based on views, but Vevo itself also part of YouTube since YouTube is owned by Google. Vevo was created to separate signed recording artists from Myspace and attract high-end advertisement dollars as well as make money via referral links to Amazon and ITunes for music downloads. It overtook Myspace in visits the month it was launched. Networks on YouTube use the power of cross-promotion to drive more viewers and more subscribers to certain sites, artist and YouTubers. Machinima is a network of over 10,000 YouTubers focused on video gaming. It’s so popular that media giant Warner Brothers is eyeing it for acquisition as I write this.
The advent of hundreds of networks on YouTube could mean that YouTube may be headed the same way as Myspace, though it seems that Google is working hard to prevent that. YouTube has made big investments in its content creators. But it also fosters the development of multiple networks linked to popular celebrities and creators. For instance, Pharrell Williams launched the I Am Other YouTube channel in 2012, which is part of a $100M investment from YouTube in original creators.
I Am Other is the name of an umbrella organization for various Pharrell business ventures including his clothing company, a cloud based music creation company, a bike company and a non-profit foundation for under-served kids.
The I Am Other YouTube channel links together a number of successful YouTubers including Issa Rae, creator or producer of a number of YouTube series including, The Misadventures Awkward Black Girl, The Choir, Black Actress, How Men Become Dogs, and the vlog Ratchetpiece Theater. (Correction: I previously wrote that Issa created RoomieLoverFriends, but that show was created by Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier. Dennis directed an episode of MisAdventures in 2011.) Issa’s show Awkward Black Girl became part of Pharrell’s I Am Other channel along with Vice, the video presence of Vice Magazine, which got a deal with HBO for its outrageous, cutting-edge investigative reporting, and Noisey, which is the music presence of Vice Magazine. Issa’s YouTube success has also led to her making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and winning the 2012 Shorty Award for Best Web Series for The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. In addition to working with Pharrell, Issa has worked on web content for Tracey Edmonds, developed a TV series with Shonda Rhimes for ABC and is currently developing a half-hour comedy for HBO with Larry Wilmore. Rae is also slated to release a book of essays with Simon & Schuster in 2014.
Perhaps the biggest sign of YouTube’s commitment to the success of its content creators is YouTube Space LA—a new facility YouTube created here in L.A. for its original content creators, which supplies cameras, green screens, studios, editing bays, and sound stages for free. That’s right, FREE. All you have to do is have a YouTube channel to use the facility.
I’ve been saying it for five years and people are making it happen. YouTube is proving to not only be a way to get to Hollywood, but is turning into its own profitable platform. In addition to the networked YouTube creators, there are millions of independent creators who have an equally strong voice and equally lucrative shows. Actors, writers, directors, producers, comedians and others do everything from sketch comedy, to dramas, to movie reviews, to viral video reviews like Daniel Tosh on Comedy Central. What’s even more impressive is that many of them have larger subscriber numbers and more viewers than popular TV shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Conan, Kimmel, Letterman and Nightline.
Don’t believe me? Check it out yourself:
Nigahiga is a Hawaiian-born 23 year-old who dropped out of college in Las Vegas when his YouTube channel took off. He began making videos for his family while still in middle school and started posting them to YouTube in order to save time sending them to family members. He has 11M subscribers even though he’s only posted 177 videos. According to SocialBlade.com, his videos have gotten 1.7B views and his estimated income is between $10K and $100K a month, $121K to $1.2M/year. Compare that to The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert who, according to Neilsen ratings on TV by the Numbers, have about 1.3M and 1.1M viewers respectively. Late Show with Letterman: 2.7M, Kimmel 2.3M, Nightline 1.7M. Even the granddaddy of them all, The Tonight Show, now with Jimmy Fallon is pulling in 8.5M viewers. Here’s a sample of Nigahiga’s stuff that currently has 2.8M views. The money Nigahiga earns is evident in the production value of the videos. This video would have made him at least $3K so far not including revenue he could generate through ad and merchandise sales.
I’m looking forward to more great content from independent YouTube creators. And I am again encouraging anyone looking for a career in front or behind the camera to work together with others to create original content both to get noticed by Hollywood and, more importantly, to own and control yourself. Artists like Caryn, Issa and Nigahiga are on the right track. The good news is that the door is wide open for you to join them, too.
T.R. Locke’s national bestseller What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood is available in hardcover, paperback and kindle at Amazon, Barnes and Noble an everywhere quality books are sold.