Youtube is changing the world. It exists now as a kind of internet-within-the-internet, a zone of pure creativity, expression, communication. It’s a 24/7 global channel that is everything to everyone everywhere, a platform that thrives literally on anything that you feed it. Youtube has kept music videos alive, breathed a new life into comedy, and most relevant to today’s topic, given new life to independent filmmaking and videography.
While Youtube has launched its share of amateurs and underground artists it has had an even more interesting effect on trained filmmakers and semi-professionals; this video platform also functions as a perpetual project-pitching stage where low-budget wonders and indie video artists can shine in front of millions without any industry or major studio backing.
This is perhaps Youtube’s most intriguing and game-changing aspect because it challenges the traditional cinema business model that Hollywood has, in a sense, forced upon the viewing masses for generations. Big studios still hold dominion over the box office due to the grandiose industrial nature of that platform, but it would be hard to dispute what phenomenons like Youtube have done to upset this once-implacable regime. The Youtube generation is starting to call the shots in terms of what banks and what does not, and the nexus of their power can be distilled to one very basic element: pure, unfiltered choice.
Youtube has gone from a grungy web-version of the 80’s local public-access channel (where everyday people could produce super-low-budget community-based variety shows) to a self-sufficient pocket universe that hosts everything from prank videos to massive international trailer premieres. For filmmakers this has shifted the landscape in a dramatic way, perhaps to the point of creating confusion and sometimes overwhelming them with possibilities.
The first and biggest point of confusion for someone issuing from a more classical filmmaking/tv tradition is understanding Youtube’s “views” system. After over five decades of studio-controlled/vetted programming that audiences simply had to sit through (in addition to mind-numbing advertising), award ceremonies that still to this day do not reflect what the audience actually wants, (let alone reward), Youtube’s über-democratic content-rating system can come as a shock to a newcomer.
Kanye West music videos averaging the same amount of views as teenagers vloging about their makeup tips, badly pasted together fake trailers of comic book films that don’t exist standing shoulder-to-shoulder in popularity with hugely anticipated video game announcements; Youtube trends can simply not be understood in traditional terms. Even clever marketers who have begun to dissect and try to understand the Youtube-sphere cannot predict with any real accuracy what will go viral next.
This can be a frustrating but revelatory situation for a filmmaker. First you have to realize that what you traditionally consider “good” or “bad” in film/content does not really apply anymore. Not only are you facing a monstrously-discriminating, film educated, and often fickle audience of millions, but even the most meticulously assembled and directed film may now fall completely on deaf ears and blind eyes if it does not properly circulate the Youtube nebula. Meanwhile, watch views climb into the tens-of-millions when a cute girl in a low-cut top decides to record weekly videos on her phone on how to make Justin Beiber’s cupcakes (queue forehead slap).
Production values have also become a non-factor in the success of content on Youtube. Sweeping vistas, tastefully composed shots and masterful cinematography will win you the love of Vimeo users, but prepare to see your video fall into obscurity against a super-cut of actor Sean Bean’s characters being murdered throughout his filmography, or a montage of Russian dashcam mishaps.
Another key factor, perhaps the most telling of Youtube’s departure from the mainstream, is its emphasis on length. With its videos being consumed largely at work, at parties, and in transit, the length of your video will likely make or break its success. Attentions spans have suffered greatly in the past two decades, and if nothing else, the sheer overflow of media in everyday life has rendered the average viewer justifiably incapable of absorbing traditional quantities and runtimes. Perhaps there is a bright side to this: content has to be more focussed and meaningful if you want to make an impact.
To be continued..