Becoming the Next Great Youtuber

I’ve completed my first “Youtube Update” which is featured above. The video is relatively simple and low effort, but that’s sort of the idea – to pour the majority of my free time into Episode 5 while regularly featuring updates on the development of it.

I put a lot of thought into how I wanted to portray myself for my ultimate goal. I wanted to make the video entertaining while still remaining focused on keeping the actual content meaningful. I did this by featuring somewhat humorous drawings to demonstrate the events unfolding in the scene I describe.

I feel it’s important to treat the work I’m doing seriously because of the genre the film will fall into. If I develop an audience that is only seeking a short laugh then they will not care about the actual content I am trying to produce. But if I focus entirely on the filmmaking process I will not be growing an audience for Episode 5’s release. Simply put, I’m aiming for a balance between entertainment and informational.

Without a doubt I could have improved the quality of the video, but that would have cut into the time I can devote toward episode 5’s actual production. Check it out above if you’d like.

The Group Scene

The Group Scene/The Dinner Scene/Friends at a table. They each are a variation of the same thing:

4-5 main characters gather at a table and share in a discussion.

Simple, right? Not for a writer. It’s not the complexity of maintaining each character, nor is it the task of inventing an interesting dialogue. The difficulty lies in moving the plot along, building tension, and producing a character change.

Episode 5 currently runs 27 pages (which will translate to roughly 27 minutes). Out of those pages, 19 of them involve a group discussion that takes place at a table. My goal is to condense those 27 pages to 8 and incorporate a riveting midpoint at page 4.

What makes the group discussion unique is that people don’t generally sit around and think up ways to murder each other, as much as we all want to see that. There is not a natural clock with imminent danger when your characters are sitting down and sharing information. And my main character isn’t much of an actionable detective if the other characters he’s sitting with are freely offering up there own personal backgrounds and clues.

One of the best ways to orchestrate a group scene is to implement a relationship triangle. Person A likes B, but B likes C, and C likes A. The more you can entangle the relationships to affect one another the more intrigue you generate. But because my story is not a drama nor a romance, I have to find a way to introduce more tension, higher stakes, and hard-turning plot points – especially since the meat of the episode takes place in a seated arrangement.

Allow me to do some thinking out loud for a moment. I’ll create a dynamic similar to my own and see what areas of conflict and tension we can artificially introduce.

Bob attends a dinner with 4 new people. He was not invited but lied his way into the group. After being welcomed in, the group leader repeatedly challenges Bob to prove his allegiance to the group by taking a shot every time he speaks out of turn. Bob is trying to identify which group member stole his cat.

We see the obstacle – acceptance – and know the objective – information.

Now imagine that out of those 4 new people, Theo is the leader. Theo governs the group with an iron fist – one that Bree feels is too tight. Geronimo – the funny guy in the group – has a secret crush on Bree. When Bob joins the group, Geronimo worries that she will like Bob instead. Kazinski, on the other hand, is obedient to Theo. He believes that Theo’s adherence to group formalities unifies them and makes him deserving of being in charge.

There lives have become more intertwined and more unique. Though this may be hard to follow, it provides a writer with varying character motivations. These motivations will drive each character’s unique reaction to different events.

But we need character actions – what can Bob do to drive the story forward, and what obstacles may he find in his path?

The obvious one is for Bob to be reprimanded each time he speaks out of turn.

What interesting events can follow this? What areas do we have to tighten the conflict and elevate the tension?

Perhaps Bree repeatedly encourages Bob to not respect Theo’s wishes. Perhaps Bob realizes that the only way his cat will come up in the conversation is if he initiates it.

That does add a sprinkle of the conflict and tension, but not a whole lot. Now let’s imagine that each time Bob speaks the group becomes more convinced that he has another purpose for being there. Once this piece of psychological danger is introduced we find a true obstacle to Bob’s objective.

Maybe one of the group members secretly discovers the reason that Bob is there before the others – and tries to notify them covertly. You would be wise to let the viewers in on this secret first to create more suspense.

The tension can escalate by dangling the truth right in front of Bob. How can we put Bob’s cat on the table for him to grab while preventing him from doing so? However we do it, I think this should be the midpoint.

I think Bob should find out that his cat is more happy with its new owner. That creates an internal conflict by allowing Bob to feel guilty and doubt the ethics of his quest – until at the ending when he reunites with his cat he learns he was intentionally mislead.

One way we can place the cat right on the table would be by producing a picture of the animal from an unspecified source. Maybe everyone in the group starts chatting about it and sharing inside information. Maybe they call the cat dumb and insult it in order to instigate Bob into exposing his true intentions.

What action can Bob take to definitively know which group member stole his cat? Once convinced of who its owner might be, Bob may use the individuals want/need to his advantage. Bob can also use blunt force trauma as a method to get a confession. Or he can trick one of his new “friends” into spilling the beans by dangling his own truth – his reason for being there – right in front of them.

Perhaps Bob informs the group that he had deceived them about his intentions within the group. He can say that he purchases missing cats in order to resell them to their original owner. When he tells them that he is offering $500 with no questions asked for the cat in the picture, he finally gets one of them to fess up to their crime. After that he must choose how to punish the individual and still receive the feline for a climactic ending.

So this is the group scene. Nothing about it is inherently interesting, but it is a high-frequency event in most stories. You should never write a scene that does not incorporate multiple story elements just because it “sounds real.” You should always introduce dialogue and actions that divide your group while also gluing them closer together.

I will be tinkering with my own group scene today and just by writing this I have found some new ideas. I think it is a fun challenge anytime you beef up a scene that you have already written. Hopefully this has provided you with your own ideas for how you would like your own group scene to evolve.

Building an audience with purpose

A visual representation of my left and right hemispheres working together.

I’ve been going back and forth between ideas for how I would like to shape my youtube channel. It is a great platform for building an audience and potentially monetizing your material. My uncertainty lies in how I would like to present content that varies from the short films I prefer to create.

The human mind will always separate items through genres, labels, and categories. Many fantastic actors wind up being “type cast” after performing a strong and memorable role as a certain character. In-N-Out, one of the most successful fast-food franchises ever conceived, coincidentally also has one of the simplest menus. Radio host and political figures who frequently side with a single party succeed, whereas those who seek to promote a balanced viewpoint often struggle.

Simply put – creators are bound by the expectations of their audience.

Why is this important? Because if I seek to grow my youtube channel by posting new content more frequently I must first come to terms with whom I’d like to attract. Regardless of which direction I choose to go in, I am confident that I will gain more subscribers and views. My uncertainty come from knowing that the material that reels in the most new viewers is not necessarily the best for my overarching goals.

Let’s say I make a series of instructional videos for how to use Adobe Premiere Pro. It is the editing software I am most familiar with and it wouldn’t take a ton of effort to shed light on some topics that at one point caused me tremendous frustration. Instructional videos of all types are overwhelmingly popular – no different than the “non-fiction” section of any bookstore in comparison to any “fiction” section. When I formerly pursued a traditional publishing route as a writer, I learned that non-fiction books were written by sending the query letter to publishers before the book was even written. With novels they expect you to have a finished book, a target audience, and a marketing package before they even open your first email.

So it seems like a no-brainer, right? The challenge with going this route is that I will develop an audience of fellow filmmakers. They will not be stopping by my channel to support my films, but to gain in knowledge. In other words I will not be growing a classroom rather than building a fan base.

The other avenue that is lucrative to me is the regular short film route. I’ve seen other social media personalities generate an enormous following by creating short, funny films with themselves playing multiple roles. This does not appeal to me because A.) The attracted followers will only be there for micro films and B.) I am seeking to produce quality, emotionally moving films – something that this type of audience will not have the patience for.

A more specific youtuber who I’ve really become a fan of is Joel Carver, who produces weekly short films with some real effort going into each sketch. His films are funny, tell a story, and have become an unquestionable success. The most important part is that he has built an audience from his ability to entertain – and that is no small feat. My hang-up here is that producing stories of this nature and caliber require an enormous amount of time and exertion. As long as I am creating 10-20 minute episodes I will not have the time to do both.

After much speculation I have decided the best route will be to involve my audience in the filmmaking process. In many ways I believe these films will be instructional in nature. The major distinction will be my discipline in relating each segment to “Mountain Cult.” The second hugely important task will be to make the videos a form of entertainment. Rather than merely stating “Here’s how I do X, then Y, and now I move onto Z” I’d like to wrap it up in the form of a story (though I’m not yet sure how).

The two major goals of creating new videos that are not actual short films will be to:

  1. Build a niche fanbase for “Mountain Cult.”
  2. Produce a new segment on a weekly basis at a minimal cost.
  3. Target an audience for story, rather than a classroom of fellow creators.
  4. Sell items or solicit donations to help finance my productions.
  5. Present my self as a serious filmmaker – rather than a youtuber.

I already have a vague idea of what I may do for the first video, but this post has been long enough. I’m not exactly excited about this particular step forward, though I do know it is in the right direction. I have spent a great amount of time this week discussing the script of Episode 5 with others and have been making major improvements. I’m very excited because I believe it will be the best story I have told through cinema. I am also nervous because it is more complex than episode 4 (which was mostly action) and therefore will be more strenuous for viewer if I do not make the necessary adjustments now.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Make the most of this fine Friday and remember that there is nothing preventing you from carrying out your work as if you already are where you aim to be. If you wait for permission to treat your passion as if it’s your job then it will never become one.

Navigating Modern Art

“The Smell of Rank” – Thomas M. Watt, oil on canvas, 2020.

I’ve been toying with an idea for the last few months that I may finally put into practice. But before I get into that, let’s discuss the typical artistic dream:

This applies whether you are a painter, a musician, a filmmaker, or a writer – at your core you value art over superficial gimmicks. The idea of self promotion, marketing, sales, and even merchandising likely makes you feel ill. You entered into your craft because you wanted to express an emotion that would leave a lasting impact on others. You sought to share your life experience through a specified medium with such precision that your message would inspire the souls of others like you.

The problem with this dream is not the dream itself – for it is a beautiful ideal. The issue has to do with the reality of the world we live in.

Any person who has sought to make this dream a reality will likely come across a similar issue: Despite painting a masterpiece, composing a captivating melody, or writing a whirlwind romance, your accomplishment goes unrecognized. The place where I have always been stopped is likely where others have been held up as well – short of the entrance door.

The most difficult aspect of attaining success in these pipe-dream careers is the barrier to entry. Unfortunately (and I say that with sincerity) we all know stories about artists who were discovered due to their overwhelming talent. The reason I say “unfortunately” is because the rapidly changing world we live in is reshaping the gate that prevents us from being recognized. That gate is technology.

If I can produce a quality film for less than $1000 so can anybody else. I can improve the quality a hundred fold each time, but during the time period it requires me to make such a film there are being millions upon millions of films being produced and streamed each day. What I am emphasizing here is the over-saturation of artistic markets.

You may be the greatest painter who ever lived, but if you only have 10 paintings available for sale you are going to have a rough time capturing enough interested clients to for a worthy price point to be fully realized. Now imagine JK Rowling made a painting and tried to sell it. Do you think she would have any trouble finding a buyer, despite its quality? I don’t think so.

So what am I getting at with all this? That the modern artist must choose quantity over quality? God no. My belief is that in order to reach a broader audience you must make yourself an accessible figure. The only way to avoid this would be to “get discovered” by a company or individual more powerful than yourself. Though that is the typical climax of any pipe-dream, I am absolutely sickened by the thought of relying on an outside power to help me make my dream a reality. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that I would be opening myself up to getting played. If I am holding out for another entity to find success for me, they are going to use that to their advantage in negotiations – after-all, that’s how they’ve become a successful, established entity.

I have long avoided posting any videos on my youtube channel that are not new episodes for my film. In similar fashion, many writers on here only market works of fiction for sale that are full length novels. These things take months or even years to develop. During that time period, the audience for such content is still active in the community – but they’re giving their views, plays, and clicks to other artists.

That is the price of free rentals and free views. Your income from each “customer” is closer to 0 than it is to a single penny. Meanwhile, the top content producers rake in a ton of attention by consistently pushing out content and developing a communal following.

I am not sure what direction I am going to head in, but I do know the typical path of marketing is a foolish one. I can post teaser trailers each week and hype up my next episode all I want. Neither of those options will be even half as effective as producing weekly videos that build a community of viewers who want to hear my perspective on things and learn from me specifically. I am 100% convinced that building the viewership in my channel will result in more views for my upcoming episode than merely waiting until it is completed and hoping it catches fire.

I have an endless list of reasons for why I have not done this already. One of the main reasons is that I fear my channel will become a disorganized nightmare for predictable content. It may include funny videos, behind the scene footage, how-to instructions, and personal blogs. Kind of like my blog here (lol).

Even though the artist in me hates it, I feel like building a brand of personality will enable you to reach a wider viewership. When you have a wider viewership your media sales will inevitably increase. When your sales increase, you will begin to attract the big fish who will see you as a proven investment (After all, that is what modern media behemoths are looking for – not quality, but a predictable ROI).

I’m not really that happy to make this decision because it is not true to how I perceive art should be realized. I am a staunch believer in art surviving on its own merits, not by the personality of its producer. But as I’ve experienced in my own pursuits, you get stopped at the door because the doorman doesn’t even know who the “f” you are, not because the goods you are carrying aren’t worth something special. The modern day issue plaguing the artist is that nobody is going to ask what you’re carrying when everyone around you also has something locked under their arm.

Same Story Different Lens

I’ve finally received my first feedback regarding episode 5. Pat, one of the members of my meetup group who has been a regular at our weekly zoom meetings, was kind enough to read the script and provide feedback.

She felt it would be easier to communicate over zoom and boy I am happy to have done so. Though she proclaims that she is “not a writer,” her feedback was more helpful than any I have received in the past.

We went through script event by event and discussed the different issues she had and items she liked. We deconstructed the climax and worked together to find a better one. She dissected the opening and explained why my main character was a dick. It was awesome.

I’ve spoken on here before about how I feel we are limited in our creativity by the mechanics of our brains. I am logical minded so I that every action my character takes winds up being motivated by practicality rather than true empathy. I’ll provide an example from my story to show how she opened my eyes.

Episode 5 begins with a memory:

My main character, Ryan O’Hara, is at home dealing with a plateful of bills at the kitchen table. He is on the phone trying to finalize a major sale, presumably to help himself out of debt. His wife, Melanie, enters in the background. She is armed with a gun staring out the window blinds. Ryan is forced to end his phone call prematurely in order to calm her down. When she tells him that “they are coming after me” he treats her with apathy and returns to his phone call. He wakes up from the memory with a sense of regret.

In my mind this was an effective scene. It included a sense of suspense with Melanie holding a gun. There was a sense of irony in Ryan failing to take his wife seriously when he returns to the present day and suffers the same anguish by others not believing him about the mysterious cult. I was ok with Ryan choosing business over love because it amplified the guilt he felt by failing to be a caring partner.

But Pat saw things differently. When she read the script, she never got a reason to care about Melanie. Melanie seemed like a crazy person that Ryan was merely putting up with and not loving towards. Further, there was no indication that Ryan even cared about her. She felt it would be more effective to have Ryan tend to his patient’s discomfort and allow his phone to ring in the background.

I would still like to work in Ryan’s regret over not having been a better husband, but if I have to choose I’d rather make him more likable. I feel strongly that the first scene of any story either reels you in or pushes you away. If I can provide a character that audiences relate to and empathize with they will stick around for the ride. Furthermore, my opening scene in Episode 4 portrayed Ryan as self-centered, singularly focused prick. It worked for my character arc and internal change at the climax, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t turn viewers off and cause them to stop watching a minute or two into it.

I have also had the lead actress read the script and she will be providing her feedback this afternoon. I am excited to hear what she has to say and discover whether she came across some of the same issues.

It takes patience to complete a script to satisfaction, but it is worth it. Everything that occurs regarding the actors, props, events and location are born out of the story that is created. Producing 4k video with high quality audio, an emotionally moving score, and flawless special effects will always add to the quality of the story you are trying to tell. But at the end of the day we remember how stories moved us, not how great it all looked.

On the positive side of my conversation with Pat, she felt that the story was captivating and the ending packed a punch. The answer to the riddle was a shock to her and had strong payoff. I am very pleased to learn the bulk of my story will work. There are several items we still plan to discuss later this week, but overall I am excited and grateful about the feedback I have already received.

Editing is deleting with extra steps

It has been a fun-filled week of writing, which is writer speak for “an absolutely brutal week filled with psychological torment that manifests itself into physical paralysis and episodes of psychosis.” But I have made progress.

My initial runtime goal for episode 5 was 20 minutes. I have a recent draft that lasted 28 pages. The first 8 pages involved my main character having a flashback, a meeting with his brother, and online research. The following 20 pages all belonged to a single scene in a single setting (albeit, one that transforms as the story progresses).

I find it is much more fun to work with too much rather than too little. You get to comb through events, conversations, and pivotal moments and rank them from greatest to needless. And from there you get to cherry pick the parts that you like and annihilate the rest. So that’s what I’m doing now.

I would like to reduce the runtime to approximately 15 minutes. The more I can condense the story, the better. I have already erased 2 characters in order to increase my budget for other resources. But beyond that I have to deal with the knowledge that I’ll be filming each scene. If I can ensure that a cast of 5 or 6 actors will have all of their lines completed in 1 day at the location I rent I will further increase my budget allotment. But budget aside, there are more important reasons for condensing the script.

I imagine the ratio of excitement from author to viewer is somewhere close to 5:1. Unless you can feel strong emotion as you are reading your work, the viewer will not. A prime example of this experience was my first time reading the screenplay for “The Prestige.” As each line progressed and the story unfolded I could literally feel the suspense tightening its hold on me. My initial goal was to highlight areas that demonstrated plot devices and I wound up so enamored by the story that I could not help but race to finish it. That should be your goal as a writer – to produce a work so compelling that the reader is unable to analyze it because it is affecting them on a psychological level.

A little bit about plot devices – there are surefire ways you can make any story more appealing. Introducing a “ticking time bomb,” or limited amount of time for actions to be completed, adds an element of urgency. Elevating the stakes – or the amount a character will lose should they fail in their quest – will add a great deal as well. Tension occurs when sources of conflict have opposing desires but are forced to intertwine and duel it out because of the circumstances.

My favorite way to add intrigue to any story is what I’d like to call “the decision.” I desperately want to use this frequently in episode 5 because I feel that I have yet to use it effectively in a short film.

Let’s pretend your story is about a grown man searching for his missing dog. He runs into an individual, named Bob, who claims he’s keeping the dog safe in his home. From here we have an infinite list of options for what can happen, but lets limit them to the probable ideas that a writer would consider:

  • Bob tells our hero that he’s happy he arrived and can find his dog inside.
  • Bob informs our hero that he will have to pay $500 to get his dog back
  • Bob informs our hero that the dog was dangerous and had to be put down
  • Bob informs our hero that unless he can prove ownership, the dog is now his
  • Bob informs our hero that his blind daughter finally has a friend, and he will be sad to see her lose him.

Each option besides the first one increases the amount of conflict. The options for our hero to pay $500 or prove ownership provide obstacles to overcome. The information that the dog has been put down works mostly as an inciting incident that will provoke reactionary action from our hero.

But the most intriguing option is to learn that Bob’s blind daughter has become best & only friends with our hero’s dog. Though the other options provide for avenue toward plot, this is the only option that truly forces Bob into a character arc, change, and reveal. How he handles the situation fascinates us because it is a difficult moral question. We wonder what we would do in his shoes, and that causes us to empathize more with the hero and learn from his decision – and judge him by it.

When the neighbor requests $500 for the dog’s return, everything is in black and white. If our hero pays up he’s a pussy (sorry, but give me a break). If our hero deceives Bob he is sly. If he overcomes Bob with force he is a tough guy. But each of the options is simple – the neighbor is wrong for the request, and Bob is right for trying to get his dog back. These different options will also define varying genres. Ultimately, I do feel drama is the most compelling form of writing. Just because you’re writing science fiction doesn’t mean your viewers will not “lean in” when they come across a true moral conundrum.

I am looking at points in the story where I can introduce moral dilemmas. In my previous works I have often zoned in on escalating conflict. Escalating conflict is a powerful tool to build toward a rewarding climax. I often find, however, many works of suspense are ruined by the lack of pacing shift. Finding areas of your story to provide comfort and emotional entrapment to your viewer will help the escalation in tension pay off ten times more. We have to genuinely care about someone in order for their death to affect us.

I’m going to get some rest now, but when I wake up I’m determined to complete a clean draft of my script in order to begin receiving feedback on it. I am disappointed in how much time it has taken me. Nevertheless, I am excited to shape something into a meaningful evolution rather than crumple it into another mindless pile of garbage.

Master of Composition

Ivan Kulikov,  1904, Oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie der Stadt Murom

I am plagued by an unusual curse in life that to a large extent has limited my efficiency of output in my journey of story. During each occasion that I apply processes and habits that are tantamount to purposeful action and positive results I am bombarded with imagery and memories from my formerly successful past – my dreams morph into the passion of my youth. It isn’t until my eyes creep open that I must self-inflict a painful reminder that my former dream is now dead and the passion I once had is a crop that can only grow but never produce. This cycle is debilitating, anguishing, and demoralizing. The common solution to this problem is to engage in behaviors that will distract the mind – behaviors that do not hammer a single nail in the foundation of success.

But tonight I stumbled on a realization.

The successful behaviors I employ today run along the same wires that propelled me to perpetual improvement during my youth. It seems that running current through the “success” channels of my brain may be what is prompting the vivid memories that I’ve spent so much effort to contain to the past.

Successful behaviors will produce the desirable result across different fields of application.

Our tendency to produce work that passes our highest degree of scrutiny will dictate the quality of our artwork. The determination to shape each plot point to its proper timeline, each character change to its newfound obstacle, each word to its speaker, and each action to its motivator will all work in tandem to deliver a story that resonates with the viewer. The same characteristics of tedious effort carry over to music, to painting, to family, and to life.

Now what if in God’s hands we are no different than one of our works? What if our ability to shape our thoughts and actions toward unrelenting focus on a singular goal is what enables Him to make us that artist we seek to become? Perhaps by undertaking the same processes, disciplines, and habits we know are required to deliver masterful compositions we are enabling ourselves to be shaped into a master of compositions.

I’m sure these connections may be obvious to most, and to others unconnected, and to still others uninspired by any deity, but to me this has been a light-bulb revelation.

I find it ironic that my previous post was making a mockery of the need for an exemplary script prior to moving toward production. I have spent the past 2 days ceaselessly sharpening my story to the point that it will puncture the mind of the viewer. Despite the likelihood it will not achieve any great recognition even when it has been completed, that is not going to stop me from trying.

The composing of art to the highest level of personal achievement is both fulfilling and self-developmental. Any artist on the bottom is not creating to be heard, recognized, or profitable. We are creating because every object of creation competes with every other object of creation. Each individual has the right to compose their piece with a masterful stroke of brilliance should they reach high enough to grab it. The ability to acquire these skills is a God-given right, and for me that is a most tremendous blessing.