Narrative Storytelling on YouTube
As YouTube has evolved into a top platform for aspiring filmmakers, screenwriters, and visual effects artists many newcomers want to know if there’s a secret to successfully growing an audience and becoming a “YouTube celebrity.” Below we feature three storytellers who have managed to do just that. While their paths to success vary, there are a few things they all have in common: doing what they love, focusing on quality, and being consistent. Bernie Su is the Emmy Award-winning head writer for three wildly popular YouTube series, all adapted from novels: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Emma Approved, and Frankenstein MD. Justin Melson is a director for the Happyfox Productions channel, as well as an aspiring film director and editor. Sam Wickert is an 18-year-old filmmaker from South Carolina who, along with his business partner Eric Leigh, founded SoKrispyMedia.
Below are their stories, including a few secrets to their success.
Adobe: What inspired you to start making videos for YouTube?
Su: I’m a screenwriter by trade. I like to tell stories, but from behind the camera. The rise of YouTube created a growing market for scripted narrative content, so I jumped at the opportunity. I now create shows for multiple channels, some of which have very large followings, which is exciting for me.
Melson: YouTube is a great outlet for filmmakers to test and refine their skills. My goal is to direct a feature film someday, but you can’t run before you can walk, right? YouTube is the perfect platform for experimenting with different effects and building a following. My audience lets me know what they like, and what I need to work on, so the feedback loop is constant.
Wickert: I’ve always been captivated by the magic that can be created on-screen through visual effects, so when I was 12, I decided to learn how to do it myself! I met my business partner Eric in grade school, and we started a YouTube channel. We’re now college roommates, and we still find it cool to create content from scratch.
Adobe: How have you cultivated your YouTube following?
Melson: I spend most of my time learning how to improve the content, versus growing the channel per se. In my experience, if people like what they see, they’ll share it and your following will grow organically.
Su: I’m focused on quality, consistency, and longevity. If the body of work stays consistent over a period of time then word of mouth will support the shows and create the audience. My goal isn’t to get a million views in first week; it’s to get 50 million views in the first year.
Adobe: Tell us about your creative process. How do you go about creating new content, and how long does it usually take?
Wickert: It always starts with an idea that Eric and I toss back and forth. I usually come up with something generic, and he helps to bring it into focus. From there, we work together on creating an outline. Our goal is to make it fun, and sharable. We aim for two productions a month, and we try not to spend more than a month on a project.
Melson: I share my script with friends and colleagues for their feedback. Once I’m satisfied with it, I plan the shoot carefully, because you only have a limited window to capture and keep your audience’s attention. The length of the shoot itself varies depending on the project. My longest project took eight months, with me shooting once or twice a week.
Su: We release eight episodes a month, so we’re constantly in all stages of production. We don’t shoot an entire novel before we start releasing episodes, so we can react to the fan base, see what’s working and not working, and adjust if we need to.
Adobe: What are your tools of the trade?
Su: We use Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Adobe Photoshop CC for editing and graphics, and Adobe After Effects CC as well. As a writer, I like to use Adobe Story Plus because it’s very collaborative. My team can go in and edit, make notes, and get the script ready for production. With our rolling production schedule, working in the same ecosystem helps us stay organized.
Melson: Adobe Premiere Pro CC is where all our creative power comes from. It’s at the heart of our film production. I like using Adobe After Effects CC, Audition CC, and SpeedGrade CC as well, but if I want to I can do titles, mix an entire film, and color it using the Lumetri color panel all in Premiere Pro CC, it’s crazy.
Wickert: I’m obsessed with visual effects, so Adobe After Effects CC is my favorite.
Adobe: What’s next?
Wickert: Eric and I are attending Chapman University, so our priority is to finish our degrees while continuing to grow the channel. I hope to work in the virtual reality space someday, and I’m really excited to dig in to the new features for virtual reality in Premiere Pro.
Su: I formed a company called Canvas Media Studios. My plan is to continue producing scripted series that bring audiences into the story world so they can jump around, explore, interact, and be a part of each narrative in their own way.
Melson: I’d like to direct films for theater, and hope to be in production next year. But I still plan to continue creating and uploading short films to YouTube.
HappyFox Productions – Hangman
Adobe: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming YouTube stars?
Su: Be authentic, and work with people who share your passion for telling great stories.
Wickert: Make content that excites you. The easiest way to produce regularly is to make something that you really love.
Melson: Film as much as you can and upload often. Know your style and grow it.