Monday 2 September 2013

Should I Make a YouTube Video?


Too stark? Okay, then.

Probably not.


I get asked this question quite often from aspiring writers and it's writers I'm talking to here, since those are the only people I feel qualified to talk to. I’m a writer. I’m not a writer-performer, a wannabe director or an aspiring producer. I write scripts. Do you want to write scripts for a living? If so, I think you should give YouTube a wide berth.

The Allure of YouTube
YouTube beckons all of us, like a shiny casino inviting us to spin its wheels of fortune. There is something exciting about the internet. It seems democratic. There's nothing to stop your video getting 15 million hits and being an overnight sensation.

But be careful. We are moths to its flame. Even if you've made a really good three-minute video, there's no guarantee that this will lead to the kind of work you'd actually like to do. It might lead to other things, of course, so I'd never say never. But if you're a writer, think hard. Ask yourself how this is actually going to help. And bear in mind that a really good three-minute video is waaaay harder to make than you might think.

And this video may actually hinder you and your idea.

I have heard producers on panel and Q&As say 'If you can make a little taster, then go for it' but I really don't think that's great advice, I'm afraid. Turning your idea into an online video may well inhibit your vision and creative freedom in the quest to make it filmable on a budget - thereby making it less attractive to producers with no imagination whose job is to read scripts and imagine how they'd work and be funny.

But let's not get hung up on them. You can't control the industry. None of us can. But the temptation is to take control of your career by making something. Doing something. Like a taster of your idea. That feels like something. But, unless you have deep pockets or stunning contacts, you'll almost certainly be selling it short, unless you have the good fortune of thinking up something that is cheap to film.  If you're making a Youtube video, you're making TV on your own - and TV is expensive. Even bad TV costs a lot.

The Problem and The Pain
The problem with many homemade videos is getting the sound, vision and content to join up. Usually one of these is defective, which gets in the way of the comedy and spoils it. Sometimes, these things come together into something half-decent, but then it's far too long. A while ago, I spoke to a guy who made a respectable YouTube clip of his idea, and it was ten minutes long. I suggested he cut it down to a punchy two minute trailer. But he couldn't face binning all that torturous hard work. It's understandable. But let's learn the lesson, even he can't bring himself to.

But what's the big deal? It's just YouTube. Your video doesn't have to look amazing, anyway, right? Hmmm. Youtube is full of ripped clips of big budget movies, pop videos bankrolled by record labels, brilliantly edited mash-ups and glorified commercials paid for by sponsors for whom fifty grand is loose change. Online, your clip is competing with all of these. As well as iPlayer, Netflix, Bit Torrent and porn.

All this said, YouTube videos can probably help writer-performers - where the writing and performance are integral. In fact, all the best YouTube videos I've seen are by writer-performers. But this is not a long list - for the reasons given above. Right now, only about three decent original YouTube videos spring to mind which I can say, hand on heart, I really like and have watched more than once and gladly shown to other people. They would be Special Forces, Thank You Hater and Blinded by Love (look them up later. I'm talking.) They've mostly been made by people with some decent credits under their belt and they sort of know people who helped them get it made and looking good. And they all took ages.

But Why?
And maybe you could do that to. But if you're a writer, not a writer/performer, why would you? If you work really hard, spend several hundred pounds on some props, food and editing, call in all your favours and drive yourself into the ground, you might produce a half-decent YouTube video. Half decent. It's probably a shadow of the idea in your head, a bit too long, one of the actors isn't great and you can hear traffic under the dialogue.

The world doesn’t need more half-decent YouTube videos. It does need decent scripts. 

Write a Script
Decent scripts will get you work. Really. They will. And you might have the power to make one of those, not least because they don't require a team of ten people and a ton of blagged favours. You can write a thirty-five page sitcom script just like anyone else. Your script will look exactly the same as those by Richard Curtis or Galton and Simpson. When it lands on the desk of a producer, they don't know who you are or what to expect. You can start your show with 'Admiral Nelson stands on the deck of his ship' and it won't look rubbish. And you won't be able to hear traffic from the A303 underneath.

But that script will take time, attention, honesty and several rewrites. If you have money to burn on a YouTube video, spend it renting a run down cottage in the middle of nowhere without an internet connection for a week or two. Finish that script and until you're actually happy with it.

I could bang on about what business people call ‘opportunity costs’, but you probably get the idea.

Should I make a YouTube video? Many would just say 'yes' because saying 'no' makes you look grumpy and curmudgeonly. Well, it's a bit late for that, so I say to writers 'Almost certainly not. Write a decent script.'

1 comment:

  1. Dave Cohen:

    Wise words as ever. I would add a few small caveats. (As ever). Good talented comedy actors are always available. As are, with a bit of scouting around, brilliant camera operators and editors. And everybody wants to work. Much that I hate the 'working for free' ethos, in the short term it can be seen as an investment.

    If you have a simple funny idea, or character, that you could write a bunch of funny scripts for, it might be worth putting out a SHORT vid maybe once a month. If you can build up a following then this may bring you to the attention of TV.

    From my own limited experience of making online shows, I got a hell of a lot out of being involved in the whole production process. Every step of the way, new challenges came up which forced me to re-think and occasionally re-write my scripts. I think the experience has definitely sharpened my writing.