This panel discussion first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by David Barr Kirtley. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the host discusses various geeky topics.
Dave: Our panel topic today will be YouTube for geeks. We’re joined by John Joseph Adams and not one, but two Guest Geeks. First up, we’ve got Matt London, making his eighth appearance on the show. He’s the creator of Space Pirates in Space, an animated web-series that premiered on YouTube in 2012. His fiction has appeared in The Living Dead Two, Daily Science Fiction, and is forthcoming in Space and Time Magazine. He’s also written extensively about video games and other geeky stuff for Lightspeed Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and Tor.com. Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt: Thanks for having me back, guys.
Dave: Joining us for the very first time is Cate Matthews. She’s a graduate of the Alpha Young Writers Workshop, and a recent college grad who’s been vlogging on YouTube since 2010, where she’s racked up over three thousand subscribers. Cate, welcome to the show.
Cate: Hello, thank you.
Dave: Just to start out with, we’re going to talk about what our personal experiences have been with uploading stuff to YouTube. I’d like Matt to go first and tell us about Space Pirates in Space. Describe it a little bit, and what’s its current status?
Matt: Space Pirates in Space is an animated web-comic about a crew of incompetent space pirates robbing the galaxy one screw-up at a time. I call it an animated web-comic because each episode is only about thirty to ninety seconds long. It’s not like your normal web-series that’s like three- to five-minute episodes or longer. I really like the idea of this bite-sized video content. It allows you to consume them really, really quickly, and it’s structured more like a lot of the web-comics that I love. We’re about to wrap up our first season, and then the second season will premiere sometime in the fall. It’s been an awesome project to work on. The inspiration for it was that I always wanted to be the showrunner of an animated TV series, but the opportunities for that are few and far between. I really wanted to emulate that style of production in making a web-series. I brought together a team of actor, improv-er, writer types, and got them all into a room to brainstorm ideas and collaboratively craft a script for the series. Then after that, we recorded dialogue for everybody, and then I animated the entire season.
Dave: You can do an animated series as basically a one-person production team? What kind of equipment and software do you use?
Matt: It’s not an easy task to do it all by myself, but I have a background in film and television production, so I came with a lot of those skills when I started. It’s mainly editing dialogue, something I’m sure you’re very familiar with, Dave. Then I build character assets inside of Photoshop, then export those to After Effects, where I animate the characters like puppets. After Effects is a really great tool for creating three-dimensional animation. Then I finish it all off in Final Cut Pro.
Dave: Do you watch a lot of animated web stuff on YouTube?
Matt: I try to. It’s funny, there are varying degrees of quality. What got me hooked into it was Machinima, which is this style of animation where you perform the animated film inside of a video game, and then dub over the motion of the game with your own dialogue. I think the first real break-out show was Red vs. Blue from Rooster Teeth. Now, Rooster Teeth has become this titan in the web animation industry. They do all sorts of comedic and game content. Beyond that, Machinima does all sorts of shows. A couple of my favorites are: Mega Man Dies at the End and Sonic for Hire, which take classic video game characters and put them into really absurd situations.
John: We should mention that Red vs. Blue is set in the Halo-verse of the Halo video game, and “Red versus Blue” means that, if you’re playing a “versus” game, then one team is red and one is blue, and then they have humorous stuff happening and make fun of the silly little conventions of the game. It actually is quite hilarious.
Matt: It’s a really funny show. The production value of web content can vary a lot, just because some people don’t have the resources to make something look really slick and first-tier professional. The truth is that it doesn’t take a budget to write something really smart or really funny. What you end up with is really brilliant writing. That’s the thing that makes good web entertainment.
Dave: When you mentioned video game characters in absurd situations, it makes me think of the Dorkly videos. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of those, but they’re like video game characters, and in one of them Link rescues Zelda from Ganon in The Legend of Zelda, and then her boorish boyfriend shows up and goes off with her, and that was really funny. There’s this funny one where the main character from Braid is at a bar, and there’s all these other sidescroller characters like Mario and stuff, and the main character from Braid is really pretentious, and he’s like, “I’m not hanging out with you guys. I’m in a completely different class.” Mario is like, “Whoa, we’re both characters.” Braid is like, “No, but I rewind time.” Mario says, “You mean like Banjo Kazooie?” Braid says, “No, not like Banjo Kazooie, that’s outrageous.” That’s a really funny video.
Matt: That’s exactly the kind of thing. Mega Man Dies at the End is a spoof on the Mega Man series. It sort of turns Mega Man into an ’80s action movie, where he’s grizzled with a beard, out in the woods, cutting lumber, and some robot comes out to bring him back for one last mission. He doesn’t want to go and he’s all conflicted, and then hilarity ensues as he navigates the seedy robot underworld.
Dave: Cate, do you watch any animated movies on YouTube?
Cate: I’ve seen a few, just one-offs. I can’t say that I make a habit of it. Some of the best ones I’ve seen were actually involving Batman and Superman, just parody videos.
Matt: Did you see the video that they did of the death of Superman?
Cate: Yeah, I did.
Matt: Who is in it? There was somebody famous in it. I think it might have been through College Humor or Funny or Die, but they did a retelling of The Death of Superman: “If you’ve never seen The Death of Superman, I’m going to explain to you in ten minutes The Death of Superman, the whole saga,” but then they acted it out on the streets of Los Angeles, and it’s just completely absurd and ridiculous.
Dave: I didn’t realize you were quoting that. I thought you were about to spend ten minutes describing The Death of Superman. I was getting a little nervous there.
Matt: [Laughter] No.
John: Actually, one of my favorite things on YouTube, which I was going to mention later, but since we’re talking about video games, is this “Breaking Bad Sixteen-Bit RPG.” I think this was College Humor. They took the story of Breaking Bad, it’s like the first four seasons, and they tell it in the style of a sixteen-bit role-playing game. It’s basically like playing Final Fantasy from the sixteen-bit days, but with Breaking Bad characters. It has all the ridiculous things that happen in the show, like when you strip away all the character stuff that’s so great on the show, and you look at it just on the surface, it seems ridiculous. It starts off with Walt going to the doctor and finding out that he has cancer, and then it pops up with a choice tree, and you have to decide what to do. It’s like, “Ask for help,” “Do this,” “Do this,” and then the last one was, “Sell meth.” So of course he just goes to “Sell meth,” ignoring the three other reasonable options that were above it. There’s all kinds of stuff like that. Then it has this really great coda at the end, where it’s like, “Breaking Bad Two: The Adventures of Walt Jr.,” which is Walt’s son, and it’s basically like his only option is “Eat breakfast.” On the show he’s basically eating breakfast and that’s what he does. Then it’s like, “Okay, go away, Walt Jr. Go to school.”
Dave: I posted my top ten videos, and a bunch of these are animated. I don’t know if anyone got a chance to watch any of them.
Matt: Love them. Ze Frank’s True Facts is maybe the most genius thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube. You can guess why I like it so much. It’s talking about the perverse sex habits of weird, alien-looking animals.
John: Those aren’t animated though.
Matt: No, they’re not, but that’s even more horrifying. You look at the sex lives of sea horses, or land snails, and you can be horrified.
Dave: Did you see, I think this is animated, Scientifically Accurate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and stuff like that? They have actual horrifying facts of turtle biology, and make it so that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have those characteristics. It’s so terrifying. You can’t even begin to imagine. They do it for a bunch of different animal-mutant kind of shows.
John: Two other things that I had on my list of favorites that were animated: Do you guys know the comedian Tim Minchin? He’s a comedian-singer, so he has this song called “Storm,” and somebody made an animated movie out of it. It’s like poetry more than an actual song, he’s just reciting this story, but it’s kind of like a song. The animated film version is really cool to watch, and he’s a great geek-oriented comedian. His humor is very rational-based. He has a lot of atheist-type humor, and this one is specifically about being a skeptic, and running into someone at a party who’s a believer.
Dave: Oh yeah, that’s great. One of the things on mine is NonStampCollector on YouTube. People sometimes say that atheism is just another religion, and one retort to that is, “Yeah, atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.” So that’s where the NonStampCollector handle comes from. He has a video called Noah’s Ark, and I don’t know if anyone watched it, but it’s so funny. It goes through all the practical problems you would have trying to get every animal on Earth onto a big wooden boat, and nine thousand species of spiders, and how do you feed them? How do you get the polar bears together with the camels? It’s really, really funny.
Matt: One of the things that you linked to, Dave, that I really liked was the They’re Made of Meat short film, based on the Terry Bisson short story. I really love how short video content, whether live action or animated, is a great way to share some of the awesome short stories in the science fiction world. It’s funny because occasionally they’ll try to turn a short story into a feature film—obviously a lot of Phillip K. Dick stories have gone this way. There was that horrendous movie The Box. Whenever you try to expand a short story into a feature film it always ends up being a bloated disaster, but when it’s a short film, or an animated short, I think it can really deliver the essence of a story really well. An animation teacher of mine named Nick Fox-Gieg won the best animated short at South by Southwest a couple of years ago with a Benjamin Rosenbaum story called “The Orange.” That’s an awesome film that perfectly conveys the story. It’s just the text of the story recited with animation, and it looks and feels great. It’s this awesome story.
Dave: They’re Made Out of Meat is the number one thing on my list. The premise is that it’s a conversation between two aliens, and it turns out that most alien life in the universe is not organic, so they’re just horrified to discover that humans are organic and have brains with blood. They’re like, “They’re made out of meat, this is so freaking wrong.” It’s really funny. It’s the kind of thing that couldn’t be longer than four or five minutes. It’s perfect at that length.
Matt: ’Cause then one of the aliens would have a girlfriend, and a boss who’s mean to him, and it would turn into this bloated thing.
Dave: Cate, since Matt has brought up non-animated videos, do you have any non-animated videos you want to mention?
Cate: Goodness, there are so many. When you suggested that I look up some of my geekier videos that I’ve enjoyed over time, the first video I thought of was MC Frontalot’s “Spoiler Alert.” I’m sure some of you have seen that, but it’s basically a nerdcore rap spoiling every single thing in every single movie. It’s really funny to watch, and actually really horrifying, too, because you know you’re spoiling things for yourself.
John: Well, I will never watch it, probably, then.
Dave: Speaking of music videos, one I had on my list is the—not safe for work warning—“Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” music video by Rachel Bloom, in which she’s like a school girl, and she sings about how she wants to fuck Ray Bradbury. When this came out, every single one of my friends linked to this. Saladin Ahmed said it’s like catnip for the internet because it’s boobs plus science fiction books.
John: That actually ended up getting nominated for the Hugo Award for “Best Dramatic Presentation.” Then she actually went to Worldcon that year. They do autographing sessions, and there will be like four people in a row, and they have lines for everybody to come get their autographs. She was actually at the session right before mine. I didn’t get to talk to her, but we sort of nodded at each other as we were passing by.
Dave: Wait, does she know you?
John: No, no.
Dave: So, you just nodded at her basically.
Dave: And she’s like, “Who is that guy?”
Dave: It’s funny because Sam Weller, who wrote the biography of Ray Bradbury, he actually showed that video to Ray Bradbury, so there’s a video where you can see Ray Bradbury’s reaction to watching it.
John: I was going to say, when Matt was talking about They’re Made out of Meat and adapting stories to short videos, when my anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination came out, I think we talked about this on the show before, but David Levine has a story in the book called “Letter to the Editor,” and he turned it into a short film. It’s basically a mad scientist laying out his plans for why what he’s been doing over the course of his mad scientist career has actually been for the benefit of the planet. He’s making this case, and he’s explaining it all. It’s told first-person, like he’s talking to you, the reader. He did a short film of himself dressed up as the mad scientist, and he’s talking right to the camera. He does a really great job performing it. I’ve heard him read it live at conventions, and it was even more wonderful than having just read it myself. It’s very simple, and they did a little bit of editing, but it’s mostly one shot on him doing it.
Dave: Speaking of adapting short stories, because I actually tried that, the first couple of videos I posted on YouTube, I took the audio from some of my stories that had appeared as podcasts, and I took the audio from the first scene of the story and did, every five seconds or something, a new image would come up to accompany the audio. They got a couple thousand views, nothing huge, but it was so labor intensive that I gave up after the first scene. I think it would have worked pretty well if I had a team to help me. If I had Matt to do it for me. I think that would be a good idea.
John: I know you wanted to talk about book trailers, and what I was just saying about the Mad Scientist’s Guide video that David Levine did, to me, I think, for an anthology, that’s like the perfect sort of book trailer. I actually do have a couple of book trailers. I have one for The Living Dead and one for Seeds of Change. There was a very primitive one for Wastelands that we had on YouTube at some point, but I took it down because it just wasn’t up to par. But, David Levine’s video was like, okay, that’s content that you would watch independently of having any interest in the book. Most book trailers, it feels to me like, you kind of have to already be interested in it to watch it. Some of them are good—the one for Scott Sigler’s Nocturnal is pretty good; I happened to see it because I was watching Sword and Laser and they aired the trailer on there—but most book trailers that I’ve seen don’t seem very good at capturing the audience because it’s like a trailer for a movie, but then the experience of reading the book is not going to be anything like watching the trailer for the book.
Dave: I agree that most book trailers are just so underwhelming. Especially because we’re used to movie trailers where they spend hundreds of millions of dollars making a movie, and then they take all the best shots from it, and put it together in two or three minutes. You’re just like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” Then the movie usually turns out to be terrible. But then a book trailer is like they get some random person, and they have some cheap costume, and then it’s shot on a crummy camera. It doesn’t make you want to read the book at all. The only ones that I’ve ever thought were good was one for Stephen King’s Duma Key that was super produced. That one was pretty good. Actually, there was one for Carrie Ryan’s book The Forest of Hands and Teeth that actually made me want to read that book. I agree that it’s totally problematic, trying to do book trailers.
John: I think the problem with these is that they’re just being posted on YouTube and online elsewhere, and you have to go want to watch them. If they were airing at the beginning of a movie reel, while you’re just sitting in the audience waiting for the actual movie trailers to start, if they were airing them then, they might actually play well. They’re introducing the audience to this thing that maybe they haven’t heard of, but there is that visual component so you watch it to check out what it is, and then maybe you’ll get interested in it. Like I said, it still has the same problems of not really feeling like the experience of reading the book, but at least it might actually reach a new audience, whereas you’re sort of self-selecting who’s going to ever click on these things the way it is now.
Dave: When we interviewed Rick Yancey, he was saying as part of that $750,000 marketing campaign that they actually are showing trailers for The 5th Wave in movie theaters before movies, so it would be interesting if there was some way to know whether that actually was effective.
John: That’s very exciting.
Matt: John, I think you’re touching on something that I’ve noticed a lot in the online space, which is that there are so many fans out there, and everyone has really specific interests. I think that the barriered entry for a lot of people to finding new, exciting stuff that they would really be into is just knowing that it exists. So much about searching the internet is needle in a haystack stuff. It’s sort of the result of search engine optimization, where you go looking for something like, “Sci Fi Comedy,” right? And the first hundred thousand results for that will be the same fifty things that are the fifty biggest things in the world, but beyond that there is so much other content that’s just harder to find. I wish that there was a way for people to be introduced to new and exciting stuff without requiring a trailer to be at the front of a movie, which obviously would be really expensive. Or, like a two-page spread in Entertainment Weekly, or a banner ad on the front page of YouTube.
Cate: There’s a concept in new media that good content rises to the top, and that’s becoming a little bit less true now that there’s a lot of big money getting involved, and a lot of sponsorship and advertising, and that’s all complicated. But, good content does rise to the top. It’s not just Justin Bieber that goes viral, luckily. You find someone, and then they like it, and they share your video, and then they mention it to a friend, and that’s just how it works.
Dave: See, Cate, have you ever bought a book or been tempted to buy a book after seeing any sort of video about it?
Cate: To be honest, I haven’t. I’ve seen very good book trailers, though, and I think the best book trailers are when it acknowledges that it’s fundamentally a literary activity. It kind of embraces what makes books strong, which is the voice, and the voice moving the plot forward.
John: I mentioned that I have two book trailers, so there’s one for The Living Dead, which was actually done by a professional studio that was looking to get into doing book trailers. They approached me because at the time The Living Dead was very popular, it had just come out, and they wanted to do something with zombies, I guess. They offered to do it for free, so I said, “Yeah, sure.” I thought it turned out okay. It’s pretty cool to watch. It has good original music to it. It has some nice visuals. The trailer I have for Seeds of Change—to me, that actually feels like the best kind of trailer you could have for an anthology like that. Short of actually adapting a story into a full short film, like with David Levine. The Seeds of Change trailer, my friend Jack Kincaid did it for me. He found a bunch of public domain images and video, and he cut together this thing that did a little excerpt of each story. He’s a voice actor, so he did a lot of the voices, and he narrated a little segment of each story, and he did all this original music for it. It’s really an impressive production. I still get chills watching it, maybe because it’s my book, but it really feels like that’s a really good job of introducing the book quickly to an audience.
Dave: I just want to say that The Living Dead trailer, it’s for a zombie anthology, and he used stock footage of kids hanging out, and then did some sort of digital processing on it to make them look zombified. There’s this shot where this girl turns her head to look at the camera, and I was like, “No, when she turns her head the far side of her head should be all messed up and bloody.” So they went back and did that. I just want to say that that was my idea, if anyone watches that video.
Matt: I did a book trailer for Amanda Cohen’s Dirt Candy Cookbook. It’s this comic book cookbook, which I think really translated well to video because you can actually see the art from the interior of the book. It makes it much easier to do a video presentation for something textual if it has really great art or illustrations. So, comics work better in a lot of ways.
Dave: Cate, why don’t you tell us a bit about your vlogging. How did you get into that?
Cate: My friend referred me to the Vlog Brothers channel because I was going to college with someone who was closely associated with them. That’s why I found out that there was this entire world on YouTube with people talking to each other with cameras. I started putting videos online as many, many teenagers now do, and it just blossomed from there. Some of my videos were more well received than others, and they got some modicum of attention within the community.
Dave: What kind of equipment and/or software did you use?
Cate: I started out, and I’m a little embarrassed to say this, just with my iSight on my Mac. I would just sit in front of it and talk for a bit and then edit that together with iMovie, even though I already had a video camera; it was just easier. Then I eventually got a better quality camera, not as good as a DSLR, but a pretty good handicam, and I graduated to Final Cut, which is a little bit complicated, but still fun to use.
Matt: Cate, I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about who the Vlog Brothers are, and what’s your story for how you discovered them, and what it was that you liked about them so much.
Cate: The Vlog Brothers are a pair of brothers who have this incredibly amazing community that they’ve created over the years. I think they started in 2007. John Green is the first of them, and he is currently a New York Times best-selling author, and his most recent book, The Fault in Our Stars, is being made into a movie, and that’s very exciting. When he started vlogging, he already had a fair bit of online presence, but it was nowhere where it is now, where he has hundreds of thousands of followers and subscribers. Hank Green created several eco websites in the beginning of the 2000s, and he was working on that. Together they decided to start a project where they would talk to each other, and through John’s notoriety and participation from the outside world, they got more and more important. It’s really interesting the community that’s been built up around them, which is about all things geek and celebrating what is nerdy and what is often ignored. They have this new channel called The Brain Scoop that they are directing that follows someone who exhumes animals for a living. It’s a very interesting thing. It made me realize that video could be more than just viral videos and punch lines, and it could be an actual conversation, and a very meaningful one at that.
John: One of the things about their plan to do the Vlog Brothers channel was that they actually agreed to not to communicate with each other for a full year other than via the vlog. No email, no text, and no communication in any way. I think they said they might allow each other to talk on the phone, but they were basically going to only be communicating with each other via the vlog. One would do a vlog and the other would reply in a vlog, and that’s how they were going to communicate for the whole year.
Matt: The thing I really like about the story is that their fame and notoriety played off each other. It started off because John Green was an author and had fans, it brought a small group of people to watch this conversation between him and Hank Green. Hank Green is, I don’t know if you’d call him a filker, but he’s like a wizard rocker. He writes a lot of songs about the Harry Potter world, so he had a song about the last book, or something, and the video of him singing that song went viral and brought this huge influx of fans to the vlog-cast. Then, because of that influx of fans, it allowed John Green’s next book to hit the Times list, which then created this new burst of fandom for him because it was on the Times list, it brought new fans to the vlog, and it grew and grew from there, to the point now where—I guess one of the Google grants that Cate was talking about earlier—they received a Google grant to start a new series of shows on YouTube.
Dave: When Cate was mentioning that was before we started recording. Cate, could you repeat that for the benefit of our listeners?
Cate: Right now, YouTube is straddling two worlds. They’re this burgeoning hub of online, independent content, but also they’re trying to figure out how to address that there’s a TV-like quality to them, and they’re trying to mix their new media with old media. They developed this YouTube original content initiative where they gave some of the top independent content creators on YouTube a TV-like grant where they could take, depending on how much money, some of it was smaller, a couple hundred thousand dollars and see what they could do with that, what shows they could create. Some were more successful than others.
Dave: You were sort of saying that none of them have really made back the money that was invested in them, right?
Cate: They were expected to do it within the first year, and I think that maybe one or two channels at most have out-earned that grant, at least through advertising alone. That would be SourceFed, because it’s a very small operation. It doesn’t take much to make, but it’s very viral. It’s a news show, basically.
Matt: One of the interesting things that John and Hank Green have been doing is this new venture called Subbable, which is an online surface that curates interesting YouTube content. If you’re a fan, then you can subscribe and donate money in a Kickstarter kind of form. You can watch all the content for free, but if you’re a fan, then you can send in money to support the shows and content that you like. It’s an interesting attempt to break away from the ad-connected model. I think that as the internet evolves, and internet entertainment evolves, there’s going to be a point where the amount of content, and the budget at which that content is being produced, can’t be sustained by YouTube ads alone.
Dave: We were mentioning that there was Sword and Laser, it’s a similar podcast to this one, they discuss fantasy and science fiction books. They had a video show that Felicia [Day] hosted on [the] Geek and Sundry [channel]. If you ever watched it, the production values are amazing. I would watch it, and I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m so jealous. They have a smoking dragon head.” They have a whole set. They also had little animations. It must cost thousands of dollars to produce one of these episodes. It’s really hard for me to see how a book show is going to recoup that kind of investment, although I wish I could figure out some way to do it, because it was pretty cool.
John: I’d just be happy if we could record in a studio together, as opposed to doing everything via Skype. I don’t need a whole dragon studio like they’ve got. If we could just be sitting in the same place with mics, that would be nice. They have the whole production team and everything. It’s kind of ridiculous.
Matt: John, you have a little bit of experience with Lightspeed of having people be willing to pay different amounts of money for the content that you’re providing. Some people want to lurk on the site and read all the stories you publish, but other people, I know that you’ve told me stories in the past about people who are totally willing and say, “I’m going to throw a bunch of money at this because I think it’s awesome, and I want to support it.”
John: At Lightspeed, we have lifetime subscriptions, and we have a couple of lifetime subscribers, so it’s like five hundred dollars to buy a lifetime subscription, but of course, like Matt says, most of the content is online for free. We started adding some exclusive content to the ebook editions, but the majority of the content is online for free, so nobody really has to pay for it, but you’re paying for the exclusivity of the content that’s in the ebook and the convenience of the ebook format, and that kind of thing. Even though people might not be doing the big-ticket lifetime subscription, they might just buy regular subscriptions, whereas they could totally read it for free, I think a lot of people are willing to do that kind of thing. I recently did a reader survey—if you’re a Lightspeed reader, you can still fill out the reader survey, and you have a chance to win a free subscription; go to lightspeedmagazine.com/survey if you want to—in the survey I was asking some questions, sort of asking people, “Hey, do you know who the publisher of Lightspeed is?” I had a couple different options, and it became very clear, very quickly, that most people don’t know who the publisher is, and they don’t realize it’s me. Just some dude, me. It’s not like a major company or anything, so one of my follow-up questions was, “Now knowing that I’m the publisher, does that change your thoughts about whether or not to support the magazine financially?” A lot of them said yes. That they didn’t realize it was just me publishing it. They thought it was a company that was publishing the magazine or something. Obviously, if it’s just me publishing it, they feel like, “Oh, well, that’s more worthy of my financial support than just feeding the beast of some major company.”
Dave: That’s funny, because sometimes people will post bad reviews for this show and say, “These hosts suck. Just replace the hosts and it will be so much better.” We’re like, “Umm, if you replace the hosts, there’s no one else working on this. I don’t know who else you think is involved.” Maybe there is a profit model that would make doing a video book show viable. I think that leads into the issue of, does video benefit a book show, really? Do you need to see the people’s faces when they’re talking about an inherently non-visual kind of media?
John: I wonder that with a lot of the things I was watching for this. I watched a lot of the stuff on Geek and Sundry, and there were a lot of things that, if you took away the video and it was just an audio show, basically the same as an audio podcast like this, I don’t know that there was going to be much of a difference. On Geek and Sundry, they have The Story Board, which was like a Google Hangout discussion. Felicia [Day] has Vaginal Fantasy, which is also a Google Hangout recorded session like that. Both of those you don’t really need to see the people to enjoy that content. You can just have it as a podcast instead. I wonder if it’s worth doing all that video stuff as well.
Dave: It seems like video is a lot harder to edit, maybe Matt and Cate can speak to this, but how much latitude do you have to edit the audio when the video is included?
Matt: You can fake audio much easier than you can fake video. There are some things, just in the language of the moving image, that it’s incredibly difficult to break those rules and not have your audience feel like something is wrong with it, even if they don’t know what it is that’s wrong with it. I learned this term for the first time this week that’s amazing, it’s called the Frankenbite—anyone who’s ever edited audio or watches a reality television show will be familiar with this phenomenon even if they don’t know the term itself. It’s when a testimonial interview with a reality show contestant is hacked to pieces to the point where the original statement is completely indecipherable, but the editor has sculpted a new statement to better fit the narrative of the show. You’ll hear something, it’ll sound like this, “I think (pause) Dave (pause) is a (pause) jerk.” Right? Now “jerk” is from one sentence, and I think is from a sentence three episodes ago, and it all just gets mashed together to create the story that they want to. If you’ve worked in post-production before, you can hear those cuts, even though for the uninitiated viewer, sometimes it’ll sort of flow naturally. In pure audio, it’s so much easier to cut those things up; if you were just doing that with a face on camera shot, it would be very difficult. You need to add in other images to mask some of those audio cuts.
Dave: I’ve really been struck, having done so much audio editing for this show now, how when I watch TV, I can tell where it’s been edited, and I never would have noticed that before. Cate, why don’t you tell us how much editing you do on your videos. What’s been your experience with that?
Cate: I do quite a bit of editing on my videos, and that’s just because there’s so much of it that you don’t want to include for the final product, like you were talking about. It’s mostly simple. I think as long as it looks like a good quality product with decent lighting and a straight-on camera shot that’s above four hundred and eighty pixels, I don’t think it would be that difficult to make it seem super professional, even though you guys are mostly experienced with audio.
Dave: I’ve actually noticed with vlogs that it’s almost sort of a convention of the form that you have these very obvious cuts. They’re not even trying to mask the fact that there’s a cut, that’s almost part of the appeal, or something.
Cate: It’s supposed to be. There’s two things that have really risen because of talking vlogging. You’re supposed to speak faster because it’s supposed to sound more interesting and more exciting, and obviously you get more words in for your three- or four-minute video. It’s a little bit more frenetic than a podcast. Also, you’ve got these jump cuts, and you just cut from sentence to sentence because on YouTube there’s no time for breath or a sneeze.
Dave: I was actually wondering, Cate, you’re kicking our ass as far as YouTube views and subscribers, do you have any theories on why your videos have been as popular as they have been?
Cate: I really lucked out, and I was lucky enough that people found my videos, and they shared them. There’s no secret trick. It’s just sort of sharing good content, and good content rises, in theory.
John: For YouTube, I think one of the issues for us is that our show is obviously an audio product. It’s not a video product. You’re putting it on YouTube and you have the image there, but when people go to YouTube, I think most of the time people want the video experience because it is a different experience. I can’t really explain it, like why I might watch a video of someone talking, but then I wouldn’t listen to that same podcast necessarily. Specifically, when I go to YouTube, I’m not necessarily going there because I want to sit and listen to something, I’m going there because I want to watch something. If there’s nothing to watch, it’s just listening, then I think that we’re not going to get a lot of “viewers” for the podcast there. We’d be more likely to get people to say, “Oh, I’ve discovered that, now I’m going to go subscribe to the podcast, and I’ll listen to it while I’m on my commute or whatever.”
Dave: I think we should explain that we take all of our podcasts and post them on YouTube just as one more place that people could find the podcast, and most of our subscribers are not through YouTube. There’s just sort of a slideshow, which has our logo and photos. I didn’t expect those to set the world on fire or anything. A couple of them have gotten a couple thousand views, but it’s just really striking that someone will post a picture of them falling down the stairs and that gets like five billion views. You sort of get the impression that anything that gets posted on YouTube will at least get ten thousand views and that’s not true. You can post really good stuff on it, and nobody will watch it at all.
Cate: The other thing is for every falling down the stairs video that goes viral, there’s a couple hundred thousand that are just someone banging their knee.
John: I emailed you about this, Dave, after I watched a bunch of those Geek and Sundry things, including the ones that I mentioned were Google Hangouts, and I wondered, should we try recording the show using a Google Hangout? Not necessarily so that we could record the video of it, just because it felt to me, especially when we’re doing a larger panel like this, it would actually be really useful to be able to see everybody else. Not just because it’s easier to talk to someone when you can see them, but because we can give hand signals and stuff, like if I want to jump in, but if we did do that, we could conceivably experiment with recording a show and putting it on YouTube. It would be hard, because you couldn’t edit it like you’re used to being able to edit it, so I don’t know if it will actually be viable at all, but it could be something we could try as an experiment. Maybe if we pick the right show, and we set up very firm rules for what we could talk about, and everybody only had two minutes, and we had a timer, or something like that. It would be very challenging, but it might be something worth experimenting with.
Dave: I was thinking if we did a show on our favorite book covers, for example, it would make sense to have that be video, because then we could actually show the book covers we’re talking about. If it had some visual component, it might be worth experimenting with a video format.
What do people just think about YouTube generally? I used to be a huge fan of YouTube, I’d spend all day on it, but ever since the ads came on, and you can put these stupid text bars over the video, they just drive me crazy. Especially when, say I want to see the trailer for a new movie, and I type that in, and then I start watching it, and ten seconds in I realize it’s actually a fan-made trailer and it sucks. I’m like, “No, that’s not the right video.” So then I’ll type in the title again, and then it’ll start playing a thirty-second ad, and I’m like, “Ugh, this is just insane that it plays an ad when I just watched a video that turned out to be the wrong video.” I just wonder, do people feel like YouTube is just going down the drain? Are there alternatives?
John: I’m surprised how much I enjoy doing the prep for this. When you first suggested the idea, I didn’t think that I was that big of a YouTube fan, but then when I was looking back through my viewing history, I was like, “Oh, actually there was a lot of stuff on here that I really loved watching.” It’s mostly viral stuff that somebody linked to somewhere. Not necessarily hugely viral, but some geek that I know linked to it. There’s a lot of stuff that I really enjoyed. As I was doing research, and I was checking out Geek and Sundry and some related stuff to things that I watched, I found a lot of stuff that was really, really funny that I like now, and I’m going to definitely try to look for more. I know what you’re saying, though, the ad stuff is kind of annoying. There’s multiple ads on each one sometimes. There will be the banner along the bottom that you have to click to kill, and then there’s another little box in the right or left hand corner, and it’s like, “I don’t even understand. Go away.” It’s confusing because it looks like it’s part of the same channel, but it’s not, it’s just some random ad. It is a little frustrating. I have seen a couple YouTube alternatives, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve really caught on. There’s things like Vimeo and other services that are basically the same thing, but they don’t seem to have the same community feel that YouTube does.
Matt: Each one has a different kind of community. Vimeo is gigantic, it’s a huge institution. There’s a style difference between the two of them. YouTube deliberately looks unprofessional. They do that specifically to encourage non-professionals to produce content for the site. Vimeo, on the other hand, is trying to be the slicker, more corporate, more professional video aggregation site. Where if you are an artist, an editor, or a designer, if you want to present something in a very professional manner, Vimeo may be more for you.
Cate: I think that YouTube has definitely taken a turn for the less than user friendly. Actually, when I started vlogging, they weren’t totally profitable. I think they were actually losing venture, the company itself, when it was bought by Google. Now it’s suddenly very focused on profit, and we can see that because of the ads, the influx of them all of a sudden. The partnership program was a wonderful thing when it allowed independent creators to place ads on their videos. Now ads are put on almost every video. Also, the subscription model where you could subscribe to one channel, like Geek and Sundry, like Matt’s, has changed dramatically, and it has actually caused several of my friends who use YouTube and making videos on it is their primary source of income, it has caused their view counts to fall dramatically. That’s because instead of immediately presenting users with their subscription list and the videos they’ve said they wanted to see, YouTube instead presents a mix of viral videos and related videos, and it’s not the same.
John: One of my favorite things about YouTube, regardless of its problems with ads and stuff, is that almost any clip that you want to find, that you want to reference to someone, you can find it on YouTube. They’re not always legit, but when we did our sword fighting postgame, and we were trying to find the best sword fighting scenes in film, that was amazing. I created like a seventy item playlist that you can go watch. Anybody who watches that episode can then go back and watch all of the sword fighting scenes that we talked about in the episode. I think that’s cool. It’s allowing people to share stuff and talk about stuff in a way that wouldn’t be possible without something like YouTube. For instance, when I was doing the prep for this show, I created a playlist called YouTube for Geeks, and we can share the link for that on geeksguideshow.com. I created this playlist, and I was just adding the first episode of the different series so you can check those out, and a bunch of it is from Geek and Sundry, a bunch of it is some other stuff I discovered as I was going along. Then I also created one that’s just my favorites, and we’re not going to get to talk about all of my favorites, but I made a list of some of my favorites as well. I think that’s cool that we can do that kind of thing and just share it. It’s almost like curating an anthology, but like a short film anthology.
Dave: The other big drawback to YouTube that strikes me, as someone who uses it fairly casually, is that it seems to have the dumbest, most vicious comments of anywhere I go on the internet. It was funny actually, Felicia Day, in one of the other interviews I listened to, said that her experience on YouTube taught her that the worst super power that you could possibly have would be telepathy, because it would just be like reading YouTube comments twenty-four hours a day. Is that just my imagination or are YouTube comments literally the worst comments?
John: They are.
Matt: Yes, YouTube video comments are the worst comments in the world. One of my all-time favorite YouTube videos is “Charlie Bit My Finger,” which for the one of six billion of you listening who have never heard of this video, it’s basically two British toddler brothers sitting in a chair, hanging out, and the little one bites the big ones finger, and over the course of five to ten seconds the older brother goes through like six emotional states, from amusement to surprise to pain to shrieking agony to defensive hurt and then finally bemusement. It’s an amazing video and it deserves the hundred and eighty million views that it has. But, if you go to YouTube right this second as you’re listening to this, and type in “Charlie Bit My Finger,” and look at the first five comments, they will all be profanity-laden, pornographic, advertisements, super critical, disgusting, filthy, horrendous stuff. I know that because the top five comments on that video are always that. If you’re on the page right now and you’re looking, you’ll see that the most recent one will have been less than an hour ago, and it’s just because people are always on it being offensive, selling their own stuff, and trying to draw attention to themselves.
John: It just occurred to me that the comments are definitely the worst ever, but I figured it’s probably especially bad for women just because there are so many misogynist assholes that seem to leave comments there. Felicia with her shows, I imagine she must have to put up with a lot of b.s., and Annalee Newitz and Esther Inglis-Arkell from io9, they did this video show on YouTube for a while, and as soon as I saw them doing that—I know Dave and I talked about it at some point—and I was like, “Oh, I bet the comments on that are terrible. Just the worst, vilest shit.” Because there’s two women doing a show, and I can predict what the comments are going to be because it’s like, “Oh, they’re not super models,” or whatever, so everyone’s going to comment on their appearance. It’s repugnant.
Dave: Cate, what has been your experience with YouTube commenters?
Cate: I’ve been lucky enough that since I’m not “Charlie Bit My Finger,” I’m not anywhere near anything like that. I’ve been lucky that the community that I’m a part of is a small, supportive community that would never leave a comment like that, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t generally men who haven’t found my videos. One in particular that got a little scary. Currently, this weekend, Vidcon is going on, and yesterday there was a discussion at the “Becoming YouTube” and the “Women on YouTube” panels about why there aren’t more women creators in the top one hundred most subscribed. There are many reasons for this, and they’re all unfortunate, but one of them is because there’s quite a lot of harassment that occurs when you start getting up there.
Dave: We’re getting toward the end of our time here, but why don’t we run through some of the best channels and videos that we haven’t mentioned yet? We have this whole big list here, but maybe I’ll just mention a couple of the people that our listeners recommended. You’ve got How It Should Have Ended, they make fun of movies, point out plot holes, or have an improved ending. The one that sticks in my mind is its “Lord of the Rings: How It Should Have Ended,” and they just have the eagle fly them to the volcano, and they drop the ring in, and they fly home, and they’re like, “Imagine if we had walked that whole way, how hard that would have been.” I think there is stuff in the book that says why they can’t do that with the eagles, but it’s still funny. A couple people said Red Letter Media; have you guys seen the seven-part takedown of The Phantom Menace?
Matt: It’s almost as long as The Phantom Menace.
Dave: It is epic and amazing. The part that sticks in my mind from that is that they ask people on the street to describe the characters from the original movies: Princess Leia, Han Solo, and they say all this stuff about their personalities. Then they’re like, “Now describe the personality of Princess Amidala.” People are like, “Umm, she’s a princess?”
Matt: Exactly. In terms of Star Wars-related content, one of my all-time favorites is Star Wars Uncut. Star Wars Uncut was this crowd-sourced fan film where this guy asked his viewers to film fifteen seconds of Star Wars: A New Hope. He got hundreds of submissions of all these people putting together these tiny little short films.
Dave: This is in their backyards with cheap costumes.
Matt: Yeah, some of them are animated, some are spoofing old video game styles, a lot of them are people in bathrobes in their backyards with painted sticks. He then assembled them all into the film, and had them edited, smoothed out, used awesome sound effects, and blended it all together until he had a brand new version of Star Wars: A New Hope. I remember when I first watched it, I was like, “Oh, I’ll watch five minutes of this.” I got to like fifteen minutes in and was like, “I’m in trouble. I’m going to sit here and watch this whole thing.” And I did. It was like watching the movie again for the first time, because it gives you this new sense of discovery. You know what happens in Star Wars, but you don’t know how it’s going to happen again. They’re working on an Empire Strikes Back one now. I cannot wait to watch it. I think that there should be more stuff like this. If there is a leader orchestrating really quality, crowd-sourced content, I think the result could be amazing.
Dave: I don’t know if you ever saw ASCII Star Wars, but someone was trying to do all of A New Hope using ASCII art. He did forty-five minutes of it or something, but you look at this, and you’re like, “Oh my god, how long must it have taken to do this?” It’s funny, because if you look at the FAQ, the first question is like, “Why? Oh, for the love of god, why?” His answer is, “Eh, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
John: That reminds me, I totally forgot about this, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t include it on my list of favorites, but speaking of things that took an ungodly amount of time, that makes me think of Claymation, but there is this great Claymation video called Chainsaw Maid. It’s this ridiculously over the top, violent zombie thing. It’s about a maid who’s in this house, and the zombies start coming in, and she ends up getting a chainsaw. It’s so ridiculous, but it’s so gloriously violent. It’s a lot of fun. It’s hilarious, and so ridiculous and over the top. Actually, on the subject of Star Wars, though, there’s a lot of great Star Wars content that’s sort of spoofing things. On Geek and Sundry they have Space Janitors, which is basically a comedy show that is spoofing Star Wars. The main characters are space janitors on the Star Destroyer. Also the Auralnaughts, that’s another channel that has a whole ton of stuff, including some of my favorites. One of them was a show called Jedi Party, and it’s a parody of Phantom Menace: Instead of going to stop the trade federation Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, they’re just there for a party and they’re jerks. It’s really funny.
Dave: We should say that that’s Auralnaughts, a-u-r-a-l, not o-r-a-l.
John: Right, that would be a different channel.
Dave: Speaking of Star Wars, it makes me think of Star Wars Kid, and like the dark side of YouTube. I don’t know if you guys have read what happened to him, but he was bullied, and he had to change schools, and was in therapy, and all sorts of crazy stuff.
Matt: It’s sad. You should have a choice if you’re going to be posted on YouTube yourself. I think that this technology has appeared very quickly, and faster than societal norms and ethical questions can be defined and answered. It happened before it could become publicly accepted that that kind of thing is not okay.
Dave: Cate, do you have any favorite channels or videos you wanted to mention?
Cate: We’ve mentioned the Vlog Brothers, and Hank Green of the Vlog Brothers has a show called Scishow, which kind of talks about popular science and debunks some of the myths, and I think that is very enjoyable to watch, and it’s very interesting. Also, Feminist Frequency by Anita Sarkeesian, she analyzes tropes in science fiction and games, and that’s always interesting. Those would be my two recommendations.
Dave: Speaking of science, some people wanted us to mention Star Talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, which is a video show on the Nerdist network.
John: We mentioned Ze Frank in passing, but his True Facts series is pretty great. It’s definitely one of my favorite things on YouTube. It’s like he takes some weird animal, and there’s video of it, and he just narrates like it was a nature documentary, but it’s very sarcastic, and he kind of sounds like Morgan Freeman being sarcastic, which is great. He does the anglerfish, the mantis shrimp, and the dung beetle. They’re just hilarious. They’re all like two minutes long, so they’re the perfect length for YouTube. That’s probably my favorite science thing.
Matt: I have a lot of favorite channels. I’m really big into [the] video game [show] Let’s Play—I already mentioned Machinima, but Let’s Play is more of you can actually sit and watch somebody play through a video game. So, if it’s on a system that you don’t have, but you want to sort of have the cultural experience of playing the game, you can watch it kind of like a movie.
John: Dave, you do that all the time, don’t you?
Dave: I forget where I heard this, but there was a guy, he says, “I beat it on YouTube.” That just means I just watched through the game on YouTube, and then you didn’t have to pay for the game. I did that all the time. There was just a zombie game called The Last of Us, which is actually really well written, I thought. I started watching the Let’s Play, and after maybe an hour, I was bored with the game play section, but I was still interested in the story, so I just found someone who had cut all the cinematic scenes together into basically an hour-long movie, and I just watched that whole thing, and I loved it.
Matt: It’s an awesome game. I’m really kind of getting into e-sports, like pro-gaming, and one of the things about that that I really like is that there’s so many, not just like ESPN-style produced competitions that you can watch online, either recorded videos on YouTube or streaming live on a site like Twitch.tv, but some of the shout-casters, or commentators, that come out of that world become internet celebrities themselves. Day, aka Sean Plott, is one of the biggest. He has a series that just has so many viewers, even though he’s not even a professional player anymore of StarCraft, he is probably the most famous person to come out of that e-sports world. There’s a Magic commentator that I really like named Marshall Sutcliffe, who runs a podcast called Limited Resources about playing limited Magic: The Gathering. He’ll do not just strategy conversations, but also gameplay videos where he’ll take you through a game and talk about all of the decisions that he’s making. If you’re interested in learning to play either a game like Magic better, or a video game like StarCraft, or even something like The Last of Us, you can find that on YouTube, and experience it, and learn how to be better.
Although, I will say that my all-time favorite show on YouTube is from this pro-gamer named Frankie on PC, and there was this mod game, and John, you and I might have talked about this at some point, a game called Day Z. The way it works is it’s a mod of a very realistic military shooter, but the game was modded so that it all takes place on this one enormous map, and you spawn on the map somewhere with an empty backpack and your shoes, and you have to survive the zombie apocalypse. There are zombies all over this map, and you have to scrounge for food, guns, and supplies, and then meanwhile the zombies are all trying to eat you, and the other players—it’s sort of an MMO, a persistent world—but the other players are even more dangerous than the zombies because they may find you, and think, “Oh, this guy’s got a backpack full of food. That’s much easier than going into a grocery store filled with zombies. I’ll just murder this guy and take all of his stuff.” There’s permanent death in the game, so if you die that’s it, it’s over. What this guy Frankie does, is he just plays the game, and sort of comments his way through it, and because the social interaction between the other players is so relevant to the game, it takes on the feel of this serialized zombie survival horror show, where you have to watch him stay alive in this game. The series itself spans dozens of episodes and hours of content. It’s so gripping even though it’s just gameplay videos of a video game.
Dave: This came up in the interview with Felicia, but the Ultima series, there’s a whole series where Warren Spector, the legendary game designer, he interviews different game designers. There’s one called “Warren Spector interviews Richard Garriott,” about his game design career, and it really covers his whole career and a lot of stuff about the Ultima games. It’s really interesting. That’s the stuff that, if there was no YouTube, it isn’t going to be on Netflix or anything, it’s way too specialized. There’s a lot of stuff like that. My favorite author is Roger Zelazny, and for years and years and years I looked for some video of him online. I could never find anything. Finally on YouTube this video pops up, it’s called “Book V: Roger Zelazny Reads at 4th Street Fantasy Convention, 1986,” and as far as I know, this is the only video of Roger Zelazny online, at least the only one I could find after years of searching. It’s just amazing that stuff like this pops up on YouTube, and you can actually find it.
Matt: There was an old French Saturday morning cartoon show, and I couldn’t remember what it was called, I just remember that when I was a little kid I used to wake up very early in the morning, sneak downstairs, and watch this cartoon with my brother at five-thirty or six in the morning. It was a syndicated thing, so it wasn’t even anywhere close to being on the original network that it was on. I couldn’t remember the name of it, so eventually on YouTube, just typing in search terms, trying different combinations, and trying to guess at it, I finally found it. It was so amazing to think that YouTube is this amazing resource for archiving childhood memories that people have.
John: Actually, on the subject of video games, I just had one other thing I wanted to mention because it’s so amazing. There’s a trailer for this video game called Leviathan Warships. It’s so hilarious. The trailer goes for pure humor, and the game isn’t humorous at all, as far as I can tell, it’s just a warship strategy game, but they do this weird sort of Barry White-type voice, and there’s music in the background, and it’s like, “Leviathan Warships.” And they make all these ship puns, so they’re like, “Ship just got real.” They’re describing the gameplay and stuff, but it’s so hilarious. You’ll have to go check it out because it’s like, at the end, “You’ll ship yourself.” So many ship puns, and it’s just so beautiful. It’s a work of art. I feel like if every trailer could be that entertaining, we’d really be in business.
Matt: The problem with advertising is that, because companies have to put so much money behind a campaign, it’s terrifying to try and make a daring experiment like that commercial, but on the web the risk is so much lower that you can take chances and end up creating a hit for yourself just out of a daring ad campaign.
Dave: I also want to mention a couple other listener suggestions. I don’t know anything about these, but people recommended The SlowMo Guys, I think they just shoot stuff and show it in slow motion or something.
Matt: They’re awesome.
Dave: The SMBC Theater and Cinema Sins are somewhat similar to How It Should Have Ended, where they go through movies and say their problems with it and count them off.
John: Cinema Sins is entertaining. I like that. I didn’t know about it either, but I watched some because of this.
Dave: Let’s wrap this up because we could go on all day with YouTube videos. We’ll probably post some more of these on our Facebook page, and if there’s anything that we didn’t mention that you think we should check out, then mention it on Facebook or Twitter or whatever. Otherwise, I think we’re going to wrap things up there. Matt, thanks for joining us for the eighth time.
Matt: Great to be here.
Dave: Cate, thanks for joining us for the first time.
Cate: Thanks so much for having me.
John: No thanks to me for joining us for the ninety-first time?
Dave: [Laughter] And thanks to John for joining us for the ninety-first time!
John: Oh, thank you, thank you. And thanks to Dave for hosting for the ninety-first time!
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