Month: March 2016

Humble Beginnings

I was recently involved with a Buzzfeed video as a subject testing Caribbean cuisine. I got to check out the studios and get to know some of their staff: highly diverse early 20-somethings. As I was wondering what each of their stories were in how they got this gig, I began reflecting on my humble beginnings from the perspective of an “elder millennial” in showbiz and journalism. It’s funny how different we can be when only separated by 5-10 years.

Just before I ran the Kickstarter for my indie pilot, “Queen Gorya,” I was a guest on a panel at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con featuring indie content creators. It was me, a YouTube star, a YouTube employee, and a cosplay weapon designer. The entire audience was there to see the YouTube star. A few months after the panel, the YouTube employee invited me to come see the YouTube Space. My thought going in was that I was going to be asked if I wanted to use the space to shoot content for my channel. Then the question came up: “How many subscribers do you have?” then I knew the “tour” was over. I’ve never had a huge YouTube following despite starting a channel shortly after YouTube began. I did have a solid following on MySpace, but then… you know. So I thought, “Okay, I’m here because YouTube is trying to develop talent by generously giving them the resources to film higher caliber content. Only they just want their own stars, they don’t want to make new ones.” The studios were mostly empty, with the exception of a few spaces being rented out by Felicia Day for Geek and Sundry.

Flash forward to the day after International Women’s Day: I read an article about “YouTube Funding Women Creators.” This is definitely a step in the right direction.

YouTube’s femme-focused foray, launched ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, comes as studies show Hollywood continues to lag in employing women directors and depicting female characters and that pay gaps persist between men and women in the biz.  

This quote from the Variety article is partially irrelevant because YouTube is fostering their female content creators for the purpose of gaining more exposure on YouTube alone (with no plans to connect out because once you make it in Hollywood, who needs YouTube?). I’ve had this discussion with several creators and filmmakers (not YouTubers) in that YouTube may be missing the mark by overlooking raw talent in favor of their own stars. It doesn’t seem to be part of their mission to curate rising talented filmmakers by creating stars in their space. Instead, they are plucking existing YouTube stars, capitalizing on their existing success, and thereby making the company look good because diversity.

This is the generation where followers and subscribers matter to the industry. I suppose it matters if you have nothing else going for you. But if someone had only 200 followers and a sensational short film I wouldn’t care about subscriber count, I would do everything I could to make sure people knew who they are and to watch their work so they can make more work. But that’s the fundamental difference between YouTube and Vimeo. Vimeo doesn’t even have follower count on your main profile page. Why? Because it’s irrelevant to the quality of the content you present.

The more I thought about it the more it baffled and angered me. “Why wouldn’t they take me on when my content was clearly way higher caliber than any of the low-quality churned out content we see from YouTube stars? I actually have the chops to be a real filmmaker and YouTube wants to give these kids power and equipment they barely know how to use?” 

And then I had the astonishing revelation that I did have my shot at a “YouTube Space” when I was just starting out. It was called “Public Access.

We could shoot anything we wanted that didn’t need to be censored.

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Captain Schoolgirl with Satu Runa and Will Finan

It was my first audition after I moved to New York City a month after graduating from college. I was lucky. It was minimum wage, we could eat all the pizza we wanted, and none of us had experience. Us kids hung out all day at the studios in Jersey City brainstorming skit ideas and writing content for our entertainment programs.

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On set of The Adventures of Captain Schoolgirl at Comcast studios, Jersey City, NJ. (Our public access playground)

We were entertainment hosts covering all the most fun high profile pop-culture events of New York City, and occasionally flying out to Los Angeles on the movie studio’s dime to cover press junkets of big movie premieres. It_was_awesome. This was my YouTube Space, fostering all of my creative skills. It’s where I learned how to use Final Cut. It’s where I learned how to produce content. It’s where I got my feet wet as an entertainment journalism interviewing celebrities and acting in comedic skits that my co-hosts and I would write and direct. It was everything I needed to set me on the path towards being a film director, producer, and actor. And my boss took a chance on me- a former music television intern with zero experience as a host. Just the drive (and a good image).

I often feel a little resentment because “kids today have it so good” when it comes to opportunity. I feel like we missed out on the “viral revolution” by about 5 years. Despite having a 16 million viewer reach with Comcast, we wanted more. We made one of our skits into a comic book and web series (a few years before web series even existed). We didn’t know how to elevate it to the next level, so we put it on MySpace, got a healthy following, then MySpace disappeared, and we had all moved on to new projects and jobs. When I look at today’s job opportunities, there are several “content creator” jobs for almost every company that wants a social presence. They want medium quality disposable content. But I’m just not that into YouTube channels. In fact, I can hardly watch them. That’s a generational thing, even though I am part of this generation.

I was looking around the Buzzfeed studio and watched the early 20-somethings do their thing. I wanted to help them get better lighting. I wanted to help them use the cameras properly. I wanted to give them a simple solution when something went wrong. I kept silent because I was there as a guest, and they did not want any kind of input, being the young know-it-alls that they were (hey- guilty of the same thing right here). All I could think to myself was, “I could do this so easily. I have done this. If I was just graduating today, this would be my job.” But there is one thing stopping me from pursuing an online “content creator” job: That time in my career has passed. I’ve been there, done that. I am creating higher caliber and traditional film. The mediums that speak loudly to me are the mediums that we watch the best narrative TV programs on, and the best feature films. This is what I am meant to do, now, despite my humble beginnings as a skit and pop-culture news writer/host for public access. I have come a very, very long way. I applaud the new generation for pushing forward and making their silly videos, just like we did a decade ago, and the generation before us. These little skits and bits are gateways to greater things. It’s how we learned. Ten years from now, these kids will leave it behind and focus on creating meaningful art. So, jealous I shall not be, for I have paid my dues long ago.

Time to finish that screenplay. I have big plans, and yes- it involves Vimeo. 😉

Satu Runa
Writer/Director, Actor. Former entertainment host/content creator for Comcast, Jersey City.
http://www.saturuna.com

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Captain Schoolgirl (character I played for our Comcast public access show), 2006