We’re just a few months away from the 15th anniversary of YouTube, the streaming platform that democratised entertainment worldwide. Anyone, anywhere can get online and talk about whatever they love, be it make-up, celebrity gossip or video games.
The world of film has inspired thousands of YouTubers, with a few creating popular channels with dedicated audiences and videos that trend worldwide. However, we’re not just talking about people recording what they thought of the latest blockbuster. Many of these channels offer passionate, nuanced approaches to film that can reveal hidden secrets and insights to their viewers. Others creatively satirise Hollywood’s output, exaggerating details for comic value and offering a witty pastiche on movies past and present.
Created by journalist Jan Gilbert, Flicks And The City offers news and analysis on the most popular films and TV shows today, unearthing Easter eggs or unanswered questions from the likes of Marvel, Game of Thrones and more. Gilbert has also interviewed a number of Hollywood names, such as Star Wars actor John Boyega.
“I’ve always loved watching movies and learning about everything that goes into making them. That passion led me to reviewing films and interviewing filmmakers and actors for a variety of magazines and broadcasters including the BBC,” she tells us. “But then it occurred to me that starting a YouTube channel would give me an opportunity to do a different kind of interview and really indulge my geeky side.”
Attracting over 340 million views across her channel, Flicks And The City content has also been highlighted by mainstream news media. “Over the years, our videos have been picked up by a wide range of news media – from traditional outlets like the BBC, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair and The Guardian, to new media such as Slash Film, Mashable and Den of Geek” she says. “A few highlights are an interview I did with George Lucas’s son Jett about the new Star Wars trilogy, which went viral, making headlines pretty much everywhere. And the same happened for an interview I did with Game of Thrones star Kristian Nairn when people realised he’d predicted how his character Hodor would die many years before it actually happened!”
Across the Atlantic is Cinema Sins, a channel with over 8.5 million subscribers who all come for their tongue-in-cheek take on Hollywood. Each video is a comedic criticism of a particular film, counting the number of ‘sins’ it commits, complete with hilarious asides on certain details.
“We were brainstorming one night and got on the notion of being overly nitpicky,” says Jeremy Scott, co-creator of the channel, which has achieved so much success it has branched out into sister channels Brand Sins and Music Video Sins. “I think we mentioned the comic book nerd on The Simpsons… what if he had a know-it-all YouTube channel pointing out all the reasons movies were terrible? And we were as surprised as anyone else that the concept connected and the audience grew.”
Doing The Legwork
A certain stigma still surrounds YouTube channels as being somewhat of a ‘homemade’ medium. However, the most successful channels use creative processes rivalling those of broadcast television: Gilbert travels across the globe, making videos at comic cons, film festivals and premieres. Cinema Sins has a production team who collaborate on each video.
Whatever the subject, it starts with preparation. “We may need to watch 10 hours of TV or several movies, during which I make a ton of notes!” exclaims Gilbert. Likewise, the content often dictates the workload for Cinema Sins. “Movies that are longer and more terrible will often force us to spend more time in the watching and writing phase; short, excellent Pixar films we can work faster on.”
The technical side is just as involved. “All told, it’s about 35-40 man-hours per video,” Scott reveals. “That’s spread around among several people; we have a total of six people writing our scripts these days, and the editing is shared as well.”
For Gilbert, “There’s the researching, writing, voicing and video editing, as well as thumbnail design. On average, one video takes 2 to 3 days.”
Building A Base
With the amount of work going into the videos, it should come as no surprise that many movie channels enjoy vast, loyal audiences. Screen Junkies, creators of the popular ‘Honest Trailers’ videos, boast more than six million subscribers, while online reviewer Chris Stuckmann has around 433 million views across his channel to date.
Gilbert’s Flicks And The City enjoys a loyal and devoted base of viewers, with whom she interacts regularly. “I spend quite a bit of time replying to comments on YouTube – I enjoy doing that and, from the replies I get, I know our audience likes it, too! I love hearing about the little details other people have noticed in a movie and how their take on it differs or is similar to mine. We’ve built up a lovely group of regular viewers and commenters over the years, and it’s always nice when they check in as well.”
Of course, not every comment is a kind one. “That’s just the internet, though, for the most part,” says Scott. “We’ve seen first-hand evidence of Poe’s law, which loosely says that anything stated online in a sarcastic manner will be treated as serious by a small portion of the audience. Sometimes we put in jokes just to explore that phenomenon – we joked once in our video about the James Bond movie Skyfall that Idaho wasn’t a real place. And we still got dozens of messages angrily stating that, yes, Idaho is a real state in the US.”
For Cinema Sins, who are well on their way to three billion views across their channel, their enormous success comes down to having common ground with those who watch. As Scott puts it: “Everyone has a favorite movie they will defend blindly until they are hoarse. Everyone has a movie they can’t stand that most everyone else likes. Most people have, at some point, been bothered by a tiny detail in a movie they otherwise love. That is almost universal.” And the format of the Sins videos definitely sparks discussion and debate, which has to be part of the reason for the channel’s success.
Success online can also lead to the very people you talk about becoming viewers. As well as finding their way to news media, a few famous faces have become fans of Flicks And The City’s Work. “There’s the slightly surreal experience of seeing a video start to get crazy views, and then noticing lots of comments like, “Robert Downey Jr sent me” or “Stephen Amell sent me,” Gilbert enthuses, “at which point you realise that those actors have been sharing our video on their social media!”
In the case of Cinema Sins, it’s perhaps inevitable that not every filmmaker takes kindly to them satirising their work. “A couple filmmakers have not enjoyed what we do, and a couple have,” Scott notes. “I get it. You spend the better part of a year or more working on a piece of art that you care deeply about, and you put it out into the world… and some snarky YouTube jerk craps all over it for giggles. I’m certainly not going to tell a movie director how to feel about our videos. And I would probably be defensive myself if I were in their shoes.”
The power of YouTube lies in the ability of creators to take risks, experiment and find something that strikes a chord with people. But whatever the genre, there’s a common denominator: a deep love of the silver screen. “If I could have a drink with [filmmakers who feel offended], I’d do my best to convey how deeply we love movies,” Scott muses. “I would try to better explain our intent behind the videos. I like to think I could change their minds one-on-one …but maybe I’m just delusional.”