Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

VIDCON 2018: Making & Finding A Hit on the Web: a Hollywood New TV Users Manual.

Creating a New TV scripted webseries...will it go viral? How? And how to without selling out? Does anyone care?Making & findinga hit, or 4 million hits, on the web: a Hollywood New TV Users Manual.


When I turned forty, my stepfather said "it doesn't matter how old you are"...he'd never been to VidCon. I was there promoting my new webseries SILICON BEACH, signing "influencers" and "creators" to do promos for the show. This June, 280 such YouTube stars converged for three days in Anaheim to vogue, soundbite and celebrate their exploding New TV niche, and bank accounts. Most of them too young to drink, their celebrity shelf-life possibly brief. Mipcom in Cannes this is definitely not, but what is it exactly? William Goldman's Hollywood edict applies: Nobody knows anything. However, 80's Hollywood didn't have ad analytics, metrics& algorithms.Only agents bleating their absolute certainties over lunch at The Grille.

So I headed to Anaheim to check out the scene in the flesh, meet withstars, and their managers, currently filling YouTube's coffers to the ka-ching of $4B/yr. Most importantly to create further buzz for SILICON BEACH. Full disclosure: I will never dye my silvery hair, like so many in fear of ageing out of Hollywood. Talent, and good content, will out, though likely not youth, with absolute certainty-- let Truth & Beauty prevail. What is certain, is that day will come when Millennial One will find her/his first grey hair.

At VidCon the creator/stars were mostly semi-polished, fun youngsters-- 14-19 yr olds reveling in their on-camera creativity w/ an audience of millions, as if your high school friends just increased 100,000 score or more. Unlikely they'd ever read and absorbed Foucault. Why should they? As with my own 13 yr old hijinks Super8 film-making w/ my childhood best friend way before any of these stars were born, we were just having fun. We never dreamed of any audience, just did it for ourselves-- the purity of adolescent artistry. Someday we'd be great Hollywood directors, we laughed; though we also digested the comparatively scant content there was through forming critical eyes: Raging Bull was awesome! Lacombe Lucien was interesting and, upon a second watch, amazing. Had we been born 35 years later I'm certain we'd have 12M subscribers and be negotiating J.J. Abrams offers, then sent to development hell. Of course, suffice it to say, today I am not a great Hollywood director, but Silicon Beach is better than any Premium Content webseries I've seen on any dramatic subject, though I'm biased and like our beach noir take on it. Here's the link: [Please send eyeballs]. Hit the Beach seemed a good promo concept; prompting web hits on our show. Our "come watch them pound sand" irony felt fresh. To beckon verticles through analytics sidebar companies monetizing any branded storytelling which scripted premium content might have per-episode value at acceptable risk, with sponsors and ancillary merch (in 88 languages) another matter. A sentence I'm behind the curve on. So maybe I'd just shut up and listen, after Googling whether it's verticles or verticals.

VIDCon blended amusement park/mardi gras w/ Potemkin village business convention. Perhaps the suffix 'Con' appropriate. For the thousands of young fans, would-be creators & "industry" attendees paying $125 admission it seemed vaguely exploitative. Deeper infiltration the next day yielded sideline companies actually making money, e.g. Jukin' Media and Tubular; but I dared not stray from my mission in this loud, inscrutably protean fray. One edgy creator-star (600,000 followers) I approached was happy to promote Silicon Beach on her channel; I shot her on my cell as she exclaimed "Silicon Beach? Who gives a fuck about that", as if embodying a revival of indie 70's movie makers as YouTube v. Hollywood. Her skimpy tasteful sports outfit skewed less to porn than merch; her sharp mind creatively triggered towards anything. One manager demanded $25K for his YouTube client to do our promos yet when I pushed back, discussing further he said he hadn't actually read or watched our material or watched the promo. Does anybody read in this brave fast new world? Driving back to the real Silicon Beach it occurred the $25K was probably a very good deal. But beyond our low-budget, though maybe our budget was way low? There would be further VidCon examination and Silicon Beach buzzfeed tomorrow.... Btw, I never did connect with the Buzzfeed people.

As a writer/producer I've been migrating from old school movies &TV to New Media-the Jeffrey Katzenberg recently coined New TV-- since the 2007 WGA strike disruption. My producer designation emphasizes businessman. If a show doesn't pencil out w/ equity, distribution and other $ commitments, either cut the budget or put it on the back burner. As in recent ancient history, any successful writer/producer over 35 will attest, passion is the key that drives a show to whichever screen. Passion. The monetization will follow. If you build it they will come.

And so they have to Silicon Beach, the place not the show (yet). From Snapchat to the latest start-up that just bought an off-market building on 5th Street. The encroachment on SM & Venice remains in the front of my mind, the narrative of our show would address that implicitly in one thematic layer (conflict is drama), the show a real depiction of the Google map now known as Silicon Beach, including Santa Monica, Venice and Playa Vista. Yet I was also working VidCon, I admit, to exploit. In this New Media world it's all about views, followers, subscribers and going viral.

I returned the next day to enlist more creator-stars for promos-- blatantly exploiting them even as my stomach occasionally churned...Silicon Beach will essentially sell more soap as always, I was fine with that, with a mortgage to pay, homeless to tip. Mid-morning, mind spinning, I called my co-producer, who's worked on excellent shows like West Wing & Better Call Saul, for a reality check about the creative variables in creating a formulaic TV show or writing a bad, passionless spec script. He reminded me that with the 5 minute web-series "sweet spot" Silicon Beach was an opportunity to craft short, even mostly silent films; narrative film making's most challenging form, like the short story. I hung up, comforted, and considered whether it was possible to shift a protean commercial artform? It took old TV 20 years+ to make the shift, thanks to Norman Lear, and later Steven Bochco. I hope others will try alongside us and maybe I'll be on a panel at Vidcon '28. I asked another Industry attendee, an old friend, what his high school soccer & basketball–playing high achiever son thought of all this. How do his friends regard YouTube Stars? Is it a reliable career path? His son quickly, thoughtfully texted back: 'it's like McDonalds to people who don't really get the broader aspects of their lives and just want junk food that's probably fake. summer jobs you can bike to are more reliable'. Driving back from the 610 to the 5 to the 105, 405, I considered more deeply what our Silicon Beach web-show might creatively be, to reflect what's truly happening/disrupting in what's now known as Silicon Beach. Walking into my house, I kicked over two Bird scooters blocking my sidewalk entrance. At midnight one of them was chirping; I carried it across the street and threw it in the public park. Then I went back in and quickly wrote the scene, replacing myself with a 22 year old coder awakened by the sonic annoyance from sleeping under his desk at the start-up after his 20 hr day.


Reader Comments(1)

denzil writes:

Hey Michael, I enjoyed that you wrote the Bird scooter scene - feels on target. Teaser looks good; I'll keep my eye peeled for the debut. Almost made it to VidCon last year. Maybe next one. Hope all's well. Denzil