When we last looked in on YouTube filmmaker Freddie Wong, the Internet auteur was one of the reigning kings of the popular video site – featuring a library of titles with over 20 million views and three million subscribers. At the time, Wong was hard at work on his newest feature – a full-length YouTube film entitled Video Game High School. It promised to be his biggest movie to date.
VGHS debuted back in May, and has since gone on to become something we never expected: a summer blockbuster that launched without a film studio. VGHS – which drew $273,000 of its $500,000 production budget from Kickstarter donations (the rest came from places like Monster Energy drinks) has gone on to cross the 40 million views mark… and it’s still growing.
Wong and partner Brandon Laatsch have coauthored their own new media success story with their videos – one that has now caught the attention of Hollywood producers who say that Wong’s work is “ready for theaters.” The duo launched VGHS not on YouTube, but through their own ad-supported site, Rocket Jump, before eventually releasing each new episode on their YouTube channel. While the installments got fewer hits on the new site than they did on YouTube, the move was motivated by the duo’s need to monetize and control their product.
“Even at the highest level of YouTube, the money you can get will never fund something like VGHS,” Wong said. “We need our own place to exhibit our own content and we need to be able to control that user experience, and have a way to guide viewers through content.”
The move allows the team to tap into a lucrative new revenue stream as well: merchandise.
“It’s hard to sell merchandise off YouTube. When you have a home and create a brand people believe in and want to support, it makes it easier for you to control merchandise and sell it.”
Wong posits that while box office revenue is the final word on a traditional film’s success (and he's yet to release how much VGHS has made because it's not yet peaked), making movies in the online world isn’t so cut and dry. Merchandise counts. “At the end of the day,” Wong says, “a dollar is a dollar.”
The team’s success won’t be easy to replicate for aspiring Web-based filmmakers – Wong’s films are successful not because of the marketing or any kind of gimmickry, but because he’s a genuinely talented filmmaker who creates engaging content on minimal budgets. That being said, Wong and Laatsch have crafted something of a roadmap to follow for those interested in taking a crack at being the next online Scorsese. Build a YouTube following with quality content, leverage that into bigger projects, branch out and take complete control of your work, and (hopefully) profit. You don’t necessarily need the studio system to carve out your own niche in the brave new Internet world -- but you do have to think outside the box.
Check out the first installment Video Game High School below, then see more at the Rocket Jump website.
[via The Wrap]