The YouTube Los Angeles facility is on the site of the former Hughes Helicopter factory and it sits in the shadow of the hangar where Hughes built the legendary Spruce Goose. After hearing about the facility in countless other networking events, this past Thursday I finally attended its weekly mixer.
The facility has sound stages and equipment for aspiring content producers. Access is granted to anyone with a YouTube channel with 10,000 or more subscribers. There was no such requirement, however, for the crowd at the mixer, which is open to anyone and intended to draw creatives to the facility.
As its name would suggest, the idea behind YouTube was that the royal You – anyone – would be posting videos and others would be watching. This, essentially has occurred. But the establishment of facilities in traditional creative capitals like Los Angeles and New York is effectively an acknowledgment that what amateurs can achieve for YouTube is limited. If it takes 10,000 hours to master a task as Malcolm Gladwell argues, it’s plain to see the appeal of Los Angeles. We have a plethora of people who have spent that time (or are aiming to spend 10,000 hours) scheming, thinking and working to create compelling video content.
However, the crowd on Thursday night felt decidedly comprised of people working towards that mastery. The first person I met, a North Carolinian by way of New York, had lived in LA for less than four months and wanted to enter the music business. Another, a fashion designer, admitted to me that his channel only had 12 subscribers. Josh Stillman, (YouTube Channel theJStillz) was farther along and was pitching his work, a weekly comedy skit. Later at home, I laughed watching this one and I subscribed. I don’t expect that he will be on Comedy Central next week, but I would urge you to follow him — and I would urge him to remember Gladwell’s rule and to keep putting in the hours.
Another person I met, Gina Victoria, was at the center of a group of people who had individual channels but soon hoped to combine their efforts to create a fitness channel. Jameson Cherilus, was organizing a show he called the B-Team about a group of young people who went to elite schools but always felt in the out crowd. The lead role in the B-Team will be a Black American man in the LGBT community, certainly not something that exists on network television.
In this regard, YouTube’s democratic ethos remains. Anyone with 10,000 subscribers can use the facility, regardless of whether their YouTube channel is about woodworking or reminiscing about Woodstock. If the crowd skewed young and a bit inexperienced, it also was significantly more diverse than other entertainment industry events and mixers. Although the description currently lacks cachet, it was the Obama generation in attendance.
If it captures the unique voices of the diverse Millenials in attendance on Thursday night, then I think YouTube may have an advantage over other content creators. Its philosophy of letting a thousand flowers bloom attracts creators who may not have the connections and access to capital. Also, when it’s a battle of concepts and ideas, I suspect people are more inclined to fund or green light projects led by other people who look like themselves, even if the bias is subconscious. By establishing a concrete subscribers requirement, YouTube levels the playing field.
But I remain skeptical as well. Presenting ideas to capital requires refinement and careful thinking about what will be accomplished. And afterwards, more money with which to accomplish it. Additionally, rather than sowing entire fields, old line studios continue cultivating a few plants at a time in hopes of raising the one perfect rose. When they succeed, like Disney’s recent masterpiece Frozen, it seems apparent that movie goers around the world will be letting it go long after the brightest of YouTube celebrities have become mere trivia on VH1.
In the film The Aviator, Howard Hughes approaches Louis Mayer at a posh nightclub and asks to borrow two more cameras to complete the filming of Hell’s Angels. Mayer, surrounded by his pack of other tuxedo-wearing Hollywood insiders, refuses to lend the cameras. When Hughes informs the group that he has already secured twenty-four cameras for the scene, Mayer is agape at what he perceives to be Hughes’ profligacy and naiveté. He then patronizes the Texan and urges him to leave the film business before he loses all of his money.
Although market considerations must have driven the selection process, surely YouTube considered the many legacies of Hughes when it selected its Los Angeles location. He was a maverick filmmaker, aerospace pioneer, inventor and eccentric tycoon. He did best Mayer with Hell’s Angels, which went on to become a financial success at the box office despite its costs. But when I reviewed a list of Hughes’ films, I only recognized Scarface because it was remade with the same name in 1983 starring Al Pacino. By comparison, Mayer’s track record is referred to as MGM’s golden age and includes releases like Ben Hur, Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.
I love amateurs (I am writing my own blog for Chrissakes), but a recent report said that YouTube is considering investing in original content. Perhaps it has reviewed Hughes’ body of work and determined that outside, eccentric billionaire with occasional hits is a legacy of his that it does not want.
Los Angeles, California