It’s not all people falling over and dogs chasing deer. With the instant access to a worldwide audience that it brings, internet video can also be a nifty route into film and TV. But what’s the secret to viral success? We ask people who’ve broken into television after making it online for their thoughts…
Keep it light
“Unless it’s a cute animal, it has to be funny,” says MJ Delaney, the director behind 2010’s hit YouTube spoof Newport State of Mind, who has since made films for Big Brother, Comic Relief and the Guardian. She goes on: “When you send someone a video, unless it’s something informative or useful, it’s there to make them smile. Darker comedy, which works better in film and TV, doesn’t do as well in virals because the place they have in our lives is a happy distraction in the middle of a working day.”
Just shoot it
An online video doesn’t need high production values to make an impact. In fact, being a bit rough around the edges can add to the charm. Tom Palmer, one half of comedy duo Totally Tom, says of their viral mockumentary High Renaissance Man: “There are lots of shots where you can see the boom creeping in from the top of the screen but I think people enjoyed the fact [that] it’s so obviously homemade.”
Don’t Panic’s Heydon Prowse who – since the 2009 viral Pound Force, a satirical dig at MPs’ expenses – has made videos for the English National Opera and W Hotels, agrees: “The beauty of filmmaking for the internet is that you don't have to piss about with all the commissioners, lawyers, producers and editorial policy types of TV. You can just go out and shoot whatever the hell you want. Just experiment and if it looks a bit shit to begin with, don't worry – viewers online will watch your vid and rate you for the content and the effort.”
Spreading the word
It helps if your video taps into relevant online communities. Tom Palmer attributes the popularity of High Renaissance Man to the fact that, being about university life, it had an obvious appeal for fellow students. He says: “Our friend who uploaded it could see where all the clicks were coming from and you could chart it spreading from Bristol, then Exeter and as soon as it got a certain number of clicks in Exeter it moved on and gradually spread through the Facebook university networks.” In a week they had 100,000 hits and counting.
With a little bit of luck
The internet moves in mysterious ways and, however funny or clever a video is, there’s always an element of luck. As Heydon Prowse says, “There isn't really a formula you can follow. It’s more of a vibe.” But instead of seeing this as a hindrance, MJ Delaney embraces it. “There’s something quite romantic about the fact that you can’t plan for it or engineer it,” she says. “Big multinational brands can spend millions and millions and millions of pounds on their virals and then someone can make a film for 100 quid or a home movie and the whole world will see it.”
Credit where credit’s due
MJ Delaney, Totally Tom and Heydon Prowse are all proof that web video success can beget TV opportunities. MJ Delaney is currently making a film starring Thomas Turgoose for Channel 4’s Coming Up scheme; Totally Tom have recently had a pilot on Channel 4’s Comedy Lab; and, along with collaborators Joe Wade and Jolyon Rubinstein, Heydon Prowse has just had a series commissioned by BBC3. But the TV types need to know where to come knocking. “Always make sure you stick your name on the video at the end of the credit sequence,” says MJ Delaney, “because if it goes mental you’ll have a million people reposting it on their YouTube channels and the people who want to speak to you to get you to do other stuff won’t be able to find you.”
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Image: Diphtheria Bacteria by Sanofi Pasteur on a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0