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How producing for the web can fit into a filmmaking career

By Heather Menicucci

Director, Howcast Filmmakers Program

Heather Menicucci, Director, Howcast Filmmakers Program, is writing weekly guest posts for the YouTube blog on filmmaking in the digital age. You can catch up on previous posts here.

After a little break last week, we’re back today to share a post I’ve been really excited about. When we first began planning this blog series I knew I wanted to interview an established filmmaker who could share their experience producing videos for the web versus other more traditional venues like television. Someone who has worked professionally across platforms definitely has some insight into what makes producing for the web unique and how it fits into a filmmaking career. This week, I’m happy to introduce Clayton Long, producer for the Bajillionaires Club, which has worked on television and web projects for companies like Cisco, Kodak, Travel Channel and made over 30 shorts for Howcast. Clayton grew up in Dallas and currently lives in Los Angeles.

1) Tell us what you do and you how you got started.

The Bajillionaires Club approaches each project differently. Some days I'm wearing the development hat; other days it's post-production, and others it's coordinating resources and communicating with clients. The guys I work with (Tom Campbell, John Erdman and Bryan Madole) are all brilliant creatives, so that makes my job easy. I surround myself with brilliant people and hope some of it rubs off.

We've been collaborating since grade school, making short videos for fun. In high school, we started making videos for our English classes. We modernized Hamlet and set it in a bowling alley. We made a redneck version of The Canterbury Tales. They were big hits and gave us the confidence to keep going. Everyone scattered for college -- I attended UCLA's Film, TV, and Digital Media Program -- then came back together.

A trailer for a film the Bajillionaires Club will be shooting in 2011. 

2) When did you start making videos for the web and why?

Our first video was made when we were all living in an apartment together in Hollywood. One weekend we had a 35 MM camera package sitting around our apartment (which is, by the way, not a prerequisite for making a successful web video), so we decided to make a few commercials for Folgers coffee in the style of those old ads from the ’70s. They were very unique, and when we uploaded them on websites like YouTube, they attracted some attention. We built relationships with companies like Howcast, which led to other web-content related jobs. The rest is history. So yeah. Just for fun. But we definitely had an angle we were going for.

3) Are there things that work on the web that simply do not work in other venues?

Randomness works incredibly well on the web. Audiences are young, and they're interested in something new, different and weird. Spoof works really well on the web, though it can survive elsewhere. But why shell out the money to see Vampires Suck when you can laugh at that same one-note joke on the web done in two minutes?

4) Are there things that work for TV or film that don’t work for the web?

Sure. TV and film projects take more time to develop. They're much more polished, and a lot fewer of them get made. In short, there are a lot more rules. You must develop your characters with a certain timing, revealing bits and pieces as you go.

5) Describe your crew and equipment list for web video. How is it different from your crew and equipment selection for other projects?

Depending on the budget, we might use a 5D, 7D, T2i, or an HVX. Sometimes we just use a Flip or another low-cost HD consumer camera.

The budgets for web projects are smaller, so the equipment list is smaller and the crew is leaner. Crews can be anywhere from three people to 10, depending on the project. But we always light, and we often use dollies, cranes and other traditional means of making shots stand out, even if the camera we're using is the size of a cell phone.

6) What's your favorite web video?

Too hard to pick a favorite. “Muto,” “Cows & Cows & Cows” and “Independence Day” are great animated pieces. “Who Needs a Movie?” is still one of the best. I also recently saw a really weird video about horses by this band called L.A.Zerz. Can't find anything about these guys, but I dig their style.