YouTube Content Creators Enliven Variety Film Summit Panel

At today’s fourth annual Future of Film Summit at the Sofitel Hotel presented by Variety and Digital Media Wire, the seating arrangement for the “Trendsetters of the New Platforms” panel placed Brian Robbins next to Michael Gallagher. Which was doubly perfect, because these two dominated the discussion with their tales of two very different paths to YouTube content creation success.

Robbins revealed that Runaways, a series on his Awesomeness TV YouTube channel now into its second second season, costs less than ten percent of what he used to spend on a network TV show like One Tree Hill. Robbins, whose other credits include Smallville, started out in the YouTube business by self-funding a ridiculously successful crossover TV movie starring early sensation Fred.

“I am a father of teens and tweens, and I saw what was happening,” Robbins recalled. “I realized that TV is coming to an end, at least for this audience. So instead of fighting it, I decided, ‘Let’s dive in,” and made the movie with Fred.”

While Robbins said that he must rely on other digital revenue streams to make something like Runaways work, Gallagher is a shining example of someone who has been able to artistically subsist entirely using the website’s ad-share income. His debut horror feature Smiley, which got limited theatrical release in October, was financed by monies made from his umbrella Web channel Totally Sketch.

“My budget was $260,000,” said Gallagher, who turns 24 tomorrow. “And Shane Dawson, my leading man, is someone who has six million YouTube subscribers and over one billion YouTube views. His Web presence basically doubled as my PR.”

Smiley was originally intended to be a digital release only. But through AMC Theatres’ indie arm, Gallagher was able to get it on 28 screens while handling the marketing himself. The movie is due to hit DVD and VOD in February.

At one point, Gallagher objected to being referred to as a kid, to which Variety TV editor and panel moderator Andrew Wallenstein jokingly replied, “I’m 39 and you’re 24. You’re still a kid, goddammit!” A kid in this case showing a room full of older people some very nifty YouTube tricks.

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.