YouTube is quickly becoming one of the most popular sources of news, entertainment and analysis in the world. It’s been just over thirteen years since the site’s founding, and You Tubing is no longer just a hobby – it’s becoming a profession. As more and more people view videos posted to popular channels, the content creators are making thousands in advertising money per video. YouTubers such as Logan and Jake Paul have gone from being just two brothers with a video camera to becoming two of the richest young adults on social media.
While the Pauls run two of the most profitable channels on the site, there are other YouTubers who put more of an emphasis on the craft than the cash. One such YouTuber is Brandon Havard, a technology reviewer with over 55,000 subscribers and millions of views. Byline Editor Cailean Coffey got an opportunity to sit down with Brandon to discuss his childhood in theatre, his love of cinematography, and what YouTube can do to help creators. Interview transcribed by Ciara Dinneen.
Q: Were you always into film and cinematography as a child or was that something you developed?
That’s something I developed over time. I was from a theatre family. I knew I wanted to get into telling stories, and film was something that I was interested in but didn’t necessarily know how to get into. I sort of idolised a lot of YouTubers at that time, so I went ‘I’ll give that a try’ and it sort of progressed from there.
Q: What was it like growing up in a theatre family?
It was such a different upbringing from even something like film or anything like that, because you get to work so closely and you get to spend time with people from very different forms of art that are working together. Musicians, actors, designers, costume designers, set designers, all that sort of stuff, they all sort of come together in a similar space to do work together in unison, and growing up in that atmosphere allows for a lot of inspiration creativity to sort of spark. It sort of left me with this urge to make something, and it gave me the inspiration to direct, it gave me the inspiration to design sets, it gave me the inspiration to do so many different things, and by no means do I want to make films for the rest of my life, but I do want to try different things so that’s sort of what theatre did for me.
Q: How did you become interested in photography and cinematography, and how did you learn the skills behind photography?
I watched a lot of Hitchcock when I was younger, and there’s also this overlap with film and theatre because obviously a lot of great films get turned into plays and vice versa, so I’d find myself really invested in a particular show that I see on stage and look at the movie, the notes that were created by the director, all of the production designers, that sort of thing and that got me interested in different art forms that went along with film. I’ve always idolised great movie directors like Hitchcock because of their ability to capture the audience just in the way they edit, and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to bring to my videos because it’s this powerful thing that you can’t really explain; it’s something that you feel. That’s what sort of sparked the interest, just seeing the mental manipulation that happens within films and that was sort of the inspiration on that end. When it comes to how I learned, I did watch a lot of other YouTubers; one being of course Marques Brownlee, who’s the top technology YouTuber in the world. I find him interesting on so many different accounts because his style of video makes you feel comfortable. It doesn’t make you feel uptight; it’s very roomy. I think he needs to give himself more credit than he actually gives, because I think he is a really smart editor, he is a really smart director because he’s able to capture an audience just through the way he presents his material. Then of course there’s different segments of YouTube that I idolised, like Casey Neistat, who’s a brilliant filmmaker, and there’s so many others! I saw their techniques, and I saw the way that they edit their videos, the way that they present themselves online, and at the start I did copy some of the things they did, and then I learned later on that it wasn’t necessarily the best idea and from there I developed my own style, my own technique.
Q: When did you decide to start making YouTube videos?
It was like a year and a half, and it sort of expanded from there. I think I made my first video when I had 5 subscribers and it was a really weird feeling because a lot of people, if you say you should start making videos on YouTube, they’re like “oh yeah, I put so much work into it and then I get like maybe 10 views” and then maybe there’s one comment or one like if you’re lucky, and I get that because I was there too. It’s about constantly getting better, the constant revising and doing more and more and more that we do to attract subscribers, a bigger audience, that type of thing. I made that plunge about a year and a half ago, but I started making videos probably about 3 years ago, and then before that I had been making these projects on iMovie that I really loved to do probably 10 plus years ago.
Q: How quickly did you realise there was a growing interest in your YouTube channel?
It was about a year ago. I can’t remember what video it was but it since has been viewed by over a million people and it was actually a video on the MacBook pro or whatever it was, and that was when my subscribers went from like maybe 300 to like 2,000 within three days. I think I was out of town at the time, I was on a family trip or whatever and I saw that happen and I was like “okay, that’s weird” and then I got back and I was like “okay, maybe I should take this more seriously now” and I started making more videos after that. That’s also when my production rate went down because I put more effort into each video, and that’s when a shift happened in my video style, because I put more attention into the quality and paid less attention to quantity, just because that’s what my audience seemed to want.
Q: Your income now comes as a cinematographer, what’s the average day for a cinematographer?
It’s a lot of hustle, because obviously 95% of it is freelance, so you’re constantly hustling for jobs, you’re constantly trying to make connections, that type of thing. I did a business degree in Wilmington, and one of my favourite parts of the course…well the only part I really liked, was marketing, and it taught me how to get myself out there and how to write an email, which is so important because you need to know how to sell yourself! That’s a huge thing when it comes to being in a creative space trying to be freelance, you have to know that business end. I usually spend my mornings rummaging through emails, that type of thing, just because it’s so necessary. Then, depending on the projects, it usually takes me like, if it’s a higher quality production shoot, it usually is probably one to two days of actually shooting on the location and then after that the editing takes up a lot of the process for me, and that’s when everything comes together. So I’ll probably spend almost a week in editing. It’s a lot of time, and even before all that starts there’s a lot of pre-production; deciding the location, deciding the scripts, making sure that all loose ends are covered up. You also need to make sure that whoever the project is for is fully on-board with your concept before you start making the correct hires and the correct decisions about where you’re going to shoot. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve started a project I think that everyone is on-board with and then you get into filming day and they’re like “wait no, we don’t want this, we want that” and I’m like “okay well, that’s not going to happen.”
Q: In your opinion, is there anything that YouTube can do to help the creators?
What I’ve been hit by this year is the demonetisation issue that we’ve been seeing. I’ve been hit by it with four videos so far. It’s very much the first and second day that you make the most amount of revenue on those videos, and if during those first two days you’re still under that demonetisation strike, you’re losing a lot of revenue. So the one thing I can say right now, which is most important on my end, is making sure that the response time to that demonetisation batch is within the first, at least, 24 hours.
Q: What is the demonetisation issue?
Essentially, you put up a video and YouTube has some very strict guidelines about being able to monetise certain things, and it’s become more and more strict over the past few years. So, for instance, one thing that has been hit by it recently is what’s called the iPhone X monetisation strike, which is basically where any video about the iPhone X was automatically hit with the demonetisation strike. I think as far as I’m concerned that’s still an issue. So essentially with the iPhone X video that I released, that was automatically hit, and same for a lot of people I know, no matter what size of a channel they are; they all got hit by that.
Q: Do you know why that was?
There really is no public statement on that yet. It seems like an oversight on YouTube’s end. A lot of people speculated that it’s because YouTube is connected to Google, and Google is trying to sell a phone of their own, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. At this point I think it could just be a glitch in the system that they don’t have a way to fix at the moment because they’re focused on bigger things; I mean advertisers don’t want to be on videos showing graphic content and that type of thing, which is a much bigger ticket item than say an iPhone X video.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
I just started working for Marques Brownlee a couple of months ago, so it’s been a very fast paced couple of months for me. 5 years from now, honestly, I have no idea. I love my area, so I hope that I stay here or at least within very close proximity. But as far as the freelance is concerned I don’t necessarily love freelance. I’d love to get to the point where I make my living off of things that I enjoy more, such as regular uploads on YouTube, working for companies like Marques, like the Verge or whatever. That way it takes stress off of me as a creator. Anything to make my life a little bit easier I will fish for that!
Q: Finally, what feeling do you want viewers to have after watching one of your videos?
The number one thing that I love to see is people realising just how much work I put into every video. It is such a large part of my life to actually produce a video. For example, the iPhone X video that I released took me probably a month and a half to actually fully produce, so I love seeing people in the comments section picking up on certain things that I’m really proud of and being like “wow, you really put a lot of thought into that.” That’s the type of stuff that I really appreciate, and that’s the stuff that I hope people take away from watching one of my videos, the passion for the edit, the passion for the art form.
You can find Brandon’s YouTube channel by searching ‘Brandon Havard’. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrandonJHavard.