Three YouTube stars applied the lessons they learned from building an audience on the web to turn their low-budget comedy into a home entertainment hit.
Thanks to the social-media wattage of Grace Helbig (pictured), Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart, “Camp Takota” sold nearly as well as Oscar-winners such as “12 Years a Slave” and “Dallas Buyers Club” when it debuted on-demand and on digital platforms last February.
The filmmakers may not be household names, but on the internet, they’re platinum. As a sign of their clout, the film debuted third on iTunes’ independent film chart.
“The audience is an integral part of this movie,” Mamrie Hart said Wednesday during a panel discussion at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas. “It’s a co-star of this movie and they’re as protective of it as we are. They very much tried to police pirating.”
“They had an internet community watch going,” Helbig chimed in.
Historically, the internet has not been known for its respect for copyright protection, so that kind of devotion is remarkable. But it’s also a testament to a grassroots campaign that used care and constant nurturing to build an audience organically.
The followings these women command across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook allowed them to turn the year-long production into an enormous chat room, where they shared production diaries and video blogs throughout the process.
To strengthen the bond between fans and creators, the film was also offered with extras that included movie posters and themed t-shirts.
“All of the crew became stars on this YouTube platform…people still have crushes on our boom operator Alex,” Helbig said.
But be warned indie impresarios, the formula they employed can’t be easily replicated.
“I don’t think people are going to follow our exact model because it is so personal,” producer Michael Goldfine said. “What we’re doing is not going to work for somebody else.”
“It is very unique to our audience,” Mamrie Hart said. “Those are the first viewers who we care about pleasing and enjoying the movie…we definitely want to reach a broader audience, but we have them in mind in creating the product.”
“Camp Takota” follows three estranged friends who reunite as counselors at the dilapidated summer camp they attended as children. It was also a chance to bring three of YouTube’s most successful entrepreneurs together on one screen.
Grace Hart is best known for a weekly series that centers on her cooking while intoxicated, Helbig for her video confessionals, and Mamrie Hart for her mixology tutorials.
One thing they were very determined to avoid in their partnership was any cliched female characters.
Mamrie Hart said she did not want them to appear catty, competitive or man-obsessed. Instead, she wanted the focus to be on “three humans who happen to have vaginas, who are friends.”
The women have been heartened by the response to the movie among their followers, but the success of the picture has not translated into a substantial lift in viewership for the YouTube channels that launched their careers.
“I think it’s harder to get someone from a traditional media audience over to YouTube than it is to rally people that watch you on YouTube to go to a different platform,” Helbig said.