Sometimes I just don’t “get” the appeal of original YouTube content. There…I said it. For every personality like iJustine or show like Dance On that manages to cross the cultural chasm, there are hundreds of other YouTube clips that make me scratch my head. That’s not the case with Pranks: Life as Brothers, my introduction to The Brothers Riedell. And considering YouTube’s top ten prank channels’ increasing popularity, below, there’s no holding your breath and waiting for it to get funny. These gents are hilarious from the onset.
Pranks tells a simple story about how Nick and Chris Riedell — aka The Brothers Riedell — torment each other with water balloons. Call it slapstick, or lowbrow, or maybe even avant-garde web comedy, but with its special effects and memorable soundtrack, the well-produced clip is laugh out loud funny.
Of course, humor is subjective. So a video that makes me laugh might make you yawn, and to be clear, the “funny” factor varies throughout The Brothers Riedell’s playlist. For example, the premise of Picture Time, the second clip I watched, made me feel oddly uncomfortable. And awkward would be the best way to describe the next video that played, VOBRolling with Lana McKissack. In it, Chris, Nick and fellow web video personality Lana McKissack add random voice-overs and sounds to B-roll footage from other YouTube clips.
It’s a bit inside baseball, a bit strange, and though it elicited a few chuckles, the awkwardness is an outcome Chris admitted is quite possible given the high volume of YouTube content The Brothers Riedell churn out. “We’ve been uploading something on YouTube every week since December 27, 2011,” he says. “Some weeks, it’s a challenge.”
Get It Done For Cheap, Every Week
Though the laugh factor might vary, if you keep watching The Brothers Riedell you’ll find that the production value of most of their clips does not. It’s typically very high. Attribute that to Chris and Nick’s backgrounds in traditional filmmaking, as an actor and a film/music production specialist, respectively. Just don’t attribute it to a big production budget — they keep costs low by shooting, finding props and scouting locations “guerilla-style.”
On average, it takes The Brothers Riedell three eight-hour days of shooting to produce a weekly video. The videos frequently feature well-framed, -composed and -edited shots, but most times the camera “crew” is just Nick — and a tripod when the lens is turned on him.
The process starts with scripting scenes, and then reworking the initial “million-dollar draft” into something more realistic, although sometimes it’s more spontaneous. “It’s like, I know a guy who has a tractor — and there’s Farm Talk 2,” says Chris. “Or we’ve got this wig, and we’re in a Laundromat. Let’s go!”
That spontaneity even applies to location scouting, something The Brothers Riedell have become notorious for. “We walk in and explain who we are,” Chris says. “We get to know them. We tell them this is a great local bookstore or coffee shop, and then we ask how far we can go with shooting.” Given the variety of locations in the 75+ videos in The Brothers Riedell’s playlist, Nick and Chris have been quite successful at enticing local business owners to let them shoot in their space at little to no cost.
Keeping production costs low is key for The Brothers Riedell to operate their YouTube channel as a real business, not just a hobby. After Chester See, another YouTube personality and good friend introduced them to YouTube, Nick says The Brothers Riedell went into startup mode. “We gave ourselves a time frame, set goals, and put out a business plan in terms of how we wanted to develop this.”
That business plan includes a multi-channel revenue strategy, including everything from YouTube Partner Program revenue, to potential product placement deals, digital and physical downloads, and even catchy, standalone MP3s.
Play Me a Pretty Song
Take the “Subscriber Song” that typically plays at the end of each video. In it, Nick and Chris entice viewers to subscribe (or not). With jump cuts and stylized graphics, the Subscriber Song could be its own music video. Though it’s currently not available as a standalone clip, fans that are truly enamored with the tune can pay 99-cents for the track on iTunes.
With six singles available on iTunes, The Brothers Riedell are having fun while diversifying their content monetization strategy. “We subscribe to the thought process that making money on the internet is not about making it from one place,” Nick says. “The more streams you have, the more potential you have for generating revenue.”
In keeping with the low-cost, high-gain business model, the tracks are all self-produced, an homage to Nick’s music production background. “I started out as a musician and my brother and I have always made goofy songs for our friends and family as gifts,” Nick says. “Making songs for our fans was a natural, beneficial crossover.”
NASCAR, Internet Icon 2 and Beyond
Chris and Nick’s big online video break came when they took the top spot in Internet Icon, a competition aimed at finding the next great web video personality. The series premiered mid-summer 2012, and since winning the competition, Nick and Chris have steadily gained YouTube subscribers, increased their ad revenue, and even signed with artist representation agency William Morris Endeavor.
Naturally, the best way to repay YOMFYOMF, the YouTube channel and company behind the series, is to come back and serve as hosts and mentors for the next crop of hopefuls for Internet Icon 2, which premiered on Monday. There’s also a “longer-form” content project in the works called Kin, although both Chris and Nick were a little cagey about when fans would get to see Kin, and in what format.
The Brothers Riedell’s focus on creating high-quality content fast and at minimal cost has also gained the attention of more traditional entertainment brands like NASCAR. Through WME, the racing organization contracted Chris and Nick to direct Smoke is the Bandit, a multi-episode video series co-branded with Mobil 1.
But even working with partners with deep pockets like NASCAR couldn’t shake the guerilla filmmaking mentality that seems to be at the core of The Brothers Riedell’s success. “We had a 50+ person crew underneath us, and it was still difficult for us not to grip,” Chris says. “NASCAR had a massive budget, but we were still able to make it happen storywise, budgetwise and timewise for them.”
It’s perhaps the focus on frugality, fun and fierce creativity that will attract the interest of new brand partners, and potentially even TV and movie studios. But fear not YouTube fans, as The Brothers Riedell don’t plan on taking their unique blend of good beats, sketches that inspire belly laughs, or riffs on brotherhood offline at the expense of the web video audience.
“YouTube has been the only platform that we’ve been able to be part of that didn’t have all the walls and barriers,” Chris says. “We want to be a bridge between the traditional and digital. Of course we want to make movies that go to Sundance, but we’ll still be here making content for YouTube. We love our fans.”