By Michael Varrati
In the post-YouTube world, it’s almost hard to remember a time when notoriety for creative online video content could be achieved via any other medium. But for Burnie Burns and Matt Hullum, co-founders of the fan titan Rooster Teeth, YouTube is just the latest content delivery platform in a long, illustrious career of producing videos for the internet at large.
Now entering its 11th year of production, Rooster Teeth, founded in 2003, set the standard for content networks in a time before there really were content networks. However, despite being able to claim rights over trailblazer status, Burns and Hullum remain ever gracious and humble.
“When we started 11 years ago, the world was in a different place, especially in terms of online video. There was no YouTube or Facebook,” says Hullum.
“We like YouTube, and we’re very happy about that platform,” Burns is quick to add, “but we’ve been doing this a long time in a variety of different ways. We’re focused on being a creative content studio and an entertainment company, that’s what drives us.”
It’s this devotion to creativity above all else that has seen the company not only rise to a level of prominence, but continue to endure. Hullum, Burns, and their entire creative team foster each of the Rooster Teeth properties with notable amount of care, and it this loving attention that brings their over 1.5 million registered fans back for more.
Nowhere is this more prominently exemplified in the Rooster Teeth universe than in their flagship series, the extremely popular “Red vs. Blue.” With 11 seasons under its belt, “Red vs. Blue” not only is the world’s longest-running web series, it’s also one of the most enduringly popular. Furthermore, the show (which utilizes voiced-over animation from the “Halo” game series) almost singlehandedly brought greater cultural awareness to the world of “machinima,” which is the concept of film or shorts created using real-time interactive engines from video games.
Today, “Red vs. Blue” remains as wildly popular as ever, and despite almost a decade of producing and distributing entertaining episodes, the series shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“When you start a project, you have dreams and hopes, but I have to say that Rooster Teeth and ‘Red vs. Blue’ surpassed our wildest expectations,” Burns says with pride.
For a show with such duration, one does have to wonder if it is difficult to keep the storylines fresh. But when I pose this question to Hullum and Burns, they merely chuckle.
“At this point in the story, we’re just recycling the first season,” Hullum says with a laugh. “The people who are watching it now were babies when it first started, so we’re hoping they don’t know the difference.”
“We’re banking on people’s short term memories!” says Burns, showcasing a little mischief in his and Hullum’s long partnership.
“Just kidding,” says Hullum, shifting to the more serious. “The great thing about ‘Red vs. Blue’ is that it’s built around characters, more than anything else. When people come up to us at conventions, and when we talk to people online, what they’re really coming back for is the story of these individual characters. They love Sarge, they love Church, they love these guys. After 11 years and 11 seasons, those characters are really ingrained in them…and us too. So, it’s almost easier for us to come up with content for ‘Red vs. Blue,’ because the characters still make it feel fresh. We know the characters so well, they feel like friends of ours, so it’s easy to create new stuff for them.”
Not ones to rest on their laurels, following the success of “Red vs. Blue,” Hullum, Burns, and company, who early on had no idea how long their initial creation would endure, sought to create a home for other properties.
“Even with the early success of ‘Red vs. Blue,’ we knew that people were either eventually going to get tired of it, or need something bigger than the show to want to stick around,” says Burns.
Thus, merely a month after “Red vs. Blue”’s introduction to the web, Rooster Teeth proper was born. In the years that followed, the company introduced many new properties, including such celebrated shows as “The Strangerhood,” “The Slow Mo Guys,” and “Immersion,” to name just a few.
More so, even as “Red vs. Blue” continues to garner accolades, one of Rooster Teeth’s newest properties, “RWBY,” created by Monty Oum, Rooster Teeth’s director of animation, just scored a big prize in the form of an IAWTV (International Academy of Web Television) Award for Best Animated Series. With factors like these continually at play, there’s zero question that Rooster Teeth continues to impact the creative video community in remarkable ways.
Reflecting on the company’s celebrated body of work, Burns also addresses just what it takes to make something part of the Rooster Teeth brand: “Our core philosophy for our content: If you’re making videos, make something that you want to watch. We don’t typically put people on a project where they’re just pushing a button or turning a key. The people who work on these shows love them.”
More than just a personal mission statement for their own company, it is this tenet that Burns and Hullum offer up to the many content creators who seek out their advice for their own burgeoning channels.
“Burnie’s right,” says Hullum, “You need to love what you do. But, also be consistent. Not just in the quality of your content, but also in terms of how you release the material. Scheduling a program is a key component of the way you produce content. It helps your audience be able to engage in a consistent fashion, and to know what to expect.”
…and if the continued success of their company is any indicator, it’s clear that Hullum and Burns certainly take their own advice. By building a consistent and passion-fueled brand, they have emerged as two of the most important figures in the world of online video. More so, as they head into their second decade, with talks of new shows and potential features, it seems that their kingdom can only stand to grow more grand. However, suggest this fact to them, and they merely shrug it off with that self-effacing humility that first charmed viewers all those years ago.
“We’re guys who want to make content,” says Burns, “and we’re leveraging the miracle of the internet to allow us to directly distribute to people who want to watch our videos. We’re circumventing all the barriers, and we’ve proven it can be done. If people have a vision and they have something they want to tell an audience, they can do it, and they should never forget that fact.”
Header image (Burnie Burns, left; Matt Hullum, right): Annie Ray
“Red vs. Blue” stills: Rooster Teeth Productions
“RWBY” stills: Rooster Teeth Productions