Meg DeAngelis had a big surprise waiting for her when she took her new five-episode mini-series “It’s a Girl Thing” on location in Venice, Ca. — and it wasn’t the good kind. Four our out of the seven locales she had planned to shoot were unavailable. There was a construction truck in front of one of them. Another she thought she had a permit for, she didn’t.
It would’ve been a bad situation on any production, but on this one DeAngelis was working 12-hour days on a tight six-day schedule, as both director and star. She needed to get b-roll and montage footage for a key date sequence in the series — which debuts today on her YouTube channel — as well as film the date scene itself.
At first, “I was like, it’s the end of the world,” DeAngelis, 20, told VideoInk. “But we ended up being able to film in different spots. I realized that sometimes you just have to switch up. You can’t just go with the plan. You have to be adaptable and think on the spot. In the end, we got everything we needed.”
DeAngelis had directed herself in scores of videos with titles like “What Girls Do When They’re Home Alone” and “10 Things You’re Doing Wrong Every Morning” for her YouTube channel MayBaby, which has more than five million subscribers. But she wanted “It’s a Girl Thing” to be Hollywood-quality entertainment. And that meant employing a more Hollywood-style process and a full-fledged crew, including an art department led by production designer Taylor Slingerland and an honest-to-goodness director of photography, Daniel Marks.
When DeAngelis started her YouTube career in 2008, she was just a middle schooler posting self-made gymnastic videos. Lately, she’s been appearing in increasingly high-profile, professionally-staffed productions such as the feature “Dance Camp,” which debuted on YouTube Red in March, as well as several shows for AwesomenessTV including “Royal Crush,” which is currently in production on its third season. But that’s acting. This was running the whole show. She couldn’t just whip out a camera and wing it. Before she could start rolling on “It’s a Girl Thing,” she had to figure out exactly what type of thing it was.
“I knew I wanted it to be a series of awkward moments leading up to something, but I didn’t have a completely fleshed-out idea,” DeAngelis said.
For that, she needed a writer. DeAngelis thought she’d have to interview a parade of scribes before she found the one who “got my vibe,” she said, but the first one she met with, Eddie Wintle (the boyfriend of her manager, Colette Patnaude), “totally nailed it.”
“He said he watched a million of my videos,” said DeAngelis of Wintle. “That made me feel really comfortable.”
In “It’s a Girl Thing,” Meg and her best friend Astrid (played by fellow YouTuber Carrie Rad) must navigate their way through relationships, makeovers and childhood fears in order to plan the ultimate birthday celebration.
Behind the scenes, DeAngelis had to work her way through a crash course in pre-production. With the typical YouTube video, art direction usually entails little more than tidying up one’s apartment. DeAngelis had grander visions for “It’s a Girl Thing,” but they had to be reconciled with practical realities.
“I thought a soundstage would be best, just because I’m really picky about how things look and I wanted to have control on everything like I usually do,” DeAngelis said. “But I realized that takes a lot bigger budget, because you have to build all the sets, and that’s like a lot more work for art and everything, so we ended up doing everything on location based on what the scene was.”
The 15-member cast and crew and all its equipment couldn’t be expected to fit in DeAngelis’ apartment, so a house was rented to portray Meg’s residence.
“We spent a lot of time working on the room and the living room, and we made them super DeAngelis-ized,” she said. “There were like cubbies, which I really like, and it was light white with lots of color.”
DeAngelis’ on screen persona is cheerful and at times head-in-the-clouds kooky, but, like any self-made man or woman, she is motivated, determined and perhaps more than a little controlling. Accustomed to acting as a one-woman show (or close to it) on her YouTube videos, she at times found it difficult to hand the reins over to the art department.
“I feel like I over-explain things sometimes, and even though I know that was their job and they’re really good at it, I was so protective at first,” DeAngelis said. “But I learned they actually knew what they were doing so I could relax a little bit.”
Relaxing is not something successful YouTubers are accustomed to doing. To keep their audiences engaged, they need to post new video at regular intervals — at least once a week, according to accepted YouTube wisdom. Some have found ways to reduce the burden, like Meghan Camarena, who shoots a three month “season” of videos over the course of a week once every quarter, timing the coincide with things like movie releases and seasonal events.
But while DeAngelis acclimated herself to pre-production on “It’s a Girl Thing,” she finds that it just doesn’t work for her on her everyday YouTube videos.
“At the end of the day, most of my videos are just talking to viewers about things and about having conversations,” said DeAngelis, who will turn 21 on May 15. “I read the comments and make the videos. That’s hanging out with your friends, basically. So when I try to edit that and make it look really nice and I’m spending too much time on it, I think, that’s not the point. Focus on the content. Because it’s easy to get distracted by trying to make you videos look professional. I’m like, step back. What’s it really about?”