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Summary:

Most of the people who have turned their YouTube accounts into thriving and profitable platforms for their content aren’t known for having much of a serious side. But director Tony E. Valenzuela may be changing that with the dramatic thriller Black Box TV.

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Most of the people who have turned their YouTube accounts into thriving and profitable platforms for their content aren’t known for having much of a serious side — the content created by folks like Philip “Sxephil” DeFranco and Shane Dawson falls typically into the comedy category. But director Tony E. Valenzuela, known as MeTonyV on YouTube, is changing that with the dramatic thriller series Black Box TV, which launched today.

An anthology series loosely constructed around the theme of fear, the first episode of Black Box TV stars DeFranco as a man discovering how one choice can change everything, especially when you’re in a seedy motel having an illicit encounter with a beautiful stranger (played by Jessica Lizama, known as ExoticJess).

Subsequent episodes of the series will star iJustine and Dawson, and After Judgment star Taryn O’Neill is featured in a voice-over role in episode one as well as a teaser trailer for the show. A plethora of behind the scenes materials — including official videos, a director’s commentary and vlog entries by the cast — are available.

Black Box TV, for Valenzuela, is a return to his roots as a director of darker content, such as the original series 2009: A True Story and the EQAL-produced Harper’s Globe, which he directed. “On YouTube right now you have a lot of people doing sketch comedy,” Valenzuela said via phone. “You have a lot of people who are really really good at that. But I always want to create the stuff that I want to see. I don’t want to just do something on YouTube, I want to do something that I love.”

According to producer Jenni Powell, the first Black Box episodes were self-funded by Valenzuela, though he is in discussions for potential sponsorship deals. He also hopes to make the show collaborative – both by soliciting story ideas from the audience and involving talent from both the web series world and the YouTube world. “A lot of people come up to me and say that they would really love the two communities to have more cohesiveness and don’t understand why they don’t,” Powell said via phone. “We’re hoping to help change that.”

Black Box TV does seem to be an intriguing mesh of the two worlds, combining the strong production values of high-quality web content (including some strong cinematography by D.P. Joe Nation) with the engaging use of YouTube interactivity.

By ending with a question at the end, episode one has racked up two video responses and almost 2000 text comments — in one afternoon. Its viewcounter is currently frozen at 306 views, a sign that it has “become popular quickly,” according to YouTube.

I worry that without a regular cast or other uniting factors, Black Box might not have cohesion as an ongoing series. But if the formula works, it may serve as a major lesson for web series creators making great content — and hoping to get eyeballs on it.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Fact or Fiction: Where Is Branded Online Video Going?

  1. Casey McKinnon Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    It has a little bit of a Tales From the Crypt feel to it.

  2. I’d be impressed if they recruited talent from YouTube that could actually act instead of just hiring people for their audiences.

    They could have made this with cardboard and sock puppets and gotten the same amount of views as long as they paid the same top YouTubers to tell their audiences to watch it.

    Lazy stunt casting is all it is.

  3. The idea of using “stars” that can bring in “box office” is no different from what the movie industry does. The concept of using Youtubers to drive views is pretty good. That said it is important to have acting talent that is up to the roles.

    This is off to a good start (over 17,000 views so far and over 90k subs) because of the involvement of Youtubers but its long term future will be dependent on the quality of the story and the acting.

  4. I, for one, would like to see more attempts from producers to create successful web shows that aren’t in the sketch comedy category. Good luck…

  5. @modelmotion

    I would say more like CSI hiring Justin Bieber for the first 3 episodes of their upcoming season to prop up their declining ratings and stave off cancellation.

    To give these guys credit, they recognized Phil DeFranco’s lack of acting ability and gave him as little dialogue as possible for the story.

  6. Where would you suggest they find these great actors? Popular youtubers were used not only because they would drive up views but because Tony is friends with them. I think it’s great for the youtubers to work out of their comfort zone and who knows maybe Shane and Justine will prove to be better actors than Phil

    1. It took me 5 seconds to search for “acting demo reel” on YouTube.

  7. The Lessons YouTubers Teach Us Monday, August 30, 2010

    [...] that marketplace, the content itself is improving. Take as a recent example Tony E. Valenzuela’s solid Black Box TV, which combines known YouTube talent with strong production values and social media savvy, [...]

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