A YouTube channel called the National Film Society sounds like it should be hosted by someone with a Ph.D. and a graying beard. Instead, it’s hosted by Stephen Dypiangco and Patrick Epino, who have between them one mustache and barely six months of YouTube experience. But their passion for filmmaking and the YouTube platform is clear, and it’s been harnessed by PBS for its first-ever Online Film Festival.
Dypiangco and Epino are independent filmmakers who began the National Film Society in September 2011, choosing the name deliberately because, as one of their friends put it, it was “the very opposite of what you expect when you see two dudes on YouTube.”
“We don’t say which nation we represent,” Dypiangco said via Skype.
“We will never say,” Epino added.
While neither Dypiangco or Epino had much on-camera experience, they discovered a natural chemistry after shooting their first video together, a short answer to the question of whether or not you should attend film school. “We can both look into a camera and not flinch,” Epino said. And indeed, their on-camera camaraderie as well as relatively strong production values makes the NFS shorts fun, compelling viewing.
Though relatively inexperienced, especially in comparison to YouTubers who have been uploading for years, Dypiangco and Epino have managed to leverage each opportunity into a larger one. Their first notable video was an interview with Oscar-winning short filmmaker (and personal friend) Luke Matheny, which helped them get more interviews, which eventually led to receiving press credentials for Sundance.
Those press credentials led to a partnership with Filmmaker Magazine, which gave them the opportunity to interview festival attendees like Frank Langella and Tim and Eric — and now making videos for PBS. Next stop: SXSW.
NFS doesn’t have huge viewcounts — the most-viewed video on the channel, Awesome Filipino Americans In Movies, has less than 10,000 views. But their focus on documentary and independent film — and maybe, according to Dypiangco, an ad on VidStatsX.com — brought them to PBS’s attention.
“We were looking for someone with a really unique voice, someone you wouldn’t necessarily associate with PBS — [they're] still a nascent channel, but have a reputation and a following, and they brought in a new perspective for us,” senior director of PBS Interactive Jayme Swain said in a phone interview.
Being somewhat different from the expectations that come with the PBS brand was a big factor in the creation of the PBS Online Film Festival — the fest’s slogan is “Watch Us Surprise You,” and the festival features an eclectic selection of short films drawn from various partners. “You’re going to get something high quality here, but what you’re going to see isn’t what you should expect to see. It’s PBS with a twist,” SVP of PBS Interactive Jason Seiken said via phone.
Part of the Online Film Festival’s goal is to alert PBS’s latent audience to the original content available on the PBS digital platforms — Seiken is quoted in a press release as saying “We think many will be surprised by the depth and breadth of video content that’s available on PBS.org.”
Dypiangco and Epino’s hosting duties consisted of the intro video as well as five short videos introducing each of the categories — the video for the “Growing Pains” category features a short appearance by Growing Pains star Alan Thicke, who agreed to a quick shoot after a producer at PBS dug up a five-year-old AOL address (Dypiangco and Epino showed up at his front door wearing their PBS T-shirts). A People’s Choice winner of the fest will be determined by audience voting at PBS.org.
As fests go, it’s pretty minimalist, but according to Swain that’s because it’s very much the first step in a larger experiment; depending on this year’s success, subsequent years may feature an open call for submissions — as well as a physical component, making use of the fact that PBS operates both on a national and local level through its member stations.
This year, the fest draws on short films produced by organizations including the Independent Television Service (ITVS), POV and the National Minority Consortia — a Dream Team of public broadcasting organizations, as the NFS puts it in the introductory video.
“For [PBS], it’s about these producing partners coming together,” Dypiangco said. “It’s really cool for them to join forces, cross-pollinate audiences and show what you can do online.”