There’s a long list of YouTubers poking fun at tech and social media, but with February’s viral hit 25 Things I Hate About Facebook, Julian Smith proved he’s one of the few doing it well. (So well, in fact, that he was invited to film a sequel vid at the Facebook offices.) Smith, who just turned 22, launched his YouTube channel last year with the subscribe-or-he-dies series Kidnapped, and now boasts more than 17,000 subscribers. Recently, with Got my Mac on with iPhone 3Gs, Smith took timeliness to a whole new level, getting the slick music vid up less than 48 hours after the phone was released.
NTV got in touch with Smith to discuss YouTube fame and how he managed to make “cut, copy, paste” into such a catchy lyric, so quickly.
NTV: Tell us about how you found your way to online video.
Smith: I was raised in a musical family; I grew up writing, singing and playing. When I was about 12, I started making goofy videos with my friends. By the time I was 15 I was doing freelance video full-time. (ed. note: Smith was homeschooled and balanced video work around his studies.) In September (of 2008), in hopes of building an audience and working my way into feature films, I started a YouTube channel and began weekly comedy sketches.
NTV: One thing that’s notable is your high production values. What sort of budget do you normally work with?
Smith: I spent years saving to buy cameras, lights, mics, etc. A local restaurant caters all of my shoots for free, and most of the time I get free locations, too. So the videos cost me literally nothing to create.
NTV: You launched your YouTube channel pretty ambitiously with Kidnapped! How did that come about, and how many subscribers did you gain?
Smith: The Kidnapped! series was created while I was on a trip to Buffalo, N.Y. Chris Torchia (who plays Gabrielle) and I were tossing around the idea of filming a video before I went back home. This quickly turned into a concept for an entire series. We filmed in six days (minus Bribe2Subscribe on the Street and Captive Music Video). I was the only crew member and editor, and Chris works 9-5 as a scientist, which meant he couldn’t even film until 6:30 each night. So I would spend the day preparing the script for that night. We’d begin filming at 7:00 pm with the shots that we were in together, then film Chris’s close-ups. Then, Chris would go home and I’d stay to set up and film my own close-ups. I’ve gained roughly 2,000 subscribers from the series.
NTV: Impressive turnaround time brings us to Got My Mac on with iPhone3GS. You must’ve had to write much of the lyric after the phone’s release. How’d you get this video up so quickly?
Smith: I wanted to be the first with a response to the iPhone3GS. I started digging around online for rumors as to what new features we’d be seeing. I had my first draft written by Sunday, June 7th. I wanted the video online by Wednesday, so I needed to start filming immediately, but I knew the 3GS wouldn’t be announced until Monday, which meant there was no way to confirm that any of my lyrics were correct. So we filmed the parts that weren’t specific to the lyrics (cutaways, iPhone close-ups). While we were filming, we followed Apple’s (s aapl) keynote live and began reworking my lyrics as they confirmed and debunked the rumors. We went into the studio, laid down the track, and the next morning, on a few hours of sleep, we filmed the performance shots. I went straight home and edited my tail off, and had my final cut uploaded by the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
NTV: That’s some serious commitment to being first! So what rumors didn’t pan out?
Smith: I had written about a couple things that ended up needing to be changed, such as: a thinner design, GPS/compass integration for advanced geo-tagging of pictures, front facing iSight…things like that. I was a little bummed, to be honest, because I thought the original lyric was much funnier than the one we ended up with. I got attached to it and so I was curious to see if people would still find the song funny or not. It’s hard to know what people will think of something at first impression when you’ve been staring at it for hours and hours.
NTV: 25 Things I Hate About Facebook was such a giant hit — nearly a million views, visits to the Facebook offices and the Tyra show, etc. Why do you think Got My Mac on with iPhone3Gs has had comparatively modest success?
Smith: The video is getting the amount of exposure I anticipated it would. I’d love to see Apple pick it up, but that’s always a shot in the dark. Believe it or not, 25 Things I Hate About Facebook didn’t take off immediately — it was in its
third week online that it blew up. I think the iPhone3GS video still has some hits coming.
NTV: Has online video become your full-time occupation?
Smith: I support myself via my YouTube sketches and sponsorships/endorsements, yes. I take freelance work when I need extra money; I outsource most of the work so that I can stay focused on my own projects. It’s hard not knowing when the next paycheck is coming, but if it came down to it, I’d rather live on the street in one of my pelican cases and have time to create than work 9-5.
NTV: What’s ahead for you?
Smith: For the past three months I’ve been in conversation with several networks, agencies, and production companies regarding the possibility for my own TV show. I can’t give details yet, but I look forward to updating everyone when I can!
Julian Smith releases new video every Friday on YouTube and at JulianSmith.tv.