When Filmmaking Met YouTube: A Chat with Sammy Paul

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Superficially, YouTube may seem only a few things. Challenge videos and all-caps click bait, tags and tours, and lots of #spon. There’s a unique and automatic association the public continuously makes with the video-sharing site, one that differs from those made in previous years. But dig a little deeper – just not too far into the many rabbit holes of YouTube’s “dark side” – and you’ll find a kind of magic. A band of massive talent that hasn’t exactly been hiding, but isn’t what the average consumer would expect to find under that aforementioned surface level. There are these content creators that have seen YouTube for what it is at its core: a stage. What people do on that stage, however, varies wildly. Either way a decision swings, YouTube is powerful to its core.

Within that pocket of talent are creatives who’ve honed their skills to near genius. There’s this Breakfast Club of filmmakers, all equal but distinctive in their crafts and visions, that has come forth and thrived. Each have writing, acting and/or directing credits on a laundry list of works, and they’re only getting bigger and better.

Filmmaking in the digital age — especially when distribution is through YouTube — has the opportunity to reach a larger and wider audience. One of its strengths lies in its accessibility; viewers practically have an encyclopedia of films from which to choose, in various different languages made by many different kinds of people. The filmmaking x YouTube collaboration is also just so naturally nuanced. On a platform that has gone through many a metamorphose, it at once seems unexpected and obvious that such talent would co-exist with the well-oiled web-celebs for whom YouTube has become quite known. Though we know it’s out there, we’re still affected, surprised even, when we make such a discovery. It makes us question our own consumption: “What is out there that we aren’t being met with, that isn’t being spotlighted? Can we glean from YouTube deeper substance?”

On YouTube, both filmmaking and the growth of creativity ride a fine line and stand at the edge of a precipice. Each can lend themselves to the other, and I believe that in them, we can find inspired and emotional things.


Sammy Paul, 2016.

To discuss YouTube and filmmaking, and to swim the deep of his own works, I “sat down” with Sammy Paul, a common denominator in a web of wonderful short films and one of the many members of a skillful group of young filmmakers.

AJ Caulfield: In a single word or phrase, what does filmmaking mean to you?

Sammy Paul: To me, put simply, film is everything. It’s what I live for.

AJC: Over the years, YouTube’s predominant culture has shifted from a world of bare-bones vlogs and simplistic sketch-style videos to a massive business conglomerate. How do you see YouTube’s future? Do you sense another shift coming?

SP: It’s tough because increasingly YouTube is going back to its grass roots. In many ways, the ‘kid in the bedroom’ is very much a winning formula right now. Only it’s become just that, a formula. A box-ticking exercise. And at least before it really was kids in their bedrooms making creative stuff, unsure exactly what they were getting themselves into. Now it feels a little contrived and calculated. As a website its doing great, as a creative platform less so.

AJC: The platform itself isn’t without its merits, however. What aspects of YouTube do you feel have had the most impact – advantageous or otherwise – on your own work?

SP: Fundamentally, YouTube is a free international distribution platform. That’s a thing no other generation of filmmaker has grown up with. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s done a lot of good for a lot of people despite its flaws.

AJC: How do you view your personal trajectory in terms of filmmaking? What can we expect to see from you in 2016?

SP: I’ve been working on a lot more of my own stuff this year. Namely a New Form Digital short called Friend Like Me. I can’t say much about it, but it involves a Genie. Also there’s a dead fish in it for like a split second so, you know, #hype.

AJC: Do you feel a digital landscape allows for certain freedoms in filmmaking that a traditional environment doesn’t or hasn’t yet?

SP: You’d think/hope that the digital landscape would allow for certain freedoms amongst creators. And whilst there are many people who flourish in the environment, many others play it safe. They keep an eye on views. They monitor what “does well.” They become their own studio executive who tells them not to have fun.

AJC: In terms of the development of each of these films, did they have a distinct inception you can recall? If so, how did the initial inspiration evolve as you spent more time within the film’s story?

SP: I never have a good answer when it comes to the inception of ideas. It’s tough, every idea comes from so many different places and from a mix of different people. I don’t know that I’d really be able to pin down anything I’ve worked on to just one place of origin.

AJC: If funding, resources, and time were of no object to you – you’re given a free rein opportunity to create a total passion project – what would that film entail?

SP: I feel like the most common answer to the “if you had unlimited funding” question tends to focus on scale and production elements. Personally, for where I am right now, I’d love the opportunity to work with more actors that I hugely admire. That’s where I’d put the money. A dark comedy featuring Kevin Spacey, Idris Elba, Emma Stone and Cate Blanchett? Could I make that happen? That would be dope.

Our conversation turns film-specific after the cut!
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AJ Caulfield is a 22-year-old writer, massive goofball, and quite possibly Leslie Knope's long-lost twin. She's a big fan of 80's rock music, female-directed films, and Mad Men.