So we’re about halfway through the shoot of Internet Icon, our YouTube competition show premiering this summer, and we’re down to our top six finalists. By this weekend, we’ll be down to our final two and the winner will ultimately be decided by viewer votes when the show debuts later this summer on our upcoming YOMYOMF Network on YouTube.
I have to say the experience of being involved with this show hasn’t turned out how I expected. Everyone’s been working long hours and fighting fatigue to make a great show under the leadership of uber-producers Andy Fickman and Betsy Sullenger (Oops Doughnuts), Bobby Smith Jr. (Ashore Entertainment) and director D.J. Viola—that’s not the surprising part. But what has been unexpected is the level of talent of our contestants and the high quality of work they are consistently producing under very adverse conditions.
Here’s how the typical day plays out: the contestants are given a “challenge” for that day’s videos. I don’t want to give away what the specific challenges are, but it might go something like this—everyone is given a grocery bag full of food and they must make a video incorporating every item in that bag.
Once the challenge is set, the contestants arrive bright and early to the studio lot where we are shooting our show. There, they first enter the green room where the ICONography Wall is located—a structure that houses a shitload of props that the contestants can use in their videos:
There is also a revolving pool of actors who are available to act in the videos. The individual or team that won the previous day’s challenge has first shot at picking the props and/or actors they need for the new challenge. Once they are done, the other contestants can make their prop/actor selections on a first-come basis.
Then, everyone’s off to make their videos while the clock ticks. They only have from 5-6 hours to shoot, edit and score their videos. Everyone also has the run of the massive studio lot where the production is housed—as long as a location is available and not being used, the contestants can shoot there. So we’ve seen everything from the studio’s morgue set to the underground parking garage appear as locations in the videos.
By around lunchtime, most of the contestants are back in their individual dressing rooms frantically editing their work to make the afternoon deadline. No matter what stage/state your video is in, you must turn it in by the deadline (usually 3PM) or be disqualified. This has created its share of drama and stress, like on the first day when one of the teams crashed their computer shortly before they had to turn in their video and lost their edit–forcing them to completely re-edit their video from scratch with only 40 minutes left on the clock.
Once the videos are turned in, the contestants are ushered into the Internet Icon Theater where they are greeted by host Chester See and judges Ryan Higa, Christine Lakin and the guest judge for the episode (usually a top YouTuber). There, each of the videos are screened, the judges give their feedback and, by the end of the day, one contestant is eliminated and sent home.
The next day, the whole process is repeated with a brand-new challenge.
What’s amazing is that under those extremely stressful conditions—the contestants have produced videos that have consistently blown everyone away. One of our biggest fears going into this competition was wondering if the contestants would be able to shoot and edit their videos within our tight deadlines and, even if they could, would the finished product be any good? It would’ve been a problem for us if people were able to complete their videos in the 5-6 hour timeframe, but the work itself sucked. But as it turned out, this was something we didn’t have to worry about at all.
And as you can imagine under these difficult circumstances, the likelihood of “interesting” human drama developing is high. But even the form that drama has taken has proven to be a surprise. Again, I don’t want to give anything away and spoil the show, but every day has provided us with genuine emotion—both good and bad—that we could never have anticipated. With the level of talent involved in the creation of this show, I never doubted it would be funny and entertaining, but much of the drama that has played out has been unexpectedly heartbreaking and emotional.
Now, before I start blowing everyone involved in the show, I should point out that as interesting as the footage we’re getting is, that none of that guarantees the finished show itself will be any good or that an audience will even be interested in watching it even if it is kickass. We’re doing something completely new that hopefully marries the best of TV and the internet, but as there’s no real precedent for the type of show we’re creating, no one can know what the reaction to it will be.
But that’s what’s also very exciting. Every day on the set, I am constantly reminded that we are riding into the new frontier. And we may not know where that ride will take us, but goddamn if it isn’t already an amazing adventure.