Kevin Smith likes to talk. A lot. On Friday night the Emmy-nominated YouTube show What's Trending hosted a live discussion on the future of online television with Smith, Friends actress Lisa Kudrow, and Burnie Burns, one of the founders of the popular web series Red vs. Blue. Filmed in Hollywood in a living-room sized set as real-time tweets flashed on the screen behind them and more than a hundred people watched outside on a large screen, the trio discussed how new media is finding its place in a traditional media world. The theme of the night, one that's familiar to creative types at all levels of the industry, was how do you do what you love, get it seen, and get paid for it?
The loquacious Smith, who struggled to find financing for his first movie, Clerks, and ended up paying for it with his credit cards, understands the struggle. "Back in those days we were like 'We're indie. We're so indie we don't need your money, back off!'" Smith said. "Until we finished the movie and then we were like, 'Can you buy it, please?' Then suddenly we were part of the machine, we weren't truly indie. That's why the new generation of YouTube kids are truly indie. They don't really need the studio, they don't need a television show."
Kudrow agreed that creating her online series Web Therapy gave her more freedom than a traditional television show, but she wasn't able to find a business model that allowed her to make money off it -- until it got picked up by Showtime. "The old model, for us anyway with Web Therapy, is the key to financial success. That's what's crazy for me. The way to make any money at all is to get back on TV."
The Twitter fan favorite of the night was Burns. After spending a year making a movie and another year shopping it to film festivals, he grew tired of the process of "trying to convince five people to let you show it to 200." When a short parody video he posted online went viral, he realized he could reach a much larger audience by releasing content himself. Ten years later his fan base is solid and his series is still going strong. Smith gushed, "You're my hero, man. Your generation is doing what we dreamed about doing."
Other inspiring quotes from the night:
"That seems to be the business model of the 20th century is build what you love. Dream. Do it. Then figure out how to monetize it."
"Don't ask for any help-go out and do it. The people who make it never ask how, they just do it, they figure out how. If you're asking someone for a solution then you're way behind the curve."
"You're always kind of struggling between your commerce and your art when you're one of these people getting paid for your art. And you can't bitch about it because it's such a great struggle and a good problem to have. But sometimes there's the pull of 'Do it the way you want, do it wild and free!' And a lot of times there's the pull of 'Do it where you can pay your bills!'
"Every single minute 72 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube. They make so much of their own noise, how do you fall above that? Like Kevin said, you've got to start working, and if something doesn't get out there, and doesn't get seen, you're at least working and honing your craft."
"You're never going to compete with the one off video of the day. The cat falling off the roof or the guy falling through the ice- you're never going to beat that. So you can't try to do that."