Filmmaker In Focus – George Kimmel

We begin our series with George Kimmel, a Producer at Maker Studios, who has spared time from his jam-packed schedule, to answer a series of questions on the nature, operation, and his position with the company as well as valuable advice and insight into the nature, now and in the future, on the continually evolving field of online media. Words of wisdom. Truly.

George Kimmel, as the idiom goes, “knows whereof he speaks.” A graduate of the University of Michigan (BA in Film and Video Studies), he received an MFA in Film Producing from Columbia University where he worked on more than 30 short films, received the prestigious Producing Fellowship, and won Faculty Honors at its film festival for his short “Escape” (2010), which additionally received a $20,000 ASCAP Grant and a Director’s Guild of America award. Other credits include Associate Director on the Bollywood film “Musafir” (2004), Production Supervisor on Pauly Shore’s “Vegas Is My Oyster” (2011), and Associate Producer/Unit Production Manager on the independent “Pervertigo” (2011). He was a Producer on the prize-winning Comedy Central webisode “Family Bum,” has been a Program Coordinator and Screenwriting Instructor at IFI, and a Production Supervisor at Landing Patch Productions.

International Film Institute of New York (IFI): Please give us some background on Maker Studios.

George Kimmel (GK): In 2009, a group of content creators who had established themselves on YouTube joined forces to collectively drive audiences to a single destination–The Station. While pooling resources, they decided to form a company Maker Studios. In 2014, The Walt Disney Company purchased Maker for nearly $1 billion. Maker is the global leader in short-form video and the largest content network on YouTube. Maker attracts more than 10 billion views every month with over 650 million subscribers.

george kimmel picIFI: How and when did you become involved with Maker?

GK: I heard about Maker in late 2011 when a friend toured the studio and told me it seemed like the perfect place for me. A month later I was at a Columbia University networking holiday party and ran into a friend whose boyfriend was a producer there. Two weeks later I was his coordinator, and three weeks later he was a part of the online hit “Sh*t Fashion Girls Say” and became a YouTube celebrity.

IFI: What are your position and duties at Maker?

GK: As a Producer, I oversee the channels for some of the biggest YouTube stars. My goal is always to make a viral hit, but the first step is consistency. It’s much easier to “go viral” if you have a loyal fan base watching all your videos. I average a video a week for all the talent I work with. Every project is different. For some, we just get a camera and microphone together and let the talent riff (Tough Talk). For other projects there are weeks of pre-production and months of finding the project in post (California on Sasquatch). For others still, it’s a matter of recreating a hit music video at a fraction of the budget (Call Me Maybe Parody).

IFI: What makes someone a worthy candidate to work at Maker?

GK: Getting along with a wide range of personalities as well as keeping a lot of balls in the air at once are great qualities for a producer. On any given week, I could have multiple shoots, uploads, and development meetings to oversee. While I am a creative producer, I am not an egotist and know that the talent who built their own channels usually has the best ideas regarding what their audience will like. Riding the line between making the best video without losing the elements that attracted viewers to a channel in the first place is key.

IFI: What is the process for becoming an employee of Maker?

GK: Honestly, it was competitive before Disney acquired Maker, but it’s even more so currently. Working in production, I think a smart way to join the team is to start as a freelancer. Our workload changes every week, so we continually have to hire freelancers. When a full-time position opens, we look first to people we’ve previously seen excel under the specific pressures of our work environment.

Maker LogoIFI: What are the elements that constitute a noteworthy “viral video”?

GK: Is it sharable? That’s the main thing I look for. I ask myself if I would share it with my friends and, if so, it’s a go. If you can summarize the video in a few sentences, then it’s a good concept. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a porn star or two in the video [referencing Kassem G’s comedy series “Going Deep”].

IFI: What will be the effect of Disney’s purchase of Maker?

GK: I believe Disney acquired Maker because of our expertise in new media, and it allows for both companies to have access and insights into new areas, e.g., Maker to Disney IP, Disney to short-form expertise, data and Maker talent partners. Maker and Disney truly do share the same DNA of quality content and a strong focus on engagement and storytelling. Maker has been working with divisions across The Walt Disney Company to develop new and unique content.

IFI: Your advice for creating online content?

GK: Start with something you love doing so that you will keep at it. The joy of working in YouTube is free rein (there is nobody telling you what not to do). And if your initial goal is fame or ad revenue, you’ll probably stop making videos before you achieve either one. Lastly, be ready to pivot. Many stars I work with began doing one thing and then switched to something else that worked even better. It’s usually the 2nd or 3rd idea that actually hits, but they wouldn’t have known the audience well enough to come up with that new concept if they hadn’t been creating weekly videos for a long time.

IFI: Pitfalls to avoid in creating online content?

GK: Do it for you first, and secondly for the audience. Don’t try to follow trends, unless it’s organic to your way of telling a story. Have a different take on your material to avoid just following the crowd into a full swimming pool.

IFI: Your forecast for the future of Internet content?

GK: Continual change, but there is always a place for great content. When I started at Maker, YouTube was the big new thing. Now Vine and Snapchat are crushing it. Tomorrow if might be Meerkat and Periscope. Clever stories told in original, interesting ways with fun personalities are all that matter, no matter the platform.