We continue our talk with Chad, Matt & Rob.
TBSR: About six months after the Alien video you transitioned into the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of video, and you were the first people to do it – with “The Time Machine.” What triggered that idea?
Rob: This is one of those moments that I really remember. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. And I sent an email out to everyone saying: “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Because YouTube was doing annotations, but nobody was really using them.
TBSR: Annotations being that within the video, you can specifically choose what other videos it links to?
Matt: Yeah. Essentially it’s just embedding a link within a video.
TBSR: So did you say “Let’s do Choose Your Own Adventure" and come up with an idea that works” or did you have an idea you retrofitted into that style?
Matt: What it was was that we were all tired of making little three-and-a-half to five-minute things. We were like, “That’s cool, but we want to do more. But it’s the internet so no one – at least not then – no one’s going to watch a half-hour thing… so it allowed us to tell longer stories. What I remember next was we went down to the Farmer’s Market and I had just downloaded [a diagram of how the Choose Your Own Adventure stories were structured.] So we were just like, “here are these nine boxes. Let’s fill them in.”
TBSR: So you had the structure and…
Matt: It was literally just nine bubbles. And we wrote it in a weekend. Shot it that weekend and the next weekend.
TBSR: And this leads to possibly the most important question I could ask you guys: In the last choice, if Chad, Matt and Rob don’t save their past selves from certain death, how come they don’t cease to exist immediately? I’m sure no one else has ever asked you this.
Rob: Let me ask you this: have you ever been involved in time travel?
Matt: Right, that’s how we rationalize it---
Rob: We have [time-traveled.] We have first hand experience. That’s just what happened. I can’t explain it.
TBSR: All right. That was the one I knew I had to ask.
Rob: Very insightful question.
Matt: The thing about time travel is that there are no rules. And isn’t the idea of time travel that the minute it happens, everything ends?
TBSR: There are so many different theories. The main theory is that it’s impossible because it allows for the possibility of paradox and since paradox can’t exist, anything that allows paradox to exist, can’t exist in and of itself. Ergo, time travel is impossible.
Rob: (awed whisper) Wow. But it’s not impossible, is what you’re saying…
Matt: I saw The Time Traveler’s Wife, okay?
TBSR: For those reading this interview, that question comes up regularly on the YouTube comments for the last video in the story. Usually every other page of comments sets off a debate about the nature of time travel.
Matt: We definitely didn’t think about that when we were writing.
Chad: We just thought it’d be funny to leave ourselves getting our asses kicked.
TBSR: And how would you say “The Time Machine” was received? It was the first of its kind on YouTube, so that must have gotten some notice.
Matt: Everyone seemed to like it. It’s very simple… quick.
Rob: We didn’t know anyone [working] at YouTube, and I remember refreshing my computer at 9pm on a Friday night and I saw “Time Machine” right there on the front page, under “Top Video.” I remember calling these guys right away, super-excited. Got a beer, and stayed up until three in the morning just looking at comments.
Chad: Hitting refresh.
TBSR: Do you let the comments get to you? Like if they’re saying “Oh! That was awesome!” you’re like “These people are great!” But if they say, “I don’t like Rob because of x, y, z” do you write it off as “what do they know? They’re just people on the internet.”
Rob: I admit, it used to bother me in the early days---
Matt: It doesn’t bother me anymore.
Rob: Not anymore. We’re kind of immune to that.
Matt: I think comments are awesome.
Chad: It’s what you want. Instant feedback.
Tyler: And it’s so democratic, so as a creator, you already know what’s working and not working. And it’s honest feedback because of the anonymity.
Matt: Right, totally unadulterated!
Tyler: When you read movie reviews – with the exception of something that’s unanimously considered bad – you get the sense there’s always politics involved, there’s always a bias involved. And with the web---
Chad: “YOU SUCK!”
Tyler: --and the people who are really intellectual and who use that anonymity to express an honest opinion, that’s an awesome thing that’s super rare. Sure, it sucks to have your thing critiqued, but we’re not making anything to exist in a vacuum. If people don’t see our stuff, then what we do is meaningless. We’re not making it for ourselves. It needs to have an audience. That’s what validates the work and the process.
Rob: And we always have our audience to defend us from those people who come on and bash.
Matt: But they’re also superhonest with us in terms of, like, “I love you guys but this isn’t your best thing.”
Tyler: I think the reaction to “The Teleporter” was really surprising to us because we thought when we were creating it that it was in many ways an example of how far we’d come as creators. And I maintain that there are videos in The Teleporter" that are the best thing that I’ve ever shot. I love them as a viewer and I love them as a creator and I’m super proud of them. And sometimes those sentimentalities you feel as a creator don’t translate to the audience, and I think some of that was lost on the audience – and was shadowed in a lot of ways by us signing with a brand. [AXE Shampoo.]
Matt: The thing we learned from “The Teleporter” was [the audience’s] expectations… it was a lot shorter than our other [interactive adventures]. In all it was about 30 minutes of content but if you watch [just one thread,] it’s short. And that threw people. We got a lot of emails saying, “There wasn’t much to it.” Which is totally right. And also having a sponsor threw a lot of people – and us at first!
Tyler: We fought a lot of battles [with the sponsor] to create something that we would want to create, and the brand was great about letting us do that. It was the product of a lot of smart compromises – we don’t get to defend that, the content has to speak for itself. But one of the dialogues that started in the comment section was about the idea of selling out and branding. We had a lot of people who were upset about the brand integration, and then there was a group of people who understand that nothing that we do is made for free.
Matt: We don’t charge anybody for it.
Tyler: Yeah, we spend our money and our time because we love to do it, but it’s not free for us. It either costs money, time or both – and people were really sticking up for that [in the comments.]
TBSR: And I think the integration wasn’t all that obtrusive either. It’s not like you were doing the Wayne’s World gag of just shoving the product in the camera.
Matt: That was something we were really conscious of. The first thing we agreed on was “We’re alright to not do this,” like if we don’t come up with something we’re happy with, we’re just not gonna do it. [we didn’t want] “Look at the brand integration we’re doing!” because to me that always feels like a cop-out. I get it, but you’re still doing what you’re making fun of, so is it really better? The funny thing about "The Teleporter" is that the biggest brand integration in the whole thing is just [a small bit] at the end of the first video – a freeze-frame of three shampoo bottles. That was not [Axe telling us to do that], that was our choice. That was us telling them, “You need that for the story. You need to see three paths you’re going to take.” Which was something we almost didn’t want to do because it felt so branded, but as far as story went, it was what we needed there. If it was three crayons or three pencils [instead] that’s what we would have done, so why wouldn’t we do that just because it’s branded?
Tyler: We had to do a lot of creative problem solving with the project because we wanted to respect the audience and respect what we’d created in the past. And what people expected of us. With any brand, there’s always a level of expectation. It’s how brands have longevity – a level of expectation from the audience, the consumer, of what you’re gonna get.
Rob: I think it made us really, really more excited now to release “The Treasure Hunt” because I think “The Treasure Hunt” truly represents who we are and what we do.
Matt: It’s the kind of stories we want to tell.
Tyler: It’s kind of our web opus.
TBSR: It’s very cinematic. Now, I say this having seen an early cut months ago in a movie theatre, perhaps under the optimum conditions for it to BE cinematic, but it really feels like “The Chad, Matt & Rob Movie.” But I’ll be interested to see the reaction since each individual segment is a bit longer than your previous ones.
Tyler: And are infused with more story. I think they’re long in the right ways, which is why I think people will respect their length and understand that every second is essential and is true to what the project is, which is what the process we’d been through before taught us – that everything [needs to be] necessary… you can’t have fat!
Matt: Like if it was TV [we’d have to make it fit] 22 minutes. On the internet, there’s no set time-length, so you [can be merciless in what you cut.]
Tyler: We’ve had conversations about how anxious we are to cut a feature because we’ll get to hold on a shot for longer than two and a half seconds. We can’t wait to cut a scene that takes its time and is maybe four shots. And I think what we’ve learned from this process will make those cuts even better.
Rob: But we’ve never really created “for the web.” We’ve created what we wanted to create. I don’t think we ever really worried about time.
Matt: [With The Treasure Hunt] for us, this is the direction we want to go. We want to make longer content. We want to tell bigger stories. We could just make people getting hit in the face over and over – and while we’d still include that kind of thing – it’s just our chance to expand.
TBSR: And you’ve done public screenings so you’ve seen that it plays to an audience.
Tyler: That has fueled these last few editing sessions. I think that we know when something is good and when it’s not, [but] there’s always that point you reach when the amount of time you spent is so significant that you can’t not love it, just because you’ve invested so much of yourself. But you don’t get to defend that process – that exists completely independent from it screening in a theatre in front of however many people. But it’s really encouraging to see this in front of people – it’s like “We’re not crazy! [This works!]”
TBSR: You said that first and foremost you try to make what you guys like, but do you have like a profile of your audience?
Matt: I think what happened with us, which has been kind of serendipitous, is that we made what we liked and it found an audience, so our answer to that is to just keep making what we like and hopefully [our audience] will continue to like it.
Rob: Which is what it should be. I feel like if you force yourself on an audience, you might not hit it in the right way.
Matt: Right, like part of the reason we don’t want to do sketch comedy is because we suck at sketch comedy. It’s not a judgment on sketch comedy in any way; it’s a judgment on us being really bad at it.
Tyler: Why give people a bad version of what they already love, just to fill some niche?