Seth Green has always been on the cutting edge of geek culture, whether as the voice of Chris Griffin on Family Guy; the writer-producer of Robot Chicken on Adult Swim; or the cocreator of the comic book series Freshmen. So it’s no surprise that he was an early adapter of YouTube, starting up his own original channel, Stoopid Monkey, in 2011. But unlike a lot of his peers in the entertainment industry, the wry, spiky-haired actor is heavily invested in his channel, seeing it not as a fun side gig, but as an integral part of his entertainment empire. “I don’t differentiate between the medium, whether it’s a feature film or TV or the Web–I’ve got the same goals in mind,” Green says. “You just try to present it somewhat differently. But we’re always trying to make the same quality level of content.”
Stoopid Monkey, which has over 1.5 million views, produces a steady stream of videos that center on the ne’er-do-well adventures of Stoopid Monkey, Biggie, and GT–all stop-motion animation characters who interact with real people. In one Top Gun spoof, Biggie and Stoopid Monkey challenge a pair of body-oil-slicked dudes named Iceman and Maverick to a game of beach volleyball. Subversive hilarity ensues.
Green attributes his success with Stoopid Monkey to having a fundamental understanding of online culture: “I’ve spent the last several years learning how this stuff actually interfaces,” he says–and to resisting the superficial approach to digital that he frequently runs up against in the industry. He also applies rules from the Hollywood playbook (see #2, below) to his online business, proving how certain truths about entertainment content transcend platforms. Herewith are some lessons from Green’s digital education.
Everyone on YouTube is ferociously competing for eyeballs, yet, unlike in TV and movies, there’s no $50 million marketing campaign to help get the word out. This makes 800-pound gorillas like Machinima, the video gamer’s delight network that has over 4 billion views and 6 million-plus subscribers, envy-inducing menaces. But Green says don’t worry about them–just try to make your own stuff good.
“I think the biggest thing we fight against is competition amongst other creators,” he says. “But we don’t worry about competing, we worry about our own quality, our own success. And so instead of consistently looking over our shoulders at people who are catching up to us or who are in front of us, we look more at the success and innovations of other creators and try to utilize our best effort to compete.
“We don’t look at it in terms of competition, we look at it in terms of, ‘Hey, guys, what do we want to make? What’s the smartest use of our time? What’s the best expense of our money?’”
Everyone knows that YouTube’s key demo is young–really young. Twelve- to 13-year-old boys (and girls) as opposed to movie marketers’ Holy Grail of 15-year-old boys. But that hasn’t made Green change his creative approach to Stoopid Monkey by trying to skew it younger.
“The more you try to cater to your audience, the more you become Arsenio Hall in his fourth season,” he says.
“When Arsenio Hall came on, he was the only opposition to Johnny Carson–there was no competition. He represented mainstream entertainment. And then over the course of each season, he had so much criticism from black and white people–white’s were saying he was too black; blacks said he was too white–so he tried really hard in the second season to give audiences what they wanted.”
This continued season by season, until, by the fourth season, “he became much less likable.”
Green is frequently asked by studios and TV networks to market his projects via social media but says he refuses to comply unless it’s done in an organic way. “They all want to write into your contract that you’ll tweet a certain amount of times about whatever it is you’re making, and that’s such a fundamental misunderstanding of what Twitter is and why it works,” he says.
“But people who have a lot of followers on Twitter maintain a level of influence over those followers because they’ve demonstrated over time something that those followers can predict–whether it’s a joke, or a sentiment, or valuable information that can be trusted about a product or a sale or an app.”
If that person suddenly “began to tweet only advertisements, their audience would feel like their integrity had somehow been compromised because they were just regurgitating some message that some corporation wanted to be sold.”
Asked if he ever felt strong-armed into posting that campaigny tweet to maintain good relationships with his employers, Green says: Hell, no.
“I tell them exactly what I think. I say, ‘You have a fundamental misunderstanding of why social media works and why Twitter can be powerful….You can’t make me sign a contract that says I have to tweet with these words and this hashtag because then it’s not an organic process, and the audience can tell the difference.”
And how do the studios respond?
“They are shocked and delighted to have someone explain it to them.”
[Base Image: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]