Defying the “dark void”

The online world is a competitive landscape for creators. Photo by Danny McSweeney. 
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Websites such as Youtube provide young creators with a platform to share their own content, but more accessibility means more competition. Danny McSweeney reports.

Alex Lowes is a young film maker who runs his own YouTube channel appropriately named Alex Lowes Films. On his channel he writes, directs and stars in his own comedic 10-minute short films.

Alex has long wanted to create films and has a deep passion for comedy. “When I was a kid I used to make these crappy short films with my friends. We used to actually preform them like we were making stuff for an audience, trying to figure out what people would like, but we didn’t have an audience, all we had was our parents and our grandmas.”

Over the years he’s grown from a small kid making silly videos of himself playing with action figures and using old CDs around his house for soundtracks, to creating professional content using fast cuts, small musical segments and even dabbling in 2D animation.

Alex is one of the many young artists perfecting his craft through internet sites such as YouTube, one of the most popular  for independent creators with over 300 hours of video footage being uploaded every hour. Other people are using platforms such as Instagram, where 60 million photos are uploaded every day. We live in the age of the creator, where your ideas can freely exist online for anyone to see.

More content is going online than can be humanly watched in multiple lifetimes. Many, however, believe this has led to a new problem – the problem of too much. Due to the vast deluge of art that’s created and uploaded every day, most of it simply falls into the dark void of the internet, never to be discovered to the dismay of many budding creators. The internet seems to have millions of drowning voices, each trying to push their way to the surface. But how do most creators see this environment? Do they feel relegated to ambiguity, or do they celebrate the small influence they can have?

Alex, for example, despite having a love for his videos and a desire to continue putting large amounts of work into them, also believes that it can be unfair how the often more commercial style of YouTube creators has become successful while much of the more creative and interesting work is overlooked. “I’ll be watching something and thinking, this should be more popular than it is. And then there’s the people who get millions and millions of views who upload these rough vlogs (blogs in which the postings are mainly in video form) every day. It’s a lot like reality TV with a lot of simple reductive crap. That’s what’s popular now.”

Alex says much of this success can be attributed to the fact that most successful Youtubers will upload daily, using a very raw style of video editing. Alex instead believes in hoarding as much video as possible and spending much more time working on his videos. “Right now, I’ve only uploaded around three videos this year, but a day never went by where I didn’t work on something for one of those videos.” In contrast one of the most famous YouTube vloggers, Jake Paul, currently has 11 million subscribers, and has uploaded nine videos just this week, each of which range from 10 to 20 minutes in length. But Alex stands by his view that his videos stem from a love for film making and not to gain internet fame. “The generic answer is I do it because I love it, but that’s probably the best answer I can give for why I do it.”

There are many creators on YouTube who don’t make vlogs. There is a large subculture of people who make their own in-depth video essays on film and television.

Elliott Nunn runs the YouTube channel Alpha-Alpaca-Pack in which he discusses topics ranging from Hungarian film director Bela Tarr, to the popular children’s cartoon Avatar: the last Airbender. Elliott says most of his videos take a significant amount of time to make, from reading academic papers on the material, to editing the video. “The whole process is to make it look effortless, but that actually takes a lot of effort.”

Elliot also shares his frustration with some with the problems of YouTube as a platform, such as misleading video captions. Elliot also seems to have accepted that his videos are unlikely to reach the levels of success of some content creators on the website. “I make weird art house essays, it’s never going to be the popular thing. People can find it if they want it.”

He also says that through platforms like Patreon that make it easier for artists and creators to get paid, content creators like him and others could find ways to support themselves through their fans. “Channels that tend to make slower release content, they tend to get a niche fanbase that’s more likely to support them.” He also says that we’ll see a trickle down of many of the talented creators on places like YouTube working in more professional roles in the future.

Not all online creators, however, work on YouTube, and some have even found a way to turn in a profit from their art. One example is Liam Brownlie, a young photographer who gets contract work from multiple independent bands in Melbourne through his online photographs. Liam says this desire to become a photographer came from giving himself an excuse to go out and watch live shows, but over the last few years it has grown into his career as he uploads consistently to places like Instagram and on his own website.

Liam has committed himself over the last few years to professional photography, even if the immediate gain is minimal. “You have to put your money where your mouth is. I spent a lot of money on equipment for stuff where I’m not making money.” But, like many, his greatest struggle is finding a way to stick out. “It’s harder to stand out than ever because everyone is posting. Even places like 7/11 are uploading their own professional photos now, and I think that’s muddying the water for actual creators.”

He says there are only two things someone can do in the hope of turning their passion into a job, the first being to work prolifically. “The only thing that guarantees interest is continuous uploading.” Liam’s second piece of advice is just to do it yourself and learn as you go. “I can give you all the tips and tricks but it won’t be your style, it’ll be someone else’s. You don’t need my advice, you need to do it yourself.”