Read here the full transcript of filmmaker and YouTuber Zach King’s TEDx Talk: The Storyteller in All of Us at TEDxPortland conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio of the speaker here.
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Zach King – Filmmaker and YouTuber
It was six years ago that I was just leaving Portland. I had been born and raised here, and I was taken off to LA to go live there. And it was scary to be a young — just graduated from high school – kid, planning on taking over the film world, and I was just planning on going out to be a film student in Los Angeles at that time.
And if you were to come up and ask me, “What do you think you are going to be doing when you graduate film school?” I would have, of course, said, “Well, I’m going to be in Hollywood, making feature films for the big screen, and my name up in lights, and working alongside my favorite director: Spielberg here. Of course, that was going to happen.
But actually, fast forward to today, and I’m actually making short videos out of my garage for this — the small screen and the Internet. And this is one of the tools that has changed my life among a couple of others.
See, what actually happened was I didn’t get into film school like I expected. I ended up having a year at university while I was waiting to reapply, and I was kind of bummed out like, “Okay, man, I thought my calling was to be a filmmaker, and direct with Spielberg.”
So I fell in love with something during that time, and it wasn’t a girl. I fell in love with the Internet and digital technology because at the time I realized both of these were really converging at a really cool way. The internet has poised itself; especially, websites like YouTube were just coming out, Vimeo. And you could post your work online, and start building a following.
And then on the other side you had digital technology taking off. Cameras were getting cheaper, they were getting better quality, and again, they were only costing a couple of thousand dollars.
And so I took a camera, and I started filming my own videos while I wasn’t in film school. I didn’t have film homework, so I did that and I posted online, and began building this following. And it started changing my life.
Because when I go to film school, and I eventually am talking to classmates, and I am talking to my teachers, like: “How do you get into the film industry? How do you get into Hollywood?” Because I still want to direct, and they would tell me this, “OK. Well, here’s how it works: you go into Hollywood, and you work for 10 years up the ladder, doing nothing you really like to do. You’re being assistant to somebody, and doing this dirty job here, and then you finally get to a place where you can pitch your movie. Because that’s what all directors want — this chance to be in front of executives and pitch their story.
So if you get that chance, and let’s say the Hollywood system buys, the studio pays for you to go off for a couple years and make that movie; well, then you come back, and you have a theatrical release, and two things could either happen. One, it does awful and you skip town and never direct something again, or it does well, and that’s the moment you get to start building your following.
But I’m stepping back as a student still in film school going well that doesn’t make sense to me because that system’s got to be broken. Like I’m already building my following online, and I had friends that were doing this online, building successful YouTube channels, and other networks online. And so that didn’t make sense to wait 12, 15 years before I could really start my career, and even — in between – it didn’t sound like I’d be doing something that I loved.
So it was this tool that started to change my life. It was other tools like the cameras that started to change my life. And how many of you have one of these? Oh, that’s a shocker. OK. So what I want you to do go ahead and get them out of your pockets, get them out of your purses, OK? I’m giving you permission because half of you are already on them. I see you tweeting over there, and taking a picture over here. But actually, it’s crazy. Most of you will check this twice during the course of my 15-minute talk.
Most of us check our phones 10 times an hour and that equals 150 times a day. And for me, probably, all of you in this room check it like 300 times a day. Actually, here’s what I want you to do: by answering this question, by raising your phone in the air. Did you check your phone after being awake for 15 minutes this morning? 80% of you. OK.
And here’s what I won’t make you answer. When you go to lunch after this and you go to the bathroom, 75% of you will take your phone with you. So, yeah, you’re raising your hand, your phone there.
But what I’m saying is we live in an age where technology is one of our tools. The Internet is one of my tools, and we only need just this. I was flying up to Portland from LA yesterday, I was thinking on the plane right here. OK, if you were a writer back in the day in the 14th century before the printing press was invented by Gutenberg, were you just writing your book, and you finish it, put on the shelf, and just sit back, and wonder, well, I hope someone makes a machine that can publish this someday? Because I don’t know how they’re expecting people to reach the world, and to get their books out there, but we don’t have that problem anymore, we have the technology.
Literally, if you’re a writer here, you can go on your phone, and you can publish a blog and post it, and people can read it everywhere. It’s like not one of our problems. So I’m saying you only need a few tools to connect the world. Over here I brought my two tools. I use the computer and my camera. So over here, I’ve got in my backpack, I call this my traveling office. Because when I leave LA, you saw where I work in LA with the garage. This is my computer I do my editing here. I do all the importing and the magic of posting online, and then you’ve got my camera, and this is only a couple of thousand dollars. I’m not going to nerd out about what’s so cool about this, you’ve got an interchangeable lens and all this DSLR technology.
But what is amazing is this is only a couple of thousand dollars, whereas the buy-in ticket to make a Hollywood movie just a couple years ago, you had to have a hundred thousand dollars just to go, maybe buy a camera or rent camera, and then you had to process on film. You guys, if you’re not in a film, this is maybe you don’t care. But this is incredible technology, and this is my tool on how I’m reaching the world.
So I made a video a while ago, called Jedi Kittens, And that was just the response it got when it went online. It was crazy. So I was really into Star Wars, and I thought it’d be fun to make a movie just like Lucas had made, and maybe just make a scene a bit. But the problem is you’re a college student. You’re living off like noodles, and you don’t have millions of dollars in your back pocket.
So I took some cardboard, hot glue, spray paint and cast some adorable kittens and this is what I came up with.
So what I’m really here to tell you today is that when you take Star Wars and kittens you can make a successful video. Thank you very much. No, I’m kidding. Jedi Kittens was a great video for us, because it was one that really got our channel kick-started. We started growing a really big audience. I think to this day, it has like over 10 million views. But it was crazy because it really models of what the modern filmmaker can do. We made this in one night. I was in film school. So we had our classes during the day, and starting around 9 o’clock at night, me and my best friend, I said “Hey, do you want to make a movie with Jedi Kittens in the Star Wars?” He’s like “Of course.”
So we go off and we make this movie from 9:00 at night, we film until midnight. And we’ve got all the footage on our computer here, and we’re just sitting side-by-side editing, till eight in the morning. That’s how we did all our film shoots during school. We did it at night, and then posted it at eight in the morning. At the same time, while that was happening — this is, by the way, what you have to do to compose a score with a 40-50 piece orchestra the same time though, in Atlanta, Georgia, my composer, Andrew was writing the score to the movie as we were making it. So by 8 a.m. after I’d give him the rough cut around midnight, he’s doing an all-nighter down there and sending me the music, and we posted it. That’s the whole process is complete.
And I also have a sound guy that I work with out of Wheaton Illinois, and I was sending him the sound effect like: design of what I thought it should be like, and what he should do. And so all of us are collaborating over the Internet. We’re not even sitting next to each other. Making a movie that ends up getting couple of million dollars, and we didn’t have million dollars to make it. I think we had, I think, just cardboard and hoglet whatever that cost that was my cost for making this movie.
And so it’s because of technology that’s changing all of our industries that were having so much power in just the tools, and letting our ideas go out there and be effective. And what I love is it’s not just filmmaking, it’s music, it’s art, it’s journalism, so many different mediums.