Richard_Gale_web-xrop“I’m going to share with you the best kept secret to success on YouTube,” says filmmaker Richard Gale to an assembled audience of editors and graphics artists at the Los Angeles Pro Users Group.

Gale should know, his YouTube Channel boasts a whopping 33 million views, two thirds of them for the viral sensation “The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon”.

Here it is, for the uninitiated:

At time of writing, this 10-minute fake movie trailer’s 22M+ views put it well ahead of, say, last week’s top network T.V. show, NCIS (which maxed out less than 20 million views Live+SD). Or, as Gale put it in his presentation: “10 mins. X 22 million views = 220,000,000 minutes or 418 Years people have spent watching ‘The Horribly Slow Murderer’. To watch ‘HSM’ 22 million times, it would take one person, watching day and night without a break, from 1595 until 2013.”

Ginosaji tattooMore important than statistics on raw views, Gale has developed a community of fans surrounding his work (70,000+ Likes on facebook, 93,000+ Subscribers on YouTube). These spoonistas create homage videos, artwork and get permanent tattoos celebrating the universe Gale and his collaborators have created. But what blew me away most in Gale’s presentation is that imagery from his short film has become so recognized the world over that a hooded figure in fright makeup attacking things with spoons has become a political protest symbol in multiple countries:

So what’s the Best Kept Secret to YouTube Success?

Gale’s extremely practical tip: check out youtube.com/playbook. This is a resource which YouTube shares with its partners, full of tips and tricks for garnering more eyeballs. After all, YouTube wants creators to garner rafts of views so they can serve boatloads of ads.

But Gale and his collaborators weren’t using YouTube’s playbook when they made “The Horribly Slow Murderer”. As Gale explains in his presentation, “The Horribly Slow Murderer” was made for festivals. It was in 75 festivals all over the world and won numerous awards, making Gale a millionaire… in Korean money. (South Korea’s Pi-Fan festival gave him a prize of 10M won, or about $4,000 US.) It was only after the main festival run that Gale put “Horribly Slow” up on YouTube.

hsm-views-oct-25-2009Gale clicks through some slides. On October 25, 2009, “The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon” has 2,076 views and Gale’s YouTube channel has around 60 subscribers. A month later, it’s got 1,163,371 views. Gale becomes a YouTube Partner and enables advertising.

Horribly Low Earnings and Extremely Efficient Budgets

So how much dough did he make? Gale is a bit cagey about giving exact figures, since Google makes creators sign a contract not to reveal their earnings. “Not enough to make a living,” he says. Still, it’s better than a kick in the pants. Other sources peg YouTube creator earnings at about $1-$1.50 per 1,000 views. That’s orders of magnitude lower in CPM (Cost Per thousand impressions) compared to traditional media. (Last year’s CPM for network T.V. shows was $24.08.)

Paul Clemens headshotBrian Rohan - Norman BatesIf anyone can make YouTube’s economics work though, it’s Gale. The making of the “Horribly Slow” series has been a 3 1/2 year labor of love for him and his two leads. Both Paul Clemens, who plays the long-suffering victim Jack, and Brian Rohan, who plays the relentless Ginosaji, have professional acting backgrounds. Clemens has appeared in some major movies and T.V. shows and Rohan’s dayjob is playing Norman Bates on the Universal Studios tour.

desert 2To gather the footage of Jack Cucchiaio (‘cucchiaio’ is Italian for ‘spoon’) pursued to the ends of the earth by The Ginosaji (Japanese for ‘silver spoon’), Gale would take day trips to specific locations with Clemens and Rohan, sometimes with no other crew. He showed footage of the three of them at Kelso Dunes, the actors assisting with sound and camera equipment in addition to their performance duties.

All in all, Gale estimates that he spent only $5k specifically on the film itself, not counting his existing $15k-$20k of equipment, which he has continued to use on his other film projects. desert 1(More on Gale’s equipment kit below.) The most expensive prop was the rocket-propelled grenade launcher, which was real, although safety-rigged by the prop house. The big production value moments come from Gale’s clever use of effects.

Gale favors using real physical sets and props where possible. The underwater shots were done by simply forcing a fish tank down on top of the water and shooting down at an angle through the side. underwaterFor the scene of Jack being chased near the Pyramids (the Kelso Dunes shoot), Gale used the solid blue sky as a blue-screen and just chromakeyed in The Pyramids behind them. The snow in the arctic sequences: instant mashed potato flakes.

Gale doesn’t just write, direct and produce — he acts. That’s his voice you hear as the narrator, with compression and EQ settings jacking up the bass.potato snow

Clever effects are one thing, but Gale also has the good fortune to be friends with a pair of Emmy-winning artists who donated their expertise. The crazy look of the fortune-teller lady is the work of Dean Jones and the epic musical score was provided by composer Christopher Brady.

Richard Gale Doesn’t Stop

Richard Gale first had the idea for a spoon killer 15 years ago. Originally the fake trailer was only going to be just two minutes long. He held on and developed the concept, along with his developing filmmaking skills.

And like The Ginosaji just kept on going. And is still going today. Gale continues to create spoon killer spinoffs along with original content.

I reached out to Gale via email to learn more about his production methods and what advice he has for beginning filmmakers:

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richard-galeMaking the Movie: I know your camera rig for “The Horribly Slow Murderer” was an HVX200 with a Steadicam Merlin. What else was in your kit? Have you upgraded or added anything as you continued to make films?

Richard Gale: My primary mic was an Audio Technica AT-4073a, which mounted to the top of my HVX camera with the hot-shoe mount. I also sometimes used lavalier mics on the actors.

For lights, I have a few Arri tungsten fresnels, several scoops with large CFL bulbs in them (the swirly, environmentally-conscious kind), which I love because one bulb can output the equivalent of a 250 watt tungsten bulb and only use 85 watts of power, which avoids blowing circuits when using a lot of them. Some of “Horribly Slow’s” location scenes were done with available light (like the library scene — it had plenty of fluorescent up above already), or outdoors with just a reflector or bounce board. I also have a dolly and some track (it’s an Indiedolly) which is big and heavy and good for slow dolly moves (like the shot of Jack talking to his girlfriend on the couch). For interior scenes, I usually used a Redrock M2 cinema lens adapter on the HVX, which allowed me to use Nikon 35mm still lenses to get a cinematic-looking shallow depth of field.

As far as upgrades, I have a RED Scarlet that I am now using as my main camera. Since my goal has always been to eventually make things for the big screen, upgrading to a 4K cinema camera is a logical step. I’ve always loved the look of widescreen cinema, and the Scarlet can do that beautifully.

MTM: You were able to do some amazing location shoots by using actors as crew. Can you talk a bit about the idea behind this?

We wanted to see how many locations around the world we could fake without ever leaving Southern California. The most distant location was Kelso Dunes, the largest area of sand dunes in California, which was a three and a half hour drive from L.A. That’s where we did the pyramid shot. Another day, we all piled into a van and drove all the way down Wilshire Blvd from the 405 to downtown, stopping to shoot in Beverly Hills (rows of palm trees), a Japanese cultural center (the Mt. Fuji shot), the lake (running tracking shot with lake in b.g., shot out of the moving van), downtown (running on bridge with freeways in b.g., plus another shot with running with buildings in b.g.) and we ended up in Chinatown. We shot more than six different locations in that one afternoon.

MTM: There are tons of clever effects in “The Horribly Slow Murderer”. What are some creative solutions you came up with that you didn’t have time to talk about in the presentation?

RG: When the actor Paul Clemens gets hit in the forehead with the spoon, for the very first time, we used a stunt spoon that had a small piece of styrofoam attached to the side away from camera, so the camera couldn’t see it, but it protected the actor from getting bruised on the face! Another that comes to mind is the tank. There’s a shot that looks like Jack Cucchiaio is driving a real tank. He is actually on a real tank, but it is not moving. I’m running past the side of the tank, handholding the camera. Since there were no reference points in the sky behind him (powerlines, or buildings), it actually appeared as though the tank was really moving! That’s one of my favorites.

MTM: Out of all your movies, what has been the most challenging shot or story element to pull off?

RG: I don’t think I can identify any single– no, wait– yes I can. In “Spoon Wars” I had a continuous 22 second shot in which Jack has been blinded and is flailing wildly with his light saber while the Ginosaji dodges it and hits him with a spoon. I shot it in front of a green screen, but many times the actors moved off the edges of the screen and in front of a black sofa that was off to the side. It was the best take performance wise, so I decided to rotoscope the actors (by hand) whenever they crossed the black sofa. Easier said than done. The Ginosaji was wearing black, so it was impossible to see where his arm and shoulder ended and the black sofa began. He was wearing a flowing robe, so I had to draw points and bezier curves in After Effects, with a mouse, by hand, frame by frame, the shape of the robe, and make it look real. Plus, I had to create the wildly flailing light saber effect frame-by-frame– by hand. The shot was over 500 frames long. I spent hours on just a few frames to get it to look ok. I spent over five long days on that shot. It was hell.

If you haven’t seen “Spoon Wars”, you should! It contains what I believe is the world’s first live-action underwater light saber fight!

MTM: What is the best piece of filmmaking advice you were ever given?

RG: Don’t be afraid to just make stuff, make a lot of stuff. The more you make, the better you’ll eventually get at it.

MTM: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

RG: Same as previous answer, but I’ll add: Don’t be afraid to fail. Brush it off, and get back up as soon as you can. It’s the only way to succeed. You need to fail a lot first. Robert Rodriguez once said you may have several crappy films in you before you start making good ones. So get busy and make a bunch of films on your own first, get the crappy ones out the way and learn from them, before you’ve got a bigger budget!

MTM: What’s next for you as a filmmaker?

RG: A feature project is in the works. Genre and story will be announced once things are a little further along. It’s going to be my most ambitious project to date.

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Thanks to Richard Gale for being so generous with his knowledge. LACPUG has plans to edit and post Gale’s presentation, so keep an eye out for that — it is well worth watching. And I’ll be keeping an eye out for this upcoming ambitious untitled feature. Stay spooned.

UPDATE: LACPUG has now posted the video of Gale’s presentation. Watch it! (YouTube, 25 min.)