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Q&A with the Stars of Side Effects: Life After YouTube Fame

YouTube loves unique personalities. The video-sharing platform has evolved tremendously since its launch in 2007, and its success can be attributed to the seemingly endless amount of contributors who want to share their points of view with the world. As we’ve seen the entertainment industry shift in the past year from television to online, new networks are being recognized for taking scripted, long-form content and putting it in the digital space. A recent standout is AwesomenessTV, which grew organically on YouTube with a teen audience by showcasing rising YouTubers and media personalities as the online voice of the next generation. With over 1 million subscribers and more than 240 million video views, the industry surely took notice, and last spring, AwesomenessTV was acquired by DreamWorks Animation in a record breaking deal.
This fall, AwesomenessTV took a major creative risk with the production of Side Effects, its first long-form musical drama whose first episode clocked in at almost 40-minutes long in a space most known for 30-second comedy clips and 5-minute tutorials. But any doubt of the traction for long-form content on YouTube has been truly tested as Side Effects saw over 2.1 million viewers in the first week of its debut. Talk about record breaking. Teens and tweens gravitated towards the musical for its homage to YouTube cover songs, proving that long-form content can be both inspired by YouTube, and live there.
When it comes to Millennial-focused content, the real stars of the show are the YouTubers, moving forward with their creative agendas in order to make online content authentic for what teens want to see now. Posting videos may have been for fun in its early days, but now, YouTube is big business. We spoke to three stars of Side Effects, and YouTube superstars in their own rightChester See, Taryn Southern, and Lia Marie Johnsonto understand what it’s like to be a part of the social platform’s evolution, and to find out exactly what’s in store for their lives after YouTube.
Ypulse: How did you get started on the YouTube platform?
Chester See: “I began writing songs at such a young age and knew that I was going to do something in music. In 2007, following a buddy of mine who was popular on YouTube at the time, I joined as a way to get my songs out there and gain feedback to see what people thought. The response really impressed me.”
Taryn Southern: “About a year after YouTube had launched I saw a video called Obama Girl. I thought it was funny, so I decided to make a parody of it [Hott 4 Hill], and within a couple of days it had gone viral. I started doing news and talk shows, and was even asked to do correspondence work for Fox News. That’s when I realized the power of this platformI essentially launched a career for myself from that one video. Last year I finally decided to launch my own channel on YouTube.”
Lia Marie Johnson: “I moved out to California and I started working with YouTube stars, like Brittani Louis Taylor and the Fine Brothers, and that’s what launched my career. I didn’t even know what YouTube was, but I knew that these people were big online. I saw this huge community of people and it was growing every day, people from all around the world who could watch my videos whenever they wanted.”
YP: Did you have a plan for your channel in terms of creating a personal brand for yourself?
CS: “I didn’t really have a strategy until 2010 or so when the Partner Program came out as a way to monetize videos on YouTube. It became very clear that there was a business, and that it was going to grow into something. At that point you had to be more strategic.”
TS: “My goal was to make something that I own, that can grow and build on itself, and to create an actual brand. Aside from being consistent with posting at least once a week, I did a lot of strategic collaborations with brands and YouTubers for content with multiple endings or alternate sketches so that each channel could point back to each other and direct traffic. That’s honestly probably the only way I’ve been able to build a channel in the last year and a half, because it’s just becoming a more saturated marketplace.”
LMJ: “I used to post every now and then, but now it’s a job. I’ve realized that you have to have a strategy and you have to work a lot harder. To me it’s about making videos as well as I can and making the people who watch my videos happy.”
YP: How do you think YouTube has grown since you’ve joined as a creator, and how does this impact content creation today?
CS: “YouTube is growing into so many different things at this point. It used to be easy to stand out, but now there’s just so much content. There is also this division between what is posted by YouTubers, which is scripted, compared to what is posted by bloggers and gamers. For YouTubers, there is now a distribution platform for long-form, scripted content with YouTube.”
TS: “It seems that there’s a lot more awareness of YouTube as a formidable platform for great content. A lot of that is because of funding for premium channels, which certainly made noise in Hollywood, and that’s a good thing. On the flip side, it’s very hard to have your content seen or discovered, even if it’s good. People are still figuring out what type of content works well on this platform and how to find your audience. It’s more difficult and competitive to become a YouTube star, and you can’t necessarily bet on it having staying power. YouTubers are going to have to learn how to adapt to that and evolve.”
LMJ: “Everyone from people starting out to big stars are on YouTube, even Rainn Wilson who played Dwight on The Office has a channel. YouTube is about dedication. You have to put in the work for your fans.”
YP: What was filming Side Effects like, and how have things changed since its airing?
CS: “I studied acting at UCLA and personally love it as a craft, but I don’t get to do it often, so playing this role was like going back to my roots. Side Effects gained 2.1 million views in the first week, which is easily comparable to network programming. The script is so well written with a lot of great moments, and I think those numbers say something instantly.”
TS: “Having a long-form project do that well on YouTube just sets the bar higher for everyone else, and also sets a precedent that people are willing to watch longer content on YouTube. AwesomenessTV has taken the production burden off of us as creators, which makes it easier for us to create original content.”
LMJ: “Everyone was so much fun to work with and they’re all so talented in their own right. It was just an honor being asked to be a part of it, since AwesomenessTV is changing history. It’s a YouTube network that has already had a full show on Nickelodeon, and now this.”
YP: What are your thoughts about online content on YouTube versus TV programming? 
CS: “All that’s really missing [from YouTube] is marketing, and we haven’t seen YouTube take a gamble on anything quite yet, meaning there hasn’t been a big marketing budget for any of the YouTubers who produce content. I think when that happens, we can start changing the way that people look at content online.”
TS: “It’s very difficult to beat the marketing power and ad dollars that TV has. Sometimes projects warrant a bigger budget that only TV provides, unless it is one of the few projects that gets a Netflix deal. With that said, TV has a really antiquated pilot process that doesn’t make much sense. I started on YouTube because I wanted to make something that I would never be allowed to make on traditional media.”
LMJ: “A lot of YouTubers seem to think that YouTube and TV will combine one day where people can watch whatever they want, whenever they want. I feel like that is a possibility, and some people in TV are starting to realize it.”
YP: Do you see your career moving offline or staying online?
CS: “I think what is way more exciting than TV is doing something online and staying online. I’m not worried about where my content is being distributed. I think it’s much more fun to be someone in this space and do something that is innovative. I feel very strongly that in the future we won’t even have to think about leaving YouTube.”
TS: “I still do some acting and hosting for television, which makes my days all over the place. Every other day I’m shooting in some way. I will continue doing both because I think it’s necessary at this point, but I would love to just be on digital.”
LMJ: “YouTube is great, but I’m still an actor, I’m still a singer, I still go to auditions. Honestly, I’m so young, and I have my whole life ahead of me.”