Inside the 2014 ‘YouTube Rewind’ with Portal A’s Kai Hasson

/ Dec 22, 2014

YouTube Rewind 2014

It’s no surprise that YouTube plays a huge role in the explosion of almost any meme or trend (that’s at least video-based) on the web — being the largest open video platform on the planet guarantees that.

In recent years, to celebrate what people have celebrated on YouTube during a particular year, YouTube has released a “Rewind” video, featuring some of the biggest stars and topics on the platform. For four years, this video has been organized and produced by California-based production company Portal A.

The 2014 video, which has collected more than 68.1 million views to date, was directed by Portal A co-founder and creative director Kai Hasson (pictured below), who took some time to dish on how the entire project came together.


This is obviously a massive undertaking. What’s the most difficult part of the production process for a project such as this?

You’re right, this was a big one. We shot in six cities around the world with nine days of principal photography. We worked with well over 120 different creators, late-night hosts, and viral video stars. In all, our cast was almost double what it was last year, and last year was huge (or so we thought). It’s really hard to identify the most difficult part, because each person, from our producers to our set designer to our editor to our VFX team, had so much on their plate. I will say this though: working with that many stars around the world is a unique challenge and simply scheduling everyone is a massive undertaking in and of itself.

How do you determine which memes and stories to actually cover in the video?

We make a lot of lists and we watch a lot of videos. We analyze numbers, trends, and the conversation from the year. It’s an amazing part of the process, diving head-first into the biggest videos of the year. There’s a lot of laughter and you inevitably end up going cross-eyed from all the craziness. Once we know the videos, we see which moments, memes, and people mesh with each other, which ones compliment each other and how they could fit into a Rewind video.

In terms of talent wrangling, what’s that process like? How do you determine which stars to work with?

Obviously, talent management is an incredibly large part of Rewind, and we have some the best producers in the business focusing on it throughout the project. With creators, we generally give them a sense of the creative ahead of time and give them the opportunity to chime in or expand on the role. Once they come to set, we try to sit down with them, explain what we’re doing, and ideally we have time to bounce ideas off each other.

You guys have produced a bunch of “Rewind” videos. What was different this year versus last?

This is our fourth “YouTube Rewind” and it’s obviously grown each year. This time around, we really wanted to celebrate the international growth of YouTube. That’s why we traveled to Tokyo and London, and that’s why there were so many new faces in the video.

Any interesting anecdotes to share from the shoot?

There was a pretty stressful moment when Big Bird missed his ride to the “Colbert” set. You never really think about how someone like Big Bird travels around NYC until he’s hours late and you’re sweating bullets.

Photo from the set (from left to right): Hasson, Alex Jacobs (DP), Brandon Hirzel (VFX), and Evan Rohde (production designer).

All images by Greg Balkin/Brightwood Photography

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