From a YouTube Trailer to the Big Screen: ‘Smiley’

/ Mar 17, 2014


How many YouTubers does it take to create a popular feature film? Michael Gallagher of Totally Sketch more or less answers this riddle on “Ear Biscuits with Rhett & Link.”

Sometimes it just takes one guy’s idea to set forth an epic project. In the case of “Smiley,” a feature film directed by Gallagher and starring a slew of YouTube stars, Glasgow Phillips served as that “guy.” Working at The Station, Maker Studios’ predecessor, Phillips one day turned to Gallagher and suggested that the two of them get to work on a full-length film using all of the talent they encountered on a daily basis.

Gallagher embraced the idea. “[Of] certain people I was friends with…[I] got the sense that there was more to them than what they were showing us on YouTube,” Gallagher said of Station colleagues like Shane Dawson. Gallagher wanted to give Dawson and the like an opportunity to showcase their multidimensional talent, so when Phillips came to him with a horror movie script already written, Gallagher jumped on board.

Gallagher and Phillips continued to perfect the script, collaborating on drafts while trying to raise money towards the film. When fundraising proved a challenge, Gallagher got “antsy” and said, “Screw it — I’m going to put in my own money, and we’re going to make this thing.”

Following this DIY attitude, Gallagher released the movie’s trailer on YouTube. With all of the YouTubers involved in “Smiley,” this made the most sense in terms of distribution. If you want to promote a feature film on the video platform, make sure you do it through popular channels. Since Dawson was in the film, he pushed the movie on his channel, as did all of the other YouTube celebs involved. Thus, in the first three days, the trailer got 1 million views. The so-called “snowball effect” brought the “Smiley” trailer to YouTube’s homepage, where “it would literally get 50k to 100k views a day,” described Gallagher.

The immense viewership attracted even Hollywood’s attention. Gallagher spoke of screenings with Paramount and Relativity, both of which ultimately rejected the movie after ample consideration. Again, Gallagher was forced to rely on his own confidence to take a trailer that ran on YouTube and bring the full movie to theaters near you. Taking advantage of AMC’s program, which allows you to bring pre-approved movies to theaters independently, Gallagher got “Smiley” on the big screen.

Making his money back was a “slow process,” but Gallagher noted that viewers in other countries and platforms like Netflix helped contribute to his eventual profit. The whole experience was a very positive one for the young director, whom Rhett described as one of the “first guys that came up through YouTube and made a feature film.” Gallagher hopes that more YouTubers will follow in his footsteps, which they’ve been doing with the likes of “Camp Takota.” If you enjoy a certain ‘Tubers videos, he suggested, a movie from them is “just more of a good thing.”

A lot more than the above goes into making any feature film. To hear the rest, tune into Michael Gallagher’s interview with Rhett & Link on “Ear Biscuits.”

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