I’m not a big YouTube guy. In fact, when I type “You” into my browser, “tube” isn’t even the first thing that pops up on my history. But when there is a video out there that everyone is talking about, I definitely check it out.
Such was the case with “Women of LA,” the music video about a guy (DJ Lubel) who moves to Los Angeles and finds out he’s got no chance of getting laid because the women of LA are, well, so LA. The video, which was written, produced and created by Lubel and Jamie Abrams, was posted to YouTube on Feb. 13, and within 24 hours had more than half a million views. That, as we say in the industry, is pretty dope.
But don’t think that anyone can just sit on their couch, flip on an iPhone, fart on a kitten and become an Internet sensation overnight. These days it takes a lot of hard work, but Lubel and Abrams have the formula for success and it starts with hilariousness.
(Pictured: Jamie Abrams and DJ Lubel)
“First and foremost we want to make them laugh out loud or LOL if you will,” said Abrams. “After honing in on something we felt was universally funny – something men and women would be into – we put in the time and effort to produce a professional video. Doing this shit is hard. It’s sacrificing time and executing it correctly. People talk a big game but you have to get off the couch and do it. We shot this every Saturday and Sunday for a couple months, where we were up at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning to get a shot we needed. For the bar scene we shot after the bar closed at 2 a.m. and went until 7 in the morning.”
The production value is top notch and the video has everything from a “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” parody to a stage recreation of “Rent” to cameos from Pauly Shore, Dennis Haskins and Jaleel White. That’s right, Urkel…who raps…and is good.
“The cameos make a difference,” said Lubel, who first recorded the song and sent it to managers to help land recognizable talent. “Every friend we have helped us get this done. From landing the star talent to having geniuses like our visual effects guy Ryan Wehner who can make it look like I’m blowing Ryan Murphy to all the people in the Rent scene who drove an hour down the 405 to spend their Saturday in San Pedro – it was a team effort from people who all believed in this video.”
As surprising at it may seem, you can’t just pluck out any random celebrity to generate hits. It actually has to make sense. “We wanted recognizable celebs to ensure the viral factor, but these guys were specifically chosen because they made sense with our piece,” said Abrams. “They represent the type of person that is out and about in LA who will take a woman from you. We couldn’t throw Channing Tatum in there because he’ll take a girl from you anywhere.”
Steve Berke, who has more than 3 million views on the Macklemore “Thrift Shop” parody “Pot Shop” that he posted last month, had a celebrity in his video too – Macklemore.
“YouTube rewards timing,” Berke said. “One can put out an amazing parody of a song, but if there are others that beat you to it, your parody won’t do as well even if it’s the best one out there. Because I had a feeling that Macklemore was about to ‘blow up,’ I went on his website, checked out his tour dates, and saw that he had an upcoming concert about three hours from where I live. I bought a ticket, went to the show, and was lucky enough to meet him after the concert. He was gracious enough to agree to be on video, and I think it was a nice surprise ending for anyone watching my parody.”
Celebrities are great, but there are other key components that cater to the YouTube generation. Berke helps draw in a crowd by pushing a video that promotes the legalization of marijuana and features a lot of hot young, ladies – two things that give Interneters a huge nerd boner.
(Pictured: Steve Berke, “Pot Shop” Release Photo)
“Having beautiful girls in your video is no guarantee that it will go viral, but it sure can’t hurt,” said Berke. “The Internet loves certain things – parodies, kittens, prank videos – and if you can include some of those elements into your video, your odds of it going viral will increase.”
Lubel and Abrams have a hot girl of their own, the extremely talented Taryn Southern, who provides the singing voice and makes an early appearance in the video. Southern was also featured on Lubel’s “Wrong Hole” video that is currently nearing the 7 million mark on YouTube. While she admits it’s a fun process, there is an end goal to the whole YouTube game.
“You never know what’s going to hit and do well,” said Southern, who has her own YouTube channel with 120,000 subscribers. “For me I’m grateful to be a part of it and I continue making my videos and building up my audience. The angle is self-sustainability. You can bring in integrative advertising or sell the songs on iTunes. There’s not a lot of money to be made but if you have the audience you can do it. The goal is to get to half a million subscribers and try to look at yourself as a mini cable network.”
For Lubel and Abrams, it’s less about YouTube money and more about promoting their other projects. In the 24 hours their video has been up, their phones have been ringing off the hook.
“Our phones were going crazy,” said Lubel. “Agents and production companies. It’s great. These are tools for projects we have in motion. You couldn’t do this 20 years ago. The business model has changed. You can’t sit back and write a script. You have to make yourself known first. You have to differentiate yourself from the masses. When I’m auditioning, I’m in a room full of people that look like me. There are the handsome DJs, even-nerdier DJs, midget DJs, black DJs – I need to differentiate myself.”
With the mindset that there is little money to make right away on a hit video, it’s important to make sure the video looks as professional as possible with the smallest of budgets.
“I made ‘Pot Shop’ for less than $500, but it looks like it could have been a five figure budget,” said Berke. “These days, technology is so inexpensive that almost anyone can make their videos look professional and expensive. High definition cameras are becoming more and more affordable, so what you’re seeing is a tidal wave of amateurs showcasing how talented they are with small budgets.”
Abrams agrees, saying, “This went viral because not only was it a great concept, but it’s well made. You can see the time and money we put into it, and we had a lot of people doing us favors. We have a network of wonderful actors and crew and producers that we can call on to make this happen. But at the end of the day, this was not a little Internet video. This was a production.”
For the amateur funnymen and women out there, it should be pointed out that all of these success stories have been in this Internet video game for a while. Berke, who is also an activist and politician who ran for Mayor of Miami Beach in 2011, has 16 videos on his YouTube page, but “Pot Shop” makes up almost half of his video views. Lubel has found success with “Wrong Hole,” “The Murray Hill Song” and various others before “Women of LA.” And Abrams, he hit the scene in the BYT (before YouTube) era way back in 2004 with a little thing called “Paul & Frank,” about two guys who go out of their way to prove they’re not gay.
“‘Paul & Frank’ was on 25 or 26 different sites, pre-YouTube and had millions of views,” said Abrams. “We sent that video out and the next day William Morris signed us as clients and we were performing on stage with pre-fame Whitney Cummings. The major difference now is that there is a lot of competition. Everyone is throwing videos up there. The only competition that I knew was the Lonely Island guys. Now it’s so much harder to go viral. You’re competing against millions.”
That’s why the work to make these videos successful doesn’t stop once the video gets posted.
“You have to be your own publicist,” said Berke. “Obviously, posting on your social media pages is a no-brainer, but I also email my video link to any blog or website that I think would be interested in sharing it with their audience. Reddit is another great way to reach a larger audience. If you post your video up on Reddit and it’s good, the Reddit community will upvote it so that more and more people see it.”
For Lubel and Abrams it helped to have a few connections as well. Abrams was the head writer on the last season of “PUNK’D” and his old boss, Ashton Kutcher, caught wind of “Women of L.A” and tweeted it out to his 13.7 million followers.
“That meant the world to me personally,” said Abrams. “It’s always nice to get recognition from your old boss and it’s even nicer when that boss is Ashton Kutcher.”
But even with the success and the love from Kutch, you can’t please everyone all the time. All these videos receive some sort of backlash, and knowing that (and not caring too much) is another key to being a success.
“The whole thing is tongue in cheek,” said Lubel in response to a few who are not pleased with the way women are represented in his video. “I say some things that are a little offensive. After ‘The Murray Hill Song’ people called me a self-hating Jew, but then I got an award at the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan. I’m just trying to make people laugh. I feel awful if a woman is offended, but it’s a joke. The first part of the video is all self-depricating so I make fun of myself too. I’m trying to be funny. I adore the women of L.A. and I’m actually going to reach out to this lady and apologize to her personally. I’m a goofy idiot and I like to make jokes.”
Southern (pictured), his female co-star, has his back.
“There are always people out there that are going to take offense,” she said. “It’s not funny unless it offends somebody. I’m a woman and I thought it was hilarious. It’s all in good spirit. It’s just a song. And quite frankly there are a lot of women in LA like that.”
Love it or hate it, these videos are big time and at the end of the day, while yes, anyone can do it, making a hit Internet video isn’t nearly as easy at it seems. From high-level production to celebrity connections, a lot of work goes into making your funny video “spread like herpes” around the Internet, as one friend of mine so eloquently put it. But, in the end it all seems worth it.
“These videos reach people around the world,” said Lubel. “How else can you really do that? ‘Wrong Hole’ was huge in Taiwan, and there’s a video of these middle school kids performing it at a talent show. I don’t think they fully understood it, because they’re singing it in front of their families.”
In case you couldn’t tell from the title, the song is about accidental anal sex and if you’ve been on the Internet and/or you love Scott Baio, you’ve probably seen it. If you’d like to have a “Wrong Hole” on your hands, though, you’re going to have to work hard, because much like the lesson learned in “Wrong Hole,” making the video can be a huge pain in the ass.