Welcome to another episode of 'Behind the Reel' and this week we have a very special interview with Tony Valenzuela of BlackboxTV, home of the best scripted sci-fi and horror content on YouTube. BlackboxTV has been active on YouTube since 2010 and (at time of writing) they have 580K subscribers, nearly 43 million views, and a full length horror movie in production. There's no better storyteller or director on YouTube, in our opinion, so let's jump right in with Tony V., and explore the dark corners of his mind......
[Note: The interview was recorded over Skype which, as we all know, can be a little flaky at times. Please accept our apology regarding the visual quality.]
Interview with Tony Valenzuela of BlackboxTV
ReelSEO: What advice can you give regarding best practice for marketing online video content?
Tony Valenzuela: Make something that's true to yourself. We all have our own unique voice but if you want your voice to stand out, find something that's close to you that you believe in. That will help you add something special to the online community. Don't ever try and copy someone else's style because that won't work in the long run.
ReelSEO: You've recently introduced pranks as part of your content, and they've been quite disturbing! Do you see the prank trend continuing this year?
TV: It's interesting because for us it was just something that we wanted to do for April Fools. BlackboxTV is a channel that you can populate with different types of content so I wanted to add a prank video to the mix. It was fun and something different for us. More than anything, the audience wanted to be entertained and pranks can have a very quick turnaround time. We sometimes take an unused scene from a scripted show and see how that works in real life. I think that pranks will definitely continue - on my channel at least. Trends on YouTube come and go but the prank format really lends itself to short-form content. I also like the fact that we are risking so much in terms of which way it could go.
ReelSEO: What steps have you taken to sustain the BlackboxTV channel on YouTube in terms of monetization.
TV: Monetization is something almost everybody struggles with. When I first started on YouTube I couldn't actually monetize content because the Partner Program didn't exist so I used it as a platform to promote my work in the hope it would get seen. That worked because I directed my first film last year based on the fact that someone had seen my work on YouTube. If you do scripted content, then you have to be realistic in your goals in terms of views etc. For me, monetization comes from outside of YouTube.
ReelSEO: BlackboxTV was part of the original group of premium branded content on YouTube. Did you find that to be a beneficial experience?
TV: It was awesome because it put me in the ring with a lot of other amazing creators, directors and actors and I had a lot more access to talent and resources than I'd ever had. It was time for me to grow and be in that space, especially as it showed me what I didn't want to do. There were so many positives to the experience and it allowed me to grow as a director and a creator of content.
ReelSEO: Speaking of goals, you first movie is now in production. What other goals are on the horizon for you?
TV: We're developing a couple of television shows right now. I'm very interested in exploring reality TV and finding out where we can go with that. The audience understand the culture, language, and structure of reality TV and we want to take them to the next level. I'm very excited about the potential of showing people a new type of reality programming.
ReelSEO: You're excited about that but your fans are also very excited about your first movie, Villisca. When are they going to get to see it?
TV: We're shooting for a Halloween 2014 release. We're in post-production right now which should be finished in early spring. It's like nothing I've ever done before, it's certainly the scariest thing I've ever worked on. Villisca is a small town in Iowa and in 1912, 8 people were killed in the same house by an axe-wielding man, who was never identified. Our relationship with Vallisca started in 2010. I asked our audience to recommend the scariest place in the United States and a bunch of people said the axe-murders house in Villisca. We stayed there and I had my first brush with things I didn't think I believed in. I made me question the things I had previously avoided.
BlackboxTV started off very much influenced by the Twilight Zone and we fell in to the more darker supernatural stuff. My experience in Vallisca really changed the way I look at the world, I now understand that there is more dark and light outside of our own experiences. I won't work in post-production after midnight anymore because it just gets too much!
ReelSEO: You've seen the rise of Multi Channel Networks in YouTube first hand. What has been your experience of MCNs, and what do you think they bring to YouTube?
TV: The obvious answer is the one you can read about on Twitter or watch rant videos about, the one that argue that networks aren't beneficial. I look at networks the same way I look at anyone who is trying to create content on YouTube - it's all experimental. Everyone is trying to do different things, to see which business model works for both creators and producers and I think the networks are working hard to do that. We are seeing all types of approaches from different networks who are also trying to make YouTube more palatable for advertisers. For me, I've tried to keep overheads to an absolute minimum, including team members. That way you can survive when money is tight but keep a level head when money becomes available.
There's always a danger of growing too quickly if you suddenly have the budget. The thing about easily-funded growth is that it can contract just as easily if you can't provide ROI through ad revenue or whatever. I believe that if you want to survive on YouTube as a creator, you need to keep overheads low so you don't end up potentially losing your business. As far as YouTube being a sustainable business model, it depends what sustainability means to you. For us, we have just always tried to create content that we want to watch (like the pranks). That's worked for us, it won't necessarily work for other creators.
That's it for the third episode of 'Behind The Reel'. A huge thank you to Tony V for his time. Let us know which stars you'd like us to interview in the comments below!