I’ve already posted some comments from the Fine Brothers before, but I thought I’d post the whole interview, which we did via email a couple months ago (Sorry folks! Scholars are slow). The Fine Brothers — Benny and Rafi Fine — are two standout comedians in an online world awash in aspirants. They’ve created numerous viral videos and web shows, not to mention collabing with some of YouTube‘s heavy hitters to create very successful parodies and comedic shorts.
They also happen to be pretty shrewd about how they market themselves and conduct their business, so I thought this interview — unedited, below — could help out people starting to make their own videos or interested in learning more about the space. Their response to my last question was particularly interesting: “At the end of the day online video is not a place to go to ‘make it,’ and we feel many come into the space feeling they will.” But they go on to say that the web still shows promise, if certain things happen. Very interesting, and perhaps true given current conditions.
Below Benny and Rafi talk to me about how they got started, how they make and market their videos and why success online may not be their ultimate goal:
TELEVISUAL: Describe how you got into doing web videos (film school, by accident, what have you…) and what keeps you doing it.
BENNY: It all started with me. I was always a creative child walking around with handheld tape recorders making my own talk shows and playing characters, etc. That turned into videos when our mom bought the family a camera, and then in our teen years we made 5 feature length films, one of which won us some comedy awards back in 2001.
RAFI: From being around and somewhat roped into all the projects Benny (the elder brother) was doing, I ended up loving it. I subsequently graduated from film school, joined some sketch comedy troupes, and everything got very professional after that.
And the reason we keep doing this is like most comedians do, because we want to reach people and make them laugh, and seeing that millions upon millions of people have responded positively towards our material doesn’t hurt!
TELEVISUAL: I’m fascinated by one of your earlier projects, MyProfileStory (hilarious). How did you come up with the concept? What was your inspiration and how will the story play out? Were you thinking about the viewer engagement aspect (the social network-y homepage with comments and participation built-in) from the start?
BENNY: The concept was trying to create a narrative series that pokes fun at the web, which we found lacking in all forms of media, as well as always trying to come up with a show that is so much more than just watching a video, but an entire world the viewer can experience. We feel all web content should be engaging and interactive to some degree; and thats how content the Internet will truly become it’s own distinct form of entertainment. Off of those sensibilities, the project was born. Sadly at least for now, no one will know what we had in store for Jenny and the gang as the series was not picked up beyond the pilot. It was a huge success though and we have several companies interested in the series.
TELEVISUAL: I’m very interested the business side of web video production. How did the deal with Atom/Comedy Central come about? Did you have a sponsor? What’s the relationship like with both parties?
RAFI: We did not have a sponsor. All the various deals we’ve made in the past have been different. The Comedy Central deal came about from our long standing years of success online and from meeting folks from there at a digital conference we were speaking at. Relationship was great and we hope to continue to work with them in the future.
TELEVISUAL: What’s really interesting about the Fine Bros. is that you kind of do hybrid viral videos/web series, right? When you think about a video to do, what’s more important: that it have something special that will make people forward it to friends, or that it be engaging enough to keep people coming again and again to see how it plays out?
BENNY: You make a very astute observation. What we have done that is very different than most is just as described; we create viral videos to support our longer form content. The idea here being that viral videos can get millions of views which will lead people to
A) Come back and watch your other longer form videos that cannot go as viral, and
B) Build a fanbase that is loyal to you and will watch whatever you put out in the future.
You want to create videos that have mass appeal and that website editors will want to feature (this mainly means making topical content but we have been featured with all types). Most websites do not feature web series content ever, so it is in web creators best interest to make random viral videos as well, or create viral videos starring your web series characters at the very least, which we have done both to great success. You have to think long term, and should utilize both forms of content.
TELEVISUAL: Your videos are published on a number of websites/portals — by my count, YouTube, MySpace, Atom, iTunes, FunnyorDie — what do each of these sites bring to the table for you (i.e. is one better for fan interaction, for getting views/ad money, bringing in sponsors, and/or better at publicizing your work)?
RAFI: YouTube is of course the bread and butter of everything online. No other site gives any ad money to independent producers on that scale, and no other site gets us steady views like YouTube (thanks to their subscriber system which over time has stood out as the best). That said, the other sites have their specific merits… whether it’s the million views you can get in a day or 2 if Break puts you on the homepage, to the more traditional media cred Funny Or Die gives you.
It all depends on what ones goals are online really, and changes month to month on which websites can help you achieve those goals. That said, YouTube should be the base of operations since it has stood out as the only place other than iTunes that can generate a reliable fanbase that will always come back for more.
TELEVISUAL: Do you consider yourselves YouTubers (you seem pretty involved in the community), independent filmmakers, series producers, something else?
RAFI: We love being a part of YouTube, but we have never been “YouTubers”. We are and always have been filmmakers. But being on the web we wear a lot of hats Writer/Director/Producer/Marketer/Consultant/Editor/, etc. With YouTube, we just have ended up using it as our base of operations (it’s almost become our website), know how to market our videos really well, and know how to build a fanbase.
TELEVISUAL: Where do you think online video is going? When you look at your own trajectory, what parts of making videos have become more important, less important, easier, and harder?
BENNY: This is such an open ended question. At the end of the day online video is not a place to go to “make it”, and we feel many come into the space feeling they will. The reality is you have a better chance of getting a TV show than making any real money in the web video biz. The future will be TV merging with the web, but there is a big misconception that indie web people will “have it made” when this happens which is not true. When TV and the internet become one, the people on TV now will be the ones who are brought over to make content online, and online creators will be lost in the shuffle (except for a small handful of course). It’s important to have a foot in both new and traditional media doors. As we speak we are taking meetings and transitioning to TV, while of course still creating content for major companies online and speaking at new media conferences to help figure out how to make web video a bigger success.
Three things that we think web video is heading more towards are:
1) More fully interactive experiences. We don’t mean boring things like making Twitter accounts for your characters, but creating a full world around your show, and in conception coming up with concepts that offer far more than just watching a video. The Internet has so many tools that we’ve yet to use to their full extent, and this is why the future of web video is so exciting.
2) Making content that can be re purposed, sold, and licensed in different medias. Oddly enough this will result in web shows being created that are more like broken up feature films and television shows (but thats what some of the most popular content online is already like The Guild for the example).
3) Paying Subscribers. Soon enough people and companies will find that they will need to get their viewers to pay a certain fee in order to keep their shows going. Hulu and YouTube are already playing with the idea, and we think you’ll be seeing various major web companies and celebrities switching to some form of payment system.