Chad Vader was already a big deal before yesterday. Shot at the Willy Street Co-op and featuring a mostly Madison-based group of cast and crew, the three episodes of the online series written and directed by Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda of Blame Society Productions have been viewed millions of times. The summer online phenomenon is set to take an even bigger step on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 11, when a new segment is set to debut on ABC's Good Morning America.
But a major business deal on Monday has given this GMA appearance an even bigger profile.
Following weeks of rumors, Google announced yesterday that it would be acquiring online video phenom YouTube for $1.65 billion of its own stock. YouTube, of course, is the online video-posting and sharing service that in barely 18 months has rocketed from nothing more than an idea to a network that serves up to 100 million video clips every single day. Now one of the highest-trafficked sites online, YouTube became a mainstay of online life over the spring and summer of 2006, central right now in everything from kick-starting the careers of bands and wannabe starlets to documenting the slurs and snoozes of politicians seeking election this fall.
Chad Vader was one of the highlights of YouTube's rise to fortune, and the video's appearance on the site's front page in mid-July was the first step in a sequence that resulted in the fourth episode's forthcoming major network broadcast. The deal announced on Monday raises the stakes, not only for online video as a medium but for its exemplars as well. When the new episode is aired Wednesday, Google's purchase of YouTube will certainly be a matter of discussion.
"It's going to reach a lot more people that way," says Courtney Collins, producer of the Vader series, a local musician and Yonda's fiancé. "Just because this deal is in the news, Chad Vader may reach an audience that won't even be familiar with YouTube," she continues. "Then they'll hear the Google connection. For people who aren't as familiar with the internet, this will raise awareness about what online video is."
Collins is responsible for much of the behind-the-scenes work that isn't visible in the finished product. She describes her responsibilities: "It's basically organizing everything, doing the behind-the-scenes work, getting the Co-op on board, finding a dog [for Episode 4], all those sorts of things that I didn't know about until I started doing this." (She was also responsible for recruiting me to volunteer with production for the new episode.) As the productions have become bigger, her work's become more necessary too, allowing Sloan and Yonda time for writing and directing.
Vader was already a major production long before it hit its multi-platinum status online. It was originally created to make a splash at Channel101, the L.A.-based indie TV gathering that Sloan and Yonda have been submitting their work to for some time. "They wanted to prove to any doubters that they could make a professional product," Collins says. "We wanted it to be a better, more professional-looking film."
Things only got bigger as Chad Vader was mainstreamed, though, enough so that Blame Society Films became the twenty-fifth most subscribed channel on YouTube as fans got into other series like McCourt's in Session, Super Shooter, and Fun Rangers, work that grew out of the pair's Splu Urtaf program on Madison's WYOU. "It's all kind of overwhelming, in a good way," Collins says. "When you work full-time jobs, it's kind of hard to keep everything straight."
This is what is so interesting about this Vader saga. The success of the series and its creators seems like one of those rare digital-age fairy tales come true, the kind in which the medium would allow anyone to rise to the top. That's not really true, of course, as there's much more work offline and more trouble online involved than meets the eye. Nevertheless, it's a "nice compliment," Collins says.
"We get a lot of emails saying that it's so great that the series comes from Madison; it proves that you don't have to be in New York or L.A. to make a quality film and have it take off. If Chad Vader is a poster child for YouTube, that's probably a big part of it, because it's made by independent filmmakers in the Midwest."