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FEEcon 2019: Making a Career Out of Video

Can you build a passion for making videos into a career? According to the four gentlemen of FEEcon’s Video Creators Panel, yes you can.

The panel was part of FEEcon, The Foundation for Economic Education event for students and young entrepreneurs, to help jumpstart careers. This year’s conference, June 13-15, brought together hundreds of students, economists, innovators, educators, and artists in Atlanta, Georgia, for three days of intense learning and networking. And plenty of video happened.

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FEE’s Director of Media, Sean Malone, led the panel

The members of the panel included Lou Perez, Executive Producer of WE THE INTERNET TV, Kevin Lieber, Host and Producer of Vsauce2, Dan Harmon, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Harmon Brothers, and FEE’s Director of Media, Sean Malone.

Starting Out

Malone asked the participants how they got started.

Harmon, who with his brother runs a successful advertising agency, got his start as a creative director for Orabrush. He went on to create hit campaigns for Squatty Potty, Purple, Chatbooks, FiberFix, and Poo~Pourri. Perez started in stand-up and improv. Lieber simply started making videos and posting them.

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Dan Harmon, Creative Officer of Harmon Brothers, helps you sell

Malone started making music for other people’s projects, then started making his own videos, which eventually led to his position with FEE.

Starting Every Day

Malone asked the panel about their process.

Lieber takes complex issues in science, technology, psychology, philosophy, and history and makes videos which attempt to make the ideas understandable. “The big thing on YouTube,” he said, “is your title and your thumbnail. The video could be great but if no one clicks on it, it doesn’t matter. You have point-eight seconds – less than a second – to catch somebody’s eye. What we do are brainteasers. My goal is to entertain you and trick you into accidentally learning.”

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Kevin Lieber, Host and Producer of Vsauce2, makes learning fun

Perez explained that for satirical videos on WE THE INTERNET TV he doesn’t have a team of writers. “I have a few comedy writers I’ve worked with for the past few years and you want to keep them happy because good people are hard to find.” Perez continued, “Kevin and I were talking earlier about how some jokes and tweets start out with just one funny line. You have to ask, is that the best way to tell that story or do you expand on the idea? One comment I was getting on Lou’s Safe Place was that I look like the ghost of Billy Mays. So, I started taking it as a compliment and turned it into a 40-second bit.”

Harmon said that he draws on a team of comedians. “We have a mentality that it’s easier to teach a comedian marketing than teach a marketer comedy.”

Starting a Project

Malone said that one of the challenges he faces at FEE is deciding which projects to greenlight and which to pass. He asked the panel about their experience.

Harmon’s approach was very bottom-line-oriented. He said, “First we ask, is it something that we’d use or something someone we know can use and can we be passionate about it? Second, does the client have enough money? Let’s say the client wants to include celebrities. Nope. Let’s say they want to do a fake movie trailer like Taco Bell. That will take north of a million to do that well. You have to let the client know there are constraints. Although, creativity thrives with some constraints.”

Perez said competition was an issue. “In the political comedy space right now there is so much competition from pros or just people who hang out on Twitter a lot, it has to be an original take. I was at a conference and this therapist was talking about how worried he is about intersectional ideas working their way into therapy. So, I made the SJW therapist.” His video is linked at the bottom of this article.

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Lou Perez, Executive Producer of WE THE INTERNET TV, brings the laughs

Lieber said he was unsuccessful at comedy. “I’m not funny like Lou,” he said. “I tried for three years in front of Vsauce audiences. I’d get 50 thumbs down. I decided it was time to pivot. Math is math. You might hate math, but you won’t leave a nasty note on my video.”

You in the Back

The audience had questions.

How do you decide on length?

Harmon said, “As long as the product and concept need it to be and not one moment longer. Our goal is we want our ad to live on a landing page and go from zero to sold. We did do a mini-documentary for a non-profit who had a goal for contributors over a 12-month period. We made their goal in three months. One of the advantages of a doc is you can take out 30 seconds or even shorter and make an ad out of it.

Lieber had a completely different take. “For me,” he said, “the YouTube algorithm is king and whatever that monster wants is what you have to do. But, Vsauce videos have been getting longer.”

Malone added, “The YouTube algorithm is always shifting. You have to keep trying to stay ahead of it. As a user, suddenly you notice you’re seeing different things and it’s because the algorithm is changing.”

Lieber added, “You can’t get off the hamster wheel.”

An audience member asked about de-platforming.

This was an issue for Perez. “One of our videos was removed from YouTube. At first you couldn’t comment on it. Then, you went to the screen and it was black because of ‘community standards.’ YouTube is against videos promoting violence, but in this video I’m dressed up as ANTIFA calling for civility instead of violence. It worries me. As cool as Lenny Bruce was, I’d rather not get arrested. I’d rather have people see my videos.”

Another audience member asked how to start out.

Malone replied, “There is no substitute for experience.”

Lieber agreed. “Just make stuff. As soon as you put out a video, you need to start on the next one.”

Perez said that he struggled with the constant churning out of new stuff. “Don’t forget to take that moment and think, ‘This is really cool.’ Be happy for yourself and gloat.”

More information about future FEE activities can be found on its website.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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