This Filmmaking Crew Found Success on YouTube Making Shorts With Crazy Visual Effects
In this series, YouTube Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular YouTube channels to find out the secrets of their success.
Niko Pueringer and Sam Gorski started experimenting with filmmaking together in ninth grade, inspired by ‘90s sci-fi action movies and later, video games. To learn the basics of creating visual effects -- their speciality to this day -- they sought out tutorials for photo and video editing software.
After high school, they both ended up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study fine art and film. Fine art, in particular, made them well-rounded as filmmakers, learning to sketch realistic images, convey their desired message, learn how the human eye responds to stimuli and take and dole out constructive criticism. Two degrees later, they moved to L.A. to partner on freelance visual effects work.
Over the years, their team has expanded to nine men, including high school friend Jake Watson, with whom they co-own their nearly 10-year-old production company, Corridor. Watson serves as operations director, while Pueringer and Gorski are co-creative directors.
The company is best known for its eponymous YouTube channel (previously Corridor Digital), which has just shy of 5 million subscribers. It puts out an action-filled, mind-bending short film every few weeks. One popular video follows a man dressed as Superman flying from the perspective of a GoPro camera strapped to his head. Another features the “world’s longest lightsaber” pointing toward the sky and destroying an airplane in flight. Corridor won the visual and special effects award at the 2017 Streamys.
Then there’s the ancillary channel, Corridor Crew (previously named Sam and Niko). While the visual splendor of the main channel sometimes draws millions of viewers per video, the Crew channel takes a look behind the scenes. It helps the guys connect with and teach skills to their most devoted fans and caters to YouTube’s orientation toward less production-intensive, more frequent content.
Corridor has funded its YouTube creations through brand integrations and ads as well as Patreon support over the years, and YouTube has helped the crew publicize their talents and attract clients. Their management style is based on “duos”: Two people run the main Corridor channel, two others run the Corridor Crew channel and the three partners have a higher-level involvement. Watson is also part of a business development duo, and there’s another person who focuses on visual effects. Plus, Corridor works with costume designers and other effects specialists on a per-need basis.
“I'm a filmmaker. I'm not a manager,” Pueringer tells Entrepreneur. “The duos are self-driven, so I can work on my projects and know that other people are working theirs without me having to give them all tasks.”
Pueringer and Watson share how Corridor found its way onto YouTube, what goes into making one of their cinematic pieces, how the founders discovered an unexpected niche by chasing their interests and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start with YouTube?
Pueringer: Coming out of college, we shot a feature film -- a low-budget monster movie. We were working on post-production on that movie, and we moved out to Los Angeles in December of 2008. Corridor started around that time.
We did freelance visual effects for about two years to try to build up some savings and get our roots down a little bit. Around 2010, YouTube became a viable platform for people to make revenue on. It was still pretty small at the time. You had to have every video manually approved for ads, which generally took about 48 hours.
It wasn't that easy to make money in that realm. But it was an avenue to connect directly with an audience, and if you have an audience, you have value. After we had actually been doing freelance visual effects for a while, learning how to do the movie thing -- make it look good for cheap -- that skillset helped us out with YouTube. Corridor Digital, as the YouTube channel business that it is now, kicked off in 2011.
At what point were you like, OK, YouTube is the best way for us to get our name out there?
Pueringer: Pretty much right away, around 2010. After working with feature film we wanted a break from the longform, nose-to-the-grindstone-for-six-months production thing. We wanted to do something quick that had immediate returns. We could get that thing every artist craves, which is people looking at and reacting to your work. In freelance visual effects, you might do a project and never see it. It just wasn't very fulfilling.
Around 2012, our audience had grown and we were able to start thinking about expanding and what our next steps were. We were working to build this up into something bigger than just two dudes making videos.
How much time do you spend on a video, and what does that entail?
Pueringer: Making a Corridor video is a pretty heavy endeavor. The whole endeavor tends to take about three weeks per video. First off, you have to actively put yourself in a space where you're welcoming ideas. Over time, you make a list of them, and every once in a while, you sit down to crank out a script.
One to two people break down where you're going to shoot and the people, props, costumes, time and equipment you need. Which, if it's your first or second time, that's a lot of big questions to figure out. But you know, by your 80th video, it's not that big of a deal anymore. Usually that phase lasts about a week.
We tend to have five- to 10-person crews. You've got to feed everybody on the day, you've got to figure out where they can park, you've got to figure out where you're going to go to the bathroom, you've got to keep people from overheating in the L.A. sunshine and all that kind of stuff. We try to have two-day shoots maximum, sometimes we have three-day or four-day shoots.
Then, we get into post-production edits, followed by visual effects. You have to get sound design, music and color grading done. Finally, you have to think about your thumbnail and your title.
When we're working on a Corridor video, there's always problem-solving to be done. There's also a lot of knowledge and experience being shared, which are things that people want to see. That can become content for the Corridor Crew channel, whether we're teaching something or showing a dramatic issue that we had to resolve. It's like mining for gold, but you also have to get a bunch of zinc and copper in the process as well.
What is your content strategy?
Pueringer: More and more, we found ourselves actually inspired by video games. Just the way the way the action happens, the way you make your own story, the way you experience the drama of a fight through a video game versus a movie. People make gameplay videos and that kind of stuff, but there really wasn't anybody else filling the niche of cinematic game content on YouTube. And in theaters, the video game movie never really succeeded, so there's been a gap in the market. We were the first ones to bring some high-level production expertise to that niche. But you can only make so many video game movies before you want to make something else, so these days, it's expanded into a whole variety of things, whether it's playing with a cool story concept or a cool visual concept.
How do you leverage YouTube and to what extent do you monetize it?
Watson: We leverage YouTube in a variety of ways, first and foremost as a living resume. As creators, YouTube is a great place to stand out and be recognized, which formerly did not exist. It has helped us land a series of other longform narrative projects, branded projects, commercials and other opportunities. We monetize YouTube both through ad revenue made on videos and through direct relationships with brands.
What is your advice for others who want to build brands on YouTube?
Watson: First and foremost, don't get into YouTube for the fortune and fame. Pick some aspect of creativity you love and go after that. You'll be working for anywhere from one to three years before you find financial success on YouTube, so make sure you’re doing it because you love it. If you do find financial success, then great! You're doing what you love and making a living at it. Once you have something you love, build a brand around that thing and corner your niche. Just remember, as you personally evolve, so will your brand.
Pueringer: There's a great film-writing tip in a screenwriting book that I read where the script writer was talking about how people always question -- let's say you're writing a mystery -- how smart or how challenging do you make your mystery? Is your audience going to figure it out, or do you need to make it more complicated so they don't? And the tip was, write for yourself. Write what you could figure out or you couldn't figure out. I've stuck with that as my ethos. I make it so I like it, so I would click on it and I would watch it, and that tends to be the stuff that performs the best.
What’s a misconception people have about YouTube?
Watson: People often think that success on YouTube does not involve actual hard work, but mostly comes by luck and making a fool out of yourself. While a minority of quote-unquote creators have unfortunately earned this reputation, the real truth is a lot more boring: Ninety-nine percent of successful creators have accumulated large audiences over years, and are, at the end of day, successful entrepreneurs. We've been on YouTube nearly nine years, and the creators we've grown up with, as well as many of the brilliant younger stars, have a business acumen and a formidable work ethic.
See below for the Corridor team’s picks of their five favorite videos.
“This was our first viral video, and it set the tone for our gaming-inspired content. We were huge fans of the game at the time and the open world universe really lent itself to creativity in-game, which we tried to bring out in this piece. With this video, we were able to go full time on YouTube.”
“This is a recent video based on some of our original sources of inspiration, video games and action comedy, but with years of YouTube experience under our belt. We hadn't filmed a video with our good friend Freddie Wong in a long time, so we came together to come up with this concept, which was a blast to film and create.”
“This is a classic game-inspired live-action short, but with the Corridor twist. As huge fans of the Team Fortress game, as well as of Nerf, it wasn't long before we realized that all the weapons in the game had a Nerf equivalent.”
“This is another great example of a classic pop culture reference with a Corridor twist. Everyone knows at least some of the lyrics to Queen's ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ but who really knows what they mean? As huge fans of their music, this concept explores what happens when you take the lyrics of the song and turn them into dialogue for a movie scene.”
“This video showcases a darker, cinematic side of Corridor, inspired by the popular survival game DayZ. We had the opportunity to go back to our home state of Minnesota to film this project, where we worked with some really talented actors. It was a blast, and it’s a great representation of our cinematic, storytelling side, combined with sci-fi thriller elements.”