ANGRY CUSTOMER: “I bought these chips here and they’re stale!”
CHAD VADER: “Yessss. Release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me!”
Thus begins episode 2 of Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager, the ongoing story of Darth Vader’s younger less successful brother Chad Vader, who works in a much less glamorous locale than the Death Star—that of the Empire Market grocery store.
‘How did I go from polishing antique doorknobs at a custom metalworking shop to having over 200,000 subscribers on Youtube and an internationally known web series that George Lucas himself gave an award to in 2007?’
We’re currently trying to raise the funds to create Season 4 of Chad Vader on Kickstarter, a filmmaker’s paradise of a website, if you can make it work for you. But this is beside the point. How did I go from polishing antique doorknobs at a custom metalworking shop to having over 200,000 subscribers on Youtube and an internationally known web series that George Lucas himself gave an award to in 2007? Well, it started with accidentally discovering that I had a dream…
In 1993 I was a young man in college—English major. There was really no other major I liked. And I’m not sure how much I even liked English. I enjoyed writing creatively, but hated it at any other level. Enter the local public access TV station. When a friend told me about it I was aghast. “Anyone can make their own TV show? And use free equipment?” I couldn’t believe it. On my first visit to the station they let us mess around with the cameras and studio. I suddenly realized what my dream was—it was to make TV/Film/Video—whatever you called it, I didn’t care—for the rest of my life. I left the station screaming out the window of my car in joy, letting the world know I was going to make a TV Show, and no one could stop me. We named our production company Blame Society Productions and began to learn how to create…productions.
‘Two weeks later we made a trip to New York to pitch ideas to some major networks. We were very excited – it was all starting to happen. This was the “big break” everyone always talked about.’
Well, it took about 12 years of making that TV Show (as well as numerous short films), and the invention of the internet to make the dream a reality. A pilot of the TV show, a weird mix of sketch comedy and surreality called The Splu Urtaf Show, made it into The New York Television Festival in 2005. I, and my recently acquired partner in comedy, Matt Sloan, snagged an agent at William Morris because of it. Two weeks later we made a trip to New York to pitch ideas to some major networks. We were very excited – it was all starting to happen. This was the “big break” everyone always talked about. We started to look through an old list of ideas to try to find something worth pitching to a Network. Here are a few examples of what we found:
• A footwear store called Socks To Be YOU
• “Slapstick Table which turns into Red Hunter with Bum chasing him in forest.”
• A guy is told to count the number of bananas and he says, “1, 2, 3,” when there’s obviously like, 30.
Wow. Was it too late to cancel the trip?
Things were looking grim, until I rediscovered a “Darth Vader in a store idea” which had been created and abandoned years ago. I wrote new scenes and changed it to Darth’s brother Chad, instead of Darth as the store manager. I started to wonder if this was the great idea they were looking for, or just a one-off joke with limited possibilities.
I took the idea to Matt Sloan to see what he thought. I arrived at Matt’s house and read him the script. Matt looked concerned. He said, “Maybe if we changed it so it wasn’t Darth/Chad Vader?” Matt was not sure he wanted to make a Star Wars spoof. Hadn’t something like this been done before? “Sure there’s a million Star Wars parodies, but this will be our Star Wars parody,” I said. “It will be original, and we’ll have fun.”
We went in for our first pitch meeting at an amazingly huge network (which we’ll call XBC to protect their identity), armed only with their dreams and a few pitch ideas for shows such as When the Lord Attacks and Quarterback Planet. And of course, Chad Vader, which we still weren’t sure about. Would the network like the idea?
As it turned out every network we pitched to loved Chad Vader. They seemed a little concerned that George Lucas might sue the pants off them if they made the series, but they said “We’ll look into it and get back to you.” So we went home and waited for 5 months. Nothing happened. I thought, is that it? Was that our big shot and we missed it? We hadn’t heard from our agent in months. I began to get generally panicky and distraught. I had been scrubbing metal and polishing door hardware at my job now for 9 years. It was literally killing me. My back was going out on me and the dust and fumes I was inhaling from the work I was doing were probably shortening my lifespan by years.
In the beginning of 2006 we decided to make Chad Vader ourselves. We knew it would be expensive, we knew it would be challenging, but we also knew it would be really fun. And we had nothing to lose, except money…a lot of money. So we promptly found a grocery store that would let us shoot in the wee hours of the night, and made the first episode. Our first screening of a roughcut of the episode was in a small coffee house with mostly friends. The reaction was muted. No one really laughed. No one really did anything. We were stricken with doubt. Had we failed miserably??? We went back and added the music in, made some tweaks and finished it up. Maybe it will be better now, I hoped fervently.
Another live screening and subsequent posting on Youtube proved that yes, it was better now, and the reaction was much better than we could have possibly imagined. Youtube featured it on the front page of their site and the views began to roll in. We made some more episodes and as 2006 came to a close, Chad Vader had been featured on Good Morning America, in the New York Times, Time, Wired, and a massive host of other newspapers and websites worldwide. We began to get other offers to make short films for the internet. Unexpectedly, the internet was becoming a way to make films for a living. The 14 year old had dream finally matured as I quit my job at the beginning of 2007 and began making films full time.
Now it’s 2011 and it’s been a wild ride. We’ve got many different web series and a total of 300 videos on Youtube and Hulu, an active fan base, and we’re still making a living on the internet. Can we maintain it? I don’t know. The internet these days is overcrowded with talented people, making it more and more difficult to stand out. Youtube is changing rapidly. They’ve never really understood the people who make content for their website, or worried about what their needs are. Chad Vader is not just a person sitting in front of a camera talking. About 13-15 people spend over 230 total man-hours on one Chad Vader episode. Making a full season is like making a full length movie. You would have to get millions of views a week on Youtube to fully budget something like Chad Vader, not including money to live on. So the revenue share we make from Youtube is not enough to keep the series going. As we try to raise funding for Season 4 of Chad Vader I find myself wondering, is making content for the internet really a sustainable living? Or do you surface only once and then slowly drift back down into the mass, never to be seen again? Whatever the case may be, I’m just finishing up my first full length screenplay to be filmed independently next spring. I am doing what I love, and I will always be grateful for being given the chance to do that, although I don’t yell out the window of my car about it anymore…maybe I should.
BlameSocietyFilms (Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan) have created over 300 comedy videos on Youtube and across the internet. We have over 200,000 subscribers on Youtube and our videos have over 85 million views. We’re also the creators of the hit internet web series “Chad Vader.” For fun Matt listens to music and Aaron plays video games.
More Info on Chad Vader at www.blamesociety.net