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After graduating from Regent’s University London in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in acting, Steven He struggled to land roles in traditional media. So, he decided to take his creative energy to a space that offered him complete control—YouTube. Short skits and comedy bits led him to quickly amass over nine million YouTube subscribers and seven million TikTok followers.
With his new YouTube series “Ginormo!,” which premiers Friday, He wants to bring a cinematic quality to social media content. “Ginormo!” follows the production of a fictional television series that never aired. Along the way, satirizing 1960s and 1970s Japanese Kaiju shows—a genre known for gigantic monsters attacking large cities, like “Godzilla.” Co-created by He and “America’s Next Top Model” executive producer Ken Mok, the six-part series was optimized for YouTube viewers.
“As a YouTuber, my job is 90% understanding my competition within the algorithm and analytical information,” He says. “They're not creative at all. They're not about writing. They're not about filming or acting. They're just about optimizing the click through rate.”
Those analytics informed the scripting process. With episodes capped at 12 minutes, He included a joke or visual gag in the first 30 seconds of each video, knowing that s 20% of his viewers won’t continue watching if they aren’t immediately captivated. Visually, the videos feature bright colors and jump cuts to keep the viewers visually engaged.
He incorporated that knowledge into “Ginormo!” after Mok wrote the initial scripts.
Prior to its release on YouTube, Mok had shopped around “Ginormo!” for 20 years. But, traditional networks were hesitant to commit to a show with an entirely Asian cast. After his teenage son introduced him to He’s videos, Mok asked He to help him bring the project to his YouTube followers.
“You don't need to ask a network or studio permission to make content anymore,” Mok says. “Anybody with a phone can do it and put it online and build an audience.”
There were of course some differences that Mok had to adjust to. For example, Mok recalls that when he hired a full lighting crew, the actors, all social media stars, couldn’t understand why. Most of their content, after all, is typically just filmed with a ring light, which doesn’t require an intricate setup.
In addition, Mok says that although “Ginormo!” shot over eight days—a schedule that he viewed as incredibly fast—the content creators, used to quickly shooting and editing, found the shooting schedule slow.
“It's teaching me as I move forward in my career in shooting new content that maybe the audiences now don't care about lighting,” Mok says. “If you can shoot on your iPhone and just do your setups as a content creator, because now the audiences that are watching this stuff are used to seeing natural lighting.”
Having funded the project with Mok, He says “Ginormo!” is an experiment to find out how more highly produced content performs on YouTube. Relying on his audience instead of executives for feedback on He’s latest endeavor is also indicative of the new media paradigm shift.
“If I make good videos, then they will have success without a gatekeeper telling you, ‘Oh, you're allowed to make art,’” He says, adding that “Ginormo!” combines “the best of the traditional world of cinematic filmmaking and the the new YouTube world of being able to reach a new generation.”
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