US agency views web’s raw talent in search for stars
If you have a penchant for miming the lyrics to pop songs while dancing around the bedroom in nothing but a pair of underpants, one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies wants to hear from you.
United Talent Agency (UTA), the firm responsible for the actor Jack Black whose films include King Kong and Nacho Libre, has set up a new division to find the next big Internet star.
Brent Weinstein, director of UTA’s digitial media department, is looking for writers, directors and film-makers peddling their talent on the web but he is also targeting Internet video stars.
With the success of YouTube, the video-hosting website, dozens of bedroom performers have been catapulted to stardom on the net, commanding audiences in the tens of millions for their zero-dollar-budget clips.
Judson Laipply, a motivational speaker from Cleveland Ohio, posted a video on YouTube of himself dancing badly to various pop songs that brought in 37 million viewers. He has since been given his own online TV show and has no shortage of offers of sponsorship.
Smosh, a pair of teenagers from California who make comedy rap videos aired on YouTube, similarly have more than 34 million viewers — audiences worth millions of dollars to advertisers and traditional media companies.
“These performers represent a really meaningful shift in the way we view emerging talent. [The internet] has virtually eliminated the barriers to entry in show business,” Mr Weinstein said.
The scramble for Internet video talent has intensified since Google, the online search engine, bought YouTube for $1.6 billion (£852 million) last month.
“The scale of the Google deal with YouTube helps people realise how much they are worth. It is our job as agents to help those people monetise that worth,” Mr Weinstein added.
UTA, which is in the top five of Hollywood talent agencies, is taking a slightly different approach from competitors that have tried to launch similar divisions.
To find the unsung heroes of the web, the company is itself using raw talent. Rather than employing experienced talent scouts to run the division, it has instead promoted three 26-year-old assistants to the lofty position of agent. In another first for the industry, the trio is taking unsolicited material from wouldbe clients, a forbidden practice among mainstream talent agencies wary of being swamped with the unreadable and the unwatchable.
LonelyGirl 15 had the world believing she was a lonely teenager broadcasting her sad life story from her bedroom. She was in fact Jessica Rose, a New Zealand actress and the star of YouTube’s first fake soap opera. She has millions of fans and as many detractors. Her 46 videos have been viewed 21 million times
Juan Mann: the free-hugs guy from Sydney, and Sick Puppies, the band that wrote the soundtrack to his YouTube video, are the newest stars of the web. Mann’s touching life story reached the ears of Oprah Winfrey, who has invited him to appear on her show. Sick Puppies have been offered several recording contracts
Smosh: the cardboard box- wearing, rapping comedy duo also known as Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, both 18, from California, command massive audiences with every new video they broadcast, no matter how banal. Their 14 videos have been viewed 37 million times
Brookers: Brooke Brodack, 20, from Massachusetts, shot to Internet stardom with some bad lip-synching to Liam Lynch’s United States of Whatever. Her 37 videos have been viewed 18 million times
Judson Laipply was a motivational speaker and unknown comedian from Cleveland, Ohio, until his Evolution of Dance video hit YouTube. Now, more than 34 million hits later, he has his own web TV show