Meet the documentarian behind "Butterflies," a film about the YouTube community

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Ester Brym is the auteur behind "Butterflies," a documentary about the YouTube community and this brave new world of digital culture and social media. The film premiered at the Action on Film International Film Festival in Pasadena, CA, last summer and has since won the Alan J. Bailey Excellence Award in Documentary Filmmaking and was also nominated for Best Social Commentary. Now, it's available for rent on YouTube and will be featured on our homepage tomorrow.

1. How did you come up with the concept for "Butterflies"? Was it inspired by anyone in particular?
I was already a big fan of YouTube when I decided to make a documentary about its community. What fascinated me were mainly people's videos and the fact that one is able to reach anyone, anywhere, just by uploading a video online. When I realized that people actually have huge followings, I found it incredible. I worked with lots of independent filmmakers and figured that with YouTube's community, everybody now has a chance to have an audience. I was mainly interested in the people I was watching and very curious to know their story. At that time, it was Xgobobeanx, Paytotheorderofofof2, Thehill88, Brookers and others.

2. How did you go about choosing the subjects for your documentary?
Apart from Jill, aka Xgobobeanx, all the characters featured in "Butterflies" weren't my first choices. I filmed about 20 characters for over the period of one year. I picked the final six based on how their story developed and what happened to their YouTube channels. Some YouTubers weren't interested in being interviewed; some had to be cut out or added in because of how they all fit together to illustrate the community, the different personalities on YouTube and the kind of videos they make. I wanted to have a little bit of everything. I also wanted to acknowledge some of the original YouTube personalities so the film ends up having a good mixture of all, including DaveDays, Fred, Whatthebuckshow, LisaNova, Mr. Safety, Kicesie and Boheme.

3. With the cost of equipment falling so sharply, anyone can really make a documentary. What do you think separates average docs from good ones, and good ones from great ones?
It is true that anyone can make a documentary these days, and I am sure it is also thanks to the low costs that we were able to make and finish "Butterflies." I am asked very often how we raised money to make a feature film. I always answer the same way: anyone who has a great story and great people attached to a project can make a film. Of course, there are lots of technical issues, and film's production quality should be the best possible. For a great documentary you need to have great sound, good footage, and an amazing editor, but mainly you need to have a fantastic story that's interesting, fresh, new and different.

4. As you were making the film, how were you thinking about your distribution strategy? What were/are your goals for the film?
My original wish for the film never was traditional distribution. I felt the audience for this film is online and that's where we should present it. However, just a year ago, there still weren't many choices for us to put the film up online. This online distribution system is very new and still developing and it is very hard to distinguish a good distribution platform. As we searched, we ended up opening at film festivals and going through the traditional system because people were asking to see the film. This was very good for the movie as we got some awards, some recognition and people started to talk about "Butterflies." It comes at the perfect time, that YouTube launches its "for rent" program, because we couldn't imagine a more perfect and more fitting place for our movie.

5. Where do you see the future of film distribution heading?
I am absolutely positive that the future of independent film distribution is not in the traditional ways as it was up to now. Releasing a film theatrically or even via broadcast has great costs associated with it and considering the budgets filmmakers can make movies for these days, it makes absolutely no sense to waste all that money on traditional distribution. Filmmakers can keep all the rights to their movies while releasing them online for free or with minimal costs attached. This is the future for all film, and I think, given YouTube's already-established audience, this can be the next step for how the platform can be used. Other sites that are strictly focusing on the filmmaking community, like, for example, will embrace this movie, because lots of us filmmakers are already online and lots of us hunger to see each other's films. We just need a place where we can go and see a good film.

6. What is your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
Editing! Editing and post-production is definitely my favorite part. Because that's when you are done with all the stress; you know what you filmed and what kind of personalities you have. When I sit down in front of my Avid and watch the hours and hours of footage I have, that's when I feel I finally have made a movie. That's when the story comes all together for me.

22 Responses on "Meet the documentarian behind "Butterflies," a film about the YouTube community"

  1. Kerry says:

    I've seen Butterflies and I was totally engrossed in it. I thought the documentary was extremely compelling and that Ester had done a beautiful job exploring some of these celebrities of the internet.
    Great job Ester!

    Daryl says:

    Sounds interesting!

    As a YouTube Partner I would be interested in seeing this myself but I doubt it would even get a screening at any of the film festivals here, pity. But I will try and get a copy for sure to show my family that my YouTube fame is not all in my imagination as they seem to think, though my bank manager and accountant would disagree with my family.

    Dennis says:

    Awesome movie.. even though i have not watching it cuz youtube is not letting me rent it.

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