I first fell in like with Reckless Tortuga after watching Psycho Girlfriend.

Lindsey Reckis plays the role of highly insecure, emotionally erratic significant other to Tommy Savas’ comforting chill dude demeanor. She takes his innocuous asides to hyperbolic proportions, asks leading questions, and sets him up for failure in a way that varies from a touch to a helluva lot more absurd than our real-life interactions with a few choice ex-loved ones.

In addition to telling tales of how crazy the ladies can be (amiright, fellas?!), Reckless Tortuga takes on obsessive gamers, killing zombies, dysfunctional theater groups, ghosthunters with attitudes, mail-order brides, douchebags you work with, and inane PSAs in a handful of web series that never fail to entertain.

What started as a Let’s-throw-this-video-up-on-YouTube lark for Reckis and her Reckless companions, Eric Pumphrey and Jason Schnell, has turned into a sustainable business of making a living by making funny moving pictures and posting them online.

reckless-tortugaReckless broke into YouTube’s Top 100 Most Subscribed All Time list earlier this month, with 434,277 subscribers and counting. That’s helped the comedy group rack up more than 92 million views on their videos over the past three years. Reckis, Pumphrey, and Schnell also recently inked a deal to be worked into Machinima.com’s YouTube network and signed up with Starz for a few online original projects.

In anticipation of our Hollywood Web Television Meetup, I caught up with the group to ask them how they did it:

Tubefilter: How’d Reckless Tortuga come to be?

Jason: We started it originally to just shoot some videos with our friends. Eric and I had been making shorts and Lindsey was taking sketch writing classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Lindsey wrote a couple of sketches to shoot for a comedy reel and so the three of us went out and shot them. We uploaded them to YouTube and Funny or Die as a way to pass them along to friends and family. We had a lot of fun and kicked around ideas of different things to shoot but it was not a serious effort, it was more like just a creative outlet since the three of us had day jobs.

A couple of months later, one of our videos got ripped off by this guy so he could put it on DIGG. He changed the title from Black Man in the Elevator to Racism in the Elevator. We were shocked to find out that his video had over 500,000 views while ours had 15,000, and because we didn’t have a logo on any of our videos nobody knew it was us. That was when we realized, A: We need to put a logo on every single video & B: That people like our stuff. So it was around then that we decided to keep making videos for the channel.

Tubefilter: How often are you creating content?

Lindsey: Well we are always creating content, I don’t think there is one day that goes by without us writing something or editing, shooting, etc. Currently, we are releasing at least one new video a week.

Tubefilter: It looks like you have a different strategy to creating content than other top YouTubers. You’re obviously doing something different than say an iJustine or Phil DeFranco and you’re also not driven by one-offs. For the most part, you’re creating series. Was that a conscious decision?

Eric: We started off making traditional sketch comedy and a lot of our stuff was based around characters. After about six months in people started asking for the characters to return. So we serialized some of those characters while still making one-off sketches.

It really wasn’t it until we had the channel for about a year before we made our first series that was intended to be a series. That was The Basement which didn’t really perform too well but we really proud of it and with our traditional media backgrounds, making series is really what excites us the most.

Tubefilter: How are you making the series work? Usually premieres get a lot of hits and subsequent episode don’t. How do you maintain the viewership?

Jason: It’s actually quite difficult to do and it doesn’t always work out. As far as the first video getting the most views, I really think that is just the nature of the online space at the moment. People’s watching habits tend to start something and rarely finish it. But these are things we try to help give our series a chance:

  1. We try to make each episode stand on it’s own as best as we can
  2. Always end it with a cliffhanger
  3. We write longer story arcs so that we can shoot one 15 minute video and break it up into 4 parts it really allows us to keep costs way down while getting a continuous story.

Tubefilter: You’ve been working on Reckless Tortgua for almost 3 years now? When did you have that “A-ha!” moment where you realized this could be something big?

Lindsey: It was around Sept 08′, Kanye West was arrested in the airport for hitting a photog. That same day who ever runs his blog had posted “Racism in the Elevator” (This time from our channel) so when people went to his blog looking for his response what they saw at the top of the screen was our video. We got so many views that day, I think we did something like 150,000 views in one day, it was just crazy.

A few days later we got an email from an creative exec. at BET. He reached out and wanted to meet with us about the possibility of doing some stuff on TV. We were flipping out. At that point none of us had imagined that this YouTube channel would ever produce anything real, it was more for fun. But when we got that email we were totally shocked. Now nothing ever panned out with BET but that is moment I think we all realized that this thing could be what we were all looking for.

Tubefilter: What’s the single biggest tip you could offer to anyone with aspirations to break into YouTube’s top 100 and start generating some meaningful revenue?

Eric: In my opinion the best tip I can think of for someone who is starting a YouTube channel would be to release on a regular schedule because when your trying to build an audience the quickest way to lose is to be irregular.

Think about it, if a TV Show you liked came on Mon @ 8PM one week and Tue @ 10PM the next week and then Fri at 3PM that same week you would never know when to tune in. Also, with YouTube if your audience knows you release videos on Monday they may flock to your channel Monday and you have a much better chance at making an honors list which will help expose your channel to even more people.

Tubefilter: Anything in the works you can talk about?

Jason: We just finished Epic Theater which is one of my favorite series we have ever done. We just shot the next Online Gamer which takes place at a wedding. This was extremely difficult because we had to stage an entire wedding and they can be so expensive! We are also going to start doing more Sketch Lab videos. We have a ton of stuff that is coming up.

I don’t want to give all of Reckless Tortuga’s secrets away just yet. To hear more from Jason and the rest of the team, be sure to grab a ticket to Tubefilter’s Hollywood Web TV Meetup. Tickets sold out? No problem! We’ll be live streaming the event tonight, too. Stay tuned.

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