On February 10th, production company Astronauts Wanted released A Trip To Unicorn Island (AT2UI), a documentary about online video star Lilly Singh, on the brand new YouTube Red platform. AT2UI follows Singh on a recent tour, and it provides a look inside her life, her work, and her relationships with friends, family, and fans.
Singh has toured late-night TV to promote the new documentary, and by including it as one of its first Red originals, YouTube clearly has big goals for AT2UI as well. But what exactly are those goals, and how with the film achieve them?
To answer those questions, we spoke to Scott Winn, best known as the man behind the ScottDW YouTube channel. Winn directed AT2UI, and he has a very clear vision for what he hopes the film can accomplish. Here are his thoughts:
Tubefilter: How did you get involved in this project?
Scott Winn: It was last year that Astronauts Wanted reached out and pitched the doc to me. In the beginning, I was hesitant, because I was working full time on my YouTube channel. I really wanted to step away at some point and do something more longform, but I wasn’t ready for it.
I had heard of Lilly but I hadn’t learned too much about her. I’m in my own niche as a filmmaker so I don’t naturally have connections with other types of creators. I found she was very different from what I had seen. She wasn’t a vlogger; she was creating original comedic content and characters. That’s what sparked the connection, and I ended up flying to LA and meeting Astronauts Wanted and Lilly and elaborated how I would bring this movie to life.
I wanted to make a film that anyone could watch and walk away from feeling inspired. As soon as we all agreed on that element, I got super fired up, and that’s when I got 100% behind the project.
It was literally two or three weeks later that we were in Toronto and started filming.
Tubefilter: What fascinates you about Lilly as a subject?
ScottDW: What fascinates me is the fact that, for sure a long time, YouTube was just regarded as this other form of media…it wasn’t a place to build a career or have a source of income. Now we’re in a place where that has completely changed, and we’re convincing the world that YouTube is a real platform that’s competing with traditional media.
I came from traditional media, and so that’s what’s so fascinating to me, that Lilly is someone who started on YouTube and in a matter of years has exploded into this worldwide phenomenon. She is bridging the gap. It’s not only extremely inspiring to me but it also confirms my belief as to where YouTube is going.
Tubefilter: As someone who started in traditional media, did you encounter any challenges when you directed a film all about new media?
ScottDW: I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but more than anything my eyes were really, really open. I was already on this line of YouTube and traditional, but being able to work with Lilly and experience her world taught me a ton. More than an obstacle or a challenge, it became a learning experience.
Tubefilter: You said you’re reaching beyond Lilly’s fans. How do you plan to attract those wider audiences?
ScottDW: I’m big fan of traditional documentaries, like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part of Me. When watching those documentaries, I was not a fan of the subjects, but I felt a connection with them.
[A Trip To Unicorn Island] does two things. It’s obviously a great piece for Lilly Singh, and an insight into her life, but the part that I was most interested in creating was a way to have a connection to this YouTube world. The documentary kind of introduces what YouTube is. There’s a lot woven into the film that takes someone who’s not familiar with YouTube and introduces it to them. We really get to see what a YouTuber does, what it takes…It’s also a film that teaches, or at least leaves the viewer more educated about YouTube.
Tubefilter: Some of the documentaries we’ve seen about YouTube stars struggle to go beyond basic messages about the passion of these audiences and the double-edged sword of YouTube fame. How do you think you message you’re sending gets at something more compelling?
ScottDW: If you watch the film, it’s about Lilly, it’s about her journey. She’s really the base of the entire project, and these other messages are more woven in. All of it is coming from Lilly, it’s coming through her experiences, and we’re learning these messages by watching her example.
That’s why I love the film so much. For fans, they’re going to come in and watch a film about Lilly Singh and love every minute and see a side of her they didn’t know. Others are going to be introduced to a world and a message and are going to leave feeling inspired.
Tubefilter: What expectations do you have for the film’s release on YouTube Red?
ScottDW: When this film was being shopped around, there were so many different possibilities. No one really knew where it was going to end up. Now that it’s on YouTube, we’re all very comfortable, but the hope is it can reach beyond that. I think it’s a documentary with a great story and a great message and it’s inspiring. There’s a lot of potential.
A Trip To Unicorn Island is now available on YouTube Red, which costs $9.99 per month.
Photo credit: Liam Touhey.