Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments of YouTube Millionaires here.
Michael Tucker’s very first YouTube video was a solid success. An analytical dissection of the screenplay for hotly-debated thriller film Gone Girl, it drew in 8,000 subscribers in one week and has garnered nearly two million views.
Prior to joining YouTube, Tucker had nailed a big job in the documentary sector — but executing other people’s visions wasn’t working out for him, and when that project fizzled, he started looking for a way to share his own content. His Gone Girl video took months of work to conceptualize and produce, but when Tucker’s work paid off in view and subscriber count, he knew YouTube was a natural fit.
Since that first video back in 2016, he’s produced nearly 50 more, covering contemporary and classic films like The Devil Wears Prada, Groundhog Day, The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and The Last Jedi. His videos delve into all aspects of storytelling, and each of them feature snippets from a film’s script examined alongside the filmed version. For example, in his analysis of The Devil Wears Prada’s first pages (a screenshot of which is above), Tucker examines how the screenwriter used techniques like exposition and establishment of stakes to push the film’s plot along.
Nowadays, Tucker’s videos don’t take months to produce — and that’s because he’s got a team working with him. Together, they can produce about one video per month. Their latest video (below) is a special one: it’s an actual full-fledged short film written by Tucker, the first narrative piece he’s debuted on the Lessons from the Screenplay channel.
The short film is also a celebration, because, of course, Tucker has officially hit one million subscribers, making him a bona fide YouTube Millionaire.
Check out our chat with him below about his YouTube journey, how he chooses the movies he features, and why viewers can expect to see more Michael Tucker originals in the future.
Tubefilter: How does it feel to hit one million subscribers? What do you have to say to your fans?
Michael Tucker: Hitting one million subscribers is completely surreal. In some ways, passing some of the smaller milestones hit me more on an emotional level because it’s easier to comprehend. 10,000 people could fit in the Hollywood Bowl; by 50,000 subscribers, I had more subs than there are residents in my hometown…but one million—that’s just insane.
I think the only thing one can say is “thank you.” I’ve been given a really special gift by many, many individuals. There isn’t really a thank-you big enough for all of that, so I guess just imagine me saying “thank you” a million times.
To celebrate hitting a million, and to try to express how grateful we are, we made a very special episode on the movie Adaptation [note: see the video above] that is actually an 18-minute meta short film exemplifying many of the lessons we’ve talked about on the channel. It was a ton of work, but I think it turned out great, and the response from our audience has been amazing.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about your background! Where are you from? When did you start to get interested in film, and in screenplays specifically?
MT: I grew up in the Bay Area of northern California. I’ve been obsessed with filmmaking ever since I first saw my dad with his video camera. We have home videos of me as a tiny two-year-old trying to operate this comparatively huge and heavy camera. So, essentially, I’ve wanted to make movies for literally as long as I can remember.
High school is when I started to get more serious about filmmaking. I started watching films with a more critical eye, listening to DVD audio commentaries, watching behind-the-scenes, etc. That’s also when I started writing my first scripts.
They were bad at first, of course, because I was writing simply to have cool things to direct. In fact, for most of my life, my focus has been on directing. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I realized writing was the skill I’d neglected developing the most, and I decided to spend some time focusing on screenwriting specifically.
Tubefilter: What made you take the leap and start a YouTube channel? Judging by your first few videos, you came in with a content strategy nailed down, so: How did you decide you wanted to make analytical videos?
MT: I had been doing documentary work for a couple years, and I was not enjoying it. I had landed a pretty great gig producing a documentary on a new esports team that was going to pay the bills for at least a year. Then the team lost their first playoff game, and all the funding went away overnight. So suddenly I was left with a little bit of savings and no job.
I was disappointed at first, but then I realized this was an opportunity to get back into the world of narrative filmmaking. I decided to learn as much as I could about screenwriting, so I started reading a bunch of scripts. I thought it would be a good idea to start a blog where I wrote about the lessons I was learning from examining the scripts. As soon as I started writing the blog, I thought, “These might make great videos.”
I began by researching what other channels were doing. At the time, video essays were becoming really popular, and I was already familiar with channels like Every Frame a Painting, KaptainKristian, Now You See It, etc. I felt I had a pretty unique skillset that would allow me to make those kinds of videos. I’d been editing professionally for 10 years, I knew a lot of After Effects, and I’d spent my whole life analyzing films (it was very common in college for my friends and me to see a movie and then immediately debrief for hours on end).
So, I spent a couple months writing and developing my first video (Gone Girl — Don’t Underestimate the Screenwriter) until I felt like I had something that was unique and that I was really excited about.
Tubefilter: What do you think makes your content stand out despite all the noise on YouTube?
MT: I think that Lessons from the Screenplay stands out for a few reasons.
First, when it launched, there weren’t any other film channels specifically devoted to the writing process. So topic-wise, it had a niche.
Second, I wanted to make the kind of videos that I appreciated on YouTube: well researched, clearly explained content that provides value for the audience. I’m a big fan of a lot of the educational content on YouTube, and wanted to treat these videos almost as if they were science videos.
Finally, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, so the bar I set for the quality of each video was very high. I got a lot of comments from people saying they appreciated all the work that went into each video, so it seems that helped my videos stand out from the crowd as well.
Tubefilter: All the films you pick have something worthwhile to analyze. What else makes a film a good candidate for one of your videos? Do you tend to pick films that are newer/trending, films you feel are underrated/underwatched, or both?
MT: For a while, I tried to pick films that were trending or in the zeitgeist. That paid off some of the time, but as often as not, the videos I thought would do great didn’t, and the ones I expected to appeal to a smaller audience became really popular. So pretty early on, I gave up trying to play that game.
Usually, the videos my team and I choose are ones that get us excited and that we want to learn more about. We tend to stay pretty recent with the movies we choose, because part of the point of the videos is that they’re teaching lessons using stories people are familiar with. But we also don’t shy away from doing some older classics or movies that we think need more attention.
We’re also always reading the comments and looking at suggestions from the audience. Some of the best videos have come from looking at movies suggested by our viewers.
Tubefilter: What’s your production process like? On your Patreon, you mention YouTube is a full-time job and you do practically everything on your own. How long does it take to complete one video, from conception to final product?
MT: Something that’s changed since I last updated my Patreon (it’s due for a refresh, clearly) is that I now work with a small team of people.
Since the early days of the channel, I’ve been working with a consultant, Vince Major, who helps me run the channel and strategize about how to keep developing it.
More recently, I’ve brought on two writers, Tricia Aurand and Brian Bitner, and an editor, Alex Calleros. Our production schedule is fluctuating all the time, as we’re trying to speed up the process of making a video without sacrificing quality, but on average it takes about a month from conception to final product.
We choose a film, discuss what aspects we want to cover, then research, write multiple drafts of the script, record the voiceover, prepare the editing materials, edit, do motion graphics, the sound mixing, and finally all the little things it takes to prepare a video for YouTube, like designing the thumbnail and adding captions.
Tubefilter: When did you start noticing your audience really picking up? Was there one specific video that attracted a lot of attention? How are you growing your audience?
MT: I was very lucky in that my first video did very well, I had about 8,000 subscribers within my first week. The channel grew little by little from there, until I released my sixth video: The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist. That video went viral, and was responsible for making my channel really blow up.
Now I’m growing my audience simply by trying to make consistently good content and by expanding into new mediums. I recently launched a podcast called Beyond the Screenplay, where myself and the Lessons from the Screenplay team do deeper dives into each of the films we’ve examined on the channel. That’s been a fun way to get to talk about some of the aspects of filmmaking we don’t touch on with the channel.
We’ve also done some interviews with filmmakers and other YouTube creators (we recently had Lindsay Ellis on). It’s a lot of fun and one of the benefits of working with such a great team.
Tubefilter: What else do you get up to in your daily life?
MT: I write, and am working on a number of scripts in several formats—from shorts that I plan on shooting soon to some feature scripts. I’ve learned so much over the past few years, and it’s really fun to be taking that knowledge and applying it to my own narrative content again.
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite part of making content specifically for YouTube?
MT: The creative freedom is so nice. Part of what I didn’t enjoy about doing documentary work for clients was that sometimes you have to execute decisions that you think aren’t the right choice for the project. Being solely responsible to my audience allows me to make the kind of content I enjoy and think they’ll love.
Tubefilter: What’s next for your channel? Any plans looking to the future?
MT: This year has been pretty eventful already—we launched our podcast, we hit a million subscribers, and the short film we released on Adaptation was the first narrative I’ve released publicly since starting the channel.
Moving forward, I want to make sure we continue to produce more of the content our audience currently enjoys, but I also want to keep creating my own narratives and sharing the lessons that come with taking the analytical aspects of screenwriting and putting them into practice.
In other words, it feels like it’s time to start making some movies. 😉
You can add yourself to the ranks of Tucker’s more-than-a-million YouTube subscribers at his channel YouTube.com/LessonsFromTheScreenplay.