Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Toddy Smith wants to give you — yes, you — a dollar.
But only if you consider his debut book art. The book, appropriately titled I’ll Give You a Dollar If You Consider This Art, is coauthored with writer Darren Nuzzo, and features a smorgasbord of what they call “ponderables”: bite-size bits of mixed media, from short stories to comics to scanned copies of one-page entries from the duo’s journals.
Publisher Tallfellow Press calls it “the result of two old-souled writers creating art in the internet age.” Smith calls it “a mythologized account of our lives.” It’s “fiction driven by nonfiction,” featuring “a character who doesn’t fully understand what the story’s about,” he says.
But to understand what exactly a mythologized version of Smith’s life might look like, you have to go back to the beginning. And for Smith, that beginning is Vine. The dead, possibly-on-its-way-to-resurrection shortform video app provided a place for millennials’ collective darkly funny and absurdist humor to flourish. Smith had more than 300,000 followers on Vine, where he, David Dobrik, and fellow Creators Going Pro featuree Scotty Sire (with whom Smith performs music) were key members of the tight-knit, comedic Vlog Squad.
Along with Dobrik and Sire, Smith migrated fully to YouTube when Vine shuttered in 2016, and since then, he’s populated his channel (where he has 1.08M subscribers) with short videos that watch like five-minute Vines. He hasn’t shifted his focus away from vlogging, and currently, his primary focus is on updating his ongoing series Just the Diaries. Its 54 (so far) installments are a mix of everyday vlogging and storytelling — and, watching the episodes, it’s not hard to see how I’ll Give You a Dollar is a literary extension of Smith’s often irreverent and sarcastically soul-bearing YouTube content.
To mark this week’s publication of I’ll Give You a Dollar, we sat down with Smith to talk about his internet origins, how the book came together, and what he’s drafting for the future.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: So first, tell us a little about you! Where are you from? What did you do in ye olde days before joining Vine, and then YouTube and Instagram?
Toddy Smith: Hello, hello. Well, I grew up surfing and playing hockey in Huntington Beach, Calif. And during Vine, I bartended and went to Cal State Dominguez, where I eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree.
Tubefilter: What prompted you to start a YouTube channel? What does YouTube offer for you in terms of content creation that other platforms don’t?
TS: When I first moved to Los Angeles, Vine was on its last legs. My good friend David Dobrik started vlogging, and lo and behold, the whole household did some months later.
Tubefilter: Let’s jump right into it! You have your very first book coming out. Give us the elevator pitch for I’ll Give You a Dollar If You Consider This Art.
TS: Elevator pitch: Well, it depends what page you’re on! But, really, this book is a mythologized account of our lives; it’s fiction driven by nonfiction. These stories, poems, and literary ramblings all share something in common: a character who doesn’t fully understand what the story’s about. We know what’s going on, as the reader and writer, but I like the character at the center to be a few steps behind. Thatʼs kind of how life works, you know? We’re all just confused people trying to figure shit out.
Tubefilter: How did you and your cowriter Darren Nuzzo come together? A book is obviously a huge undertaking, so how did the two of you decide to go in on one together?
TS: Darren and I have been friends since high school. We both have been writing for a while now. We had a similar interest in posting lengthy Instagram captions. I would send him mine before posting, and vice versa. We eventually graduated to an email chain of short stories, poems, and raps when he moved north to attend Humboldt State University. That email chain is where everything started.
Tubefilter: What was the publishing process like?
TS: The publishing process was a nightmare at first because a lot of publishers didn’t want to take the risks we wanted to with this book. It’s unorthodox. It’s inventive. It’s avant-garde…if the avant-garde movement was significantly less boring (that’s a Darren joke). But we finally met Claudia from Tallfellow, who is a godsend. She understood our vision, believed in it, and made it come to life.
Tubefilter: Back to our usual questions for a moment…When did you receive your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
TS: I don’t have a specific memory of when I received my first YouTube check but it saved me and paid rent; I was also able to pay my mom back for paying my rent the month before.
Tubefilter: You’ve worked with a number of brands, most notably Calvin Klein and Smirnoff. How did your partnerships with those brands come together?
TS: Both Smirnoff and Calvin Klein have been amazing to work with. I’ve been able to develop good relationships with both brands and connect with them outside of work.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
TS: Honestly, I don’t consider or think of myself being a professional creator. I make the videos I make and write the stories I write because I truly enjoy the process of creating, as well as being authentic and showing vulnerability.
Tubefilter: What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from your book?
TS: Darren and I just want people to enjoy it. There’s not much to take away from a book that you don’t enjoy. So that’s all we can hope to do: give our readers an enjoyable book. If we do that, they’ll be able to take from it whatever they need, no questions asked — we’ll stay out of their personal discoveries.
Tubefilter: How long does it take you, on average, to put together a video, from scripting to filming to uploading? How do you come up with ideas for videos?
TS: It depends! Sometimes all day, or sometimes a couple of hours. I write stuff out, but that doesn’t always go according to plan, so we like to improvise.
Tubefilter: Who do you have working with you behind the scenes? Do you have an editor? What about a network or manager/
TS: So behind the scenes I have a wonderful management team. My network is Studio71 (they kick ass), and when I shoot the diaries, my “show,” my friend Joe shoots it, and then we edit together.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
TS: I really try and view things in different perspectives; doesn’t always happen, but I try. Also, I think it’s important to be able to find joy in what you’re doing.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
TS: Right now, I am really enjoying filming and posting the diaries. I definitely am aiming for bigger and better things. I have a few short scripts that I want to film for my channel. But as of now, I like where my channel is at, I’m going on tour with my best friend, and I’m releasing a book with my other best friend. So, I’m really trying to slow down just a tad and enjoy every moment.
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