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 creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
This week’s installment of YouTube Millionaires is brought to you by Bright – a learning platform focused on real conversations that level up your life.
War…War never changes.
Unless you’re SOKRISPYMEDIA.
Then it changes a lot.
Childhood friends Sam Wickert and Eric Leigh launched SOKRISPYMEDIA as a YouTube channel in 2009, fueled by their mutual love of filmmaking and visual effects. Three years later, they produced their biggest hit: Chalk Warfare, a two-minute thriller chronicling a battle of wit, will, and art.
The basic conceit of Chalk Warfare is simple: Teams must draw their way to victory, using colored chalk to draw weapons on nearby surfaces. Once the weapons are complete, competitors can tug them straight off the surface and into their hands.
That’s where SOKRISPYMEDIA’s VFX expertise comes in. Chalk Warfare came round because Wickert and Leigh love to tell stories, but also because they wanted to push the limits and showcase their VFX skills.
Nearly a decade later, that’s still true–and the foundations of the Chalk Warfare universe haven’t changed. SOKRISPYMEDIA released the series’ latest installment in 2020, and just like the first one, Chalk Warfare 4 is a fast-paced, high-powered, high-octane ride.
But instead of being two minutes long, it’s twelve minutes. And instead of sticking to guns, Chalk Warfare 4 brings in wild, imaginative weapons–everything from a chainsaw machine gun to a Harry Potter-esque wand to Iron Man-esque rocket boots that give one competitor a hell of a kick. The installment is a testament not only to how much work the SOKRISPYMEDIA team (which now includes producer Micah Malinics) has put into developing its VFX, but also to how far VFX technology has come in the past ten years. Chalk Warfare 4 contains the kind of effects, Wickert and Malinics say, that would’ve been impossible either on a technical or cost level (and sometimes both) even a few years ago.
Those effects power SOKRISPYMEDIA’s YouTube channel, which built the foundations for Wickert, Leigh, and the rest of the team to turn their passion into a full-fledged production studio that now works with partners like Google on VFX and virtual reality projects.
Check out our chat with Wickert and Malinics below.
Tubefilter: How does it feel to hit one million subscribers? What do you have to say to your fans?
Sam Wickert: Passing such an important milestone as a response for a project that we’d worked so hard on was really rewarding. The Chalk Warfare series is something we’d been creating for years, and the fourth installment was one of our most ambitious projects ever, so it was awesome to cross the 1M threshold as a result of that, and we’re excited to have continued to grow up to 1.7M since then!
Micah Malinics: We passed the 1M mark after we released Chalk Warfare 4. It was such a fulfilling feeling to have that be the film that got us over the threshold. CW4 was one of the most ambitious and complex productions in recent memory, and was actually the first production I did as a part of the SOKRISPYMEDIA team. Honestly, we were so thankful for the response we got from that film and we’re delighted that our subscribers love watching our content, and I’m excited to show them what we’re working on next!
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? How did you meet?
SW: My name’s Sam Wickert, and Eric Leigh and I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. We met in fifth grade and have been friends since. We started making films together at around that age. All through our school years, we wanted to make films for people to watch, like shorts and comedy sketches. It was entertaining to us and we loved making them, so that’s really all there was to getting started. Way early on, our friends were really into skateboarding, so the first films I ever shot and edited were skateboarding videos!
MM: I’m Micah and I grew up in Lancaster, Penn. I joined the team as Sam was interested in making Chalk Warfare 4 after a six-year hiatus from the third installment. I’d worked with a few other prominent YouTubers/creators and met Sam on set, and decided to go in on getting CW4 off the ground.
Tubefilter: When and why did you start SOKRISPYMEDIA?
SW: We didn’t really have any goals getting started, other than creating entertaining videos for people to watch. I guess, in a way, that’s kind of been the overarching goal from the beginning. I will say, in an effort to do more with our content and help it stand out, I got involved with VFX from an early age, from Andrew Kramer’s Video Copilot tutorials. That really helped us pursue a greater number of fun and ambitious ideas, and we continued to expand our scope as our VFX and filmmaking skills developed, which ultimately led us to the Chalk Warfare series.
Tubefilter: Chalk Warfare is pretty incredible–we’ve never seen anything like it. Where did the idea for it come from? Did its popularity change anything for you/the channel?
SW: We were playing around with tracking weapons for a previous video, in an early version of After Effects, and we realized the technical possibility of what would later become the Chalk weapons. The popularity was exciting, but in particular, when around the time Chalk Warfare 3 came out, we were graduating high school and heading to Chapman University in Southern California. That was really exciting, as the films granted us a lot of opportunity to explore different ideas and mediums, particularly VR. We were pretty early adopters in the VR content-creation space, and had some really awesome opportunities partnering with companies like Google to develop content for their Daydream platform.
MM: The Chalk Warfare series is a lot of fun because as they’ve gotten more and more popular, we’re continuing to push ourselves to make a better and better film each time. With Chalk Warfare 4, for example, that came at a time when cinematic cameras were becoming more and more accessible to filmmakers like ourselves. So we actually approached Blackmagic Design about using one of their newest cameras as a way to make the film better. We were really fortunate that they loved the idea and helped us bring the film to life. The continued popularity of content like CW4 really allow us to grow as filmmakers and allow us to demonstrate that it’s possible to make full, cinematic content without the normal gatekeepers that hinder indie filmmakers. We’re really excited by a ton of new tech that’s been coming out the past few years that help democratize filmmaking by allowing more creators to produce visually impressive content independently.
Tubefilter: Talk us through your production process! Who does what? How many team members work on videos? How long does the average video take to put together?
MM: The production process is pretty different for each film! We have a core team of four to five of us who are pretty involved in the day-to-day, from developing ideas, to testing VFX techniques/proofs of concepts, and getting production put together. For something like Chalk Warfare, we scale up quite a bit—we had over 20 crew members help out on the production alone, just due to the nature and scope of the film. For our most recent short we posted on TikTok, that entire short was done by just three of us, shot in our studio space in Greenville.
SW: It’s hard to gauge an average time for a video, because it totally depends on what we’re setting out to accomplish. I will say, for a typical short film, we’re definitely talking multiple months, from preproduction, filming, to post.
Tubefilter: Is YouTube your full-time job? What else do you get up to outside of making videos? What does the average day look like for you?
SW: YouTube is actually just a part of what our company does. We actually make a lot of content and do VFX work for commercials, TV shows and more—a lot of work beyond what is seen on the YouTube channel, really!
MM: Like Sam said, we have our hands in a lot of things, really. We’re always coming up with cool ideas and things we want to try—for example, we’d love to get the Chalk Warfare series adapted into a video game! YouTube definitely can take up time, but it’s something we really enjoy and we love being able to spend time on making some really fun, incredible films.
Tubefilter: Do you have any strategies for growing your audience? Have you noticed any particular kind of content getting more traction than others? Do you adjust what you film depending on how your viewers react?
SW: The longer videos that we spend a lot of time on and that we really invest ourselves into, tend to perform the best. We really focus on making videos that we ourselves would want to watch and videos that we find really entertaining. We do open up to fan input and suggestions, for example, we love having our community give input onto what weapons they would like to see in the Chalk Warfare installments, but ultimately we do want to tell the stories that we set out to make.
MM: We tend to stay true to the videos and ideas we’re passionate about. As filmmakers and VFX artists, a lot of our work naturally includes elements of both.
Tubefilter: How do you make your videos stand out amidst all the noise on YouTube?
SW: We really try to focus on quality over consistency. We love the work we create and so at times that can compromise on any type of upload consistency—but at the end of the day, we’re confident that our content will stand out and be something that we’re really proud of.
MM: I think we really push ourselves as filmmakers on the platform, and so we tend to scrutinize our content not just by what we think will perform well on YouTube, but also by whether or not it’s a good film and a good story. We really want people to walk away thinking “Wow, I really enjoyed watching that”—and that stays true whether it’s on YouTube, TV, or any other medium.
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite part of making content on YouTube?
SW: There’s something really unique and rewarding about getting immediate feedback and getting to connect directly with an audience. With YouTube, we have the opportunity to directly publish the content we’re creating and give our fans instant access to it. This helps us really feel in tune with the people watching our content and it feels really rewarding to see all of the positive responses we get from our films.
MM: For me, I really love showcasing ways to create content that weren’t possible before, and inspiring other creators to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the platform. That’s why I get really excited when we’re able to utilize new technology to bring a film to life. We’ve recently been using a lot of virtual production and real-time graphics in tools like Unreal Engine, and it’s been awesome bringing ideas to life that would have been impossibly cost-prohibitive even a few years prior. We’ve also loved how accessible Blackmagic’s cameras and software have become. We’ve been big fans of how much they’ve helped lower the barrier of entry to creating really cinematic and engaging content. When you combine that with fun, engaging storytelling, it’s really rewarding to have it all come together.
Tubefilter: Have you expanded your content/personal brand off YouTube at all? Launched any merch, a related business, a presence on another social platform, etc? Do you want to?
SW: We’ve expanded the SOKRISPYMEDIA company from beyond YouTube to now a full VFX and production company. We’ve been actively working on a number of client projects and have really enjoyed growing that side of things.
MM: Like I previously said, we’re always coming up with new ideas and there are a ton of brands and companies we’d love to work with some day, so for us it’s really about building good relationships with those companies and continuing to improve our craft as artists, producers, and filmmakers. We’re a bit late to the merch game, but it’s on the list somewhere!
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? Any plans looking to the future?
SW: We have a new short film coming out this fall, and we’re working on a ton of cool stuff we can’t really talk about yet that is outside of the YouTube platform!
MM: There are so many awesome ideas that I hope can make it to screen some day! Whether that is YouTube, or another medium, or both, we’ll see! I think as media and entertainment move forward, we’ll start to see more and more ideas and episodic content that will live across multiple mediums: YouTube, streaming services, video games, to tell a singular story. So it would be really exciting to work on something like that.
On Bright, participants receive unprecedented access to learn from their favorite creators, icons and experts within an intimate, live video chat setting. More than 1500 talent are on the waitlist to lead Bright Sessions for audiences looking to improve their lives. Fans come face-to-face with their favorite talent, ask questions and are able to make requests from the VIP area while joining talent on the Bright Stage for direct exchanges and personal learning among other Bright interactive features.
For more info and to experience conversations that level up your life, head over to Brightlive.com.