Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
Patrick Gavia didn’t get into film school.
And that was a problem, because getting into film school had always been his dream. He wanted to be a filmmaker. Make movies. Make documentaries. Without film school–its education, its connections, its resources–he had no idea where to start.
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But he wasn’t willing to accept that being the end of his cinematic ambitions.
“I just told myself I’ll pull it off myself by learning editing on my own, learning storytelling on my own,” he says.
How did he learn those things?
Gavia had already found a job working at a content firm in his home province of Quebec, Canada. There, he learned how videos went viral on platforms like YouTube. Outside of work, he studied the site and its billions of hours of content uploaded by users across the world.
“YouTube is the perfect playground to learn how to edit or tell the story properly,” he says. “Learning to do that online and learning to do that through the performance of the videos by looking at how they perform has really been a film school for me.”
Gavia already suspected the future of indie filmmaking was going to happen on YouTube–and he wanted to be there. So, once he felt like he had a solid understanding of the platform, he started his own channel.
Even with all that prep work, getting going was intimidating. “Just jumping ahead on YouTube and starting from zero subscribers was scary,” he says. “I wasn’t confident that the algorithm would somehow find an audience that would like what I do.”
Gavia’s original plan was to make short documentaries about a variety of topics, but after uploading a video about Jake Paul and Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, he realized the MMA fanbase has a major home on YouTube. The went to hundreds of thousands, then millions of views, and as an MMA fan himself, Gavia figured he might have found his niche.
Since posting the Paul vs White video in late 2021, Gavia has made 15 more documentaries, all MMA-focused and most between 20 and 30 minutes long. His channel has racked up more than 21 million views, and he’s gained nearly 300,000 subscribers.
For Gavia, this is all a sign that he was probably right: The future of indie filmmaking does live on YouTube, and with it comes an audience that likes what Gavia’s doing.
Check out our chat with him below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: If somebody’s reading this and doesn’t know you, hasn’t seen your videos, can you give me a little introduction about you and your background?
Patrick Gavia: Sure. I’ve been making content online for a while. I was working at a company before in Montreal, making content online, and that’s where I really learned storytelling through the lens of making content go viral. For the longest time I’ve been wanting to be a filmmaker, but could never get into film school. I just told myself I’ll pull it off myself by learning editing on my own, learning storytelling on my own. Learning to do that online and learning to do that through the performance of the videos by looking at how they perform has really been a film school for me. YouTube is the perfect playground to learn how to edit or tell the story properly.
I’ve been applying myself and doing that now for the past seven years. There was a point where I wanted to give it a shot on my own. I was thinking about where filmmaking would be in five to 10 years, because right now filmmaking is very much about superhero films. We’re in that period of time right now, and I was wondering what would come after that. My guess was, there’s probably going to be another wave of independent filmmaking that’s coming and that’s probably going to happen on YouTube.
Right now people don’t go to YouTube necessarily to watch movies, but more and more they go to YouTube to watch longer and longer-form content. The documentaries I’m making, which are around 20 minutes, certainly I’m seeing more and more of those. You can see how that will influence the behavior of people to just log onto YouTube to watch higher-quality, higher-produced content long-term. I was like, you know what? If I think that’s going to happen on YouTube, I should start investing in building an audience on YouTube right away. It was scary because I always valued financial security a lot and just jumping.
Tubefilter: That makes sense.
Patrick Gavia: Just jumping ahead on YouTube and starting from zero subscribers was scary. I wasn’t confident that the algorithm would somehow find an audience that would like what I do. I wasn’t planning at first to do only MMA content. I was planning to cover a wide variety of topics, but the MMA content really picked up. I was thinking about, if you’re someone that subscribed to my channel, because you like MMA content, you probably expect another MMA video, so right now I’m focusing on that. I’m definitely planning to expand beyond that in the next few months and years, but MMA is such a great sport for storytelling in itself, that I still feel like there’s a lot to do there and I still have a lot to learn.
Tubefilter: How did you fall in love with MMA in the first place? Was this pre-YouTube? How did MMA become a thing for you?
Patrick Gavia: My point with being from Canada was hockey is the sport here. I got into MMA in the first place because of Georges St-Pierre, who is one of the greatest of all time, who’s also from Montreal. I would only watch his fights, I wouldn’t watch the rest of the sport. For some reason I really got into it around 2016, 2017. Then it’s a sport where the stakes are so high, and the sport in itself is very primal, but also very sophisticated. At face value, most people will watch it for the first time, they’ll see the blood, they’ll see the fans screaming at it, and they’ll be like, well that’s a very barbaric sport. I can’t blame anyone for thinking that right of the start.
Then as you invest more time into watching it and understanding the subtleties of the strategy and everything that goes into each martial art. You really realize what the value of the sport is, but also the qualities that the fighters embody. Which to me is the reasons why I decided to give them a platform and invest myself into telling those stories because I really feel like it’s a rare type of human being that decides to fight shirtless in a cage and risk everything. That’s why I got completely disinterested in all other sports like hockey. You’re like, there’s 30 of you, you push a little rubber puck on the ice and you try to put it in the net. It’s like this is completely useless outside of that specific context, and what are the stakes? It’s like you lose a game, what happens afterwards? It was like nothing.
You lose a fight by getting knocked out, there is a chance you will never be the same person again. Not only that, you get knocked out shirtless in front of millions of people and you can get turned into a meme afterwards, which is like the worst thing that can happen. There is so much that goes into it that I often say like, MMA is the only real sport. Everything else is just a game almost. That’s how it feels.
Tubefilter: I completely understand. I ride horses and that’s how I feel. There’s a lot at risk. You have a partnership with your horse and when you go into an arena, if things go wrong, your horse could die, you could die. There’s definitely like an element of reality to it that you don’t see in other sports.
Patrick Gavia: It must be still such a rush of adrenaline to go through this, or just know that it’s a possibility. It’s like a controlled exposure to risk that actually we still need as human beings.
Tubefilter: Yes. You said that you fell in love with storytelling when you were at your job. What draws you to being able to tell stories, especially in documentary form? When YouTube and creators are trending a lot toward shorter content right now, you are leaning into this indie documentary feel. What drives you to that longer-form storytelling?
Patrick Gavia: My ultimate dream is and has always been to make feature-length films, because I just feel like it’s the type of content that can have the most meaningful impact at a larger scale. It doesn’t mean that painting, or sculpture, or dance cannot have that impact. I just believe that movies, the way they’re packaged, and the way that they can be accessible to everyone can have an impact in a positive one depending on the message.
A film like The Lion King to me is still impacting me on a daily basis, and my goal has always been long-term to make a film that has such an impact over such a large amount of people. I wanted to start signaling to people like, “Hey, this is my goal.” Maybe I could pull up an independent feature-length film, but I don’t have enough knowledge to know how to distribute it yet online. My goal with each piece of content is to do three things: entertain, educate, and then enlighten. To impart enlightenment, there needs to be some meaning behind what you do, or you need to be saying something to the piece of content that someone can grab from the piece of content and then use that in their daily lives.
I find that that’s lacking right now in popular culture, in mainstream culture. Also, yes there’s a push towards short-form content, but really how much can you impart in one minute? That’s what I’m interested in doing. Making content that can have a meaningful impact at the soul level of people. That makes them have a different outlook on life, that is positive, that is universal. The media that’s out there right now is just very divisive. It’s dividing people, it’s polarizing people. I believe that it’s a lie to believe in that. I believe that there are things that are universal about all of us that are much more powerful than all of that. I do try to impart that in each story as well.
I don’t know where that desire comes from, that desire to have such an impact, but I believe that if you have somewhat of an ability to tell good stories, you should try to make something constructive out of that. When COVID happened, it was interesting because there were a lot of jobs that were told they were not necessary. A nurse, someone who’s picking up garbage, firefighters, police officers, boom. Most important jobs right there in society so society can keep on functioning. Storytellers, YouTubers, probably at the bottom of that list. It forces you to ask yourself like, if this job exists, it does probably serve a purpose in society. What is that purpose?
What happens if we lose storytellers long term, are we losing morals? Are we losing values that can exist and go through time only through storytelling? I believe that might be the case. Then you have to ask yourself as a storyteller, like, am I filling up that role correctly? Am I doing something constructive to societies through the stories that I’m telling? That’s definitely my intention.
Tubefilter: Then, at the same time, during COVID, I feel like there was such a surge of audience members and viewers really understanding how important creators were to them. There was such an increase in people giving money to creators and becoming really supportive of creators. It was a really interesting dichotomy to see. I’ve never seen support like that for creators.
Patrick Gavia: Yes. I believe that’s definitely a shift that’s happening and that’s why I was excited. The first video that I made was Jake Paul versus Dana White. I don’t know if you’re familiar with either of them.
Tubefilter: Yes. We’ve covered all the boxing stuff with the Paul brothers.
Patrick Gavia: I was fascinated by that, because Jake Paul is proving to most combat sports athletes and boxers out there that, hey, you don’t need a promoter or a middleman to put on events. If you have enough clout, you can do it yourself. The creator and the audience are directly supporting each other. I was like, “You know what, it’s happening right there in the sports world. Only a matter of time before that’s happening also in the film industry. Where we remove the executive producers that take 80% of the profits and everything and the fans finance the movies that they want to watch.”
I was like, “You know what, at some point, there is probably going to be a way through crypto where if a fan finances a certain percentage of the film, that they get that same percentage out of the profits back. You could invest in a film director almost as if he or she was a stock on the stock market and get a return on it.” I’m like, “You know what? I don’t know in how many years that’s going to be possible, but it’s definitely coming and everybody wins aside from the middle man who are going to be removed from the equations.”
Especially with the recent advances in AI, where you have to wonder, when will a Pixar movie be available to any guy with a computer? What if you can ask an AI to come up with a certain story?
Tubefilter: When you’re moving into feature films, do you intend to move into making documentaries like you do on YouTube? What’s your long-term goal?
Patrick Gavia: I think it will start with documentaries. Right now I’m covering only MMA, but I’m going to expand outside of that. I haven’t figured out yet how to switch to feature-length films. I think it will have to cove similar topics, but in feature-length form. That’s the thing with algorithms, when you post a piece of content, you have to trust that the algorithm will push it to the audience that it’s intended to. It doesn’t always do that yet, especially if you post different pieces of content. Let’s say I keep posting documentaries and then I post a feature-length film. It’s the same audience that follow the documentaries going to be interested in something fictional? I wouldn’t bet my house on that right now. I want to be sure that I do it in a way somehow that guarantees that it’s going to have some level of success.
The shift that I was most surprised about, was that when I started doing those, my goal was to build an audience to one day really transitioned to feature-length films in the industry. I’m like, “You know what, maybe someone from Hollywood might see it and then I’ll have my shot.” Then I’m realizing that, I’m already doing the end goal because it’s going to happen on YouTube, it’s just a matter of being patient and strategic about it and the opportunity will come. Until then I still feel like I have a lot of stuff to learn still as a storyteller, because when I do take my shot I don’t want to miss, I want to tell the good story that is compelling and I don’t want to miss up on that.
Tubefilter: What is your current production process for a video? How much time behind the scenes goes into the average 20-minute documentary viewers see?
Patrick Gavia: On average there is about two weeks of research. I have a team now that’s working with me. There’s going to be a story research portion first, which is someone will research every single thing that happened to someone throughout the course of their lives. It’s going to be written form. Then I will go through that and I will make a beat sheet. A beat sheet is just going to be scene after scene what should happen in the documentary. That takes me like two hours. Then I will give that beat sheet to someone who will do video research, that video research will take about a week as well. That way I already have all the material I need for my scenes to happen and then I get to work. I start crafting the narrative from there on. The thing is I don’t sleep much, so realistically that takes me three weeks.
Tubefilter: So this is a significant time investment for each video.
Patrick Gavia: Yes. Especially…It’s not brilliant to do it in the MMA space, because then the UFC copyright claims everything. I work a month on something and I don’t make revenue. Thanks to Cody and Cole [Hock, of Up North], that’s been that’s a bit very easy.
Tubefilter: I want to talk a little bit about that, because Cody and Cole said you have some of the most effective ad reads they’ve seen from clients. Can you talk about that monetization and how your brand deals are going for you?
Patrick Gavia: Yes. If you look at most ad integrations out there, it’s like they’re not really trying, either to make that compelling to you as the audience or to–
Tubefilter: You mean the creators aren’t trying? Or brands? Or both?
Patrick Gavia: Both. I would say both. First of all, the key to have a good video that goes viral is that people don’t stop watching it. You know that the moment there is an ad integration in there, people will either stop watching the video or skip it. What’s ideal is that you make the ad integration as immersive as possible almost so it feels invisible. Almost so it feels like it’s a natural progression in the video, and that you would lose out somehow by stop watching it.
Now, I believe it’s important to do that with brands you actually believe in. I turn down a lot of brands because the thing that matters most is the trust of your audience if you’re thinking long-term. You don’t want to feel like you’re selling your integrity, or you’re selling your audience just to make a quick buck right now. To me, that’s important because if I do team up with a brand I will do my best to put their product in value and like make a strong case for it and do it in a compelling way. The idea behind that is really to give the audience the best experience possible while they’re watching the video, feel like they’re gaining value by watching that ad.
Sometimes I try to be funny, I try to do cool stuff that they’re going to remember, almost so they look forward to it. Because in that brief moment, sometimes I can step out of my usual setting and show them a bit more than they’re used to see. At the same time, it’s like if I place myself in the position of a brand like some of those ad integrations take me one or two days. I do special effects sometimes, I do all that kind of stuff because I want that brand to be happy with partnering with me. I want to be a good partner, not just someone that takes their money and runs with it.
It is a lot more work on my end, but if it can be a better experience for my audience and a better experience for the brand, I feel like we’re moving to somewhere that’s more productive. Instead of me just saying like, okay, now let’s stop for two minutes and let me talk to you about nah nah nah nah. It’s like nobody wins man. Then the creator wins because he makes money, but I just feel like it’s selfish. It’s not thinking about the audience and thinking about your partners.
Tubefilter: I feel like it’s very much viewed as a sort of necessary evil by a lot of people, having these brand deals. Finding a way to make it interesting or actually engaging or actually helpful to your audience is huge.
Patrick Gavia: Yes, I really believe in that. Maybe it’s because for the longest time like no one believed in what I was doing. Now that it’s finally working I feel very much grateful to everyone who’s watching and anyone who’s willing to support. Where I’m like let me give you your time’s worth and your money’s worth, because I’ve failed for the longest time and I don’t take those things for granted.
Tubefilter: It’s tough that you’re having so many problems with monetization.
Patrick Gavia: It’s rough, but if I’m being fair to the UFC, it’s like they write on all their content, “Do not use it.” What I do still falls under fair use. The thing is, it still brings a lot of attention, so then the question comes back in your hands, like, “How can I monetize this attention otherwise?” Outside of ad revenue, I see monetization as all the legs on a chair. It’s like if your chair only has one leg and someone kicks it, then you’re on the floor. Okay, if you have two legs, maybe you can balance. If you have three, four, five, six legs of monetization, somehow you have a much more stable business. I’m constantly asking myself, “Okay, how can I use that attention and somehow create other things?”
Tubefilter: It’s that financial security again.
Patrick Gavia: Yes.
Tubefilter: That darn financial security.
Patrick Gavia: I know.
Tubefilter: Do you have a team that you’ve hired now?
Patrick Gavia: Yes, I have a team of three full-time people and one part-time.
Tubefilter: What do each of them do, if you don’t mind me asking?
Patrick Gavia: I have one full-time doing research, video research. Spends his days going on YouTube and everywhere trying to find the material I need. One assistant video editor, one social media coordinator–and she also helps me with everything that’s accounting, all that other stuff. My part-time is doing story research as well.
I asked myself, what’s in my process that nobody else but me can do? That, right now, would be standing in front of the cameras talking, but also the editing. If someone else was to edit what I do, you would feel it as you watch it. I can’t delegate that, but everything else I try to delegate so I can spend as much time as possible editing and creating.
Tubefilter: Smart. I know a lot of creators are afraid to give up any kind of control. I get it, but at the same time I’m begging you, please just delegate one thing and it will make your life so much better.
Patrick Gavia: You have to! And you have to accept that at first, that person will not do it as well as you. You have to accept that there’s going to be a slight dip, but with time they will catch up, and if they focus only on that will become better than you. It’s just that first part of time where you feel like things are going downhill that you have to accept and push through.
Tubefilter: Yes. I feel like giving up control is naturally difficult, especially when you’ve been relying on yourself to do everything for so long. As creators grow, I think the ones who recognize that they can build this into a business become more comfortable with hiring a team and relying on other people.
Patrick Gavia: Yes. It’s a tricky balance, because I’ve also seen creators start outsourcing everything and you see the quality just crashes. It’s a tricky balance to find, you really have to find a way to somehow scale what you’re doing but never compromise on quality.
Tubefilter: Which is difficult.
Patrick Gavia: Extremely difficult, yes.
Tubefilter: You said that you would like to expand outside MMA. Can you talk a little bit about what other kind of subjects you want to go into, or is that under wraps for now?
Patrick Gavia: There’s nothing under wraps. If I want to do it logically, I will go into the YouTube insights and I will let YouTube tell me what else my audience is interested in. Then I would bounce that off what I’m personally interested in, because that’s equally important. If I sit down on my desk and I’m not passionate about what I do I’m going to burn out. I’m going to be not motivated, so that’s important.
I would start expanding that way. I would look at the analytics, look at what they’re interested in, gradually expand up to a point where if I let myself be cocky for a second, my goal would be to make the best documentaries in the world, period. That there’s a topic out there and I want people to think, “I want Patrick Gavia Gavia to make a documentary on that, because I know that however amount of time or minutes I give my attention to this guy he will reward it.”
Everyone online right now is competing for attention, and ultimately if people have a positive experience watching one of your pieces of content, they will trust you, they will be back. As a creator, you can never take that for granted. I invest myself quite a lot emotionally into everything I do, but I’m really trying to invest into the future so that in five to 10 years, if I have a movie that’s at the movie theater, in your mind it’s a no-brainer that you’ll hire a babysitter, grab your car, pay for parking, pay for a popcorn, and sit down to watch the movie because you trust that I respect your time and I will entertain you.
Tubefilter: That kind of trust is huge. It’s a big component of this direct-to-audience production. People–creators, and authors, and storytellers–really want people to trust them.
Patrick Gavia: It’s so disappointing when you see creators starting to push crypto or whatever. “Oh, buy my crypto.” Then all their hardcore fans are ripped off their money and stuff like that. It’s just like, “Why can’t you be better?”
Patrick Gavia: You can ask Cole or Cody about this, but some days I text them because I do my research on the sponsors. I’m like, “Guys, this and this looks sketchy. I don’t want to team up with them.” There’s been some few instances where that happened. If my audience has one bad experience because they trusted my word, then I don’t deserve their trust. I truly don’t. That’s not something I want to lose.
Tubefilter: Especially with things like crypto and NFTs, creators don’t do enough due diligence. Either they don’t do enough due diligence or they just don’t understand the technology and how fragile some things are. A lot of these scam projects, it’s really heartbreaking to see. Most creators and audiences get screwed.
Patrick Gavia: The technology is still too young, outside of Bitcoin and Ethereum. And even that is still risky, even that is still speculative play on the future. It’s just a bad idea to give people financial advice in the crypto space. Especially with what happened recently with FTX and all those finance YouTubers. I was so glad I do MMA, so the stakes are small. In the financial world, man, it’s so tricky. You should really be careful.