Sara Pollack talks about YouTube

Sara Pollack is the Manager of Film & Animation at YouTube. She is responsible for building and managing the Film community on the site by highlighting exceptional content identified by the YouTube community, developing programs to foster the creation of quality content, and using community feedback to enhance YouTube’s features for both amateur and professional filmmakers. Sara is working to ensure that YouTube remains an integral part of the changing landscape of independent film distribution by helping filmmakers reach and engage with their audiences directly.

Prior to joining YouTube, Sara was a Production Executive at Big Beach, an independent film production and finance company in New York, where she worked on both feature and documentary films, including Little Miss Sunshine, Everything is Illuminated and Sherrybaby.

Before Big Beach, Sara worked at Miramax Films, directly reporting to the President of Production during the studio’s release of such award winning films as Finding Neverland, The Aviator and Cold Mountain.
Sara received her B.A. in English Literature from Brown University.

Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about the whole nature of this event, and the scholarship.
Sara Pollack: The Vancouver Film School has been on YouTube for about two years now. So that means that they have a Channel for their school where they have been uploading their student work over the past couple of years, and sometimes reels explaining how the students crated their work. They have been incredibly popular. I think at this point they have over twenty thousand subscribers, which makes them one of the most subscribed university partners we have. I think it was about eight or nine months ago when we were running Project Direct, which is our first Short Film competition, when I reached out to them to encourage their students to participate in that contest, because the quality of their work is so high. We got to talking, and they were really excited about doing something big on YouTube. They had the idea that they would love to give scholarships to their school for users in our community. It was a great idea, and we were really excited. We just built it out from there together; coming up with the challenge, the timing, the principles. VFS reached out to users and looked at all the entries, and then came up with the top ten finalists. The community then voted for the three winners out of those ten. This hasn’t been talked about publicly yet, but VFS was so impressed with the quality of the top ten submissions, that they actually ended up offering all of the seven finalists who did not make it into the full tuition program ten thousand dollars if they still want to attend. So they were a great partner for this competition.

BT: How was the reaction of the YouTube community to this competition?
SP: It was great. I think that when you have competitions online, often they can turn into popularity contests, where you have people working around the clock promoting themselves; blasting emails out to everybody they have ever met telling them to vote for them. Or they can get catty, with contestants going at each other. But what we have seen on YouTube is an incredible amount of camaraderie. There are comments saying things like, “this is amazing”, “This has inspired me”, “You have changed the way that I feel about something”. Particularly for those top three winners, if you go and look at the comments it is incredible. One anecdote that really impressed me: one of the finalists has a big subscriber base – much bigger than the other nine finalists – and he was so concerned that because he had such a big subscriber base he would automatically win the competition. So he actually reached out to the Vancouver Film School and told them that if he won and they were uncomfortable giving him the scholarship based on the fact that he had so many subscribers, he would give the scholarship up to one of his fellow competitors because he wanted the prize to be about the quality of work, and not the number of fans he had. I think that speaks volumes about our users, and the filmmakers on the site who have been so supportive of each other. But beyond that, there have been tons of submissions and tons of comments saying, “I didn’t make it into the finals, when are you doing this again?” and “I missed this”. I think people really love having the opportunity to create something, to be challenged. It gives them the motivation to make something new. And when the prize is something so incredible, it makes it even more exciting.

BT: I personally think that what YouTube offers is a kind of revolution as far as filmmakers are concerned. Ten or fifteen years ago there was no way for filmmakers to expose their work to the world, without going to a film festival–which are very difficult to be accepted into.
SP: I think you are right. Digital media and the Internet have brought about tremendous change for filmmakers. It used to be that if you were lucky enough to make it into a film festival and you screened for maybe a thousand people, that was it. You wouldn’t get theatrical distribution because you film was too small, or there weren’t enough stars, or it wasn’t marketable enough. Or, you wouldn’t even get into a film festival, and then that was it. All of your blood sweat and tears for nothing. I think we now have this incredible audience that it just hungry for content. It is not that people are just looking for silly, short viral clips . People are really looking to YouTube for their main source of entertainment. Those films that have been ignored over time have now found an incredible hungry audience to cater to. It helps in so many ways. It’s not just that they get help in finding an audience online. Filmmakers are using that audience online to book theaters themselves. They are saying, “Here is my trailer. If you love it, send me your zip code; tell me you want to see this in your local theater. I want to have a hundred people, and I am going to the local theater saying ‘book my film’”, and it is working. DVD sales are skyrocketing. Filmmakers released a documentary called “Ten Miles Per Hour” on YouTube recently, and Netflix had to keep restocking their original order because it was selling out when the film was on YouTube. Word of mouth spread it. The same thing with selling digital downloads. There was a short film called “Spider” that we featured a few months ago, and it became the fifth best selling Short film on iTunes. YouTube is really helping filmmakers find audiences on all of these different platforms.

BT: Were the filmmakers in the competition mostly from the U.S, or this event was an international competition?
SP: There were, yes. It is one of the first programs that we have run that was open to all users in countries where YouTube is localized. There was a good showing from the UK, Germany, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. We love to see that. When people heed that call, and get involved internationally, it is incredibly exciting. I love that the top three are from the U.S, Germany, and Mexico, and they will all congregate in Vancouver next year. I think it is great. For the finalists we had one from Poland, one for the UK, two from Mexico, one from Germany, a couple from the U.S, and one from Canada.

BT: Are you planning for any future events?
SP: I hope so. We have a lot of stuff coming up for film next year. We will see what exactly comes next. We do have a program coming up soon focused on film on Wednesday the 18th called The YouTube Screening Room. This is taking that idea of creating a platform for filmmakers to move beyond the festival circuit and reach audiences all over the world.

BT: What is the idea behind the YouTube Screening Room?
SP: This is our platform to help filmmakers, who are creating really notable work, to move beyond showcasing their work just at film festivals. To give them a real space to connect with audiences all over the world.


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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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