how grace randolph became different by staying the same: some thoughts on youtubers and work

I’ve been watching a YouTube channel called Beyond the Trailer for a few years now, getting mostly immersed back in 2013 when I was fresh outta college and spent a few unemployed months wandering the book and movie corners of YouTube, but it’s really only now, almost three years into the Project, that it’s occurred to me to write something up about Grace Randolph, the show’s host, same as I’ve done about Bret Easton Ellis and Kevin Smith and Henry Miller and Red Letter Media—figures who, I know, aren’t united by much of anything outside of their affinity for movies and the fact that they built their followings, and went on to make good livings, by talking a lot.

            Grace Randolph’s Beyond the Trailer appears to’ve taken its original shape in 2009 (I know a lot of YouTubers set their earliest videos to private, so maybe she started sooner than her earliest available video). The title’s a little outdated at this point, given the scope of what she does: Monday morning box office reports, movie reviews (if it’s a big commercial event she’ll do a second review with spoilers; the reviews are all strictly itemized, with an index on the left side of the screen in case you wanna skim, and always shot in one take) and general pulse-keeping of the industry with videos about major deals, trends, whatever.

            In preparing to write about Randolph I watched a dozen or so of her most recent videos in succession, as opposed to the two-at-a-time rate by which I normally consume them (which also seems to be about the rate at which she produces them), and then I dipped a bit into her archive thinking that maybe, like with the Erich von Stroheim or Kevin Smith pieces, I’d have to cite certain quotes and episodes in order to communicate a point but, sitting now on the other side of a marathon, I realize it isn’t necessary, because while Randolph does make incisive remarks about film, and showcases a strong grasp of the mechanics of storytelling (from which I’ve learned a lot), the value I glean from her work has, I think, as much to do with her work ethic as with the content she produces, and with the fact that she seems to me like the perfect example of somebody who’s made a profession of their passion.

            But there’s a distinct tone to her work that factors into this.

            The comparison that comes immediately to mind is Red Letter media, the only other voice in YouTube’s movie culture that I follow as closely. The guys at RLM are comedians as much as they are critics (and celebrants) of cinema. So they address movies with a tone of authority whenever they’re cracking down and getting really critical, like in their Plinkett reviews or Half in the Bag. Sometimes even sound professorial. Never shy about geeking out, and they aren’t inherently cynical, but they’ve got this vibe like, We’ve watched this industry for a long time, we love and we hate it and we’re exhausted and excited by it—let’s talk about it.       

            A love-hate kinda thing.

            The tone of Beyond the Trailer is, I think, contrasted by the fact that, while the RLM guys wear the hats of critic and comedian, Randolph goes back and forth between roles of critic and journalist; as such, her videos often take this tone of, like, a spectator’s glee. In reporting on some controversy or drama in the industry, she’ll couch her explanations within historical precedent (she’s particularly quick to draw upon the biography of Walt Disney himself—which is an interesting study in light of where his empire’s gone in the past few years), or she’ll illustrate the drama’s influence on something tangential (her past couple years of reportage and commentary ont eh Disney-Fox merger, and how one ripple causes a tide of repercussions, have shown Randolph at her best as a reporter).

            What I’m also so responsive to in Randolph’s work is how, like with my affinities for Henry Miller or Kevin Smith, she’s unabashedly herself, corralling what Gretchen Rubin (the first of three self-help gurus I’ll be invoking here) describes as the “courage” to be openly enthusiastic about something, giving eloquent air to whatever she feels about a movie or actor or industry decision, and she rattles it off with such practiced precision and brevity and gigglesome joy that we can see, as her channel progresses, that there’s this shift where she’s putting lots of work into her content, but it doesn’t reek of calculation or planning.

            So what strike me now as the key ingredients to her channel’s effectiveness are sincerity and a kind of dogged consistency that, apart from making her a regular voice on the scene, and prompting her to be versed in everything that’s going on, also works as a kind of perpetual practice.

            What Malcolm Gladwell (second self-help guru) would identify as her 10,000 hours.


I don’t know why I still cringe to acknowledge that I listen to motivational stuff now and then, particularly from Gary Vaynerchuk (an enterepreneur and YouTube personality and podcaster who literally posts over 100 pieces of content per week), but I do consume that stuff. In bulk.

            Anyway.

            Vaynerchuk posts a new podcast episode every day at 5 a.m. Sometimes the content is recycled, with excerpts from several different episodes getting mixed and matched thematically. But for the most part it’s new(ish) material each day. Maybe five or fifteen or fifty minutes long. It’s a freakishly prolific media empire working at the service of a single brand, and, yes, he’s got a vast team of talented people working around the clock to make this happen—but still, he’s the one who’s gotta keep saying interesting shit.

            Which takes a lotta work.

            One of the things Vaynerchuk always talks about is the importance of doing something that you love, and, if you wanna make a career of it, the importance of doing that thing a lot. Especially if we’re talking about the production of content around a certain topic.

            He points out that, for one thing, it’s always gonna be better to earn less money, doing what you love, than to earn more money doing what you hate, or something that you’re just kinda lukewarm about. But on top of that he says that if you’re doing the thing that you love, you’re gonna be willing to work harder at it because it isn’t going to feel like work—or, if it does feel like work, that work will be more rewarding.

            This, I realize, has to be part of the science behind Randolph.

            Same as it was with Kevin Smith and Henry Miller.

            They’re exactly the kindsa figures I’d look at in college and think they were lucky, telling myself I could do what they do if only somebody’d give me the chance—but I’m only now coming to appreciate that they weren’t really handed the kind of “opportunity” I’m daydreaming about.

            They just started doing the shit that they loved to do. And they did it really hard and really long until people started looking.


A couple weeks ago I was listening to the thousandth episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Maron tried to get some special guests for the occasion but eventually decided to just record a conversation with the show’s one lifelong producer, Brendan McDonald.

Marc Maron, left, producer Brendan McDonald on the right.

            We learn that Maron and McDonald set themselves the task of having two shows a week, Monday and Thursday. The show was fun, the people involved in it were friends, but it was also very much a job, and they took it seriously, and they never missed a Monday or a Thursday (those, incidentally, were the two days of the week on which I posted new material to this here blog, back during the first year of the Project). They gave voice, during the episode, to frustrations and they both choked up and they laughed a lot. They’d have some sort of emotional reaction to something, some memory, and then immediately anchor the conversation back down to the topic at hand. It was the sound of passion underscored by discipline. Even when their voices got frazzled, talking about what a hellish time they’d had packing envelopes fulla merch back in the early days of the show, and doling out rewards to the listeners who donated to the show, you could hear a smirk beneath the exasperation.

            A love-hate thing.


The default backdrops of Randolph’s videos on Beyond the Trailer have gotten progressively nicer as, presumably, she’s moving into nicer apartments (or offices), and, as somebody who’s been watching her show since the background was simple, nondescript, and Randolph herself was bringing a more distinct kind of screen personality to the videos, I’m finding now that the ease, and the consistency, and the quality of her current work (not to mention her total comfort in front of the camera), presents an arc of somebody who’s grown into their craft—but also highlights that, in order to grow into that craft, she had to spend several years just kinda…doing it.

Randolph’s first few videos.

            McDonald, Marc Maron’s producer, revealed in the thousandth episode that his conception of the show, the guiding light by which he edits each episode, is the idea that every recording is the latest chapter in a story about a character named Marc Maron. Maron isn’t the focus of the show, and I can see how the producer would train more attention on what the guest is saying than the host, but the way that Maron responds to a guest, and how that response informs subsequent episodes, is one more step in the portraiture of this character named Marc Maron.

            And, after a few years of regular viewing, I’m beginning to see something like that character development in Randolph.

Randolph’s most recent few videos.

            Of course, I see it in the channels of other YouTubers I enjoy (Kid Behind a Camera, L.A. Beast, Boogie2988 and Steve Donoghue and others), but what’s interesting with Randolph, as with the Maron podcast, is that the screen character—insofar as any screen persona is a construct—is not the focus of her own channel. The protagonist is not the subject. The center is not the center.

            With Steve Williams, whose username is Boogie2988 and whose YouTube fame began with the rages and tirades of his fictional character Francis, a lisping and furiously temperamental man-child, we get lots of videos where he, Steve/Boogie, addresses the camera to discuss his personal life: bariatric surgery, dental stuff, a divorce, YouTube controversies; he also gives lots of commentary about video game culture. He’s cordial in these videos, tender, family-friendly, enthusiastic and eloquent and optimistic and sentimental. Very different from the Francis character that made him famous.

One of Boogie2988’s conversation videos, out of character.

            But there’s a palimpsest of identities here. We know when he’s Francis—but is there a difference between Boogie, the figurehead and presiding sensibility in the channel, and Steve, the guy who edits the videos and whose name gets scrawled on the dotted lines we don’t see?

            It’s not a question of their authenticity that’s got me hooked, though, it’s how their identities have shifted, in my mind, as I’ve gotten older (and they alongside me).

            Well, as I have gotten older and they have continued to work.

            I think it’s this: having consumed these creators’ content almost daily over the course of several years now, during which time I’ve become an increasingly committed content creator in my own right, I’ve felt my relation to these figures shift from the perspective of a Viewer to that of a Colleague. (Maybe that’s presumptuous and self-aggrandizing.) This shift has alerted me to the behind-the-scenes rigors of these channels and creators. There’s a flashback vibe where I’m realizing that the content I consumed so passively (if habitually) was the livelihood of creators whose ranks I’m now trying to achieve (albeit on different platforms).

            So I’ve been looking lately at the people I once enjoyed and now my prevailing attitude is more like respect and curiosity and a mindfulness about everything these people are probably sacrificing in order to be where they are in our newsfeeds.

One of Francis’s more popular rages.

            Trying to provide daily content for my own blog, and at least five podcasts each month, has made me realize how much discipline these sorts of vocations demand if you wanna make a living of them. Shit, if you even wanna make a splash in people’s attention.

            Randolph is a perfect blend of what I’m hoping to achieve—ecstatic and obsessive passion that, with time and discipline, assumes a consistent and dependable shape, an order, a voice.

            I just need to figure out how the fuck she does it.

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