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The Brothers Riedell: How To Be A YouTube Celebrity
Ben Christopher | Photo: Stephanie Duchaine | January 23, 2013
One year after launching their careers as full-time filmmakers, will Nick and Chris Riedell find fame and fortune on the Internet?
Nick and Chris Riedell’s moment of truth came just over a year ago, when one of their short films was chosen to introduce the Napa Valley Film Festival. After a less-than-stellar decade in the Bay Area film business, this was going to be their big break. Yet when they had their sit-down with a potential investor, he had only one, very dispiriting question: ”Who’s your fan base?”
“At the time, our ‘fan base’ was basically our grandma,” 29-year-old actor Chris laughs.
So Chris and his brother, a 28-year-old freelance film editor and director of photography, set themselves a goal: take a year to sink or swim in their chosen field by becoming stars of, if not the big screen, then millions of small ones on, and with the help of YouTube.
This month, the brothers celebrate their first-year anniversary as career viral video makers. With 60 videos and nearly 4 million total views under their belts, the Redwood City natives have found enough success with their sometimes-adolescent and always absurd brand of sketch comedy to make the move to Hollywood. They’ll be back before long, they both insist—the two are Nor-Cal boys at heart. But as Nick explains almost apologetically, “there’s just a lot more opportunity for this kind of stuff down there.”
As for that “fan base,” there are now over 100,000 weekly subscribers to the Brothers Riedell YouTube channel. That may not be Gangnam Style, or even cat-on-a–keyboard, huge, but it’s big enough to turn two dudes no one had heard of a year ago into role models for aspiring web video artists everywhere. It helps that the Riedells have professional-quality production skills as well as a legion of web-savvy friends, including childhood pal Chester See, the actor/musician/singer-songwriter/self-made Internet phenom who hosts Internet Icon, an American Idol for YouTubers that had its first season last year. The Brothers Riedell won that competition and joined YouTube’s Partner Program—including a spot in the in-house viral video incubator, Next Lab; mentorship by the folks behind the Obama Girl video (nearly 26 million views), and even some ad revenue.
While the financial benefits may be meager, the brothers have been buoyed by the support, which has allowed them to churn out videos on a grueling every-Wednesday schedule. That weekly commitment is key, says Chris, whose wife just had a baby on top of everything else: “Rain or shine, if you’re done with the edit or not. Nothing will be perfect.” As far for that final product, the quality is hit-and-miss—but therein lies the fun.
“The real challenge,” says Nick, isn’t in coming up with the nonsensical ideas—they have those in abundance—but in trying to turn those ideas into something that looks half-decent every seven days and “on a budget of zero dollars.” This they pull off only by recruiting their friends for cast and crew, making props of common household items, and stopping only for coffee. When I first meet the brothers, they are shooting in the basement of Urban Outfitters on Powell Street. Why Urban Outfitters, exactly? Sure, the two want to be “brand friendly,” says Chris. But also because a good friend of theirs builds the store’s display tables and has invited Nick and Chris to commandeer his workspace. It’s not entirely clear whether management knows.
Over the rest of the day, I watch as the brothers, drawing on script and goof-ball improvisation in equal measure, finish shooting that week’s skit: “The Pregtectives,” wherein Chris and Nick play imprecisely-accented, dandily-dressed investigators a la Sherlock and Watson. Except in this version the crime-solving duo are escaped mental patients who offer their services exclusively to pregnant women.
In truth, the premise only barely makes sense. But for every weird idea that doesn’t quite work, sometimes something unexpected strikes a chord. Case in point: the two-second snippet of Chris simply saying the word “brother” in a Python-esque falsetto, an outtake from their first video which, by popular demand, has since become the sign-off of every upload.
Now you can buy a “Brothaaaa!” t-shirt on their website.
“We don’t get it,” says Nick with a shrug. “But whatever works.”