The film set was professional, even if the actors kept messing up the scene by laughing at the star, who was flailing in front of a green screen, pretending to be eaten alive.
“We need it clean,” the sound man shouted. They shot it yet again, the actors holding back their hysterics until the cameras were off.
The scene, an episode of a sketch comedy show called “AsKassem,” was destined not for theaters or TV, but forYouTube. But with the green screen, film crew, actors and expensive cameras and lights, it went far beyond the typical one-man YouTube videos filmed in a basement with a webcam.
It was produced by Maker Studios, one of several production houses that have sprung up to help create and distribute videos for the Web. Financed by venture capitalists and grants from Google’s YouTube, these studios are trying to play the same role for the online video service that United Artists did almost a century ago for movies or MTV did for television in the 1980s.
“These are new-generation studios, folks that are growing up from the basement who are choosing to collaborate and form these networks,” said Hunter Walk, head of product management at YouTube. “In many ways they are like the first cable stations 30 years ago.”
Maker Studios’ videos, for instance, have almost as many daily viewers as Nickelodeon.
It is a major shift in Google’s strategy for YouTube. Google is taking a much greater role in aiding the creation of original content for the site by nurturing these studios because betting on professional content from established movie and TV studios has not panned out.
“YouTube counts for the largest share of people’s home video-watching, but once people start watching that professional content on Hulu or Netflix, it quickly expands to become the predominant viewing and takes time away from YouTube,” said James L. McQuivey, a digital media analyst at Forrester Research.
Some YouTube video creators have been making money, in some cases lots of it, for a couple years. But as the site has exploded — 35 hours of video are now uploaded every minute, according to YouTube — it can be hard for video creators to build regularly viewed channels, not just one-hit viral wonders.
The start-up production companies — including Maker, Machinima, Mahalo, Vuguru andNext New Networks, which YouTube recently bought — try to help them. The studios tend to be near but still outside the boundaries of Hollywood, both geographically and in the work they do.
They generally pluck talented video creators and help them make videos by providing the costumes, cameras and paychecks needed to make a more professional-looking video. They help build viewership with strategies like linking to their videos from other popular ones in the same network. YouTube sells ads and shares the revenue with the companies and creators.
Kassem Gharaibeh, the creator of “AsKassem,” was working at a Best Buy and doing stand-up on the weekends to crowds of 15 people at Chinese restaurants when he met the founders of Maker Studios. They paid him $1,000 a month, enough to pay his rent so he could quit his job and devote his time to posting videos more than once every three weeks.
Two of Maker’s founders and well-known actors, Lisa Donovan and Shay Butler, known on YouTube as LisaNova and ShayCarl, appeared in his videos, introducing him to their audience. He gained access to editors and a camera crew, a house to shoot in (or sleep in), and closets overflowing with turquoise wigs and fake diamond crowns.
In a year, his YouTube audience ballooned from 50,000 to 1.3 million. “I honestly don’t think I would have been able to reach those numbers myself,” said Mr. Gharaibeh, who goes by KassemG on YouTube.