10K80 by Kylie Marsh January 6, 2021
The Watcher series, available to support on Patreon, and tune in on YouTube, is a firm example that creatives, regardless of what is thrown their way, can create anywhere.
You might know Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej from their highly-memed banter on Buzzfeed Unsolved.
Together with their friend Steven Lim from Buzzfeed’s hit food show Worth It, they decided to branch out from Buzzfeed to create Watcher, an independent production studio channel on YouTube.
We had a chance to chop it up with the delightfully exuberant and creative trio. Anyone looking to create their own content or stay creatively inspired should take advice from this adventurous group of content creators.
The Watcher Patreon series launched in late 2019. 2020 proved the series’ strong start wasn’t an accident. Thanks to loyal fans and Patreon, the trio was able to stay afloat and thus learn some valuable lessons about taking creative risks.
“We realized that some of our ideas and some of the brand that we wanted to create, needed a home that would cultivate them in a bigger way,” Bergara, 30, said.
Branching out to Watcher and Patreon was a way to fulfill their ideas and be “completely creatively free.”
“The ability to make whatever content that was interesting to me at that time or whatever content is interesting to me tomorrow, that opportunity and that flexibility was something that was a major influence for me to keep growing.”Ryan Bergara
At Buzzfeed, the trio got the chance to hone their skills in making great content. And then this gave them the confidence to jump into something new.
“The stuff we made at Buzzfeed had grown this really vocal and dedicated and supportive fanbase. It really shaped a lot of the stuff we did. We were still following our instincts. But it was a really vocal community and it was great to interact with them,” said Madej, 34.
Through Patreon, Madej, Lim, and Bergara gave fans the chance to interact with them in Discord. And this helps them get feedback on the shows for Watcher.
“We sort of had all these disparate hubs for people to give us feedback about the shows. So that’s why Patreon was such a welcome addition to our ecosystem when it came to branching out into Watcher.”Shane Madej
Bergara said that there was an infrastructure provided at Buzzfeed before they started Watcher on Patreon. But learning to do the back-end things was a challenge.
“There were teams [at Buzzfeed] for every level of production that would help us bring our ideas to life, and now on our own, we realized we had to provide all of that ourselves. Either by doing it literally ourselves like people in startups do, or by hiring the right people,” Bergara said.
Luckily, funding from loyal patrons helped make the entertainment of Watcher possible.
“I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Patreon, there’s no way that we would’ve been able to do this, just because without that lifeblood coming into the company, I don’t see a way where we could make the things that we needed to make or that we wanted to make without those resources,” said Bergara.
But it wasn’t just the funding the trio have to thank their patrons for. Madej said the fans, who tend to be younger and female, enjoy watching them make content that they’re actually passionate about making.
“Knowing that we know what to toss into the pot to cook up a good series, I think, was a good fit for Patreon because people know how much of that really comes from our own genuine passion and fascination with the stuff that we cover,” he said.
“It was one of the leading philosophies that went into us making this company. We really only want to make stuff that we’re genuinely interested in that we have an earnest curiosity about, so I think that is further motivation for people to invest in the company in a way.”Ryan Bergara
It was easier taking off with a robust fanbase of over one million subscribers in place. But Watcher was still quite young by the time the pandemic made its way to North America, which proved challenging.
Luckily, the Watcher team was flexible and learned valuable lessons along the way.
“Don’t start a business in 2020,” Madej said, half-joking. Originally, the goal for the Watcher series was to create a platform to spotlight other creators.
“We started this whole thing with a very specific voice and a specific vision for what the company could be but given the constraints of the pandemic we really did have to pivot quite a bit in terms of what can we actually shoot given the state of the world.”Ryan Bergara
Luckily, the team had a backup plan.
“We shot a fair amount of our content ahead of time before we even launched so that we had basically six to eight months of content shot before we launched, because we figured you never know what could happen,” Bergara said.
Little did they know that the pandemic would make them burn through nearly every ounce of their contingency plan and get to the bottom of their well of content.
The pandemic taught them to be malleable. They fortunately had a trove of content that had already been shot. And this set them apart from other channels that were constrained to shooting things during the lockdown.
“We had to come up with literally new series that were conducive to remote shooting. In terms of things that could break the camel’s back here, I do think that if we didn’t shoot all that content out before the pandemic hit and before launch, that would have been very tough,” Bergara solemnly stated.
When the pre-pandemic content ran out, they played with the idea of making covid-related content. As time continued, they realized people wanted to ignore the horrible realities of the pandemic and find comfort in their entertainment instead.
They then found that one of their shows, “Are You Scared?” perfectly adapted to the conditions of the pandemic in a subtle way.
“Ryan wanted to do this campfire tales show. But then he realized this is perfect for pandemic shooting because we can both be hunched in front of our computers,” Madej said.
“Ryan was like, ‘when I read these things, I’m hunched over my computer at two AM with this creepy glow illuminating my face’. So we just changed the show to be pandemic friendly without being overtly pandemic, and people can watch it in five years and be like, ‘oh, good show!’ without really being like, ‘ah yes, they were trapped in their homes.'”Shane Madej
Madej has noticed more tweets from parents who are watching their shows, indicating their audience is expanding. This is good news, considering the Watcher series is not just short 15-minute videos like other YouTube channels.
“Maybe it’s because people are home more now, but I’ll get a lot of dads or moms tweeting at me who seem to watch our stuff begrudgingly at first, because maybe they’re like, ‘oh, some more internet jackasses,'” honestly said Madej.
“To be fully transparent, we are internet jackasses. But I think there’s a commitment to some form of quality in certain aspects with every show.”Shane Madej
They have a variety of shows, from spooky, to food, to funny history content. All of which they’re proud of. The trio attribute the expansion of their audience to the diversity of shows, which they also look forward to expanding.
“‘Are You Scared?’ is not informational or educational, but the way it’s executed and just the style of it is incredible. It seems like something you’d see on Netflix,” Madej said.
“‘Puppet History’ is loaded up with actual educational content despite it having plenty of poop jokes; Steven’s food content is heartwarming and educational, and it makes my mouth water.”Shane Madej
Looking toward 2021, the three are grateful to their patrons for helping them make Watcher a reality.
“Just that there are people out there willing to put their hard-earned money up just to support something that they believe in, is obviously inspiring just from the sentiment alone, but it finally then allows you to do it,” Bergara passionately said.
“I do think it’s opened up an avenue for all kinds of creators to take a shot at their dreams, and ourselves included.”Ryan Bergara