DIVORCING YouTube

I loved YouTube.  I really did.  It was always there for me, during thick and thin, and never once raised his voice.  But now, the bastard is beginning to piss me off.

Back in 2006 or 2007, I was invited by one of the founders or higher-ups at YouTube to become one of the first YouTube Partners.  As a YouTube Partner, I was suddenly able to post videos of unlimited length, and I was also able to monetize my videos by allowing advertising in them.  This was a fantastic opportunity, and I would receive checks from Google every now and again.

Then I was invited to showcase the feature-length documentary about me called “Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere” as one of the first YouTube Spotlight videos.  One of the founders or higher-ups was a fan of mine, and loved the doc, and was excited to share it.  I was a great and historical honor.

Life with YouTube went along fine until I realized a lot of other filmmakers were signing up with official channels and their brands were being used to name the channel.  When I signed up with YouTube, it had just started, so I used an email address I only engaged for online Christmas shopping.  So the name of my channel was called “pipistrello2004.”  There wasn’t an option to call it “Dikenga Films” at the time.

I contacted the Head Honcho YouTube guy who invited me to become a Partner and for the video Spotlight honor and he told me that there was no way I could just change the name of my channel.  That if I wanted to set up a new channel, I’d have to re-upload all my videos, lose the view count numbers, and all that.  I was bummed.  But, I decided to just keep the pipistrello2004 name as the Channel name and figured no one really cares anyway.

Life went on, new movies were made, new videos were uploaded, and then YouTube started fiddling around with Google, and then suddenly the whole site was different.  Google Adsense, links, emails, channels, names, networks, blah blah blah.  It was enough to confuse anyone, so I just stayed out of it.  (Sometimes its best to let your significant other just act like a brat so you can get on with dinner).

Recently, I realized that the Google checks had stopped coming.  And the other day, I noticed that some of my videos were not being monetized.  I went to the Video Manager, clicked “Claiming Options” (so I could claim copyright for my videos), and then selected the go-ahead for monetization.  And when I clicked “Save” I got a Server Error.  So my recent videos were not able to be copyright claimed or monetized.  Even though all my earlier videos from 2006-2008 were being monetized.

I went to my gmail account to search my history in order to locate the Head Honcho YouTube guy’s email address.  Then I noticed that YouTube’s owner, Google, for some reason, limits email history, and because I have so many messages going in/out each year, my gmail database does not go back far enough.  So I was unable to locate Head Honcho’s email address, which is why I can’t remember his name.

You might figure, as I did, that I could just call up YouTube customer service and tell them my issue and find a solution.  Well, guess again.  Being a special YouTube Partner might sound special, but it clearly doesn’t mean anything.

There is no such thing as YouTube customer service.  Not even for the Partners.  One has to post public messages on the help boards, or weed through endless, and totally worthless FAQ lists on the help pages.  And yes, while I can see that there is such a thing as a Frequently Asked Question, I’m pretty sure that my question isn’t frequent.  How often does YouTube get a question or concern from one of the original YouTube Partners who was able to monetize their videos BEFORE anyone else was able to?

I’ve tweeted @YouTube, and posted dozens of things to the Help Boards, and while certain people have been extremely nice – none of them work at YouTube and they can’t actually help me.

EVERY major company has a customer service phone line.  Well, EVERY company except YouTube and the stupid IMDB, which is owned by Amazon.

So it is with great sadness, I’m thinking about aborting YouTube all together and moving in with Vimeo, who has been very kind to me thus far.  I can post videos on Vimeo on demand and charge for them (brilliant!) and also there’s a thing called a “Tip Jar” that allows fans to donate something small to show their gratitude.  Plus, videos on Vimeo just look better.  She’s a real peach.

In this world of the new Black Market distribution of all things entertainment, I feel abandoned and betrayed by YouTube.  Perhaps one day I’ll get an email from a human being at YouTube who can help me.  But, until then, I’ll just be thankful I don’t work there.  Can you imagine how miserable the internal bureaucracy is in a conglomerate like that when its customers are going through it too?

KAREN BLACK

I first met the actress Karen Black in 2001 when I stopped by her house to try and persuade her to star in my film FIRECRACKER.  She knew I was coming, so she let me in.  I was instantly hooked on watching her body movements and facial expressions.  There was something about her entire being that reminded me of a wild cat… like a panther or a jaguar.

She seemed to float on the air, feet never touching the ground.  I would later remember this and encourage the Oscar-winning sound designer Paul N. J. Ottosson to remove Karen Black’s foley from one of her characters in FIRECRACKER so she would appear to subconsciously float, otherworldly through the film.

Karen eventually agreed to star in FIRECRACKER and we went about making the film.  She was an incredible trooper on set.  One of my favorite scenes is when her character Sandra leans out of her gypsy wagon to talk to the young boy.  During filming, when it was time to reverse the camera and get the kid’s shot, it was nearly 5 AM and we’d been filming since long before sunset.  Several people on the crew were worried about getting Karen back to her room so she could sleep but she stood firm, and refused to go.  She wanted to stay and be there to act with the kid who was being filmed.  She was a total pro.

In the years after FIRECRACKER came out, Karen and I remained good friends and I’d look her up every time I was in Los Angeles.  We always daydreamed of another project and when we would be able to work together again.

In 2008, Karen was being honored at the Macon Film Festival and they were to show my film FIRECRACKER, so I was flown in to present it with her.  It was such a lovely town, we decided to make a movie there.  Screenwriter Frankie Krainz had just finished his ode to film noir women in prison movies, and Karen said, “I’ve always wanted to be in a women’s prison movie and no one’s ever asked me to be in one.  Isn’t that peculiar?”  So we decided to make STUCK! together.

At first I’d thought of casting John Waters’ muse Mink Stole as the part of the Next Door Neighbor Lady, and Karen as the bible-beating shooter on death row for gunning down an entire fleet of tax collectors.  Karen really wanted the part I had in mind for Mink, and eventually I convinced Mink to take the part I’d originally had in mind for Karen.  It ended up being a great switch, and both women were perfect in their roles.

One of my favorite moments during the filming of STUCK! came when we were shooting a scene near the end of the film, where Karen’s character is riddled with guilt.  In that room, on the set, we turned to each other after a take and looked around.  It was just the three of us.  Karen, me, and my sound guy.  I made the comment about how amazing this was, this experience.  How intimate and real and honest.  She smiled and said, “THIS is filmmaking.”

I am so very lucky to have been able to work with her and to be her friend.

Last week Karen Black passed away after a long battle with ampullary cancer, a rare form similar to pancreatic cancer.

The days leading up to her death were filled with lovely texts and email exchanges.  One night, I sent her this text:

“I had a cry for you today.  In your honor.  I was sitting in my editing room, which is the same room you loved, on the second floor, with the North facing windows.  And I smiled.  And felt your love and support.  And I hope you can feel mine for you.  You are a treasure.  After work I like to go outside in my yard and look up at trees, see the leaves and the branches.  All those shapes and lines.  You once taught me its important to do that after sitting at a computer.  You also have taught me the gift of collaboration.  I shall never forget those incredible moments creating with you.  I love you with all my heart.  Now.  Next.  And then some.  Cheers, my dear.  To YOU!”

She replied with kisses and was eager to hear about what I was working on next.  It was such a blessing to have had the chance to say farewell to her personally.  And it was so lovely to just keep on going.

Please, everyone.  Take a moment and watch this clip of Karen’s most memorable films.

Our film FIRECRACKER is now streaming on demand.

Dear Karen:  Know that you are loved and will be missed.  Thank you for being one of my collaborators, one of my cohorts and my friend.