“I started off as an independent automator and game designer, self-employed, just doing content and games for the internet,” Jazza, real name Josiah Alan Brooks, tells us on the phone from his studio.
Then the flash platform, which Jazza had been using got on the wrong side of Apple and he had to re-evaluate.
“This is 2012, and YouTube seemed to be growing and looked like a lot of fun. I thought, ‘okay, there’s probably potential to do something on there. I knew some animators who had gone over to YouTube and started making decent money if they were successful. I had an old channel with a bunch of different content, animations, videos, tutorials and game trailers, very random. I had a bit of a following, but it wasn’t growing very much. I realised that my art content had consistently good views. I thought I’ll start a new channel called Draw with Jazza, and focus on the art.
“Initially I thought it was more about the tutorials, but YouTube has evolved into an entertainment platform. I have a bit of a theatre background, so as the platform changed, I’ve changed with it. I’ve really enjoyed becoming the main character, so to speak. Initially, the channel was about the art, about how to learn drawing, and over time, it become about me having fun with art.”
Jazza produces 2-3 videos per week for his main channel.
“Today we filmed low-light, long-exposure photography,” he tells us. “Drawing pictures with light. Figuring out how to change dynamically with camera settings between low light and the normal light and all that stuff is really fun for me. It’s like putting a puzzle together because if you get it right, if you have the footage at the end of it, that’s really cool.”
When he started the channel, it was just Jazza, a webcam and a computer. Today, on the production side, he has a full-time videographer, production assistant, editor, and a part-time remote editor. He also has much more equipment, and more complex projects, but he contends that “the core of it is the same, which is really about making content that’s engaging and organic and as fun as possible.
“We have a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which we use as our ‘action’ camera. It’s basically a cinema camera, but without the cost of it being a cinema camera. You’re not paying as much as you would for a Red or an ARRI, and yet you’re getting cinema quality. Or you can just keep the settings large but still get a really crisp quality image for the encoders you’re using. I’ve used that for a bulk of the main filming, the main talk-to-camera stuff and the action vloggy sort of stuff. And then we also use the Micro Studio Camera because we have a studio environment where lighting and filming setups are really consistent.
“We have one on a front camera mounted to a desk and one on a crane. I can just swap the lenses between all of those cameras based on what we want to shoot. If I want to get a really tall shot of the room with a wide lens, I can just snap that onto the crane, and pull that up. And it’s all really easy to just create a really dynamic and really adaptable workflow with these cameras, and yet they’re just so much more affordable. It’s really having the access to a professional studio environment without having the overheads, or even the complexity of really high tier, overly expensive video cameras.”
Does he believe that having a slick final product is key to his success? “The content is key,” he quickly replies. “There’s so much content out there competing for people’s attention, the only way you’re going to succeed is by making something compelling or watchable. You can do that with really poor equipment, but you can’t do that in a long term capacity unless you have a really great way of telling the stories. But at the end of the day, you are visually and audibly telling stories and I feel inconveniencing people’s viewing experience with bad production quality, then you’re going to lose out. But on the flipside, if you have nice looking shots and great audio, you’re definitely giving yourself an advantage. What you don’t want is for that to get in the way of the content.”
“I think it’s finding the goldilocks; making sure that the content itself is always at the forefront of what’s being presented. And then after that, making sure that the way it’s presented is as good as it can be for that content. For me, especially because I’m making artwork, I like to be ambitious with the way I show that. If I can do time lapses and if I can use 4K to make sure I can get a crisp image of the final shots of artworks or if I’m goofing around, having someone hold the camera and be able to zoom in and out with the jokes, we can build a flavour.”
Due to his massive online popularity, mainstream media has come knocking. It’s not that Jazza would knock them back, but for now, YouTube gives him the freedom to create in an independent way, and all of the freedoms that entails.
“The advantage we have on YouTube is that I don’t have to ask permission for anything. I’ve done studio work before with traditional media, with television, and the channels of approval and permission and discussion go long and far, whereas on YouTube, if I think I want to improvise with a Hologram that we will put in post with a green screen in the corner of the room, I’ll think of it in that moment and we’ll record it that day and throw out the video, and it could be out the next day. If you’re improvising, keeping the flavour of your channel and content really strong and fun and captivating, then you’re going to win.”