It seems inconceivable that there has yet to be some sort of major event devoted to YouTube videos and their creators. Even the iPhone has its own film festival, while YouTube itself just held its own inaugural music awards.
That changes this weekend with the first Buffer Festival right here in Toronto – a variation on the city’s famed Toronto International Film Festival, thought up and organized by a local YouTuber, no less.
St. Catharines, Ont. native Corey Vidal has actually been working on the event for the past two years. He was one of the earliest adopters of YouTube, signing up back in 2006 before it was bought by Google, and was inspired by his first visit to TIFF in 2011. “I thought, why can’t we have something like this for YouTube videos?”
The 26-year-old Vidal got his start by posting instructional dance videos to the site. They proved to be popular, so he kept producing whatever he could think up. By the end of 2007, he was earning enough from Google’s ad-revenue sharing program that he became a full-time professional YouTube video creator. His big hit came in 2008 – an amazing four-part a capella performance of the Star Wars theme that garnered millions of views (more than 18 million to date).
In 2011, he started his own company, ApprenticeA Productions, devoted solely to making videos in conjunction with corporate sponsors. Vidal says he mainly earns money by product placement, with companies such as Intel, Pepsi and Canon signing on to have their products appear in his videos. The company, which now employes 10, also makes money through merchandise and MP3 sales. Vidal says he’s worked with more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and that his videos have cumulatively amassed more than 100 million views.
Planning for the Buffer Fest began in earnest about a year ago, after sketching out ideas for the previous 12 months. From the outset, Vidal knew he’d need two specific partners – YouTube and TIFF – to make a go of it. “If they’re not on board, we shouldn’t even bother doing it,” he says. “And we got both of them on board pretty much right away.”*
He then signed on Contiki, whom he had a good working relationship with, to provide travel for the YouTube celebrities he was hoping to bring in. The company jumped at the opportunity, so the celebs followed, which finally allowed for the solidification of dates and venues. The fest is taking place in five theatres in Toronto’s entertainment district, including the Bell TIFF Lightbox and the Scotiabank Theatre.
The name, meanwhile, houses a clever double meaning. “There’s the buffer as in loading, but also we’re giving videos a bit of a boost… we’re buffing them up,” Vidal says.
The three-day event will feature two types of events, with the first being screenings hosted by the more than 100 YouTube celebrities that are taking part. Fans of Daily Grace or the Gregory Brothers, for example, will be able to check out sessions with those creators, who will be showing their clips and discussing them. The sessions will be 90 minutes long and focus mainly on the videos.
“I really don’t want it to be industry and panels. It’s about turning off the lights and watching videos,” Vidal says.
The second type of session will be themed, with focuses on Canadian creators, science and education, daily bloggers, viral videos and so on. These are aimed at a more general audience, or those people who have never heard of YouTube celebs but who want to see some cool stuff.
Vidal is expecting about 5,000 attendees, which he considers a big success given that he has spent nothing on marketing. Any buzz that exists has been drummed up solely by the participating celebrities themselves.
Plans for next year’s event are already underway, he says. The 2014 Buffer Festival will include video challenges, where creators will have to make videos just for the event, and awards.
(*It turns out Vidal misspoke – TIFF isn’t a partner of the Buffer Festival, but it is a silver sponsor through its Next Wave division. The Canadian Film Centre is a full partner, along with YouTube.)