In a recent YouTube video, an emotional Claudia Sulewski addresses her 1.9 million subscribers, at points on the verge of tears, but at other points looking happy to get a weight off her chest.
“It’s so weird to be having this conversation with you guys,” she says to the camera, sitting on the floor at the front of her bed.
The topic of the video: An increasing number of comments from her fans complaining that the quality of her videos has gone down since she moved to Los Angeles from Illinois.
“The reason why I moved out to LA was not for my YouTube channel,” she explains. “It was because of my YouTube channel,” she adds, stressing that it was 100% her YouTube fans that propelled her to the geographical heart of the entertainment industry. But 21-year-old Sulewski, who has been sharing her life on YouTube for 7 years — since she was in middle school — didn’t move to LA to continue work on her personal YouTube channel. She came to LA to expand beyond it.
“I don’t want YouTube to be my forever,” Sulewski says in the video, a phrase she repeated in a recent interview with Business Insider. That phrase encapsulates a tough line that Sulewski and other stars who grew up on YouTube have to walk, as they try to diversify their businesses — and lives — without disappointing the loyal YouTube audiences that have been with them for years.
As the business of online video heats up, there are millions of dollars to be made in the multi-platform world of social-media stardom, not to mention in other creative opportunities. But the whirlwind can also be daunting for stars trying to navigate it, especially when millions of people are watching their moves.
From IL to LA
When Sulewski started making beauty videos in 2010, she had no idea what she was doing, she told Business Insider.
“My first video was me stealing my mum’s blue eyeshadow,” she said. But as she kept making videos, it became clear that YouTube could serve as a launching pad for her career. Still, there was never a specific moment when Sulewski started to take YouTube seriously as a business. It unfolded in a series of steps.
One huge step was moving to Los Angeles in 2014, at the age of 18. The point of the move was to figure out what was next. One thing Sulewski knew was that she didn’t want to be boxed in as an “internet person.” “I never want to put myself in that category,” she said. While Sulewski loves making videos, and vlogging, she didn’t want to keep doing the same videos all the time. And the point of coming to LA was to find new avenues.
The acting bug
After a stint being a host for Teen Vogue, the area that Sulewski gravitated toward was traditional acting roles.
“That acting bug just hit me, 100 per cent,” Sulewski said, even though acting initially felt weird and intimidating. And though Sulewski was used to being in front of the camera, that didn’t mean she was used to life going out and trying to snag roles in Hollywood.
“No one told me the etiquette of auditions,” she said, recounting how she used to roll into the room, shake everyone’s hands, say hi, and have a bit conversation. She didn’t realise an audition was supposed to be a quick event, in-and-out, straight down to business. “I would love to see my old audition tapes,” she said.
But there were ways that Sulewski, as a YouTube star, had a leg up as well (besides the built-in audience she brings to a project). One advantage was that since Sulewski had grown up being a one-woman YouTube crew, she knew things like where to position her head for the light. That came in handy on set, though sometimes she tried to do other people’s jobs a bit too much, she admitted. “That’s the YouTuber in me.”
Cracking into Hollywood isn’t a breeze, even for someone with millions of followers. So far, Sulewski has found success in a few productions that sit between the world of YouTube and the world of traditional TV or movies. She’s starred in a pair of AwesomenessTV series: “The Commute” and “[email protected]” Awesomeness is a $US650 million video powerhouse, focused on teens, that gained popularity on YouTube, but puts shows out on 31 different platforms.
The teen murder thriller, “[email protected],” has been one of the few true successes on Verizon’s go90 platform, a premium video app geared toward millennials, which has struggled to find its footing. Go90 had a content budget of $US200 million in 2016, according to a former employee briefed on the matter. The second of season of “[email protected]” debuted last week.
Letting down fans
But finding out she loves acting has been a source of stress as well for Sulewski, since going for it full throttle has meant less time and energy to devote to her YouTube videos.
“Through all of this my YouTube channel has definitely suffered,” Sulewski says in the YouTube video directed to her subscribers. She says it’s painful for her to read comments that she’s become one of those YouTubers who doesn’t care.
This sentiment shows how complicated it can be for YouTube stars who became famous when they were young teens, and are growing up with the built-in expectations of loyal and demanding fan bases. Their massive followings are part of what makes them valuable to a company like Awesomeness, so they have to be careful to maintain that direct relationship with fans.
And these fans expect not only a certain quality of content, but also to share in many life events of a YouTube star as well.
“Even as dating goes, it’s weird to be an online presence,” Sulewski told Business Insider. You have to put it into your social channels if you start dating a guy — posting photos, making it public, and so on. But at the end of the day, you do need to filter some things, to keep some things private, she said.
“You can’t make everyone happy,” Sulewski explained. “I post whatever makes me happy.”
With 1.9 million subscribers and other creative endeavours, Sulewski has also reached a point where she can be more picky with the brands she partners with. “I have that cushion,” she said.
As far as brand deals go, Sulewski said now they usually want an entire social media package — an Instagram post, a tweet, and so on — as opposed to one single element. “Instagram has grown so much,” especially in advertisers’ minds, she said. “Instagram Stories, that’s where it’s at right now.”
But more than expanding her social media presence, Sulewski is focusing on trying to build her acting credentials. “Acting is definitely my number one,” she said. “I’ve got quite a few things coming up this summer.” Hopefully her fans will understand.
Still, Sulewski isn’t going to step away from the social media vortex entirely. She has to maintain a 360 brand, she said, before listing a bunch of projects she might be interested in. “I go to everything with open arms,” she continued, which is a bit of a prerequisite for a new kind of cross-platform star.
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