TV

The Bondi Hipsters On ‘Soul Mates’, Making Money Off YouTube And The Australian Webseries Renaissance

Make web series + ??? = profit.

What do a pair of Kiwi assassins, two cavemen, colleagues in a time travel business, and a couple of Sydney-based hipsters have in common? First, amazing dress sense. Second, that they’re the same two men, meeting again and again throughout history. Soul Mates is a new television series that expands upon the Bondi Hipsters universe, with the creators describing it as a “bromance that spans eternity.”

The series seamlessly weaves four distinct storylines together. While moving from an online format could have easily caused the show to fall into a sketch structure, each episode instead has its own arc, and the different plotlines work together towards telling a larger story. The Bondi Hipsters component, though satirical, allows the show to comment on significant issues and poke fun at pervasive attitudes in society. The future time-travel segment takes digs at the patriarchy and at our current government, in between intolerant monologues from a pot plant named Gulliver.

“Do you want to talk about what it was like coming out as straight, Dave?” one of the characters is asked at the non-compulsory office Diversity Training. In the cavemen arc the characters demonstrate evolution of ideas, delving into relationships and religion, whilst still providing ample poo jokes. Then with the Kiwi assassins, well, it was about time that someone tried an assassination plot that involved roll-on deodorant and Russel Crowe.

Nick Boshier and brothers Christiaan and Connor Van Vuuren have been bringing hipsters Dom and Adrian to life for just over two years. In the case of Nick and Christiaan, this is also literally. Nick, whose past work includes Beached Az and Trent from Punchy, plays Adrian Archer, whilst Christiaan, who was first introduced to YouTube when a video he made in hospital under the name “Fully Sick Rapper” went viral, plays Dom Nader.

With Soul Mates airing this Thursday at 9:30pm on ABC2, I had a chat with the creative team behind all of this about the role that web series play in Australian media and where it’s all going.

YouTube Is Actually Pretty Important

In a highly competitive field, the idea that YouTube provides a training ground for creators is an idea echoed by all three. It’s where Nick and Christiaan both got their starts: “I don’t know if I’d exist if it wasn’t for YouTube”, Nick explains. “I always toyed with idea of creating…but it was such an impossibility that I never actually went through with it. Then when YouTube was a thing it was like ‘oh, I could put some shit up and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t’”.

YouTube, in addition to being the world’s largest archive of cat videos, also provides a comparatively risk-free environment for people who want to experiment with film. It also allows them to potentially reach a wide audience in a way that wasn’t previously possible. “I think it’s a space to play and that’s how it should be.” Connor says “As a creator it’s a great way to learn and get instant feedback from your audience”.

Christiaan points to the increasing “legitimisation” of web series. “They’re becoming an industry recognised format; you can be awarded at festivals for things that will genuinely push your career forward. It’s a way for people to get a handle on their own kind of writing style.” In terms of Bondi Hipsters, he reckons that “for us the web series side of things was always about using the Internet to build an audience, establish characters, grow communities around those characters, then be able move those characters in to other formats while still maintaining a really strong web presence around them.”

There Are Some Pretty Amazing Web Series Coming Out Of Australia

The variety of responses the three offer when asked about Australian web series is pretty demonstrative of the cross-section of content available out there. In particular, Nick points to RackaRacka, a channel featuring darkly comedic and “extremely violent stunt-based videos”, while Christiaan mentions The Horizon, SYD2030, and How to Talk Australians. “Some of the web series coming out of Australia are brilliant”, Nick says.

“I think that for Australian web series, like anything else, like Australian sport or Australian entertainers in Hollywood, we punch above our weight for the size of the communities that are creating them”, Christiaan tells me.

There are also more opportunities than ever before allowing people to turn their ideas into content.  Screen Australia is now funding multi-platform projects, one of the most recent of which is How to Talk Australians. “It’s a wonderful example of Screen Australia funding bringing something to life that’s a great idea, and that’s performing really well online”, Christiaan says. “I think for web series in general, there are a lot of avenues now to get them out there. There are a lot of channels, and there are a lot of opportunities if you start looking into it, to gain an audience.”

Are Clicks Enough To Get The Cash Rolling In?

Simply put: no. While it would be natural to assume that a video getting millions of views would easily be raking in advertising revenue, this is not the reality. Nick explains that though Bondi Hipsters, Trent from Punchy and Beached Az each have views ranging from around 7 to 10 million, “it doesn’t really add to a great deal of money from YouTube in and of itself. It’s not until you really reach a great deal of scale where you’re getting hundreds of millions of views, then it really can be a viable pursuit.”

Christiaan tells me that “I don’t think there is a rule to it, or a set ‘this is how you should monetise a web series’, because every series is different.” This is readily apparent through the trio’s own body of work. Beached Az was monetised early, with most of the revenue coming in through merchandise and a clothing deal struck with Supré: “We sold over 100,000 t-shirts”. In contrast, Bondi Hipsters played the long game, turning to brand integration and taking the characters into the real world. There were no ads on the videos for the first twelve months.

 

“We wanted to make sure when people clicked on something they’d see the video and that’s all they’d see”, Christiaan says. Instead the team paired with brands such as Google, Old Spice, Parklife and The Iconic to create ads and new content that made sense for the series. In addition, they’ve also done two national DJ tours as their characters. Most of the money they make goes back in to the series.

“The Iconic and the Old Spice thing became ways for us to pay ourselves to write Soul Mates“, says Christiaan. “I’m still broker than I’ve ever been. Busier than I’ve ever been, but broker than I’ve ever been. That’s not a thing saying I need more money, it’s just that thing of deciding to put so many hours in to this thing that we’re really passionate about. We’re not looking to make a quick buck. We’re trying to establish ourselves on a long term basis within this career path.”

The Soul Mates team seem optimistic about the future of web series, and have a lot of ideas about the different directions it may take. Christiaan suggests that there could potentially be brand-funded web series where specific brands pair up with creators to fund web series that are relevant to them. However, the time this will take to become a reality is dependent on how it takes for the web to have “the same amount of trust as television, radio or other more established formats.”

Nick sees the development as hinging on internet speeds, saying that “if we ever get around to getting the NBN, and getting the internet speeds probably should be getting, YouTube will, I think, become a premium content creator, not a whole lot dissimilar to say NetFlix.” He explains that though this is already happening to a degree, ultimately he sees YouTube eventually being treated as just another TV channel.  “We will evolve to that point inevitably. I think that’s when there will be less of a distinction between TV and YouTube.”

They’re definitely taking a step in this direction with Soul Mates, which in addition to its six episodes features not only a rich backstory in the form of Bondi Hipsters, but also some new, recently released web videos. But that’s not why you should watch it. You should watch it because you will most likely laugh, uncomfortably loudly. You’ll never look at whitegoods, fire, or Yoko Ono in the same way, and because you’ll finally know whether or not roll-on deodorant can be weaponised.

Soul Mates airs this Thursday October 23 at 9:30pm on ABC2. It is also available on iTunes.-

Elizabeth is the editor of Voiceworks, and has been published in Film Ink, Metro, The Punch, and Lip Magazine. She tweets terrible puns @ElizabethFlux.