Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday
This week, my dogged persistence paid off and i had the great pleasure to speak with a terrific talent (and fellow Ohioan) whose popular YouTube channel has exploded in popularity this year with no signs of slowing down. My first Chris Stuckmann experience came about in August, when i was looking for something to watch. After settling on Enemy, a mind-bending film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, my viewing was bookended by a pair of Chris’ videos – his spoiler-free review beforehand and the insightful explanation video afterwards. This is a format many of his videos follow, incredibly useful for viewers to differentiate between the two. The latter of these are clearly marked EXPLAINED with SPOILERS in the title, and further, Chris warns right away in these that he’ll be discussing film specifics throughout.
Lest you think that’s all he offers, i’d be remiss if i didn’t mention he also does game reviews, hilariocity reviews (movies so atrocious that they’re hilarious), anime reviews, special occasion videos, and more. He also puts together sketches in several videos. My favorite of these is the intro to his Man of Steel review (see below), but there are no shortage of funny, thoughtful and just plain creative sketches sprinkled throughout his over 700 (!!) videos.
And if you like them, you can click on the subscribe button…and get Stuckmannized.
My talk with Chris was also a milestone for me, marking my first experience using Skype. Knowing that Chris is such a movie buff, i spent some time arranging the lighting for our talk, which ended up being a ton of fun. Using Skype was also really cool, and i hope to do more interviews this way in the future.
Just a guy who loves movies
Growing up in Northeast Ohio, Chris has been fond of movies since he was really young and his parents introduced him to films like Star Wars, Back to the Future and The Princess Bride. During that time, while he certainly enjoyed watching them, they were purely for entertainment – something that was simply up there on the screen to enjoy.
Perhaps prophetically, it was his experience seeing Signs when he was about 13 that his perspective on films deepened and he became aware of the world behind the screen.
“It was the first time I ever saw a movie and thought of movies as an actual art form, and not just some mindless thing,” Chris said of his eye-opening moment. “I was like ‘wait a second, people actually make those.’ I suddenly became aware of the fact that someone, somewhere, set up that shot.
“Throughout my whole teenage years, I got really into filmmaking, making short films with my friends – we made hundreds of short movies.”
During those times, Chris started to discover the Internet (yes, there was a time before the Internet was so prevalent). Using the Yahoo Movies platform, he started writing short film reviews, which instilled in him a desire to explore that interest more. It wasn’t too long after that when he created his own website called A Critics Opinion, but the domain host eventually shut down and he stopped doing reviews for a while.
He touches on this time in his My Story video, relating how a good friend straight-up asked him why he’d stopped doing movie review videos since he enjoyed it and missed doing them. And that’s exactly what he did, launching his YouTube channel which has since gone on to surpass the 100,000 subscriber mark. In fact, Chris expects to reach 200,000 in the very near future.
It’s no surprise that Chris is enjoying this kind of success, either. His videos are simply entertaining to watch by themselves. Chris’ charisma and enthusiasm for film is plain to see. He speaks about movies not only with articulation and a deep understanding of the technical side of filmmaking, but he also maintains a very conversational tone, like he’s sitting right there in the room with you talking about movies. This makes viewing his videos a real treat, because he manages to cover all aspects of a film – from the script to the shooting, as well as how he felt about the experience – all within just a few minutes. At the same time, he gives viewers some longer, more in-depth videos that are really thought-provoking, and probably the best thing about all his reviews in general is that he strives to find the good points in a film, even if they’re not the strongest or most enjoyable experiences for him.
Getting to this point wasn’t an easy task, though. Chris put a ton of work into what he does and continues to do so. From the very start, he showed great determination, contacting another YouTube reviewer he came across early on to ask for some tips on how to make it work. He’ll be the first to tell you that his own early videos were awful, but he kept at it and is grateful to the viewers who stuck with him the whole time as well as keeping humble about all the fans he’s gained since.
In the early days, before gaining enough momentum to turn his passion into a full-time gig (and when i say full time i mean morning, noon and night), Chris like many hopeful independent creative people, had to work at regular jobs. He is no stranger to stints in fast food and retail in his younger days. Before transitioning to his current situation, he worked with handicapped children through Akron Public Schools. At the time, a local theater held late night showings on Thursdays, and Chris would attend these regularly, staying up all night afterwards to create his videos then heading back to work at 5 a.m., as well as trying to see as many movies as he could.
Always with a mind towards improvement, one of the ways Chris made his videos better was through editing software, utilizing Final Cut Pro and also putting effort into improving the sound quality – both of which are evident. Seriously. i can’t say i’ve watched all 700+ videos…but i’ve watched a heck of a lot of them and Chris’ editing skills are top notch.
Depending on the type of video, it can take up to many hours to put something together. In the case of his Hilariocity and Analyzed videos, he writes out what he wants to say before doing any recording. At the other end of the spectrum, for standard reviews he makes bullet points of the things he wants to talk about then tries to build off those points. For all his videos, there is an editing process to clean up the flow and keep the discussion on point. Sometimes, it takes hours and hours just to watch a film on Blu-ray because he’ll pause often to explore an idea and really analyze a particular part of a film, as well as doing additional research.
“I’ve found that when I leave a movie, my eyes actually hurt,” he said of his rapt attention to detail. “I’ve been staring and examining every shot so hard that my eyes are like ‘hey – you need to close them for a while.'”
Now, with fans all over the world, Chris remains humble about his work. He refers to his audience as viewers rather than fans, because as he says he’s “just a guy from Ohio that loves movies,” and it’s unusual to think of himself as having any kind of fame. But he certainly appreciates all the people who watch his videos and interact with him through social media. The attention doesn’t stop there though, and he’s beginning to get noticed out in public, too.
“I went to Best Buy to order the Steven Spielberg Blu-ray collection, and the person who helped me order it went “whoa, Chris Stuckmann! I love your videos,” he related. “We talked for a while, and he was really nice, but then I had to give him my phone number, address and credit card number. But he’s really nice, I’ve seen him there a few times and he’s really cool.
“I don’t like to view myself as a person of any importance, because I’m not. That’s the hardest part, actually – making sure that I’m what they would like me to be in regards to my videos.
I’m going to be myself no matter what, but I really want people to enjoy what they’re seeing and be happy.”
Film critic and…film director?
While Chris loves what he does and is happy to continue doing it, making video reviews isn’t his only goal. Those teenage years making short films with his friends inspired a desire to create feature films, too.
Writing screenplays, he advises, helps aspiring filmmakers immeasurably. For one thing, it helps your chances a great deal more to break into the Hollywood scene armed with both a great story and the skills to bring it to life rather than the technical skills alone.
“It’s very hard to just say ‘hey Hollywood, I want to make movies,'” Chris explained. “But it is easier to write a good script than it is to say ‘can I direct that? I’ve never directed a feature film before.’ But if you can say ‘this is the script I wrote,’ and it’s good, then that speaks for itself.”
If given the opportunity to direct, Chris would like to work on something suspense- or action-oriented, citing the Indiana Jones franchise as an example. The idea of working with so much energy and on-set excitement appeals to his sensibilities.
To that end, Chris has also written several spec screenplays and continues to think about filmmaking. He very graciously shared with me one of his story ideas, and without giving anything away i have to say it is definitely a fresh, original idea and the kind of film i would love to see. As a matter of fact, while he was describing the story, i could vividly picture what a film like that might look like up on the big screen, and i wish him all the best with developing and promoting the project. As he puts it, the idea is quite different from the kinds of films he usually imagines helming, but hearing him talk about it, you can tell it’s something with a lot of heart that he believes in, and these are the kinds of stories people love to see. [For posterity, let’s say the idea is copyrighted as of 4:20 p.m. EST Dec. 11, 2014.]
Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life
Despite the perception some people may have about Chris and others in his situation – that they “don’t live in the real world,” as one person recently told him on Twitter, he works very hard for much longer than a lot of people typically do in a day.
“It’s a long process,” Chris admits. “Right now, I’m running sponsorships with Crunchyroll and Hulu, and they have deadlines, and I have to meet those deadlines.
“You saw the schedule I posted today. That’s all day, from as soon as I woke up. And yes, it’s fun stuff. But it really is a day-long process.”
Chris also has sponsorships with Shutterstock and Audible.com, and if his work continues improving as it has since the beginning i have no doubt he’ll gain many more.
“A lot of people contact me about mentioning things in my videos,” Chris explained. “People will say ‘hey can you mention us in the beginning?’ And it’s like, for make-up – L’Oreal or something. One was Real Housewives of Orange County. I have to walk to line between not being a sell-out. For some people, if they find out you’re making money doing what you love, you’re a sell-out. What I’m trying to do is make good content, and making money allows me to make better content.”
Despite that, Chris does try to maintain a level of integrity with his work and to that end, he isn’t opposed to forming partnerships with companies he believes in, but at the same time doesn’t hesitate to say no to things like the aforementioned Real Housewives offer, which would stipulate he make mention of the show’s airtimes within the first 30 seconds of a video.
Back when he was still working for Akron Public Schools, he describes a life most of us are familiar with, going to work in the morning, coming home after eight hours, and being done. During those times, his videos were a hobby and not necessarily something that had to be done. On a personal note, in this regard i could completely relate to Chris – working on articles like this one you’re reading right now is something i have to pursue in between two other jobs. So i also understand why he kept at it and works very diligently to improve – because he loves what he does.
Chris Stuckmann’s schedule for Dec. 11. i was #3!
In addition to the investment of time, it’s also expensive to keep up with the tools necessary to stay at the top of his game. For example, his game reviews are done independently of official game companies, so he has to purchase the games on his own although he’s been working on connecting with those game companies to hopefully get screeners he can use for reviews.
All the challenges aside though, Chris keeps a positive attitude about his career and it shows in his continuously improving work.
“Study those who are great at what they do,” Chris said of his outlook. “And then try to, not emulate, but actually improve upon the greats. There’s a quote from Michael Jackson where he said ‘study the greats, then become greater.'”
Chris, like pretty much every one i’ve interviewed for The Long Shot, confirmed once again that working autonomously is great. He, like everyone else, cites the same number one reason that working independently is so awesome.
“I’m my own boss,” Chris echoed. “I’ve dealt with a lot of bosses, and not having a boss is amazing.
“In a way, I have supervision, because I have a press person…that kind of thing. (Being my own boss) That’s the greatest part.”
The hardest part, he says, is that’s it’s difficult to get studios to take you seriously. YouTube, while extremely popular, isn’t necessarily taken seriously and, since Chris isn’t backed by an organization, it’s especially tough. Although he is partnered through the Fullscreen Network – which helped in getting him the opportunity to interview film star Sean Bean.
Another hurdle Chris faces is location. Limited release films are not often shown in Northeast Ohio, and although he’s been trying very hard to network with studios to get screeners for films, he hasn’t seen much headway there. So if any movie execs happen to be reading this: get Chris some screeners so he can review your films! When it comes to this situation, Chris honestly seems most disappointed because many of his viewers want to hear his thoughts on films like Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice and American Sniper, but without them showing anywhere around here, he has to wait for wide release.
“I don’t pirate movies,” Chris makes it clear. “For instance, there’s a movie that leaked online called Predestination, and I know it leaked online because people have seen it and they ask me to review it. And I have to say I’m sorry, it doesn’t come out here until January.”
Partly because of this, Chris has added reviews for older films, as well as video games and anime to his repertoire. Speaking of anime, just a few weeks ago Chris was invited to introduce a screening of The Tale of Princess Kayuga at Akron’s new Nightlight indie movie theater. After becoming friends with the owner, Chris was asked if he’d like to intro the film, which of course he did although he admits to being a little nervous.
The evening went well, and Chris was invited to return any time he likes. Even better, the burgeoning theatre sometimes gets visiting directors and actors, and Chris was given the opportunity to host the interviews with whatever talent is there as well as include the videos on his channel. So keep an eye on this exciting new theater as well as Chris’ opportunity to help Northeast Ohio continue growing into a destination for film production and the people behind these projects.
“I’m excited about this, because it will help me have more independent entertainment on my channel,” Chris said of his relationship with The Nightlight.
Throughout the course of speaking with Chris, i peppered my interview about his life and work with some unusual questions that i made a while back (plus a couple that came up during our conversation) and disseminated to a number of people. At the time, i thought i might develop a sort of Long Shot questionnaire for interviews. To date i have received exactly zero replies from them, so it was another first for me to put some of these questions to Chris and see what he had to say.
If you could sing one song and have it produced by the best in the business, what song would it be?
CS: I would have to pick a song that I hate, because I don’t want to pick a song that I love. If I picked a song that I love, and I sang it, it would butcher it. But, I’m a big Billie Jean fan. I think it’s a great song…I’ll go with that. [Bonus: you can watch Chris’ My Story video and see him show off his recreation of MJ’s dance moves from the song. No joke – dude can dance.]
What was your biggest goal this year, and did you reach it?
I had a few. One of them was to be more legitimate. To have the approval of studios and things like that. A few things happened. Some still haven’t. (The DVD screeners) That’s my biggest thing. That would save me so much time, if I could just get the award season stuff. That’s all I need. I have no problem going to the movie theatre. I love going to the movie theatre. I just hate waiting an extra month and a half for a movie that’s already showing in L.A. and read requests for movies I have no way of seeing.
But yes, some of my goals were realized. I’ve definitely gotten more into game reviews like I wanted to. I’ve been able to get a few game companies signed up to give me digital copies of games to review.
I got a signed book from Chaz Ebert herself [trial attorney and wife to the late, legendary film critic Robert Ebert], which was crazy. I got to speak with her. That was nuts.
It’s been great.
Anything coming up that’d you’d like fans to know about?
Well, there’s the thing with The Nightlight, which I’m excited about.
I’ve got my best and worst list coming up…as soon as I can see Inherent Vice. I don’t know if it will be on my best list, and I don’t know if it won’t be on my best list. It happens to me every single year. Last year was Her, with Joaquin Phoenix…also with Joaquin Phoenix, a movie that didn’t open here until January so it couldn’t make my best list, because I had to make it. And the year before that was Zero Dark Thirty. Happens every year.
What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve faced so far in your career?
The most difficult challenge has absolutely nothing to do with talking about movies. That’s the fun part. The most difficult thing for me is having to deal with that a lot of people are suddenly expecting something from you. It’s not because I’m lazy. I like working. It’s more along the lines of, wow, the stuff celebrities say is true. People really do suddenly think they know who you are because they saw you on video, or because they read a 140 character Tweet you made.
I have a really big part of me that always wants to please my viewers – and I always say viewers because I’m not that comfortable saying “fans” because I’m not a famous person. When people say, “I’m your biggest fan!” I’m kind of like “oh, shit. What’s happening?”
If you were a member of the Star Trek Enterprise crew, who would you be and why?
Well, I always had a serious fondness for Jean-Luc Picard, because he was so articulate, he was a good leader, and he was smart, and resourceful and funny, and a good friend, and I would love to think I’m all those things. And I loved Geordi when I was a kid. Geordi was awesome, I’m not sure why. [Because of Reading Rainbow.] Yes, Reading Rainbow is exactly what it is. He’s on both of those!
From the classic series, Spock was always my favorite. He was hilarious. He wasn’t trying to be funny, he was so smart and so straightforward. The character relations between Kirk, Spock and Bones was the heart and soul of that show.
If you had one super power, what would it be and why?
Hmmm…I used to just saying flying instantly, because I would just love that. But in some ways I would also love invisibility. But in some ways, I feel like if I had invisibility I would use it improperly, to spy on people I know and see if they’re talking about it.
So, probably flying. [But if you had teleportation, you could teleport into the sky, and that would be like flying. Plus you could teleport.] You know what? You’re right. Teleportation – no vacation planning, no airfare (I’m not a big fan of flying), no nothing. Just, hey I want to go to Hawaii.
If you threw a party, and invited everyone you knew, who would the biggest gift be from, and what would the card attached say?
My wife. She would say something lovey-dovey. She loves to give good gifts.
If you had a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea, what is it?
It would involve making a film.
What do you read on a regular basis?
I read a lot of magazines. I do like gaming-related magazines a lot, and entertainment magazines. My favorite author is Stephen King, so I try to read as much of his stuff as I can. I do read scripts from time to time – but not before the movie comes out. Never. I hate spoilers. In fact, sometimes I don’t even read the IMDB plot synopses.
What upcoming films are you most looking forward to seeing?
We’re coming to the end of the year, and then January’s looming. And January is the poopy-pile. So yeah, I am curious about American Sniper and Inherent Vice. I’m looking forward to Exodus; I’m seeing it in three hours and it could go either way.
What do you think about Benedict Cumberbatch being cast as Dr. Strange?
He’s a great actor and he’s good in everything I’ve seen him in, so I’m nothing but excited. I love him…but you don’t want to over-saturate the market.
Marvel or DC?
My favorite superhero is Batman. But in regards to movies, Marvel is owning the place. I really, really hope they can knock (Batman vs. Superman) out of the park, though. There’s a lot of talented people working on it. I know Zack Snyder can make a really good looking movie. And now that the writer of BvS (Chris Terrio, who wrote Argo) is considerably more talented I think than the writer of Man of Steel, I’m hoping they can really do something awesome.
Are you opposed to the cross-blade lightsaber from the Force Awakens trailer?
I am reserving judgement until I see its use.
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate this questionnaire?
Ten. Absolutely, pretty entertaining questions. I appreciate that. And also thanks very much for reaching out.
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And so went my conversation with YouTube film critic and future film director Chris Stuckmann. i realize this is a long write-up, but if i’m honest, my talk with Chris was simply a lot of fun and i love to share stories about people following their passions and turning them into success stories. Not only are Chris’ videos extremely entertaining to watch, he’s just a great guy to talk with so i hope people will continue to visit his channel so we can see it continue to grow and improve.
Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel and get Stuckmannized
Follow @Chris_Stuckmann on Twitter
Like Chris Stuckmann on Facebook
As a point, i refrained from including clips of Chris’ videos here and instead provided links throughout because i hope that readers will visit his YouTube channel or other sites and view them that way. i guarantee you will not be disappointed.
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Thanks for reading the seventh Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!
If you would like some further reading, about some science and technology stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:
Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.
Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Dec. 19 and i’d love to see you here!
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Thanks for reading!