This year, just before the start of Playlist Live 2014, Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart dropped a film named Camp Takota on digital retail outlets. This film proved two important tidbits: 1) YouTubers can actually channel their cute personalities into good acting 2) the fans who watch their videos every week will still pay to watch their films..
I saw many “think pieces” in the weeks leading up to Camp Takota’s release, mulling over whether it was possible for the film to become a success when fans are offered such unlimited access of the creators already. It was never a question in my mind whether this would be a hit though; between the three of them Grace, Hannah and Mamrie have more than 2 million fans.
Grace had already proven her star power when she quietly left My Damn Channel to start her own channel, It’s Grace, and regained her entire 1 million subscribers (plus many more) within a week. Grace barely acknowledged the move but her fans reacted in the same way a pop star’s fanbase would: with overwhelming support. This is a tiny example in the power and influence YouTubers have with teenagers and young adults. Grace, Mamrie and Hannah (or the Holy Trinity as their fanbase have christened them) represent a new turn in teen idols: they’re self-created, they’re in their mid to late twenties, and they are relatable girls’ girls.
And they’re beginning to appear everywhere.
With YouTube their comes a keen sense of branding, and where there are savvy businesswomen there is a brand to tend to. By the end of October, Hannah and Grace will both have books released. Hannah’s, My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide To Eating, Drinking and Going With Your Gut has just been released, and Grace’s titled Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending To Be a Grown-Up will be released October 21st.
Hannah’s success, specifically, is truly exciting. Hannah is an out lesbian who is a role model for thousands of teenage girls who regularly “ship” her with Mamrie and Grace. For many of these girls, Hannah is an actual face girls can find to relate to. Hannah is soulful and intelligent. She’s funny to boot. But she also has never let her sexuality categorize her. I’ve never thought of Hannah as the “lesbian YouTuber” and it’s all due to how enchanting she is. She has never used her sexuality to sell herself, and I (along with many other LGBT viewers) respect her for that. In an interview with After Ellen, Hannah stated, “This is my life. It’s my one shot and I have to be true to who I am. I wanted to come out before I ever decided to do something creative because I never wanted to the world to meet me as someone I wasn’t.”
Mamrie, somehow the least known of the three, is the brains behind their biggest success: the film. Mamrie co-wrote the film, drawing from her own experiences as a camp counselor. Like Grace, Mamrie’s original goal was to be an actress. In an interview with The Daily Dot Mamrie explained, “I moved to New York to be an actress, and I fell into the comedy thing. I’ve been doing live comedy forever and then fell into the YouTube thing, but the original goal was to do acting. It’s a dream to be doing your first feature and to be hearing the words you wrote. It’s surreal.” While Grace and Hannah go for deadpan humor, Mamrie is energetic, loopy and flat out hilarious. She wears her heart on her sleeve for viewers.
Of the three, Grace Heilbig is certainly having the most opportunities lined up to prove herself. But two years ago Grace was having a much harder time getting her foot in the door. Her only prominent spot on her resume was a Lowe’s commercial as she told New Media Rockstars in a 2013 interview:
I booked a Lowes commercial that went on TV, and it was a series — we shot eight commercials in three days, and everyone online that saw it was like, “Daily Grace is in this commercial — Lowes got Daily Grace!” When really it’s like, they got Grace Helbig the actress that auditions for things; it wasn’t like they saw my YouTube videos and plucked me from the internet. The YouTube videos almost didn’t get me the job because companies like to have a very squeaky clean spokesperson, and some of the videos are not squeaky clean.
Things changed rapidly though. Within a year Grace was filming Camp Takota and she recently inked a deal with E! to create her own talk show. What is to account for this sudden spike in interest? Self-branding. Marketers and entertainment executives are slowly but surely beginning to notice that internet stars come with a ready-made fanbase. And YouTubers are excellent at promoting themselves. They are their own product. It seems natural for Grace to reach beyond three minute videos and begin a talk show on a reputable network. In fact, I’m surprised it isn’t happening more. YouTubers prove weekly they can be charismatic hosts. “I think it is really helpful to have done YouTube,” Grace commented in the same interview with New Media Rockstars. “I talk to myself everyday so I know my point of view and my persona and my voice, so I feel like going into an audition, I know that this is who I am; I’m Grace Helbig as this character, and you’re either going to want that or you’re not gonna want it.”
I can’t quite put my finger on how YouTube is beginning to make it’s mark on the mainstream, but I would have to give credit to those who are releasing their own products with great results. Musicians like Troye Sivan and filmmaking teams like the Trinity are radically challenging long-held opinions that YouTubers are only a fad. Grace, Mamrie and Hart are the first of this generation’s YouTubers to produce their own film and release it for profit. They’ve marketed it brilliantly and tailored it straight to their fans. And they’ve made a real impression on the movie industry in the process. This is undoubtably building credibility. The success of these three women is not an isolated incident; many YouTubers are finding there is no better time to cash in on their success and run with it. I would also like to point out that this is not a GENDER success story either. Grace, Hannah and Mamrie deserve respect for their success not because they’re women, but because they are the first of their medium to hit a home run. Many in YouTube are attempting to forge long-lasting careers in 2014 and there has never been a more prominent year than 2014 to begin.
For the Holy Trinity, that moment is now.