Shira: Hey, everyone. I’m Shira Lazar. Welcome to the Partners Project. I’m here right now with Justine Ezarik. All right. Let’s just call her, iJustine. That works because that’s what everyone knows you as.
Shira: All right. You are the super star queen of YouTube.
Justine: Well, thank you. I wouldn’t go that far, but yeah, I really love making videos and talking to people. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so you can say I didn’t have any friends or you could not say that. But yeah, I don’t know. I just love it.
Shira: Let’s talk about how you got to where you are today. Where did you grow up? How did you get started?
Justine: Yeah. I grew up near Pittsburgh, like an hour outside of Pittsburgh and just pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I mean, we grew up where there’s cows next door. I was in sixth grade when I made my first website. I was going around, like, stealing little pieces of HTML code and trying to make my own website. I was 12, and now I’m not 12. So, it’s pretty much half my life I’ve spent playing on the Internet.
Shira: But a lot has happened in between. You were on live stream Justin.tv at a certain point also.
Justine: Yes. I did do that. I streamed my life live on the Internet. I wore a camera on my head, like a crazy person, and I streamed my life on the Internet for six months, 24/7.
Shira: When did you realize that this was, perhaps, a natural job and career? I mean, you were doing that for fun at that time?
Justine: Yeah. It was definitely for fun, but in doing all that stuff, I was still posting videos on YouTube and posting stuff on MySpace and other websites, too. But I was a graphic designer, and so I was still working doing freelance and doing stuff like that.
Shira: When did you see it starting to get traction?
Justine: Probably around the time one of my most popular . . . I guess, well, not necessarily most popular on YouTube, but it was the iPhone bill video. When the iPhone first came out, AT&T sent a 300 page phone bill. It came inside a box. So I just made some stupid video about it, and then it ended up being featured on CNN and pretty much every news outlet. It was like, it’s kind of crazy that one little video can get spread so far across the entire world.
Shira: That was when, how many years ago?
Justine: It was in 2007-ish.
Shira: All right. Well, a lot of people have viral videos on YouTube, and then they really don’t know what to do with it. They don’t know how to translate that into something consistent. But you’ve done that.
Justine: Well, even then, I was still posting videos before consistently, so I just kept posting videos. Even then, once you get a video that gets a couple million views, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your next video is going to do just as well.
Shira: And so how do you, I guess, make sure or how do you make it happen that your next video does well and keep getting those types of views?
Justine: You can’t really ever predict it’s going to do well, because it really depends on timing, you know, if people are online. Now, that kids are back in school, you can definitely tell that views are going down because kids aren’t watching YouTube as much. Their parents are like, you should be focusing on homework or school and stuff like that. So it definitely makes a difference on timing and everything like that.
Shira: So you are completely self-taught.
Justine: I mean, I went to school for multimedia. So I learned basic editing and design and doing web stuff, too. So I do have a background in that, but they taught me like Premiere. So I taught myself Avid and Final Cut Pro. So, I use Final Cut now.
Shira: How has your creative process changed from then to now?
Justine: I mean, I don’t really know. It’s a strange creative process, because I’ll just get an idea and I just do it. I think in Hollywood that’s so different, because people are like, “We need to get a budget. We need to get camera people.” And I’m just like, “I have a camera. I know how to edit, so I can just do it myself.”
Shira: You do have specific text videos. What are the types of things that you like to post?
Justine: I think I’m a little bit different than most YouTubers, because everybody kind of has like a show or they have something that they specifically post, whereas mine is very random. I do like music videos, and then I do like ask iJ show.
Then, I started something new that’s called Vlog University, which is more geared towards younger kids trying to inspire them to want to vlog. So, it’s just a bunch of random stuff, really. I don’t really have any set schedule.
Shira: But you have posted videos of like behind the scenes of how you do what you do. So, you want to go through that process. When you come up with an idea, do you brainstorm? Do you write it out?
Justine: I don’t really ever write anything out either, so it’s mostly I just will turn on the camera. I don’t know if anybody can see, but I usually just sit on the floor, right there in front of this beautiful white wall, and I shoot my videos.
Shira: You use what kind of lights? You always have this, it’s like the same, consistent, great lighting. Your face is lit perfectly.
Justine: No, I just use some little Ikea lamp just right behind me, and then I have one big light that I kind of just bounce off the walls. And since my apartment’s fairly empty and it’s very white, it makes for really good lighting.
Shira: Then, in terms of the editing process, how long does it take to create each video?
Justine: It really depends. Music videos usually take longer, because I usually will have to green screen it. So that’ll take maybe a day or two to edit. If the video takes longer than two days, I get bored and I don’t want to do it anymore. So, if it passes that two day point, it better be a really good video, because, yeah, I don’t have patience for longer than that.
Shira: You also have your own green screen?
Justine: I do, yeah. It’s a little Ikea blanket that I just hang up on my wall.
Shira: Is it important for you to collaborate with people who are in the YouTube community?
Justine: Yeah, definitely, and it’s great because so many people live here in L.A. If anybody ever needs someone for a video, it’s like so many YouTubers are here.
Shira: Are there secrets for you behind building your brand on YouTube? Do you look at it as a brand?
Justine: I don’t think I do. But other people I think do now, because it’s like, you know, you’re, I mean I guess . . . I don’t really know how to answer that.
Shira: No, no. Does it blow your mind that people now look at you as a brand?
Justine: I mean, I guess it’s kind of crazy, because I still see it as I’m just having so much fun doing this that I don’t feel it’s work or it’s like a job because I really enjoy doing it. But I guess, from an outside perspective, it definitely is a brand because I try to maintain making sure I’m never swearing or doing anything that would influence kids to do something that I wouldn’t want them to do or their parents wouldn’t want them to do.
Shira: Now, in terms of you have a lot of brands approaching you, how do you balance all that out in terms of the content that you want to create just organically and stuff that people approach you about?
Justine: I guess the stuff with brands, it’s kind of hard to because you’ll get so many e-mails from different brands. If the project isn’t perfect or it’s not a video that I would already make myself, I feel like it’s not something that I can post on my channel.
For example, like the Barbie project that I did, they have a new video girl which is actually behind me over there. She has a LCD screen on her back and a video camera in her necklace. So, something like that is absolutely perfect. I have a very young, female audience. So, this was such a cool doll that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I wish I was like five years old again because this would be perfect.”
Shira: So, it really came from a sincere place.
Justine: Yeah. It was something that I really, really loved, and I love it, so it was really easy to create that video.
Shira: Have you seen the culture around YouTube change so much in the past year? I know I have in terms of maybe people legitimizing it a bit more and the credibility around it.
Justine: Oh, definitely. You can see more people are doing like scheduled content. We release videos Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So, people are really trying to build a schedule around their things and just really upping the content value and just making everything better.
Shira: When do you think that happened, or what was the tipping point?
Justine: Probably, I feel like in the past year. I don’t know if there was any specific time, but you could just see everyone just sot of stepping up their game and just trying to create better content.
Shira: Do you feel also that people, like Fred, who started getting those deals in the traditional space?
Justine: Definitely. Honestly, seeing the Fred movie was amazing, because he did such a great job, and he really carried the entire movie. So, I feel like as an actor, for him, that that would normally be something that’s kind of difficult to do. But he’s been doing it so much online that he has six years of practice or whatever.
Shira: How important for you is it to maintain and protect who you are online and what you do and being aware of, maybe, selling out to traditional media?
Justine: I don’t really know. What do you mean by selling out?
Shira: How do you continue to engage with fans in your community?
Justine: Do you want me to do that again?
Shira: Do you . . .
Justine: I thought you were going to ask me the other question.
Shira: How do you maintain that balance between keeping that underground culture you developed online and possibly as you are developing and working with the mainstream?
Justine: So, it’s really fun because I love TV shows.
Justine: One of my favorite shows is “Law & Order.” Not too long ago, I got to play a dead body on “Law & Order.” So it was extremely exciting. How I worked with them, I was like, “Can I film all the behind the scenes stuff?” So, they let me film the sets and the studio, and I just let them take a look to make sure I wasn’t posting anything that I shouldn’t post.
Justine: But it really brought my audience into seeing the production, the behind the scenes of making a TV show. And then, months later, they get to see it air on TV. So, for me, that’s the perfect marriage I feel like between YouTube and the TV world, because I love TV so much. But I love the Internet, so it was like being able to take those two and put them together. It’s awesome.
Shira: How did that happen in terms of how that developed? Did you just tweet someone?
Justine: Yeah, I tweeted the casting director, and thankfully he decided to kill me.
Shira: Are you surprised when it actually develops into something real?
Justine: I don’t know. I guess, kind of. I never really thought about it. I was like, oh, that’s cool.
Shira: Yeah, just shoot me an e-mail. You realize that people audition for years to get even little gigs like that.
Justine: I guess I’ve been auditioning for years on YouTube. So, I’ve build up all this content, that if you need to know if I can do something, it’s there.
Shira: And you have the views to back it.
Shira: Does that make a difference when you go into a meeting now, and you’re like, back in the day, maybe they were like, oh YouTube, whatever. But now, people are taking it more seriously.
Justine: Yeah, but they’re so confused. It’s like I go into these meetings with TV networks, and they’re like, “We want to do something, but we don’t know what to do.” They’re like, “What do we do? We want to do something, but we just don’t know,” because they don’t know how to work with us, and I don’t think we’re really sure how to work with them. So, we’ll see. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years.
Shira: I feel like it will evolve though. We’re all kind of finding out what each other strengths are.
Justine: Yeah. I feel like even just taking a YouTube show and trying to translate it to TV, doing what we do online, you just can’t take it and put it on TV. I don’t feel like that’s the answer.
Shira: Do you feel like, maybe, there will just be TV on the Internet, and maybe you’ll just need one screen?
Justine: Oh, definitely. Even now, with like Apple TV and my TV now has just all the Internet widgets built right in. So, it’s like you’re not going to be able to tell if you’re watching TV or if you’re watching a show from the Internet.
Shira: How do you maintain that community engagement?
Justine: Well, I guess, the two main shows, as we like to call them here on YouTube, I do Ask iJ and a Vlog University show. Ask iJ is where people ask me questions, and then I respond back in a video.
Then, Vlog University is more just kind of getting the community involved and just giving people ideas to vlog about, because a lot of people, one of their main questions is, what do I make a video about? So, Vlog University is, okay, this week I want you to color me a picture and make a video about it. So, something completely simple but it’s still an idea that people can create content around.
Shira: But you are constantly commenting on people’s comments. You obviously tweet. You’re on Facebook. How do you maintain that?
Justine: It’s sort of just like a conversation all day long. I go on Facebook. I respond back to comments. And Twitter, I have two Twitter accounts. I have a second one that I just literally will just respond all day long to people. So, it’s just kind of sitting there, watching TV, responding back to comments. It really is just kind of like a way of life, really, but it’s fun. So, it’s not like work.
Shira: Well, yeah. Are you an insomniac? What are the hours here?
Justine: You know, I used to go to bed like at six o’clock in the morning, but I’m trying to go to bed before twelve every night. But then, I wake up at six o’clock in the morning, anyway.
Shira: But that’s pretty good. You have a full day.
Justine: Yeah, I know. It’s amazing.
Shira: All right. Let’s go back to Vlog University. What advice can you give people out there who want to get into this?
Justine: I feel like a lot of people now feel like they need to have their first video be the most amazing video ever. No, it doesn’t have to be. Just post anything and find out what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about and just start posting, because there’s an audience out there for anything.
You could be like a pen collector. There’s other pen collectors out there, so make a video about it and find those people.
Shira: Do you also have to be consistent with everything?
Justine: Yeah, definitely being consistent I think is a hard thing, especially for me because I’m really bad at scheduling times for those videos because I just get random ideas at random times. But I’ve seen a lot of the top YouTubers have these schedules and consistent times are posted. It really works very well for them.
Shira: And also, in terms of collaborating with people or would you say meeting people in person, how do you get the attention of other prominent YouTubers?
Justine: I don’t really know. For example, some kid just made me a video and said, “Hey, Justine, watch this.” And he tweeted it to me. I watched it, and he asked me out on a date. And I said in the comments, yes. I think he’s 16 though, so I’m not sure if that’s actually going to be able to happen or not.
Shira: Maybe in the future.
Justine: Maybe in the future, when you’re 18, tweet me again. It’s like people tweet you videos to watch, and we watch them. This is what we do. This is our world. I’m sitting there reading my comments all day long.
Shira: Do you ever get worried that if you just, maybe, one week don’t create enough or if you’re not as consistent, are you worried that the fan base is just going to go away?
Justine: I’m always tweeting, and I have another channel where I vlog. So, if I don’t post something on my main channel, I’m constantly posting something on another channel. It doesn’t take as much time, because it’s not edited as well. It’s just more real and whatever, vlogging in the car, which I probably shouldn’t do because my mom gets mad.
Shira: I’ve done that, too. My mom does get mad as well.
Justine: She’s like, “Stop that. It’s dangerous.”
Shira: Ever since I signed that Oprah new phone thing . . .
Shira: . . . I have not been doing it a lot.
Justine: That’s good. That’s good.
Shira: Does it get tiring maintaining all this?
Justine: No. I mean, does it get tiring like a real job? It does, but it’s so different because I really, really love with I’m doing. I love talking to people. There’ll be a week where I just don’t leave my apartment, and I feel like I’m so fulfilled because I have been talking to people all that time and making videos. I don’t know. I really love it.
Shira: What are some questions that people are always asking you?
Justine: The number one question is what do you edit with? And I probably answer that a million times. It’s Final Cut Pro, everybody, Final Cut. Yeah, that’s been the main question. The other question is just how do I get started doing what you’re doing. I just say, just start, just do it. Post something, anything.
Shira: Can you go through just the cameras? You said you shot your first video on this.
Justine: That’s funny, because my most popular video has 10 million views I shot on this little tiny camera. Kind of crazy, but I have other cameras. I have a Nikon SLR that I use for music videos to get a better depth of field. Then, I have a Canon VIXIA that I use to shoot most of my videos, and I have a bunch of hard drives and I’m a big fan of Blue Microphones. I record all of my wonderful music on these because I’m such a good singer.
Shira: You’ve got into it.
Justine: No, it’s so fun. I love doing it.
Shira: Are you going to do any albums in the future?
Justine: Oh, yeah.
Shira: Charity albums?
Justine: Probably not. But you never know.
Shira: What does the future hold for this space and for you?
Justine: I honestly don’t know. I really don’t know. If you would have told me five years ago that this is what I was going to be doing, I’d be like, whatever, you’re crazy. So, who knows? Five years from now, who knows what’s going to be going on?
Shira: But you’re not planning for bigger projects? I mean you must be planning a bit at this point.
Justine: I’m one of those people that I don’t plan anything. I’m so casual, so laid back that I’m just like, “Oh, I want to do this today.” And then I figure out how to do it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s how I roll.
Shira: And it’s working. What was it like seeing your videos get more popular?
Justine: I don’t know. I never really think about that. I’m not one of those people that’s obsessive about view counts. A lot of YouTubers are always like, “Oh my gosh, this video didn’t get that many views.” I don’t really think about it, I guess. I just make videos, and I know people watch them. I don’t know.
Shira: When did you realize things were changing a bit?
Justine: When I couldn’t handle my e-mail anymore. I’m really not a big e-mail fan. So, it takes me . . . well, I don’t like that answer. That’s really bad.
Shira: Why? It’s true.
Justine: I know. It’s like I really am just so bad at doing e-mail, I don’t know. Most people, if they need to get in contact with me, will either send me a text message or tweet me or something like that. It’s something about e-mail, it’s just . . .
Shira: When you’re busy, it’s hard sometimes. It’s easy to lose track of things.
Justine: Then I read it, and I’m like, “Oh man, did I write back? No, I didn’t. Shoot.”
Shira: And time flies by. You keep on top of things. We did organize this.
Justine: We did.
Shira: We got this done. What do your parents think about all of this?
Justine: They really like it, because they are so far away that they feel like they know what I’m doing. So, if I’m flying or traveling and I haven’t updated my Twitter in a couple hours, my mom will text me, “Are you alive?” I’m like, “Yep, I’m alive.”
And my grandmother is so into Facebook and DailyBooth. Probably after this video airs, she will add you on Facebook. It’s so crazy just to see how she’s really engaged the Internet and she’s on DailyBooth, she’s boothing. I don’t know. It’s great. I kind of brought my family into my little net world.
Shira: And your sisters blog, also.
Justine: My one sister does blog, but I was thinking of starting another channel for my other sister and just acting like I’m her because she will never do YouTube videos.
Shira: Well, do they think it’s crazy, or do they understand that this is for real and it’s a big deal?
Justine: I don’t know if my sister necessarily understands because . . . my dad is calling me. Actually, a funny story. My dad is actually a video blogger, also. He video blogs deer, so he has these deer cameras outside in the woods and he films deer. It transmits down to our house, and it records onto VHS tapes. My dad in theory is a deer video vlogger.
Shira: There’s something for everyone.
Justine: There is. There is.
Shira: Wow. That’s funny. Yeah. It’s always interesting to see. There’s usually one YouTuber in the family, an actor in the family or someone that’s really successful. But to see everyone get on board and be part of it.
Justine: Yeah, my sister has over a 100,000 subscribers, and I don’t think she understands. Do you know how long it took me to get that many, and she got them in the course of a few months.
Shira: Well, it’s because you helped her.
Justine: Yeah, like, girl, you’re crazy.
Shira: You also help really blow up other YouTubers, like even Daneboe, Annoying Orange.
Justine: I stalked Dane, actually, because I really wanted to be a fruit when I first saw the Annoying Orange. I was like, “Can I please be a fruit? Can I please be a fruit?” I just kept texting him non-stop. It’s like my favorite YouTube channel.
Shira: Do you have any inspirations?
Justine: What are you talking about? I don’t have any inspirations.
Shira: You’re a bit obsessed.
Justine: Okay, I’m not really obsessed, but Steve Jobs, ever since I was young, I have been such a huge fan of his work. I feel like Apple has really inspired me. I don’t know. I really love to be creative, and Apple has always been there at the forefront of pushing the envelope on creativity. I did a book report on Steve Jobs in sixth grade, and everyone was like, who are you even talking about? You’re crazy. So, I don’t know. Apple has always been a huge part of my life.
Shira: You haven’t met him yet?
Justine: I actually did not meet him, but I saw him. He was like from here to over there somewhere, and we made eye contact. I felt like we had a connection. Then, he grabbed all of his stuff and ran the opposite direction. So, it didn’t last long.
Shira: Well, thank you so much for sharing your story, Justine, and for being part of the Partners Project.
Justine: Thanks for having me.
Shira: And thanks to all of you for tuning in. Definitely subscribe to iJustine’s channel, and subscribe right here. We will be back next week with more on the Partners Project. Bye.