Exclusive Interview With YouTube Sensation Hazel Hayes

You don’t need to be told yet again you how YouTube has changed the course of our lives and modern...

Oscar Harding

Contributor

hazel1

You don’t need to be told yet again you how YouTube has changed the course of our lives and modern society in just under a decade. And you certainly don’t need to be told that the landscape of television and film has been changed by the internet, what with streaming and independent distribution changing how we watch film and the fact that the likes of Netflix and Amazon are producing their own original content like House of Cards and Arrested Development.

YouTube launched Comedy Week to much fanfare recently, but it received a mixed reception since seemed like it was trying to recreate television by rehashing old favourites and promoting itself with big-name stars like Ricky Gervais and Arnold Schwarzengger. YouTube is still young, but it is its own unique thing- it should be developing what it does now, not trying to fit into the mold of an established medium

Even if you’re aware of YouTube- and who isn’t?- you may not be aware of the community that has flourished on the world’s number one video site. Frankly, one doesn’t need television when you have an endless variety and selection of appealing personalities who create innovative and original new content and engage with their admirers through vlogs and various mediums.

One such YouTuber is the lovely Irish lass Hazel Hayes- though she may not be one of the originals to pave the way, or one of the blockbuster channels that attracts staggering following such as VlogBrothers and their ‘Nerdfighters’, she’s a delightful presence and was kind enough to not only discuss her methods and ambition, but help to explain an discuss YouTube and what I can offer audiences. So read on for a comprehensive guide to YouTube, YouTubing, its up and downs, and just a great interview with a jolly nice person who’s trying to make her own Zombie film!

 

Hi Hazel! Thanks for giving up your time. Would you be so kind as to tell just a bit about yourself- who you were before you got involved in YouTube? Do you feel being a part of it all has changed who you are, for better or worse?

I’m from Dublin, Ireland originally, where I grew up and went to college. I studied Journalism in DCU and was Deputy President of the Students’ Union there for a year after finishing my degree. From there I went straight to Google where I worked in Advertising for a while before making the move to YouTube… yes, I work for YouTube! It’s no big secret but also not something I really talk about on my channel. Like most people, I like to keep my professional and personal lives separate and while working in YouTube and having a YouTube channel as a hobby obviously have some overlap, they are very different parts of my life.

There was a hilarious article published recently claiming I’m an actress, hired by YouTube to fill a niche (content for and by girls), when actually it’s quite the opposite. I had been working in YouTube for over a year as a Partner Manager – that’s someone who manages the accounts of high profile YouTubers and tries to encourage and educate new talent too – when I decided to start the channel for two reasons…

Firstly, I realised that me and my colleagues talked a lot about our YouTubers and their needs, without really understanding what they go through day-to-day, me included! I wanted to learn more about the video making process, managing a channel and trying to grow an audience. I figured if I understood all this better, it would make me better at my job.

Secondly, in helping to foster a sense of community in the UK and bring YouTubers together, I sort of became part of that community myself and made some great friends like TomSka, Khyan, Bing (YouTube user ‘slomozovo’), Liam and Brad (YouTube user ‘worldoftheorange’), Benjamin Cook (YouTube user ‘ninebrassmonkeys’) and Ciaran O’Brien (YouTube user ‘funnycatvideos’). They encouraged me to start a channel of my own. And since I’ve always been a very creative person (I love singing and acting and have dabbled in writing and directing) I thought it would be a good opportunity to pursue those hobbies and have a creative outlet.

And so, ChewingSand was born, taking its name from a joke a friend of mine had made on a beach in Sligo years earlier.

Has it changed me? Of course it’s changed me! In so many ways, some I probably can’t even see. There’s the obvious things like the skills I’ve learned in terms of filming, lighting, acting, performing, writing, singing, even editing in Final Cut Pro… I never thought I’d be able to do that! I’ve now moved on to a new role within YouTube and I know that my experience as a Creator myself and from working so closely with other Creators, I have a much better understanding of their needs. I’m often the person in internal meetings now who represents ‘the voice of the Creator’ and I’m really proud of that.

It’s also made me far more organised and means I’m doing something productive with my downtime now more often than I would have before. I aim to upload a video every week so in order to do that I have to be more productive, it’s that simple. A whole new world of experiences has opened up to me. Sometimes I’m standing on set with talented YouTubers or speaking on a panel or singing with some incredible musician and I think… my life is amazing.

If it weren’t for YouTube I wouldn’t be doing any of this. And at the same time… if it weren’t for my drive and ambition and all the help and support I’ve received, I wouldn’t be doing YouTube. That makes me feel really proud of myself and so blessed to have the people I have around me.

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Do you have key inspirations at all, whether it be in your approach to life or how you make your videos? For example, are there certain comedians or broadcasters who have influenced you? Maybe close family members or friends? Do your viewers inspire and influence you at all?

I was massively influenced by UK YouTubers and very much inspired by them to start a channel of my own. How could I not be? I’m surrounded all day by people whose first port of call is YouTube, who are deeply passionate about and committed to their work and the platform and for some of whom it is their livelihood.

They’re also a very generous bunch who actively seek out new talent (I’m beginning to sound like the opening sequence of Star Trek now!) and take smaller, newer YouTubers under their wing. I’m not saying every YouTuber is perfect, but it’s a community of mostly funny, intelligent, kind and above all talented people. So they’ve been a huge inspiration for me.

YouTubers aside, I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars, Quantum Leap, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other stuff that girls my age weren’t watching. I’ve always been a big sci-fi, sitcom and film buff and so I suppose I’ve honed my sense humour and my particular style from that. I also have 3 older siblings and a mother who are all strong, funny, wonderful people, never afraid to speak their mind or wear their hearts on their sleeves, and I suppose I take after them quite a lot. Not to mention my grandparents… my grandfather is a rock, a sage from whom I get my sense of logic and calm. And my grandmother was the warmest, most loving, hilarious woman who ever graced the earth. I get my sentimentality and compassion from her. And my singing voice actually; God knows nobody else in my family can hold a tune!

I’ve always been confident (with a soft, gooey centre of insecurity) and I’m not afraid to show either side of that coin. I see this quality in some of my favourite comedians, like Tina Fey for example, she has such a strong, opinionated, articulate and intelligent character and at the same time can be wildly funny and self-deprecating. That’s part of her charm and what makes her funny. I hope the same goes for me! I was always the talker in school. It was always everyone’s biggest concern; they couldn’t shut me up. And now I get to talk about whatever I want and thousands of people watch me blather on!

 

What would you say to those who are against ‘YouTubing’? There are a lot of negative voices towards the community and lifestyle of youtube- the ‘YouTube generation’ gets a lot of bad press, particularly from older generations, saying it’s pointless, it’s harmful…

Every generation feels misunderstood by the generation that came before them. It was the same when kids started watching TV or listening to Rock’n’Roll or using mobile phones or surfing the web. And it will probably be the same for generations to come. And with anything that’s come before there are good and bad points. YouTube itself is not harmful, just like TV or the internet in general, but how people use it can be.

I understand why people might be concerned, particularly if they don’t understand it; often it’s the things we don’t understand that we are most frightened of. But if they took the time to use it and see how entertaining and educational it can be, they might change their minds. I think people should also know just how much time and effort YouTube itself puts into ensuring that the content being shown is family safe and adheres to the community guidelines.

As far as the YouTube generation goes, well they have their ups and downs like any generation. I agree that it’s good to find a balance. There’s a lot to be said for real human interaction and no kid should be locked away making videos or listening to music or watching TV 24/7. But again, that’s not YouTube’s fault, that’s society.

And if anything YouTube has given a voice to all those kids who’ve been bullied or depressed or just too shy to get out there and meet people. It’s allowed them to make friends and feel part of a community from the comfort of their own home and slowly, they start to realise they’re not alone, there are like-minded people out there, and it actually boosts their confidence and helps them cope better in the real world.

Sometimes you have to break YouTube apart to really appreciate it. It’s not just some global fad, but an amalgamation of millions of individual lives and stories. I love YouTube because I get to see behind the curtain; I’ve met the individuals who create for and are affected by YouTube, seen people grow on the platform not just in terms of metrics but as people, seen them hone their craft, become better filmmakers, musicians and public speakers, and behind the scenes actually mature and gain confidence. It’s incredible to see!

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I’m a big fan of Unnecessary Otter- how on earth did that come about, and can we expect a return? Maybe there will be a dramatic evolution in your relationship? I think it could go to much darker and even funnier places…

Oh God… Unnecessary Otter… I don’t even know where to start. It’s maybe one of the weirdest things that’s ever happened in my life.

I had bought what is actually a taxidermic English Pine Martin in a market in Camden for a Halloween set we were building. And Liam and Brad from worldoftheorange decided to use it in a video they were making where they play two old men watching TV, who at one point see the credits to a show called Unnecessary Otter. Brad called it an Otter because it clearly isn’t. That’s the joke. And that’s all it was, some opening credits in another video. Brad also came up with the theme tune and got Jenny Bingham (YouTube user ‘thatjennybee’) to sing it.

So we were sitting in the edit suite laughing about it and I said it would be hilarious if it were actually a show. Myself and Brad started pretending to be these characters; me a lovely Irish kids’ TV presenter and him a gruff, crude Scottish voice to this ‘Otter’, and we were laughing so hard we figured other people would too.

So we went straight into the studio and with Liam’s help, filmed the first episode on the spot. It was all pretty off the cuff, and completely new and ridiculous to us, which is why the outtakes are so good on that one; I genuinely couldn’t keep a straight face for long and Liam was in tears behind the camera. Brad is one of the funniest people I know and the perfect voice for Otter.

It went down really well. Someone posted it on Reddit and it got 25k views overnight. It was also my first video to reach 100k views. So we made three more, all along the same lines as the first, but we started to develop this relationship between Hazel and Otter. He’s an alcoholic who hates her, she hates him too but tries to be nice on camera, they seem to have some kind of romantic past and at times they still sleep with one another… whatever that means!

It’s added a really messed up, dark twist to what is at a glance, a happy-go-lucky kids’s TV show. It’s that juxtaposition between the look and feel of the show and it’s often dark and crude content that make it so funny. As well as the ambiguity behind Otter’s character; is he actually a talking stoat, because that would be pretty weird, or is Hazel having a relationship with the man behind Otter, which may actually be even weirder. I don’t think I ever want that question to be answered to be honest.

Yes, there are plans for more episodes, but I want to steer away from doing the same format again before the joke gets old. I’m currently working on the script for what might be a short film or a few episodes, where we get a behind the scenes look at Hazel and Otter’s world and relationship, with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Bet you didn’t see that coming!

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How can one make a career, a livelihood out of YouTubing? Is YouTube your day job? It’s a fascinating type of profession that didn’t really exist even as short a while as 10 years ago…

Basically how it works is that you choose to allow ads to appear on your videos and YouTube gives you a cut (the bigger cut) of the ad revenue. So YouTube earnings vary massively from Creator to Creator based on the kind of ads they allow, what their demographic is, etc. Obviously it is possible to make a career out of it since many people have done. That said, it’s often a mix of their YouTube earnings and maybe merchandising or iTunes downloads too, depending on what they do on the side.

As I’ve said, it’s not my day job, nor could it be to be honest. Even with 30,000 subscribers and over a million views, it’s nowhere near enough to live off. But that’s perfectly okay. I wouldn’t expect to decide to be a filmmaker or a singer and suddenly make it in Hollywood or in the charts.

As with any creative industry, you’ve really got to do it primarily because it’s something you’re passionate about and love doing, and if you happen to make money from it then great, but you can’t expect to. As with other mediums, the most popular content isn’t always the highest quality. The biggest grossing films at the box office aren’t usually the Oscar winners, and the same applies on YouTube.

But from what I’ve seen, if you’re passionate and ambitious enough, and if what you’re making is in some way entertaining, interesting or educational – something people would want to share – then you’ll do well.

The easiest way to get big on YouTube is to get a shout out from other YouTubers. And that doesn’t mean hassling them to help you out! In fact, don’t ever do that! It means making good stuff and getting noticed, you usually will eventually. We try to adopt a policy of ‘sending the elevator back down’ so that successful YouTubers help new and smaller channels to be successful too. It’s that sense of community that is the best thing about YouTube.

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Do you see yourself as a Role model to certain followers, maybe those who are younger and more impressionable and look up to you? Or do you feel that thinking like that would stifle your content, and cause you to self-censor yourself?

It’s something I think about a lot actually. I’ve realised recently that my main audience are young females and it’s causing me to question the things I say and do in my videos. I recently did a video about the dresses I wear because I got so many questions about them, but I added a vlog section about body image too because I thought it was important to address that too.

I do curse a lot. I know that. I curse a lot in daily life too, much to my mother’s dismay. But it’s never in an aggressive or hateful way, and I think there’s a huge difference. She still loves my videos, so I guess that’s saying something! It’s possible to be extremely hurtful or offensive without using the F word, and vice versa. So I just try to avoid being offensive in general and if the odd curse word slips in then so be it. Kids are going to hear far worse than me saying a bad word.

Another YouTuber recently made a video about overweight girls wearing skimpy outfits, which was intended to be satirical but actually came across as extremely offensive and upset a lot of people. I understand the joke he was trying to make, but I think it was very poorly executed, and when it comes to issues of body image or topics that could cause real harm amongst our viewers, we have a certain responsibility to be more careful.

When it comes to me making scripted content, I will allow myself more artistic licence for ‘adult content’, but I will always make a judgement call on where to draw the line on what could be potentially very harmful to young eyes and ears.

Otter is a slightly different story. The entire premise is him being crude and without that there’s no joke. But believe me, I’ve edited out a lot worse than what makes it in! I’ve had a lot of comments from kids whose parents watched Otter and loved it though, so hopefully that’s saying a lot. And ultimately, I do believe it’s up to parents to be aware of what their children are watching and making that call. When I was their age I was watching Terminator and Aliens and Pulp Fiction, and I turned out ok… right?

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I love your music, you’re very talented! Have you thought of recording at all, or is it more of a past-time? Is Music an important part of your content? Of who you are?

Thank you! :) Singing has always been a passion of mine and music is a huge part of my life. So much so that I have a tattoo of a treble clef, which I got at a point in my life when I had just been through an incredibly rough patch and was coming out the other side.

I realised that while I was at my lowest, I wasn’t singing or listening to music, and suddenly it was all coming back as I got happier and stronger again! So the tattoo reminds me of how much music means to me as well as how strong I can be and what I can overcome if I try.

I was terribly nervous uploading my first song to YouTube. I didn’t know how my audience would react. I’ve never really had any formal training and I know there are far better singers on YouTube than me, but I hoped my passion would come across. Apparently it did; my subscribers loved it and asked for more, so I’ve been uploading songs whenever I can. I’ve had the chance to work with some very talented musicians on YouTube, which I’m hugely grateful for, and I’m going to start writing my own stuff soon too. If I think it’s good enough, I’ll put it up.

 

When you make a vlog, or collaborate on somebody else’s video, what do you set out do to exactly? Do you hope to entertain people and evoke some sort of response from them? Perhaps you try to make them invest in you and your personality? Or is it mostly just for fun and creative reasons?

A lot of the time I collaborate it’s because I get along with that person in real life and we decide it would be fun to make something together. So yes, usually it’s just me and another person chatting about a particular topic or having fun. In general I try to keep my videos fun to make, so that it never feels like a chore.

But I also love acting and am really keen to get more experience in that field, so any chance I get to act in a well-written or interesting video, I jump at! And of course getting to sing with great musicians is always such a good experience for me that I try to do that too.

Yes of course you hope that their followers will like you and come check out your channel, that is a part of collaboration. But it has to be first and foremost about making something you enjoy making and the audience enjoys watching. If it’s not, that will come across.

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There must be a downside to youtube- like most things that generally seem to be quite a good thing, there has to be a dark side? Or am I totally wrong?

Yes, as with anything else in life, there is a downside to YouTube. I haven’t experienced too much of this myself but it is common to get negative and even hateful comments on your videos, and that can be difficult for anyone to take. You have GOT to ignore that stuff though. Unless it’s constructive criticism on how you can genuinely improve your videos, you just have to assume it’s someone projecting their own insecurities at you and the world and ignore it.

The flip side of that is not letting all the positive comments go to your head. It’s possible to upload a video that is absolute trash and get nothing but “you’re so pretty”, “this is great”, etc. from hardcore fans who just want to be nice to you. You should still always seek the opinion of your peers and take advice from well-meaning people, be it good or bad.

I’ve seen people get upset and even depressed by decreasing views too. People see their YouTube channels as an extension of themselves, so if their views decrease they see it as an assault on them as a person. As with any kind of ‘knock’ in life though, being rejected by someone you like or not getting accepted to a college or job you wanted, this is all part of growing as a person and learning to take the good with the bad and being strong throughout.

There’s also the “I’m Scared” phenomenon, named after a video that Charlie McDonnell uploaded when he hadn’t uploaded for a long time and was struggling to motivate himself to do so. He was going through a bit of a transition, wanting to try new things on YouTube and afraid his audience might reject anything but what he’d always done.

This is very common among YouTubers who’ve reached a sort of plateau with their content and are tired of ‘playing by the rules’ (upload weekly, keep it to 3 minutes, stick to what you do best etc.). But Charlie did the best thing he could, he told his fans about what he was going through and asked them to stick with him while he tried new things. Now he’s making a series of short films and they’re going down really well.

 

What advice would you give to anyone, of whatever age, who would like to get into YouTubing and get totally involved in the community?

Just do it. Honestly. Until you sit down and switch on that camera for the first time, you’ll never know how much you [might] like it [or dislike it]. If you do, then keep at it. I guarantee you’ll get better at whatever it is you do. And when you get to the point that you’re making videos people want to watch, someone will reach out to you eventually.

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What do you hope to do with your YouTubing? Where would you like to go with all this- would you like to go into television, or music, or film perhaps? Or would you like to stay in the world of YouTube, improving it until your hair goes grey and your skin goes wrinkly?

I’m not entirely sure where all this is going. And that’s half the fun really. Otter is something I just stumbled into and has proved to be one of the most fun and successful things I’ve done.

The other day I made a video with worldoftheorange where I asked the question, “what YouTubers would you want with you if you had to fortify a house against zombies?” and what resulted was a half-baked plot for a zombie film starring a bunch of our YouTube friends called Super Brainy Zombies II: Return of the Law- Almost as ridiculous as Otter to be honest.

I got so many comments asking me to actually make it though, that I’ve decided I will. I set up a crowd-funding campaign on indiegogo to raise the money to make it into a short film and have started work on the script. I’ve never produced anything on this scale but what better way to dive into filmmaking than at the deep end? I know there are plenty of filmmakers struggling to fund films and in a way I feel almost guilty about that, but here I have this opportunity to do something incredible and I’d be mad not to grab it and run with it!

I’m going to try and make it a real collaborative effort too, and involve people who aren’t already part of the community, giving them a chance to get involved and get some experience.

This is just one example of the doors that YouTube has opened for me. And the people I meet and experiences I have on a day to day basis, I wouldn’t change for the world. I’ve made some true friends in YouTube too, who I know will be around whether we’re making videos or not.

Yes, I would like to get into TV or film, but only if the right opportunity presents itself. But I’m not in it for the fame and won’t just take the first thing that comes along. I’m in it so that one day, be it on YouTube or not, I will be getting paid to do something I love. My job at YouTube is great, one of the best jobs in the world and something very suited to me but eventually I would like to be getting up every day, going to work on a set, and being my complete, creative self full-time.

I try to get acting experience on YouTube and it’s one of the main reasons I got into it. I give the guys a lot of grief for not writing enough interesting female characters. We have a running in-joke about how girls are always the ‘girlfriend’, or if they’re very lucky, the ‘ex-girlfriend’. But really it’s not up to them to write better parts for girls. If we want to act in good roles then we should be writing and producing ourselves and not blaming men.

So I do plan on writing myself too. I have so many half written ideas! It’s just about finding the time with my day job and trying to upload a video every week and you know, live my life, to actually write and produce scripted content too.

The great thing about this short film is that it’s so public and because it’s being funded by other people, I absolutely have to make it and I have a responsibility to make it great. So that’s my next big venture on YouTube and after that… who knows? Whatever happens I know it will be fun, unpredictable and will force me to grow as a Creator and a person. And what better way to live life?

 

You can subscribe to Hazel’s channel, Chewingsand, on YouTube. You can contribute towards making Super Brainy II: Return of The Law a reality by contributing at the following link: http://igg.me/at/thehazelhayes/x/3651873

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