How a 24-Year-Old Creator Went from YouTube to Making a Feature Film

At the Digital Hollywood conference in Los Angeles this week, 24-year-old Smiley filmmaker Michael Gallagher explained how he built a career from YouTube to making a feature film. He had this simple mantra for creators to memorize: “I am open to anything.”

We’ve posted the trailer for Smiley below, a horror movie and Gallagher’s first film. Storytellers and creators of all kinds can learn from his example. Gallagher explained:

Don’t be afraid of new platforms and collaborating with already established folks. That’s how I got into it. I’m 24, so I’m pretty young. But out of film school (AKA my high school) I came up here and started working with Mahalo. I wasn’t a big web guy at the time, I was 18 and I started working on their web show, Mahalo Daily. I did all the grunt work. I shot on miniDV tapes, we did shows about cupcakes and I edited them, produced and I did everything I had to do to make content. We were doing five shows a week.

He continued:

Through that, I learned about YouTube and all the crazy people that were out there basically filming themselves and being hilarious and doing well from that. So my real passion was in storytelling, making films and making things look great. I wasn’t able to do that at the show where I was at, but I started seeing YouTube as a place where that can be done, it just wasn’t being done yet. This was 2009.

So I started offering my services as a director, writer, producer, camera guy, or whatever to people on YouTube. I was saying “Hey, you’re filming yourself in the bathroom with your camera on the tripod, I can help make it look like a movie. I can help make it look good. So then I started doing that for people.

He concluded:

And before you know it, [YouTube creators] wanted to be in things I was making. So I would write things and they would come on my channel and Totally Sketch started to grow from nothing into 900,000 subscribers and 10 million monthly views. From that, I was able to make enough money to make my own feature film Smiley, which I paid for myself.

It literally evolved from saying “I am open to anything.” Even though this isn’t my first choice, my dream is make films. I couldn’t have done that right out of film school, but I had to say “I will do whatever.”