YouTube Stars Speak: The Fine Brothers On Web Video Success

Benny and Rafi Fine of The Fine Brothers talk about how they got into web video, how they paved their way to the top, and what advice they would offer wannabe YouTube stars.

Benny and Rafi Fine, aka The Fine Brothers, are among the best-known YouTube personalities. They’ve got nearly 50 million views on their YouTube channel, have been pioneers in the field of web video, paving the way for and inspiring other sketch comedians and filmmakers to make a name for themselves on the web, and have even made a name for themselves offline, creating content for and consulting major networks including MTV and Comedy Central. So what makes these guys tick? I had the opportunity to ask Benny and Rafi how they got into web video, how they paved their way to the top, and what advice they would offer wannabe YouTube stars. Read on to find out what they had to say.

The Beginnings

Today nearly everyone who immerses themselves in the world of web video knows who The Fine Brothers are, and can’t really pinpoint a time when Benny and Rafi didn’t exist in the world of web video. But when did these guys get their start on YouTube and on the web?

Benny told me that the brothers have been creating web video longer than most. In fact, they got their start before YouTube even existed. He said, “We launched our website back in September 2004. As teenagers we were making full length feature films that got some play at some small film festivals and even won me a young filmmaker award in 2001.” However, the guys “very quickly realized the days of ‘making it’ through the festival circuit independently was not a forward thinking way to go…but the web, that’s the future.”

Rafi told me, “We shifted gears and made a trilogy of feature films that totaled over 3 hours in length and started releasing them once a month in 10 to 15 minute increments, using the most viral clips from within the narrative to market across the web to drive back to the long form episodes and the fully immersive experience we created with the series on our site.”

The brothers initial intention, pre-YouTube, was to use the web to get discovered and to get a television deal. However, Benny says that, “Instead, the web video business started to form, and we have since been on top of every incarnation and change the wild west of web video has taken. If you had told us when we started online that we’d one day be head of production of a digital studio for a period of time, speak at conferences around the country on new media, and make a living off splitting advertising revenue, I would not have believed you.”

Rafi explained that YouTube and web video really has created a “new breed of creator that traditional media has yet to fully understand and embrace. It’s not just the comedian on a stage at a small hip comedy club that 150 people watch. It’s a comedian that’s a writer/director/actor/producer/marketer/fx artist/sound guy/gaffer/etc. that gives you, in our case, a professional product that hundreds of thousands watch and follow.”

The Rise To The Top

The rise to the top of the top wasn’t instant for The Fine Brothers. Benny told me that, “It took almost 5 years to not have to take other gigs and for our YouTube content to pay our way (but just barely).” However, Benny and Rafi have been lucky to have had success pretty much the whole time they’ve been online. Prior to the rise of YouTube and social networking their website was one of the top 100,000 sites on the web and they had had millions of online views of their webisodes and comedy sketches on non-YouTube sites. Perhaps the brothers success is due to the fact that they have been in the mix from the very earliest days of web video, though I’m sure their talent has a lot to do with it too. That being said, if you are looking to do what The Fine Brothers have done you’ll have a lot more stiff competition these days (sorry guys!).

So despite the fact that Benny and Rafi had a good deal of success from the beginning, Rafi told me that, “We were everywhere but still not able to survive off anything.” They already had videos with millions of views, but the really big success began when two of their videos were featured on the YouTube homepage. “The first episode of our popular, but controversial action figure parody series of ‘LOST’ and the first episode of our ‘Spoiler Series’ really got us in the swing of things from being on that homepage, and we’ve been able to build off that success ever since. Discovery is tough to crack, especially now.” You can check out these two episodes below.

Since these series, The Fine Brothers have launched a number of other exciting and successful series and videos as well, including the relatively new ‘Kids React To Viral Videos’, which I also had the chance to interview them about. Click here to check out what Benny and Rafi had to say about ‘Kids React’.

Advice For Wannabe YouTube Stars

I asked Benny and Rafi what advice they would give to filmmakers and comedians that want to be recognized in the world of web video and they had some pretty interesting advice.

For starters, Rafi said that, “The primary question is, why do you want to be online? You need to be very specific with your goal to determine what steps to take. By and large as much as the various small web video communities may talk a big game about the future, every single one of them would likely take a TV deal and leave the web forever if given the chance – so if TV is your goal, there’s different routes to take vs. just building a personal brand for example.”

Benny said that, “Our common advice to filmmakers/comedians (as we are aware we are a somewhat rare case of having this level of success not being a typical “vlog” type of channel) is to make sure you have a foot in both doors of traditional and new media. They are on a collision course, but from our experience, our opinion is there is no reason to choose a side and say TV is dead embrace the web, or the web is too crazy and not really working, go to TV. There will be a future of it being somewhat one in the same, but you’ll need to be positioned properly to fully understand how media is consumed online, while also being established in traditional or risk being behind the curve. So be at the comedy clubs, get that writing assistant job, but also have a YouTube channel, think outside the box of how to stand out and showcase your skills. You should be a low budget/high quality tech savvy person though to be able to do it all yourself. Otherwise you’ll just never get anything produced quick enough to become relevant online.”

Rafi added, “The base line of what to do is don’t expect success. You need to love doing this because it will take time to get out there. But BE ON YOUTUBE. It makes no sense at all to not be there and those who are not are out of touch with the reality that at least right now, it’s the only place to build a brand for yourself and develop a following.” So you heard the man! Get out there and start making YouTube videos!