How to Create a YouTube Hit Video

11.08.2013 18:08

How to Create a YouTube Hit Video

How to get a big audience for your YouTube Video and how to Make it Go Viral

excerpted from the new book Stand-Out Shorts: Shooting and Sharing Your Films Online by Russ Evans


Your movie deserves a big audience but sometimes it’s hard to shout loud enough to get people to watch it. With YouTube, Vimeo and other video sharing sites, there are a lot of ways to create a buzz around your movie that are legal, don’t use spam and help bring it to the viewers.

This parkour video scored over 7 million hits, mostly in Brazil and Eastern Europe, and its maker has over 4000 subscribers to a dedicated YouTube channel.


YouTube and other sites have grown massively in a short space of time.  With so many movies on line now it’s harder than ever to make sure yours gets a fair viewing. So it figures that you should take advantage of YouTube features so that the maximum number of people see your video. Only then can you be sure that it finds the right audience who really connect with your movie.

There are pros and cons to each video sharing site but whichever one you prefer, a lot of the same tips apply if you want to increase the number of people watching your movie.

Start with two big ideas: first, the quote from that great baseball movie  Field of Dreams – “build it and they will come” – just doesn’t work on the web. People don’t just stumble across your movie, they won’t seek out quality movies, and the number of hits a movie gets isn’t connected to how great that movie is. Second,  you’re pushing this movie of yours because it’s a neat, original movie.

If you have any doubts about whether you should try to create a buzz for your film, ignore them. This is no different from the pre-Oscar campaigns run by the big studios, but without the free Gucci bags. Just avoid spam-style methods and stay on the right side of YouTube, aiming for as big an audience as you can, legally. You deserve to get seen.


1                     Start by making a unique video that’s creative, imaginative or does something new. A movie that has something new to say, or says some­thing in a new way or with a new twist, gets a real chance of scor­ing a big audience. It’s not enough by itself but all the steps from here onwards are no help if the basic movie is poor. Most likely you are proud of your film, if a little nervous that people are going to see your prized new work for real.

2                     Make sure the movie fits and works well on a small screen. Check out Chapter 27 , Web Your Movie to help your movie survive being com­pressed for the web. That’s all about the technical stuff, like checking your screen text is readable on a small web screen, and that your shots and editing, colors and lighting all look OK after compression.

3                     As you shoot, use social networking sites and messaging (like Twitter) to keep people in the loop about your project. It’s easy to lose interest about a short movie that a friend is making if the last time they told you about it was a few months ago. Simply send emails each week to friends who supported you, film students, people who helped your budget, and people you may have met briefly at screenings, shows, or video industry expos.

1                     Stop for a moment and think about whether you want your movie to be a YouTube hit now or maybe later. That’s because if you want it shown in film festivals – online or on Main Street – it needs to be an exclusive for them, not something that people have already seen. The same goes for TV slots (see Chapter 32 , Online Screening and Festivals). 

2                     If you are ready, upload the movie to YouTube and your preferred video sites. Some sites take longer than others to complete the process – YouTube is slower to upload at certain peak-usage times, but generally faster than most other sites. Vimeo might crash more often but gives better presentation for your video. Facebook can be a little slower to upload.

3                     Then sort out tags and other stuff on YouTube, as described in the table below, to make the most of the site. Go through the points about how to create the right category, use thumbnails, and so on.

4                     Find the right community. Vimeo is especially good at letting you cre­ate your own bespoke community that matches your movie. Use this as the core support for your film, with members pushing it heavily in every other site they link in to. You can also create mini-communities within groups, like having your own corner of the Experimental Film commu­nity, just for Scottish filmmakers.

5                     Keep your email and message campaign about your movie live, even now you have finished editing and are ready to upload it. Ask people to leave feedback, rate the film, and pass it on to friends. Open your campaign with a party – like a regular film premiere – where you give out cards with details about the film and ask everyone to help create a buzz for it.

6                     Check out problems you might have with your movie. Will anyone get offended to see themselves on YouTube in your movie? Did you ask and get written permission to use them? Check out Chapter 9 , Law and the Movies to make sure you are covered. Look at YouTube’s Ground Rules for videos, and for how you interact with other peo­ple online. Movies that cause offence get flagged up and removed, so check that what seems like a comedy to one person is not offending another.

7                     Now you are ready to move on to the pyramid plan in Ch 28, Your Web Plan. It’s going to help you create one big organic campaign, where every site energizes the others and all traf­fic moves to and from each site, all the time creating a bigger wave about your movie.  The key thing is not to rely on one site only.

Aaron Yorkin, maker of Life and Death of a Pumpkin, directs viewers to his own site to boost hits for his series of Star Wars spoofs, Chad Vader. Yorkin’s Blame Society Productions channel has 134,000 subscribers, creating over 7 million hits for one episode alone of  Chad Vader.

3 Firecracker Films has built up a huge following on YouTube with its own channel of documentaries and shorts.

 This YouTube hit, The Life and Death of a Pumpkin was made by Aaron Yorkin and scored a Best Short prize at the Chicago Horror Film Festival. It attracted 31 video responses from viewers with similar videos.

If you think viewers who like a clip on YouTube will like yours, upload it as a “related video.” The list of related videos is not connected to how many hits you get, just on whether viewers think your film is related.


A viral movie is one that gets huge viewing figures and seems to break out of its own usual audience, getting passed around between friends and co-workers. Many virals are adverts, and marketing people have found lots of ways to manipulate online viewing by paying bloggers to spread the word about films that advertise products. But beyond the commercial world, films made by peo­ple who love film do get spread around widely, eventually snowballing into viral success stories. Despite what the guys in suits want us to watch, people still seem able to discover great shorts and pass them around.

There are no sure fire rules to make your film “go viral” but start with these, based on successful viral videos:

•  Your movie has to have something with impact – whether it’s some­thing gory, something bizarre, scary, funny or whatever. It has to be so memorable that you can sum it up in just a few words.

•  It has to encourage repeated viewing, maybe by having something totally unexpected or visually interesting.

•  A movie might go viral because it is about an issue people feel strongly about. A 2009 public information film to warn people about texting while driving made for a small police force in South Wales, UK, attracted millions of hits around the world after gradually going viral. Director Peter Watkins-Hughes put a clip on YouTube to show a friend, and from


 A public information video on the dangers of texting while driving became a huge online hit in 2009, reaching over 7 million viewers around the world. there it got copied to other sites. Within two weeks it beat a Jay-Z music promo in the top 10 viral chart. The horrific and explicit images of the car crash showed in this film certainly helped push it viral but it was also the skill of the director in wringing every last drop of emotion out of a com­mon road traffic accident.

•  Political campaigns make good virals. A video showing factory hens got huge hits despite being shot with poor quality video and shaky images.

•  It doesn’t have to be dumb. Some of the top viral videos are long, wordy, no-action epics, like the top-viewing 9-minute one-shot of Al Franken (a US senator and author) shouting down a crowd as he explains his vot­ing on a bill. Or there’s the text-heavy 4-minute film about the growth of social networking sites, which went huge despite it looking like a college lecture. If it’s interesting, people want to know.

•  Emotional is good. People like high emotional stuff, such as the 2009 hit viral film  Free Hugs Campaign, (60 million hits and counting).

•  A neat idea, cheaply done and with a low-tech feel to it. Videos that avoid expensive effects and instead opt for an original idea get strong hits. Singer-songwriter Oren Lavie’s  Her Morning Elegance video trans­formed a little-known performer after a massive viral spread led to mil­lions of viewings.

•  Make it recyclable, so that it can be used and remixed by other people.

•  Create a buzz through social networking sites, emails, friends, links to other sites, all asking people to click to the video and pass it on. Use tags on YouTube to ensure it gets linked to other fast viral videos in the “related videos” list.   


You might spend valuable time creating links with certain sites, or you might link up with existing communities to share your video.  But take a moment to check out whether the site is really going to work hard for you, or whether you are better off elsewhere.

Click on the excellent web research site Alexa is a vast resource of data to help you find sites on a certain theme, and then investigate all sorts of useful facts about who visits.

Take a sci-fi movie for instance. You might have made a neat short sci-fi and want to try to flag it up with sci-fi enthusiasts. Alexa brings up a long list of sci-fi sites, among them  which also hosts various blogs, com­munities and groups. But is it a site that is growing or shrinking? Alexa’s data says that it grew 22% in the one three-month period, and that people spend an average of six minutes looking around, which is a relatively long time. It also says that 51% of users come from the USA, so that might suit your movie.

Meanwhile, a similar site was down 2% in the same period, but on the other hand was a particularly fast site to get into, a whole 85% faster than other simi­lar sites. Also use to investigate which social networking site is most suitable for you and your movies. lets you find out the traffic and spread of any website. This graph from shows how YouTube performed over one month.



•  Tags can be unreliable. YouTube can only use the tags you give it, so choose them carefully.

•  Avoid tags that have nothing to do with your movie.

•  Don’t upload repetitive videos or clips copied from TV just so it links to your main movie.

•  Beware of spam tools that tell you they will “optimize” your video for you. They are irritating to viewers, and can get you removed from YouTube. A lot of videos do get removed because they become a nuisance to viewers.

•  Don’t use automatic generators to automatically share videos. These are software services that automatically send and upload your movie to over a dozen other video sharing sites. A lot of users don’t like this kind of approach because it treads pretty close to spam, but the benefits may attract you, especially if you are doing commercial work. It also gives you stats, showing you which sites are watching it more. You usually have to pay, but rates vary. If you really want to do this, try or  at the budget end of the market. Beware, though, your movie instantly becomes a product just like ads and marketing cam­paigns and you lose respect among filmmakers.

•  It’s impossible to try to get your movie onto the YouTube “featured video” list. It’s an internal and very secretive YouTube process so don’t bother trying to influence it. But you can affect the outcome of “most discussed” by encouraging your group members to talk about it on YouTube. 

Music without copyright can’t be used. YouTube and other sites are quick to remove videos that use copyright music without permission. This can be frustrating so use music that’s legal – check out  Chapter 9 , Law and the Movies to get more ideas.              

  Printed with Permission from Focal Press, a Division of Elsevier Copyright 2010. Stand-Out Shorts: Shooting and Sharing Your Films Online by Russ Evans . For more information about this title and other similar books, please visit

Quickly learn the basics of DV filmmaking without the need for any training with the short cuts found in this book. Featuring blueprints to help you structure and complete certain types of films, key cards that help explain the essential knowledge in a way that is readily accessible during shooting, and 200 easy-to-read tables packed with information, Russell Evans breaks down the art of digital video creation in a concise and fun format that makes it easy to pick up and start shooting. You'll learn how to do everything from script writing to sound recording, and before you know it, you'll be creating your own short films, music videos, school projects, or web videos.

* An accessible guide to getting started shooting shorts, promos, documentaries, web video, or any type of digital video project that you want to create
* Perfect for beginners - get the information you need now without long courses or stacks of textbooks
* Written in a down-to-Earth, jargon-free style that anyone can understand including direction on budgets, crews, sound, scripts, location shooting, lighting, and everything else that a new filmmaker would need to learn

About the Author

Russ Evans is a Film, Video and Multimedia Lecturer, internet broadcasting advisor and freelance writer on video production. Previously a graphic designer, Russ has a degree in fine art and multimedia. Currently he is involved in setting up an internet video site for students to broadcast their work.