Dan Speerin was one of the first YouTube Partners
in Canada, and the first Canadian host on The Young Turks Network. He’s the co-creator and producer of several successful multiplatform series, from the narrative series Twixters
, which aired on television in over 60 countries, to the award-winning digital series Truth Mashup
, to the panel discussion-based series on Millennial issues called The What Is
A sought-after pundit on Millennial and digital culture, and a seasoned specialist in digital strategy and communication, Dan has created digital content for Rogers, Bell, CBC and VH1 among others. With experience in the development, production, distribution and promotion of content that transcends platforms, Dan Speerin is also the Chair of the Independent Web Creators of Canada — IWCC-CIWC.
Liza Vespi, Executive Director at Raindance Canada, sat down with Dan to chat about his work, the state of web creation today, where it’s going and why you need to jump in with both feet.
Liza: How did you get into being a YouTuber?
Dan: Timing. I moved to Toronto right out of high school to get into comedy, I was doing stand up and sketch comedy in the clubs. But I found out I was more into filmmaking and storytelling. In 2005, I had made a few short films that were making the festival rounds and we began uploading our comedy shorts to this website CBC made for their TV series ZeD – but sadly they cancelled it. Luckily for us – we had all these shorts so when YouTube came out of nowhere, we had this amazing head start. Soon enough, I was doing TV spots explaining what this “YouTube thing” was and then fell into an odd life of being the token “Millennial” spokesperson.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as a filmmaker and web creator?
The challenging thing for me was coming up in an era where nobody knew where things were going. YouTube life was always volatile because digital life is always evolving and you have to try and predict where things are going, to really succeed. But opportunities were also hard to come by in traditional, because they felt threatened by digital. More often than not, they saw you as a “digital influencer” as opposed to a filmmaker, showrunner/director/writer, etc. So the challenge is always to avoid being pigeonholed. That’s why I’ve always chosen to do a bit of everything from art films to television series to CBC radio specials. I’ve even run social media campaigns for TV and web projects I really believed in.
You had great success with Twixters, The What Is and Truth Mashup going multiplatform. What’s the key to bridging the media gap?
A lot of hard work. In some ways it’s easier now, because my peer group had to blindly wander into the woods, but we’ve done our best to leave breadcrumbs. Whether it was the TV projects you spoke of or digital projects for the CBC or The Young Turks branching out to Canada, etc., my co-writer and production partner Vince Kesavamoorthy and I were the guinea pigs for a lot of things. We spent a good 10 years of our creative lives explaining the Internet to traditional media behind the scenes. That could be tough, because you weren’t just a creator – you were basically a content marketer and executive mind for half your day. Ironically, we ended up writing the rules for this new era and now there are much more cut-and-dry expectations of what companies expect from creators and digital projects. The audience is so fractured now, you have to be a lot more disciplined and have a very specific audience focus. Every platform needs its own strategy and its own content suited to that audience. But because so many of us have been doing this for a decade now, we know what works – or at least what doesn’t. So there’s an upside to starting now, because you benefit from all of us who fell on our faces before you. So please, let it be good for something.
Tell us a bit about the IWCC-CWIC and what’s on the org’s radar these days.
I think the Logan Paul scandal
shows us that we have a long way to go on informing media about the problems of platform labour — the coverage was just embarrassing. What I’m looking forward to is our annual Connect
event in January — where 14 web series creators get to pitch industry professionals from Crave, CBC, Studio71 and more — for a chance to take their idea to the next level. We’re always on the look out for ways to help new voices find a spotlight — whether that’s with salon chats, podcast or our annual creator celebration T.O. WebFest
The loss of net neutrality may be the biggest web story of 2017. What’s a creator to do?
Well, if you’re Canadian, you can feel a bit better that our laws protect net neutrality. But considering when we talk “the Internet” we’re usually speaking about many companies based in America, we need to be more aware of the climate we live in. We’ve spent the last 50 years trying hard to protect our culture because we live next door to an entertainment giant — but in the digital age, we seem to be giving into the States and hoping it all works out. The government has decided this generation of creators can go it alone, so creators need to get together and get louder. There’s a sea of content and if there isn’t more of a collective effort to collaborate in all aspects of creation — including marketing — it will be hard to be seen against the flood of content from Silicon Valley behemoths. We really need to strengthen the bond between YouTubers, podcasters and digital series creators — and when that happens, we can have an ecosystem that can be more self-sustaining and hopefully thrive.
Parting words for someone starting out as a web creator?
Fail out loud. Don’t be afraid to jump in and just create — it’s the only way you learn. And learn — always be learning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You need so many tools in the Swiss army knife now — not just the traditional filmmaking skills. How will people find your project? Understanding social media, marketing, PR and tech trends is key to breaking through. I host a podcast called Creatortown
, where top creators explain their process as well as their failures and successes in digital, because if we can help one creator not fall into the same mistake as someone before them — that’s huge. There’s so much information out there at your disposal — but it’s up to you to use it to your advantage.