Lazer Team: How YouTube is taking on Hollywood
Lazer Team

Lazer Team is taking the global box office by storm – but it wasn’t made by Hollywood. It was made by a team of YouTubers, writes Mark Butler

Yesterday, a new sci-fi comedy movie hit cinemas around the world – generating $1 million in pre-sale tickets alone, and amassing a fair amount of buzz from its enthusiastic audience.

Lazer Team, inspired by ’80s flicks such as Ghostbusters, and mining a similar fish-out-of-water tone to Men In Black, seems like the kind of instant box office success that Tinsel Town loves to clap itself on the back about.

But this tale of four small-town losers who end up taking on a horde of alien invaders wasn’t a product of the Hollywood studio system. Oh no.

It was made by a team of YouTubers.

Matt Hullum is the CEO of Lazer Team creators Rooster Teeth, and the director who brought their vision to the cinema screen.

He believes there’s a significant change afoot in the movie world. In short, YouTubers are now taking on Hollywood at their own game.

“We’re taking our content directly to our fans from the big screen to their phones and everything in between,” he says, buoyed by Lazer Team’s million-dollar opening. “We’re really seeing so many distribution barriers come down right now, which is amazing.”

And, according to Hullum, this is just the start of a whole new wave of web-driven feature films.

“I think there are a lot of great creators on YouTube, so we could likely see more. Hopefully there will be more films like Lazer Team that stand on their own as theatrical successes, because there is still a lot of negativity towards online creators.

“We need to dispel the myth that YouTube or Vine talent are somehow inherently inferior to talent from traditional media.”

A bona fide YouTube success story, short film channel Rooster Teeth has amassed more than 25 million subscribers across its network of channels since forming 13 years ago. Its calling cards include ‘Red vs. Blue’, the longest-running web series in history.

Hullum himself actually has experience in the Hollywood machine, working on the effects in films like Scooby-Doo and another sci-fi comedy, The Faculty.

“That was really helpful for this film,” he explains, “because there are things you couldn’t have done on the cheap.

“However, there were a lot of things that we did do in the down-and-dirty, run-and-gun style, and I think fusing these two methods really helped us stretch our budget and make the movie seem much bigger.”

In order to fund Lazer Team, Rooster Teeth raised an astonishing $2.5 million through crowdfunding site Indiegogo, with supporters rallying around the mooted project to record-breaking effect.

The film’s budget remained tiny compared to the resources of most mainstream blockbusters of course, but its creators always had ambitions for a global cinema release.

So in order to get their low-budget, independent movie to the masses, an ingenious solution was reached.

“We had 1% of the budget of Guardians of the Galaxy, but we couldn’t be on just 1% of the screens and reach everyone we wanted,” muses Hullum. “We needed to be in theaters wherever our fans are – everywhere!

“So we knew we had to do something completely unconventional, and Tugg made that possible with the cinema-on-demand experience.”

The ‘cinema-on-demand’ concept entails utilising the online platform Tugg to gauge demand for a particular film in a certain city or area. Once interest reaches a certain threshold, Tugg then works with fans to bring the film to that part of the world.

In essence, the movie-goers themselves determine which movies screen near them – and with YouTube channels such as Rooster Teeth backed by millions around the world, you can see how it’s now possible for online film-makers to get their work into cinemas.

“We were screening in over 500 theaters around the world on opening day,” reflects Hullum. “No independently released film of this budget has ever had a theatrical footprint like that. Our audience made it happen.”

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Originally opening at 19 cinemas around the UK, the success of the Tugg approach means Lazer Team has now expanded into more than 60 theaters in the UK and Ireland through a collaboration between National Amusements, ODEON, Empire, and Vue cinemas.

In response to the magnitude of the Lazer Team launch, Tugg CEO Nicolas Gonda remarked:

“This is the new blueprint for how the small screen can crossover to the big screen.”

Hullum is beyond excited at this seeming shift in the film distribution landscape.

“We’re just now finally seeing the beginnings of a real breakthrough. We always felt like things would inevitably move in this direction, and we are proud to be at the forefront.”

The hard work required to turn a low-budget idea into a global cinematic hit certainly hasn’t daunted Hullum and the rest of the Rooster Teeth team. In fact, they’re already working on another feature film right now.

When asked what the toughest element of this whole experience has been, the director is unequivocal.

“The stunts,” he says, mulling over the challenge of getting his central cast so involved in the action scenes. “I’m just glad no one got blown up.”

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Lazer Team is out now in cinemas