Find out how Mikey Neumann’s YouTube video essays are fighting the nit-picky film criticism norms...

It’s fair to say Mikey Neumann is something of a polymath. Having started his career in the video game industry, spanning everything from quality assurance to creative direction (by way of story writing and even voice acting in the Borderlands series) he’s since turned his hand to YouTube – and found a legion of fans in the process.

FilmJoy, and specifically its flagship series Movies with Mikey, has earned him over 200,000 subscribers and more than 10 million total views. But, as the channel name suggests, FilmJoy is a different beast from a lot of other movie-focussed channels out there: it’s pretty much entirely positive.

We sat down with Mikey to learn more about how he’s made being a spark of joy in a sea of nit-picky YouTube criticism work…

Positivity in a sea of negativity

“It all started about five years ago,” Mikey explains. “Me and a friend (Kris Straub) were making videos on a channel called Chainsawsuit – it was podcast-y kind of stuff, and Movies with Mikey grew out of that. I was trying to find my voice, and what I wanted to say.”

And, as it turns out, what he wanted to say was that movies, in general, are pretty great:

“FilmJoy started out as a show that was very much about ‘why 90s movies are dope!’, but that doesn’t have a lot of gas. You can’t talk about Twister every week,” he says, before adding: “although Twister’s perfect.”

Either way, Mikey then took a short break and came back with a video about Simon Pegg’s much more modern The World’s End, which he thinks of as “the first ‘real’ episode of Movies with Mikey,” with a focus on the theme that “movies can teach you things.”

“I realised maybe that was my brand,” he adds, “looking at how we can relate to art in a certain kind of way.”

Invariably, that focus makes for videos steeped in praise for the movies Mikey talks about. Which, if you’ve ever spent more than a few minutes on YouTube, you’ll know is not the norm.

“There’s too much of the other thing out there: people saying ‘I pulled this movie apart with logic’ – even if the movie doesn’t operate on human logic. There’s a lot of that, but I think that’s necessary to a point; there’s an instinctual need to pull things apart. Some people do it better than others, but things like the Razzies (the Oscars of bad movies) exist for a reason.

“Negativity is profitable,” Mikey says, “so I don’t blame anyone. That’s what happens when you design a system that prioritises anger as a profitable engine. And part of that algorithmic function is also a human one; how many times do you share a video you’re mad at rather than one that makes you feel good? We like laughing at other people’s expense, and that’s totally valid.”

That said, Mikey’s more than happy to help tip the YouTube film criticism scales back in the other direction. “It can be too skewed towards the negative, so it’s great now to be among the people celebrating art now.”

In other words? “I feel like films are just as good now as they’ve ever been.”

YouTube as a ‘job’ job

FilmJoy’s videos regularly pick up views in the hundreds of thousands, and the channel now has a regular output that stretches way beyond just the ‘Movies with Mikey’ series. So how does Mikey manage his workflow? And what does an average day look like when you make YouTube videos for a living?

“It took a while for me to find what an average day should be,” he explains. “I was sick coming into this [with multiple sclerosis] too, so it took about a year for me to refine a process.

“As a youTuber I find that the best thing you can do is to make it feel as much as you can like a ‘job’ job, no matter what size you are. Every January I sit down and write note cards of every video I want to make throughout the year. Getting up every day and thinking about what you need to work on as part of a process like that lets you make it feel like a job.”

So where do those note card ideas come from?

“I talk about what I want to talk about – we just about make enough money to do that without having to resort to the tactic of talking about what’s coming out in the cinema that week.

“Some of the things I do, I know they’ll get clicks. I’m going to do an episode on Rick & Morty for instance, which I know will be popular. But you can get yourself into a situation where you guarantee your own traffic coming in solely based on what people think you *might* say.

“That’s the thing with running a YouTube channel, though – you either run it for your subscribers or you try to find the zeitgeist of the moment every time.

“We make the shows we want to watch,” he says as a way of summing up his channel’s manifesto, which is exactly his advice to anyone coming into the game:

“Have an angle. Make sure you have a show with an angle that lets you exist on your own. Everyone gets lifted up and dropped at the same time based on how the YouTube algorithm changes, so make sure you have your own voice and style independently of that – and make sure it’s an angle you want to stick with for the next five years… And beyond.”

And, most importantly, have something important to say: “YouTube isn’t just trickshot and cat videos any more,” Mikey says in closing. “College professors and movie directors watch what we’re making. That shows that it’s valid and real, and really shows what YouTube has to offer.” 

You can catch Mikey over on his YouTube channel FilmJoy, or on Twitter here.

Get more YouTuber insight… Check out our interviews with Patrick Willems, The Tech Chap, and Austin McConnell here: