Despite the silliness there’s something charming, funny and utterly compelling about Richard Dunn’s viral video ‘All By Myself‘ which is why it’s had more than 72k views on YouTube at the time of writing. It’s also the reason why MWP asked Richard to write a book about the experience of making the video and how it went from “Well I’ll show a few family and friends” to “Holy cow! I’ve lost control of this thing” and that book – How I Shot the YouTube Megahit “All by Myself’ on My iPhone and Why I’m Not Lonely Anymore – is out now.
In the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that Richard and I share a publisher in common.
The book is partly the story behind the idea, how it came about, shooting it and then what happened next, and partly a how-to for shooting a video by yourself with just an iPhone/iPad and Macbook to work with, but more importantly it’s a lot about having the right attitude to life, seeing the world with better eyes than most people and being prepared to see an opportunity when it presents itself and then grasping it with both hands.
By his own admission Richard is a born performer and he has a very positive outlook on life, and it’s these two things that made him able to see the opportunity that revealed itself when he was stuck in an airport on a long layover. Once he saw the opportunity he didn’t let a lack of equipment, crew, cast or anything else stop him, he used what he had – phone/tablet/laptop – and grabbed the things around him and put them to good use, and the hilarious results are on the screen for all to see.
Richard writes in a very warm and personable style and the whole book is peppered with an infectious good humour that you can’t help but warm to, it’s also a fascinating glimpse into the mind of someone who saw an opportunity when the rest of us would have let it pass us by.
I had the chance to have a quick chat with Richard about making the video and the impact it’s had on his life, and while I know it’s not sci-fi, for all you budding filmmakers out there it’s a powerful lesson in just getting up and getting stuff done.
SFL: The underlying message in the book seems to be “Well if I can do it, anyone can.” Do you really think that’s true?
RD: Here’s the thing about “You can do it” statements. In my world as a corporate lighting designer, I’ve probably heard 300+ keynote speakers. I never get more frustrated than when I hear them say “You can be a success! You just need to put your mind to it!” That’s just not true. What I stay focused on is telling people that there is no reason for people not to act. No reason for people not to give it a shot. I don’t accept the excuse that “I don’t have the right equipment” or “I don’t have a big enough budget.” That’s my focus. The crappy video you shot is still 100% better than the video that didn’t get made. That’s my point. I can’t guarantee your success if you try, but I can guarantee your failure if you don’t.
I am also very clear that I may never again achieve the amazing results of my “Lonely Airport Guy” video, but I will keep doing videos regardless. I’m glad you gave me the chance to clarify that I mean to encourage people to make the hard choices. The ideas are the easy part, deciding to execute is tough, regardless of the response.
SFL: That said, by your own admission, you’re a ‘born performer’ so do you think you’re more ‘ready’ than most to take advantage of a situation like that?
RD: I can’t disagree with you that if I’m at a party and there’s an unoccupied lamp shade, it’ll end up on my head! I agree that in that exact situation in the airport, someone with my personality would be more prepared to cash in. But that situation was one in a million. In that case it was to my benefit to also be in front of the camera. I’m not just talking about starring in your own videos, but I want to encourage people to produce. If you’re behind the camera calling the shots, it’s your video! I hope to encourage people to look for opportunity to create.
If you stumble upon a unique interesting situation, is your first reaction to stand there and watch or grab your phone and capture it? With many many many of my videos, I remain behind the lens and find friends, family or pets to be the star. It’s a little tricky for me to talk in general about how I feel about executing your ideas when everyone is pin point focused on the airport video.
SFL: What was the thing that made it go from an idea in your head to “I’m gonna do this!”
RD: The hours leading up to the boarding time of my second flight was filled with a ton of back and forth in my mind. One minute I was convinced that I wouldn’t do it, and the very next second I was 100% committed! It all came down to the fact that I didn’t want to waste the opportunity.
I get the same feeling when I am sitting at home and I realize that I’ve watched TV for 2 or 3 hours. I get SO FRUSTRATED that I’ve wasted the time. I just spent 3 hours consuming something that was created by someone else when I have so many other creative things I could have been working on. I know this may seem off topic, but the evening I was contemplating doing this, there was a shooter on the loose in my hometown of Moncton New Brunswick. He had shot and killed 3 officers earlier in the day and I was following the drama online real time. Listening to police scanners and talking with friends in the area. I wasn’t really in the mood to have fun. I forget the actual time, but it was mid evening when I heard that they had captured the shooter. It was a relief for me, and a shift in my mindset. If I had to put my finger on it, I would say it was that moment when I decided to move forward.
SFL: Once you got started what was the hardest thing about shooting?
RD: As silly as it sounds, time management was my biggest enemy. When I first started shooting, I was doing 2 full songs in each location. I knew I didn’t have the time or battery life to keep up that pace. Once I settled into a good pace, I would choose parts of the song to perform in each location and continued the night like that. As it was, by the time 4AM rolled around, I was shooting…charging. Shooting…charging. Shooting…charging. I was getting real tired, and real frustrated. But I was so far into the project, I had to finish it.
SFL: If you’d known the extraordinary success the video would have, is there something you would you have done differently, or maybe taken a bit more care over?
RD: Surprisingly to me, there are only 2 places in the video I would have changed. One being the fact that I slipped up the words in a couple tiny places. Most people haven’t picked up on it, but I saw it from the get go. There is also a scene where I am on the moving walkway and you can see a bank of gaming machines behind me. You can briefly see a member of the cleaning staff walk through. Again, I saw it, but I didn’t care. This was only for 40-50 of my friends and family.
As far as positioning myself to cash in financially, there really isn’t much I could have done, given that I don’t own the music rights (the book covers this in great detail) but when it comes to the readiness to confront the media, I feel I was ready to do that. Now don’t get me wrong, I was terrified. But rather than sit quietly and be terrified and do nothing, I chose to get in front of the webcam, face Good morning America (my first network interview) and stand there and be terrified! I was not going to loose the experience of these interviews. Again, my personality helped me get through the on slot of interviews, but if you’re not the type of person to promote your own work, find someone to do it for you! But for goodness sake, DO NOT PASS UP THE CHANCE TO PROMOTE YOUR WORK!!!!!
SFL: The thing that stays with me the most about your story is how you just used the equipment you had with you and went for it, you didn’t worry about what you didn’t have. Despite how ‘digital’ has democratised filmmaking for everybody, do you think we’re all still too hung up on gear?
RD: ABSOLUTELY!!!!! I believe that, whether or not you want to admit it, it’s an excuse. I believe this in many parts of life. If you’re not trying, it’s because you don’t want to. I will cut someone a little slack if they honestly felt they needed a 10K camera and lens kit, but now that you’ve seen that it can be done with the phone you have in your pocket. NO MORE EXCUSES!!!!
SFL: If you study the video hard – and I know people have – there are mistakes and little giveaways on it, I think they’re part of the charm but how do you feel about them?
RD: Getting back to my earlier point, I truly like that fact that they are in there. If this was a professional shoot, there is NO WAY the director would have let those mistakes stay. So another little poke at Matt Lauer, do you still think this was a set up? Mistake and all? I believe these errors I let slip though, helped people believe this was not a large shoot by a big production company.
SFL: Is this a once-in-a-lifetime, lightning-doesn’t-strike-twice event for you, or are you actively thinking about how you can follow this up?
RD: I am thinking about my next step every day. Do I even want to take a next step? Will I look desperate? What if the next one flops? What if no one watches it? What if I embarrass myself? But what if it is just as popular!!!!!!!??????? What if this leads to more???? I will never know. The airport video was partially successful because if was a moment in time where I reacted to my situation. My next video will not have any of the spontaneity factor. I am pretty certain I will do something, but I need to make sure my next attempt is done for the love of video and for making people laugh, not as an attempt to “one up” myself. If I get even a fraction of the response, well maybe I’ll consider more possibilities. But for now, I just want to keep being myself and see what happens. I’ve learned that I have an audience for my style of humor, if they follow me well that’s great. If they don’t follow me, my mom still thinks I’m funny.
SFL: What single piece of advice would you give to filmmakers and artists out there, based on your own experiences and your process of making this video?
RD: Do what you want to do! Don’t be a variation of someone else. Certainly don’t be a copy of someone else! Make the video/art/performance/story/poem/photo you want to make. It will find an audience.
Great advice for anyone trying to make a name for themselves in the film industry, or any creative media for that matter.
Richard’s book can be found on Amazon Kindle and you can follow him @dunnlights.
If you want a print version it’s only available direct from MWP
And finally, the video is here, enjoy!