I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Rocco, Shawn and Derrick of Mega64! They go in-depth on how they’ve managed to stay successful for the last ten years and they hand out some welcomed advice on people following in their footsteps.
-Photo taken by Frank Howley
What is your name and what do you do here at Mega64? What are your responsibilities?
Rocco- “Rocco Botte, producer I guess? I organize a lot of the business side but I do a lot of editing too. And just arranging things that need to take place”
So like setting up conventions?
Rocco – “Yeah conventions and events we go to, and anything we might need to buy for like a video or something. Producer stuff. Also promoting, updating and working on our website. Updating everyone on stuff.”
Shawn – “Shawn Chatfield and I am responsible for the podcast. Filming that and editing that and uploading that. A lot times, when it comes to building little sets, or trying to organize the warehouse itself so we can work it in. The cleaning lady type role I guess. Also when it comes to merchandise, I organize that and put that up in the merch area so Garret can ship it all out.”
Derrick – “Derrick Acosta. Writer, director, producer, actor, post production, preproduction, and part of the governing body of Mega64.”
Rocco – “And we should say, we all write.”
Shawn – “Yeah we all write and star in all of it.”
Derrick – “No. I’m the only one who said it.”
Where does the revenue come from to support this media business?
Rocco – “It’s a lot of things. It’s advertising with our videos, its merchandise, it’s the videos and commercials we’re commonished to do, it’s conventions we attend. There isn’t any one thing, it’s a bunch of things.”
What are the positive and negative aspects of the job?
Shawn – “I mean the positive is that we get to work in, what essentially is a clubhouse and just film videos with our friends. It’s just a very fun environment to always come here and be stupid with your friends.”
Rocco – “Yeah we get to do what we want to do. We get to be free with what we do. But sometimes it gets …, I mean sometimes it’s fun not knowing what’s around the corner but sometimes we want to know. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of some company and you don’t know what they’re doing. Being freelance, yeah you are free, but you’re also like ‘What am I gonna work on next?’ So you have to figure it out. Sometimes it’s tricky to plan out every next move.”
Shawn – “And usually work seven days a week. I mean our hours arn’t incredibly long but, we still come here all the time. There’s only three of us for the most part, unless Garrett is here, and we have to do everything. It is a pretty full-time gig that we have here.”
Rocco – “But it’s cool to check out whenever we need a break.”
Derrick – “We get to eat lunch whenever we want at Hometown Buffet, and we are literally the youngest people at Hometown Buffet. Everybody else our age is working some shitty day job and they don’t have the freedom to spend three hours at Hometown Buffet. And we do. So that’s a plus. Freedom. On the downside though, I fee like, in this job, everything is susceptible to a higher level of criticism. Simply because you are offering a product for people to just talk about. So like, if I worked at McDonald’s I wouldn’t have to worry about how good every single hamburger I made was. But here I have to worry about how good every single video is because if it’s bad, there’s going to be thousands of people telling me it’s bad and how much I suck. It’s a job that weighs on your self-conscious and work ethic. Sometimes when something is not well received, it makes you not wanna go into work.”
Shawn – “Well on the internet, you’re only as good as your last video. They don’t really care what you’ve done before. You suck now because this video sucks now. You can’t always please everybody.”
Rocco – “And also too, having comedy as your business, it’s sometimes difficult, if the business side of things arn’t going well, it’s difficult to bring comedy the next day. You know? Show up, ‘Okay well this convention totally sucked, it wasn’t worth going to, we lost money… time to be funny tomorrow.’”
Derrick – “We’ve had to make comedy videos for companies and we were having issues with the payment from these companies. It’s hard to be entertaining when you’re mad at them. You have bills to pay and they haven’t paid you. And they’re like “Where’s our funny video?’ and your response is “Where’s my fucking money?’ Sometimes it’s tricky.”
What are the wages one could expect from this media? Does it fluctuate or is it steady enough to support you?
Shawn – “It defianitly fluctuates a lot. There are some months we make a ton of money and some months we make no money. You have to budget when you have bills and stuff like that. It gets tricky. Having a contestant source of income is our base, and once we go that, everything else is just gravy. You need to have something constant or its kind of hard to do anything.”
Derrick – “I’d say it’s similar to a lot of other jobs where you have to build a repertoire and reputation. And you don’t get promotions from a boss but, you almost enter into higher tiers of payment levels. When we first started, we maybe made a hundred dollars per video but, I know I’ve heard stories of people making internet videos and that seg-ways into some sort of TV or movie deal. For up to about a hundred thousand dollars. You just have to build up your reputation and kind of negotiate each deal as you go along. There’s a huge range of payment tiers you can fall into on the internet.”
Mega64 was your hobby for many years before becoming your full-time job. Can you think of a definitive moment that catapulted Mega64 to success?
Shawn – “I think it’s when we got hired by IGN. For me and Derrick it was.”
Derrick – “We got contracted to do monthly videos for a bigger website and that was our first guaranteed, steady source of income. So we were able to quit our day jobs, knowing there’d be a check coming. We could just focus on making videos.”
Shawn – “I mean it was less money than I was making at my other job but, I could do this now. I could make this work.”
Rocco – “Once you make that initial leap, it made it easier to work on other things.”
Derrick – “Yeah, it gave us a lot free time to make a lot more videos to make a lot more money.”
Rocco – “But it’s almost like a leap of faith. I mean this might suck right now but…”
Shawn – “Yeah that first month, for me, sucked. I was eating like, bread but, I was doing it. It worked out.”
Rocco – “That’s one thing that sucks about freelance. Sometimes, with bigger companies, you fall through the cracks. It was like, no one remembered to pay us, and we were like “Cool, yeah we’re doing it.’ But then four months go by and we haven’t been paid. Because you’re not there, in their office, you don’t have that interaction. So that’s happened.”
A lot of internet based shows tend to tamper off. How does Mega64 manage to continue to grow and stay relevant?
Rocco – “I think that people still get excitement out of watching our videos because since we’ve started, we’ve tried to never put the same video twice in a row. We try not to repeat ourselves. I see a lot of people on the internet blow up doing one thing and then they do that every week for eight weeks. And then they start asking the audience ‘Well what do you wanna see next?’ and then they’ll go, ‘I dunno, I guess another one of those.’ Then they’ll do ten more and then it’s like ‘Awh, we’re done.’ And that’s it. Even for us, back when we started in 2003, we did these things out in public and they would get tons of views but still, the next thing we uploaded was something completely different. People we’re like ‘What the hell? This isn’t what I came for!’ but, we went with that. We still brought them something different every time we brought up a new video and I think that’s why. Anytime you see a Mega64 video go up, there’s that moment of ‘Oh, what’s this gonna be?’ because you really don’t know. I think that has kept us around’
Derrick – “I think most people on the internet don’t know what they want to see and don’t really know what they like. So if you ask them what video they want to see, they’ll probably describe a video that they already saw very recently and liked. So we’ve never tried to rely on what people wanted to see, we’ve always tried to figure out what we wanna show next. I think we’ve even gone through phases of us getting sick of our own bit. Saying like ‘Okay we’re not gonna do that anymore. Instead we’re going to figure out something new.’. Like we used to have a wheel at conventions that you could spin and we would mess with you but, after a while it got really annoying. People just wanted to spin the wheel and didn’t care about the DVDs or the videos or who we were. And it’s like this was becoming something about a wheel so we totally got rid of it. Just started something new. I think that’s our secret, always doing something new.”
Shawn – “Plus also, our humor has completely evolved since we were eighteen. So now, we still try to make each other laugh but we find very different things funny.”
Shawn – “It was Ubisoft and that, to me, was one of the biggest moments in Mega64. It was for Splinter Cell.”
Rocco – “Yeah, end of 2004 they contacted us about doing commercials for Splinter Cell and that was very forward thinking of them. There was no youtube or anything like that, it was purely like, we’ll post the video files in as many places as we can. Like a .wmv of a video.”
Derrick – “That was before ‘viral video’ was even a term.”
Rocco – “Yeah and they budgeted for, ‘Let’s just have these kids make these things.’
Shawn – “And you go back and look at them now, they are so bad. But, at that time, there was no one doing that.”
Derrick – “I remember they saw our first Metal Gear Solid skit and liked that and thought that, that could be Sam Fisher or something like that. And to me, since I was the one in the Metal Gear Solid skit, I was like ‘Wow, people are seeing our stuff and they like it.”
Shawn – “It is crazy to think about. We just happen to get into this at the right time. Before youtube was a thing, we were already established as the guys who do internet videos. Now with youtube, everyone does internet videos but, we did it first. That really helps us i think”
Mega64 has also hosted videos for the Game Developers Conference for the past few years. How did you guys start doing this?
Rocco – “Honestly, the person we owe so much to, out of all people, is Tommy Tallarico. Who is a video game composer, well he’s done a million things in the game industry. He was the host, for many years, of the Game Developer’s Choice Rewards, the big reward show that happens at GDC, and he had seen some our more prank-centric videos. They would have little video interstitials or skits play throughout the reward show and they were tanking every year. Whatever they were showing was tanking every year. They didn’t know what else to do and Tommy really fought for us, to have us do it. Tommy had seen some of our skits online and thought, ‘Oh my God, this is ridiculous. Let’s quit taking this seriously and get these guys to do it.’ And now, this year marks the seventh year of us doing it.”
Rocco – “Yeah, this last year we did an official trailer, well at this point we’ve done two official trailers for Kojima’s Production’s games. Which for me, as a fan, it doesn’t get any bigger than that, in terms of video games and we go hired because all those developers were at GDC and saw our interstitials.”
Derrick – “And I hear before us, the entertainment stuff at GDC was stuff like ‘Queer Eye for the Game Guy’ and it was all about gay jokes and stupid stuff. That was the type of humor we replaced.”
Rocco – “Yeah it was very like ‘nudge-nudge, isn’t this funny guys?’ Rather than just be silly for your fun and letting people laugh if they want.”
Shawn – “Well you gotta think there’s no better audience for us to play our videos to than that. It’s every CEO and high up people at these companies and they have to watch our video. It’s like the perfect situation for us. But really, Tommy Tallarico hooked us up. If it wasn’t for Tommy, I really don’t know where we’d be at today.”
So just hosting GDC alone has served as huge launching pad for Mega64.
Shawn – “Yeah that has been our biggest launching pad because once we got Shigeru Miyamoto to be in our video we were legitimized by everyone. If he thought it was okay to be in, no one can say ‘You guys suck.’ because Shigeru Miyamoto, the godfather of Nintendo says ‘You’re funny.’.
Shawn – “Right, because if Miyamoto wants to be in our video and you’re a developer, still maybe a lesser known developer, you can’t say no because Miyamoto did it. Like who are you?”
Derrick – “Yeah that’s how we met Notch, the creator of Minecraft. Even before Minecraft became as popular as it is now, it was at GDC as an indie game and he was at the Indie Rewards show we did all the videos for. I’m pretty sure that’s when we became a fan of Mega64 and we got invited to do videos for Minecon last year. Yeah, GDC is just cool because that’s where every major person goes.”
How do you try to stand out in such a crowded market?
Derrick – “Uh, we don’t. Everybody else does. We know we’re funny. Here’s the difference, everybody else is not funny and they want you to think they’re really funny. We know we’re funny, we don’t give a fuck if you think that or not. That’s it.”
Rocco – “It’s not like we try to rattle any hornet’s nests but I feel like a lot of videos out there are like ‘oh, here look at this big thing’.”
Derrick – “They play to the lowest common denominator.”
Rocco – “Exactly. It’s the superhero movies.”
Derrick – “It’s just ‘We need the idea that will hit with moms, teenagers and old men!’ and for us, we want the idea that will hit with the three people in this room.”
Rocco – “Yeah and that may be something like our fanbase is really going to hate us for putting this out but, we’ll put it out. If it’s something we think is funny, or if it makes a point, let’s just do it. At least it will start a discussion”
Shawn – “There are so many times that we go to the movies and it’s just the three of us and the movie theatre is full and something will happen that only makes the three of us laugh. No one else, because something happened that we thought was ridiculous or whatever. We think different things are funny compared to the average person. We don’t really care if you get it or not, we think it’s funny.”
Rocco – “Or we just might be stupid. Whatever. We cater to those people who like something a little off.”
Shawn – “Yeah, please don’t think that I think we are some high and mighty comedy deities or whatever.”
Derrick – “No, we are. And for the record, we’re the best. Put this in the article, we’re the best, we’re the funniest guys on the internet. We are, no one else.”
Derrick (cont.) – “I see companies or internet comedy troupes that release videos and I know they don’t think they’re really funny but they thought it would get a lot of hits and they had a deadline for the release. I’ve seen stupid, video game Katy Perry covers that are with Princess Peach and Mario and I know no one really thinks this is funny but they thought this would get a ton of views. We’ve never done that. We’ve put out videos where we know no one will like this or is going to watch but, we think it’s funny simply releasing it. So we have to do it.”
Mega64 has become known for your dry, sarcastic, almost satire-eske humor. When doing commercials for video game companies how do you balance your humor with what’s being advertised?
Shawn – “That is tough because obviously they have a product they want to sell, and we want the video to be funny. We always have to find a middle ground. It’s like ‘Can we do this? This is pushing the envelope a little bit, this is a little gusty but can we do it?’ I think people are gonna like this.’ I think people are gonna like that and respond to that.”
Rocco – “Most of the companies we work for though are pretty cool. If they’re into us in the first place, they usually get it. I think if you show them the videos that have worked, like we’ve done this, this and this before and it was a hit, it’s okay to do that with your product. Even if it’s not that relevant to the product, people will see that you signed off on this and it will be that much cooler.”
Derrick – “A lot of people worry about the reception of their products, so we’ll pitch an idea and they’ll think it’s funny but, they’ll just worry. They’ll think ‘I dunno how other people will feel about this and I dunno how it will be received. And we’ll always go back to,’Well do you think it’s funny?’ and they do and we conceive to just trust that. If you find it funny, be confident that other people will be on the same page as you. As long as you’re laughing in this conversation, it’ll fly in the real world.”
Shawn – “It also helps, like I said, we’ve been doing this for so long, that a lot of people who hired us in 2004 are now really high up in that company and they just tell people below them, ‘This is funny, you’re doing it.’ We’ve had that work out in our benefit as well. People who liked us originally are now people’s bosses.”
Derrick – “Yeah, some of the people at Ubisoft went on to work at Powerade and Coca-Cola and ad agencies but, they never forgot us. Which is cool.”
Mega64 was originally known for their public access series that is known as Version 1, 2 and 3. You guys have now really grown out of those roots with success. Do you find it difficult to return to old formats?
Shawn – “No. I love doing that. I love doing DVD and Version 4 type stuff. That to me, is when I have the most fun doing something. The only thing that’s hard is, as we said we get paid from video to video, so it’s hard to find the time to go back and make videos we don’t any money on. We just do it because we love it. It’s hard to find the time and balance everything out like that.”
Rocco – “But in terms of the reaction part of it, you’ll work on something and won’t hear back on it in over a year. That’s tricky but, the reward is worth it when you have hours of stuff to show people. That aspect is okay.”
Mega64 is a great example of just a group of friends getting together and deciding to just make something creative. Doing something completely new entirely on their own. Mega64 has grown from being filmed in backyards and garages to being a house hold name in the game industry. Do you have any advice for young people trying to do the same?
Derrick – “Yes I do, because I’ve encountered this so much. People want to do what we do for a living and they want everything we have today but, it took us ten years to get where we are. I know so many people who are like, ‘Hey let’s do internet videos!’ and I try to sit down and write with them and plan filming. Not even help them film, I wanna help them get their own projects off the ground but, they just don’t wanna put the ground work in. I try to tell them, hey you’re gonna have to do a hundred videos for no money, before anyone will ever pay you. You have to establish that you can do this and that you’re constentant. You really have to build a reputation for yourself with no money. You have to support yourself while you do this with no reward. And if you go long enough and you get enough recognition, then you can break in and slowly start to make more and more money. It is such a slow process, and that is why most people fail because they don’t realize you have to do it for a long time with no reward and kinda get some traction. But once you do get some traction, it just starts snow balling and it’s very easy to see how you can start making things bigger and bigger. You just gotta nurture the seed for a long time.”
Shawn – “My advice is always, make your videos how you wanna make them and make them very very short because no one wants to watch a long internet video. A lot of people think, ‘oh this is funny, I should keep it.’ but you should only keep the very very best and get rid of everything else. Have an awesome one minute and thirty seconds instead of a pretty good four minutes. Time is everything on the internet which is something I think a lot of people don’t take into consideration.”
Derrick – “It’s funny, just very recently I started researching comedy troupes on the internet like Mega64 who started in 2007 and arn’t around anymore. People like us, who didn’t make it, who fell by the way side. They were uploading stuff consistently once a week, then it was once a month, then it was every two months, then it was every three months. Once that starts happening, then they disappear. So you just always have to be plugging away, every week or just as often as possible.”
Rocco – “Be prepared to make stuff for free for a long time. There’s no instant reward for anything. You just have to make your own thing and keep at and keep doing it but, don’t be afraid to change things here and there too. Whatever you do, make it your own.”
Derrick – “Keep doing it for no reward. You need to prove that you’re here because it’s a passion. You’re not doing it to make money or get rich but, you would be doing it for no money. “
Shawn – “And if you’ve made a video and three people who know saw that video, then that’s a success. You have made something that people are watching. Like people expect to get a video with a million views the first day and that won’t happen. You just have to build up, slowly and slowly and slowly. … slowlier and slowlier.”
Thus concludes the interview.
-Matthew Bruce 2012