How ‘Aquaman’ Jason Momoa, Will Smith & Madelaine Petsch Are Tackling The YouTube Generation – Sundance

By Anthony D'Alessandro, Dominic Patten

D. Patten/Deadline

Even though the temperature in Park City dropped today after Deadline broke the news that congresswoman and social media sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was skipping Sundance, a last minute appearance by Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa, cranked up the heat.

Momoa may have come to Utah for the snowboarding, but he was also the signature panelist at YouTube’s “What Works, What Doesn’t: Meet The Creatives Behind Some of YouTube’s Buzziest Channels” tonight, alongside the YouTube channel strategists for Will Smith and Riverdale‘s Madelaine Petsch. In addition, Momoa’s social media posse for his On the Roam YouTube channel were in tow.

The discussion: how younger and older generations have ignited fans on the social media channel, and balanced organic promo stunts with privacy.

The overall consensus: Just wing it, and be yourself.

“I don’t have a clue of what they (YouTube viewers) want, and I don’t want to change what they need,” said Momoa, who launched On the Roam in sync with his global Aquaman tour to stoke fans. And he wasn’t bashful about how green he was with the social media platform, leaving his YouTube shoots to director/editor/DP Etienne Aurelius and producer Brian Mendoza.

“Wait, they leave comments? I’m a caveman for sure,” quipped Momoa, who has showed off the BTS of his SNL and Aquaman worldwide premieres; the Haka at the Hollywood debut generating 3.7M views alone. Today he took fans behind the scenes of his Discovery Channel/Netflix series, Frontier. 

“Behind the scenes (videos) and EPKs are boring; the intimacy is sitting right there. If I knew Will Smith was doing Ali, I’d want to watch him; that’s a master acting class,” said Momoa, who is taking those fans he’s accumulated during his Aquaman world tour to the film he’s directing this spring, which centers around Native Americans.

For Petsch, YouTube was a way to change-up her public image, which many Riverdale fans mistook for her nefarious alter ego, Cheryl Blossom.

“In the first season, Cheryl was an entitled spoiled brat. Madelaine’s Instagram was huge and she was getting millions of followers, but they would comment, ‘OMG, how could you kill your brother? How could you be mean to Betty?'” said the actress’ social media architect, Lauren Fortner, founder of Imprint Media.

Having Petsch respond to fans with humorous and funny reactions didn’t work. But launching a YouTube channel “flipped the script for us how she talks to her fan base,” added Fortner. It’s a venue for Petsch to show her true, affable self, with stunts such as cooking alongside and getting yelled at by Gordon Ramsay, and making vegan cinnamon rolls.

“There’s a big responsibility for Madelaine: Every Wednesday we put out a video, and if we don’t, we see it and hear from her audience,” said Fortner.

“Something we learned over the past year is being a good social listener and not being afraid of asking your audience for help,” explained Fortner about reaching out to Petsch’s fanbase with their suggestions for stunts and videos, “It’s like cheating, but it makes them tell you what they want.”

When Will Smith launched his channel, his social media producer Sadao Turner said they received tons of advice from various parties (“Do reaction videos”). However, when Smith organically expressed himself or shared videos that he liked, that’s when the fans remained steady.

One of Smith’s most notable stunts to date was in response to a social media group called the Yes Theory, whose mantra it is to say ‘yes’ and never accepting ‘no’ to challenges. They propositioned the Suicide Squad star to heli-jump (bungee jump) out of a helicopter. It was a stunt that took the Fresh Prince of Bel Air out of his comfort zone. One video yielded 19.5M views, but Smith posted a series from the death-defying act.

How private a star should get on YouTube? Well, that’s up to them.

Fortner will put her clients through a series of questions to see just how public they want to get. There’s some sketchy folks out there. Fortner and Petsch discussed the actress giving a YouTube tour of her house until they deep-sixed the idea. A tour of her on-set trailer was a safer bet, and more authentic to her daily working routine.

“In 2017, the entire family decided to be more out there on social media,” said Turner about the Smith family’s online public presence. The notion was to be themselves, and in inviting their fans inside their lives, they pulled their social followers in during their summer vacation to Italy.

“They’re in full control of what their privacy level is,” explained Turner about the Smiths, “Ultimately, they’re now more comfortable.”

“I love sharing parts of my family and being a father,” says Momoa who last week showed fans his Iowa state family, “but it has to go through the boss.” And that boss is wife/actress Lisa Bonet.

Said Momoa, “Before it hits YouTube, it’s wife-y approved.”

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