Interviews with Cast of Fight of the Living Dead; What YouTube Red Means for the Future of Content Creators


In the world of subscription streaming services, the market is dominated by the big three: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Networks like HBO, CBS, and Starz have all taken stabs at delivering content on their own specific digital platforms but have come up short. People stream for convenience, and keeping track of several accounts just to watch a handful of shows on each quickly adds up in cost.

What’s more, each service has brought out its own line of original content, with shows like “House of Cards” and “Daredevil” easily matching – and often surpassing – the programming on major networks.

The takeaway is that for most young people, the decision between a Netflix/Hulu/Prime subscription and a cable TV package is a no-brainer. Millennials are a generation that expects their media to be immediate, affordable, and plentiful. Hell, most of us are used to getting shit for free. Love it or hate it, that’s the direction of the market. It’s a trend that has been heavily influenced by modern YouTube culture, where nearly limitless free and original content is constantly being produced by amateurs the world round. We live in an age where often people will prefer to watch someone else play through a game rather than play it themselves.

With that in mind, I was surprised when I heard that YouTube would be throwing its hat in the subscription programming ring with YouTube Red. For a company who built their entire empire on free, instantly accessible content, the idea of charging $10 a month is perplexing. The subscription comes with some perks, like ad-free content and offline music and video storage, but the main attraction is a slew of original programming. The pitch is that these shows are souped-up versions of the content you love, made by and starring the YouTube stars you already watch. Rooster Teeth’s “Lazer Team” premiered earlier this year, setting a pretty high bar for future content. Other shows like “Scare PewDiePie” seek to capitalize on the star’s unique… talents.

So, it’s mostly just YouTube stars doing more of their YouTube star stuff. If you’re into that, cool, but I wasn’t really convinced that spending $10 a month to see people you already see for free was worth it. So I’ve been tentatively following it, keeping up with the programming from a mostly academic perspective. It’s certainly programming that knows its market (those massive databanks of YouTube analytics probably rival Netflix), but hadn’t evolved past that.

When “Fight of the Living Dead: Experiment 88” was announced, it looked to be just another excuse for YouTube stars to ham it up on camera. Watching it, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. It’s shot in a typical reality show style, complete with “confession cams” and all, but it doesn’t frequently devolve into the stupid drama that plagues most reality shows. There are subplots of forced drama and definitely moments where they are playing it up for the camera, but for the most part it feels very natural. It’s a huge compliment to give to a genre that spawned shows like “The Jersey Shore.”

The format of “Fight of the Living Dead” is pretty simple, mixing game show with drama. 10 YouTube stars are taken to the fictional CONOPS experiment facility, and must complete a number of challenges to “survive” to the end. It’s essentially a series of escape rooms, spiced up by sprawling transitional hallway chases and some on-the-fly puzzle design. Though you know the challenges are set up and most of it scripted, the variety makes it feel like anything could happen. When one contestant is left behind early on, the group is tasked with saving them. It’s that kind of unpredictability that keeps it feeling natural.

The show also owes much of its charm to the diverse cast. Taken from all corners of the YouTube map, the show’s contestants each bring something unique to the table. What’s more, they don’t feel like caricatures for the most part. With most reality shows, you can practically picture the committee picking through the hundreds of applicants to select the most marketable set of boobs, jocks, nerds, and “ethnic.” While the cast of “Fight of the Living Dead” is certainly varied, they don’t feel manufactured.

After the first episode aired, I was contacted by YouTube Red to come to LA and participate in a unique style of junket. Along with interviews with some cast members, I would also have the chance to work with them for an hour in a specially designed escape room. It was an opportunity to see them in action, and get a sense for how they act in these situations before the editing. For the room and interviews, I was teamed up with Shanna Malcom and Dennis Roady.

Fight of the Living Dead group shot

“Fight of the Living Dead” contestants Dennis Roady, Shanna Malcom, Brandon Bowen, and Rahat Hossain

The event was hosted by Escape Hotel Hollywood, a newly opened escape room facility right on Hollywood Blvd. Escape rooms are increasingly popular, and this was one of the higher quality ones I’ve seen. We were given a full hour to solve a number of zombie themed puzzles, with intermittent clues guiding us towards key objectives. The production values were quite high, but the lack of actors definitely was noticeable. If you have some extra cash to burn and are looking for a good group event, Escape Hotel Hollywood is a solid choice.

There were about eight of us, and most of the press spent their time twiddling their thumbs. Ted don’t play that way though, so between me, fellow Dread Central author April Marie, and the YouTube talent, we solved the bulk of the puzzles. My confidence would have been severely hampered without the two stars, as it was very obvious they had just come out of a long stint of escape rooms. One of the puzzles was actually solved when Dennis just picked one of the locks. That’s some alpha shit right there.

Escape Hotel Hollywood

Unfortunately, we got stuck on the final puzzle due to a technical malfunction.

Talking to them after, I got some good insight from the duo on what it was like working on the show. According to Shanna, entering into “Fight of the Living Dead” was like being dropped right into a “living deprivation tank.”

Shanna: Who we are as people is what you see in the show. It’s such an isolating experience. We really didn’t know what we were getting into. There was no “pack your bags, we’re going to this hotel.” It was “boom,” and you’re there. It strips away the artifice real fast. So yeah, I make jokes all the time, but that’s who I am. That’s how I act when I’m scared. Then take this guy [Dennis]. He’s a lighthearted funny guy, but he’s also a father with military training. So when shit’s getting real, there’s a reason we call him “Captain America.”

Dennis had more to add on what the role meant to him:

Dennis: It was great to be able to break out of the “Prank Zone.” It’s a totally different environment. I liked the action, the fun, doing something different. It’s a chance for my audience to see me in a different space. I made a movie a while ago with Lionsgate called Natural Born Pranksters, awesome project that lasted a lot longer. But Fight of the Living Dead let me evolve past my niché. This is a whole new world for me, a chance to really show what I’m capable of.

For these two, “Fight of the Living Dead” is a real opportunity to grow. This response struck me, as my previous opinion of the service was “more of the same.” I wanted to know what YouTube Red meant to them as content creators, and where they saw the future of the service.

Dennis: YouTube Red is an opportunity unlike any other. Never before have we had the chance and backing to really make the kind of content we dream of. I did sketch comedy before this, so I know what the grind is like to try to make your resume. All of a sudden, I’m given the keys to do what I want with resources I never dreamed of. I mean dude, they spent five million dollars on this hospital for this show! That’s more money than my movie. On top of that, they have all this information on what people want to watch to help guide programming. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of that, along with all the other pioneers that get to be part of this evolving Red experience.

Shanna Malcom and Dennis Roady

Shanna Malcom and Dennis Roady

Shanna had more on what YouTube Red meant for her:

Shanna: It’s great for viewers too, because you don’t know everything we are capable of. Dennis talked about the box earlier, and we all run into that. I started out as a classically trained actress with an MFA, but now I’m making jokes and saying crazy shit. I’m not mad that people know me for that, that’s who I am, but there is a lot more to who I am. There’s an expectation of who I am, but there shouldn’t be limits to how I define myself as an artist. I still want to do comedy, but I really want to shift towards more social commentary. Traditionally, you’d have to go to so many interviews and work so hard to open every single door. YouTube Red has opened those doors for people like us. It’s functioning like a studio, on a professional career scale, but backed by people like us. You don’t have to be in 15 movies to prove you have potential. Red believes in your vision and potential.

It’s a promising message to those already established, but what about those looking to break into the game? Now that a major studio system is being set up to promote its favorite stars, how could an unknown hope to break in? For Dennis, the answer is in the community:

Dennis: For me, YouTube has always been about helping the community grow. There are a number of channels I’ve helped promote. Some flourish, and some fail. You gotta put in the eight hours a day, and even then the content might not jive with the audience. But you have to keep trying and keep working towards a hit. These collaboration efforts aren’t about the subscribers, but about making the best content. When you get great minds to work together, the results can be great.

He had more to say on what it takes to be a successful star:

Dennis: You have to do this for the passion. You have to want to put yourself out there because you have something you want to show the world. I worked at UPS, did videos at night. For a year and a half I got nothing. Then I hit gold, and it went away. So I worked hard to strike that gold again. It was a long process of finding out what worked, doing it again, and most importantly never giving up. You have to do it for you. Eliminate your roadblocks, don’t let yourself have excuses for not doing it. Don’t say you can’t finish because, “Bob couldn’t show up or Dan was too busy.” If you are doing it for someone else, it won’t work.

Shanna chimed in with these words of wisdom:

Shanna: If you’re doing it because you want to be a “YouTube Star,” don’t. Ten years ago, being a YouTube star wasn’t a thing. Now, you see people getting deals and think, “I want to do that.” Dennis is right. If you aren’t willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears, staying up late, enduring the countless failures, it won’t happen. You’ll have a thousand failures before you really succeed. Comparing yourself to others is mental suicide. If you look at your traffic compared to others and think that you’re not worth it, that’s a failing mindset. Do what you want to do, your passions, because you want to. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

It was an interview that made me fundamentally shift how I viewed YouTube Red. It’s hard to remember that for every million dollar PewDiePie are a number of great content creators just trying to make the best stuff they can. YouTube Red isn’t a Netflix, acquiring the biggest name talent to make competitively massive budget shows. This is a studio giving real opportunity to the little guy. We have to remember that we aren’t so far from that little guy, even if they have a million subscribers.

So check out “Fight of the Living Dead: Experiment 88.” It’s a fun reality show, and a good model of what future content the YouTube Red service might hold. The first episode is free online, so there’s no reason not to check it out.

Enjoying “Fight of the Living Dead” already? Let me know below!




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