If Hollywood’s portrayal of highschools is anything to go by, magic isn’t the coolest hobby to have. But against all odds, and through the power of the internet and digital sleight of hand, Zach King has somehow managed to make illusions great again.
King’s videos are edited to show him walking through walls and pulling sunny days out of rainy puddles. He initially rose to popularity on Vine, a now-defunct website where people would share six-second looping clips. He spent a summer in high school mowing lawns to buy a computer and, after being rejected from film school, he would post tutorials online “out of boredom and failure.” King’s studio, according to him, was a cockroach-infested garage.
2008The year he started making videos
“In the beginning, you could count a couple of hundred people that were creating [videos]. I started 10 years ago in 2008 on YouTube as a tutorial site and even then, there were just a couple of channels — I remember who the top 10 were and I would, like, look up to them, but they were only had a million followers. Now you’re talking about like, 83 million followers,” said King.
25MillionViews on Zach King’s Jedi Kittens Strike Back video.
If you have anything in you that wants to create, put it out there and see what happens.
On one unassuming day in 2011, King posted a video of cats battling with lighsabers and went viral. Today, Jedi Kittens Strike Back sits at more than 25 million views.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
The 29-year-old content creator hails from Portland, Oregon and is of Chinese, Austrian and Nicaraguan descent. His fascination with editing began at the age of four, when his parents introduced him to ‘Jurassic Park’. By seven, he had a home video camera, and he would employ his three sisters to recreate scenes from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.
When years later he discovered Vine, he was decently prepared. He quickly figured out that the online world was up for grabs, no matter who you were or where you came from.
“It’s a level playing field. Like, social media and YouTube doesn’t care how much money you have, or what you look like. It’s all about your voice and how you communicate that to people ... I can’t iterate enough to people. If you have anything in you that wants to create, put it out there and see what happens,” said King.
But with nearly two billion monthly users, and hundreds of hours of content posted every minute, YouTube has become an intensely competitive playground. With the steady increase of creators, there have also been calls for more responsibility toward younger audiences.
2BillionApproximate monthly users on YouTube
Viewers lambasted YouTube star Logan Paul in 2018, when he posted a video depicting a corpse of a man who died by hanging inside a Japanese ‘suicide forest’. The clip was deemed disrespectful and reckless, considering Paul’s young fan base.
Speaking broadly, King said that platforms can only do so much to curb inappropriate content, but creators and parents have a role to play.
“I have a two-year-old now and it’s easy for me to give him the iPad and [say], ‘Here, go watch a show.’ But you never know what rabbit trail that may lead them on in the content. So I think ... it’s a two part thing, the parents, but also the content creators have to be conscious of what they’re creating and the purpose behind it,” said King.
Last month, King made a one-off stop in Dubai to give a hands-on talk at the Apple Store in Mall of the Emirates. He guided attendees through making their own videos during the hour-and-a-half event. Similar sessions, sans King’s attendance, are taking place until the end of March, titled Video Lab: Small Screen Magic Co-created with Zach King.
King also made stops in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to meet the demands of his growing fan base in the Middle East.
“My content is very visual and we don’t have to rely on the dialogue to necessarily speak the story. You can watch it without sound and generally get the gist. There’s also this idea that everyone, doesn’t matter what culture you’re from, but you still love magic. When I go to Istanbul and I see the guys doing the ice cream cone trickery, everyone still responds to that,” said King.
This year, King is working on figuring out longer form content on YouTube, and how to take 10-second magic trick videos and flesh them into short films or longer narratives.
Quizzed on whether he’d still be creating similar content in a decade or changing paths, King was unsure.
“Maybe at the end of 10 years, I’ll be morphing into something a little different. I think I’ll always have a presence online — I love the online community, I don’t think there will be anything that feels better than having a direct connection to your audience,” said King.
“It really is early. I think we’re so early that, you know, we could still be doing this in 10 years and that’s when it will really be taking off,” he added.
Zach King’s three tips for thriving online
- Be original: “Everyone is unique, but you need to be a little bit louder than the crowd. I don’t like going the way where it’s like, ‘You have to have more energy in your personality.’ I don’t think it’s always true to the person. But find something a little bit wackier about you that makes you memorable.”
- Be consistent: “Create consistent content. Figure out a schedule and you’ll figure out your voice between figuring out what’s different about you and what kind of content you like making.”
- Be patient: “Give it time. You have to do it for a long time. I always tell people, if you can do it full time for at least two years, that will give it enough runway to see if it can take off. Under that [duration] is just not putting in enough.”
Check it out!
Video Lab: Small Screen Magic Co-created with Zach King are sessions inspired by King’s techniques (King himself will not be in attendance). They will take place at Apple Stores in the UAE on March 18 (Mall of the Emirates), 19 (The Dubai Mall) and 23 (The Dubai Mall), with sign-ups available online.