A YouTube documentary series, staggered in chapters, can present the creator behind the project with a unique opportunity: editing on the fly to include real-time reactions from others within the community.
Shane Dawson’s newest series, The Mind of Jake Paul, is a perfect example. Dawson is expected to release all eight episodes, each about 45 minutes in length, over a three to four week period. There may be anywhere from one to three days between each episode, which gives Dawson, who edits all of his own videos with the help of his colleague, Andrew Siwicki, the ability to add in last minute details.
Over the past week, Dawson has used those down days to edit in long-winded apologies, add other creators’ commentaries and address the general reaction to each episode. The Mind of Jake Paul feels like it’s unfolding in real time, and while that’s a beautiful aspect of YouTube creators unique ability to update the story as it progresses, viewers have expressed a sense of exhaustion.
YouTube is a planet made up of different ecosystems. Google’s recommendation algorithm works to continue feeding the beast. Dawson’s episode might come to an end, but the next video in the queue is Logan Paul’s response, or PewDiePie’s critique or any other video that is tangentially related to Dawson’s series. Just like responses to and reviews of just about every TV series and movie under the sun, new critique videos pop up in the wake of YouTube-grown documentary series. The difference, however, is Game of Thrones and similarly provocative shows are finished — edited ahead of time, slated to be released and let loose into the world.
Dawson’s isn’t. It’s being edited to and added upon every single day. He’s taking every criticism sent to him on Twitter, comments left under the videos, Twitter DMs from Logan Paul, and tossing it all into the next episode. His apologies from Snapchat are being condensed into future episodes, and sentiments made in public tweets two days prior are reconfigured for YouTube. There’s a pressure to not only tune in every few days to catch the next episode, but also pay attention to Dawson, his friends, other YouTube creators and influential people online all of the time in order to catch the next piece of the story.
It’s all consuming. The idea of this continuing for another two or three weeks is exhausting, especially for those involved.
“I apologized, changed things, added a disclaimer and apology to episode 3 and have done everything in my power to make people feel heard,” Dawson tweeted in response to one critic. “I’m so tired. I don’t know what else to do.”
Activity on YouTube has practically come to a standstill since Dawson’s documentary series went live. For the core audience, it seems like the only thing that matters. YouTube creators are posting their own react videos, uploading 20 minute critiques, dedicating entire videos to talking about everything surrounding the documentary. Reactions keep rolling out until the next episode comes out, and then it starts all over again. While this is common in day-to-day YouTube community drama, it feels even greater in a limited series that everyone is obsessing over.
The process is idiosyncratic to YouTube’s cultural makeup. It’s the only platform that has an active enough community, and a thriving ecosystem, based entirely around watching people talk about anything every single day, that allows last minute edits to directly incorporate the response and change the course of a documentary. It’s a momentous time in pop culture, but it’s not without its issues.
Dawson has very publicly said it’s become difficult to deal with the amount of criticism and hate he’s receiving online.
“I’m dealing with hate from so many people for so many reasons,” Dawson said, adding in a later tweet, “Taking a break from twitter for a while. I’ll let you guys know when the videos go up and when they are planned to go up. But besides that I’m stepping away and I’mm gonna focus on making them.”
The experience can also strain the casual viewer. To understand everything that’s happening, people must pay attention to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, other YouTube videos and anything else under the sun that could impact Dawson’s take on the next episode. What should be an enjoyable piece of entertainment has turned into four weeks of homework.
People are still watching, though. Dawson has amassed more than 40 million views for his series’ first three episodes in the span of a week. If this were a Netflix series, the episodes would drop and that would be it. Viewers would tweet about the show, maybe criticize an element of it, but the series would remain the same.
But Dawson’s is both episodic — rare in the streaming age — and constantly changing based on real-time feedback. The question now is how much longer Dawson can deal with the wave of continuous criticism he didn’t see coming.
“I was literally villainzed for part 2,” Dawson tweeted out to one critic. “So the fact that you thought part 2 was better just makes me even more confused about what the fuck I’m doing, haha I just never know what people are gonna be mad at me for.”