Mikey Neumann had not planned on earning a living just from his YouTube channel, but the Plano resident hadn’t planned on much of what has occurred this year.
Complications with his long-term diagnosis of multiple sclerosis resulted an extended hospital stay in March, and shortly after he ended a 16-year career with Frisco-based game studio Gearbox. He didn't feel he could continue fighting his body while working full time, so Neumann faced a question he hadn’t seriously considered before this point: Could he turn his popular movie critique show into a full-time job?
Movies with Mikey began in 2014 as a special program on the Chainsawsuit YouTube channel, an extension of Kris Straub’s collective comics, videos and other creative projects. In 10- to 15-minute videos, Neumann broke down the history and highlights of films he'd loved as a kid. Later, he let fans vote on which film they wanted to see him tackle.
The series was always something he did at home and in his free time, and despite relative popularity, he wasn’t positive how much people would pay him for the content. All he knew was that he had to do something.
“When God takes everything away from you, you find a way to step up and make something of yourself,” Neumann says.
He used the Patreon platform for Movies with Mikey beginning June 4, and by June 9, more than 1,300 fans were spending a total of more than $7,000 a month to see him create regular videos.
But Neumann didn’t stop there. Conversations with his friend Chris Faylor, owner and operator of VG Release List, landed on the interesting work on contract for independent game companies. Another friend, Thaddeus Fenton, who has worked on marketing and web optimization for Cyanide & Happiness, also quickly joined on.
“Mikey is kind of our Nick Fury, bringing together all of us people doing cool things to do cool things with each other,” Fenton says.
The final element was a name, and Neumann turned to longtime friend and creative collaborator Kris Straub, the owner of the Chainsawsuit brand that housed Neumann’s videos. He admits that there was some initial hesitation about pulling so much disparate work and content under the same brand, but Neumann knew Straub was on board when his friend approached him about a job title.
“My title at Gearbox was chief creative champion, which is not a title. It was a parade of seemingly meaningless words [that] when played in succession, they will then absorb me,” Neumann says. “And Kris came back to me and asked if he could be chief creative champion. And I was like [mimes wiping tears from his eyes].”
Chainsawsuit expanded into the market of contract consultation. More than just producing video, the small but energetic team performs services that smaller game studios may not have the staff or experience to handle effectively: securing release windows, marketing and SEO optimization, audio and foley recording, editing of promotional material and more. The laundry list of potential services is a testament to the group's experience in the game industry, which all four are excited to offer to smaller game companies.
One of their first contracts was to produce the trailer for the upcoming Battle Chef Brigade, available later this year. To match the game’s unique melding of monster hunting and culinary competition, they needed the sound of kitchen knives clashing. Neumann was unable to find a decent sound online, so he simply snagged some knives from his home kitchen and a microphone.
He laughs as he describes the kind of ingenuity and dedication you can expect from the team: “I can’t change a tire for shit, but if you need a video edited, I can spit that thing out."
Beyond working together on contract consulting, the team has begun collaborating on creative projects now collected under Chainsawsuit’s IP. Faylor’s VG Release List boasts a weekly video roundup of upcoming titles, recorded and produced by Neumann, to accompany the site's archived links and information.
The work is a different beast from the monthly Movies with Mikey episodes. Until the merger, Neumann had grown accustomed to recording and editing at night and when his creativity was peaking, sometimes culminating in sprees like the 53-hour haze that led to the creation of his latest episode on John Wick 2.
But weekly content, especially content produced to inform rather than entertain or enlighten, is different. Neumann says the process has been challenging but also rewarding. Chainsawsuit produces VG Release List under its second channel dedicated to video games, with long-running series such as PortsCenter also in the stable.
Neumann sees both as strong contenders in the YouTube marketplace and hopes fans will give all of their upcoming content the same chance to capture the love they gave Movies with Mikey.
“Hopefully we get to where they’re both million subchannels, and I can hang those two golden buttons on my wall," Neumann says. "I still don’t have a silver one."
As president, Neumann is the core voice of Movies with Mikey, and the veteran creator brings years of experience along with him to the table. Fans of his first show are likely familiar with his penchant to celebrate a movie despite, and perhaps sometimes because of, its faults. It’s an ethos he developed early in the series’ span.
His brand of melding insightful criticism, pop culture riffs and “muffled catawampus” often gives birth to bold statements like: “Fight less. Talk more. Say sorry sometimes.”
And Neumann’s delightfully clever maneuvering of language and themes means his audience is never confused, even when a puncturing message piggybacks a 25-minute discussion of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.
Neumann talks at length about the drive and purpose that fuel his videos. Despite his frequent tangents, his discussions are always tied up with a bow, like an expertly wrapped gift. “I really just want to make the world better," he says.
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But Neumann cannot take credit for all of his past success. He offers much gratitude and thanks to the carefully fostered community that surrounds his work. From the first days of his YouTube channel, he made sure that anyone who sowed discord or hatred was swiftly shown the door.
“It’s not the size of your audience but the quality of them,” Neumann says. “Don’t waste your time on the 12- to 14-year-olds hurling racial epithets; waste on your time on the people who actually care about your message. It might be a smaller audience, but it is a powerful one.”
And such is the road he wants Chainsawsuit to travel. As to what big projects the public can expect from his team, Neumann is uncharacteristically sparse on details, but he mentions the phrase “fruity meat gravy."
“Any show we make needs to go out of its way to be entertaining and make lives better, and that’s it,” he says.