'Fistful' of online content

Maker Studios looks to make mark on YouTube with Western take on Nintendo's 'Legend of Zelda'

With Hollywood in remake mode, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western “A Fistful of Dollars” is the latest classic title to undergo a reboot. Only this time, the primary audience will be found on YouTube.

Maker Studios, the management-production shingle which oversees a network of talent across various genres that feeds hundreds of YouTube channels, will next week bow “A Fistful of Rupees,” which blends the 1967 Clint Eastwood pic with Nintendo’s hit videogame franchise “The Legend of Zelda.” Trailer for the short launches Tuesday on the Game Station.

As YouTube ponies up considerable coin to producers to generate original content in an effort to drum up more ad dollars, Maker sees mashups like “Rupees” as a way to spotlight its videogame channel while elevating the quality of videos streaming online.

The company wanted to tap into how “YouTube is changing and going in a more premium direction,” said Nathan Kitada, director of operations at Maker’s Game Station. Maker was among the companies that landed some of the $100 million YouTube doled out for original programming last year.

Whereas YouTube initially generated a reputation for amateur videos like cats playing the piano, “viewers do care about quality,” Kitada said. “Effects are easier to produce now. High quality cameras are more affordable. That’s upped the expectations of people who watch YouTube. You can see that across the channels. Everybody’s stuff looks much better now than a year ago. We’re still doing things on a shoestring budget, but we’ve learned to tie our shoes better now.”

That’s not expected to change, especially as a growing list of established celebs launch their own YouTube shows. Maker recently signed Snoop Dogg to produce his own slate of online series. It also comes as Microsoft greenlights a pricey web series for “Halo 4,” and Warner Bros. Digital has Bryan Singer’s “H+,” McG’s “Aim High” and its “Mortal Kombat” webisodes.

“All of these professionals have changed the quality of YouTube videos very quickly,” Kitada said. “We wanted to be there as well.”

The Game Station, a network of more than 250 channels focused on videogame commentary, reviews, comedy and gameplay, initially launched with another video mash-up, “The Brothers Mario,” a gritty, ultraviolent retelling of Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.,” lensed using “Grand Theft Auto IV” as the animation engine. Short has generated over 4.7 million views since its release in late 2010.

“Rupees,” co-directed by Kitada and Aaron Umetani, is the first of a series of videogame mash-ups planned for the Game Station that will roll out as a three-part Web series starting Aug. 7 at YouTube.com/TheGameStation. Shorts were produced in six days, including four lensed on location at the Rickards Ranch in Malibu.

The new shorts will be promoted to Maker’s growing audience across its 1,000 channels, which generated more than 1.1 billion views worldwide in June. Its network boasts more than 90 million subscribers and produces over 300 videos a month.

“Rupees” stars Game Station and Maker Studios talent, including gaming blogger and “Remag” host Lisa Foiles (a former star of Nickelodeon’s sketch show “All That”), comedian-musician Rawn (HiimRawn), and actor-musician TJ Smith, with guest appearances by Jesse Cox (OMFGCata) and gaming news and culture vlogger Dodger (PressHeartToContinue).

Foiles, a fan of Westerns like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and a contributor to gaming site Kotaku.com, immediately sparked to “Rupees.”

“There are some things that are risky but this was a no-brainer,” she said. “We’re staying true to the story but with a twist. Gamers will always love videogames brought to life. It’s a film about games made by gamers. We’re all gamers in the cast. We did character research before playing the game because we’re always playing the game.”

At the same time, Foiles is among a growing list of thesps turning to YouTube as a new platform to show off their talents.

“That’s the beauty of YouTube,” Foiles said. “It gives everybody the ability to be a creator, a writer, a director. Everyone else in this town is in charge of your success. YouTube is the direct opposite. You are in charge of your success.”

While the Game Station looks to promote YouTube’s premium content initiative, making shorts like “Rupees” “is something we’ve always wanted to do,” Kitada said. “We’re big geeks. If I hadn’t done it myself it’s something I would be just as enthusiastic about.”

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