Chase Whiteside and Erick Stoll can count the number of videos they have posted onto YouTube on their fingers. The same can’t be said for the number of times their videos have been viewed on the site: four million plus and counting. Two undergraduates from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Whiteside and Stoll call themselves New Left Media, a name they chose quickly when they needed a moniker for their YouTube channel.
Both men are lanky and tall. Like all of the best entertainment duos, one (Whiteside) is more talkative and outgoing. The other (Stoll) might seem more comfortable behind the scenes, filling in the gaps in conversation, but is just as smart and articulate. Like Batman and Robin before them, people constantly confuse the two for a couple; Whiteside is gay, and Stoll is straight.
In their YouTube videos, Whiteside plays journalist, interviewing people who attend organized political rallies (so far, tea party and LGBT rights gatherings). To those left of center, Whiteside's questioning may seem a bit acerbic. Despite his earnest, straight face, it can be uncomfortable to see politically active tea partiers asked to cite their sources for such talking points as "Obama is going to ban fishing." The attendees aren't phased though; after all, the questions they're asked are reasonable. As Whiteside said, "the most important part of an interview is not understanding what you believe but why you believe it."
As film school students, Stoll created a short, "Sunday Morning," of which he is proud and Whiteside started his filmmaking career with a short about the opposition he came up against when he wanted to take another boy to the prom. For their first film together, they made a documentary based on film stills from the Obama election. The two gained their inspiration after seeing the subpar news coverage of the town hall events around the health care bill last year. Whiteside described the typical TV story: "It wasn't even coverage. You'd see the wide shot, and their graphics would come in, and they would say 'People are protesting.' They would get one person to say 'I don't think there should be a government takeover of healthcare.' We thought it was really insubstantial, so we kind of just went out, not even planning to release it, to one of these town halls in Columbus, and we did exactly what we do now."
The rest is (recent) history.
Though Whiteside looks and acts like a broadcast journalist, the two have much to say about the industry into which they are grouped. "We go to these events and you see all the network people there, people who don't want to be there," Whiteside said. "They're not documentary filmmakers; they're there to capture news clips. All we did differently was ask the people there why they were there."
After finishing up their last credits at Wright State, the two are headed on to Philadelphia. More of the same is in the pipeline, but they expressed that they also want to work on feature-length social action documentaries.
Whiteside and Stoll are not only a perfect example of one of the places documentary form and style is headed, but also an excellent case study for the potential for success and exposure for hard-working passionate filmmakers on a budget. Their advice to filmmakers who want to help them out? "Go out and do it yourself. Get a camera and be thoughtful. If you want to send us a rough cut, we'll look at it." A kind offer they may regret making if their stock continues to rise.
Bryce Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for NewFest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.