When aspiring actress Mamrie Hart started her YouTube show “You Deserve a Drink” in 2011, she had no idea she would be making her first feature film just three years later. Back then, Hart’s friend Grace Helbig had a bit of a following on her own channel, and she decided to give it a whirl. One million subscribers later, and Hart found herself a bona fide YouTube star. Cue feature film deal.
Hart previously penned the script for 2014’s “Camp Takota,” also starring Helbig and “My Drunk Kitchen” creator Hannah Hart (no relation). According to industry insiders, “Camp Takota” saw big returns for producer Michael Goldfine, though exact numbers are unknown. Naturally, the trio fans have dubbed “The Holy Trinity” made a follow-up.
“Dirty 30,” a party movie in the vein of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” premiered last week in select theaters, on iTunes and across digital platforms. The film tells the story of Kate (Mamrie Hart), an orthodontist’s assistant who agrees to let her two best friends (Helbig and Hannah Hart) throw her a thirtieth birthday party. After finding a letter from her teenage self detailing all the amazing ways her life would change by the time she hit thirty, Kate questions her life choices. Nothing an epic rager can’t cure.
If you go simply by the numbers, Mamrie Hart has the fewest subscribers of the three comedians, though one million certainly ain’t too shabby. However, Hart seems the most poised to break into what she calls “traditional,” and not only because she wants it the most. Though she shares story credit with Helbig on “Dirty 30,” she also co-wrote the screenplay (with Molly Prather) and plays the leading role. She also shares executive producer credit with Helbig and Hannah Hart, making the writer/producer/actress what one might call a triple threat.
In person, Hart is humble about her success. She spoke candidly to IndieWire about her surprise at her YouTube fame, and feeling gratified when peers who once judged her came calling for advice. Charming and quick-witted, what was clear from speaking to Hart is that her success is hard-won, but certainly well-deserved.
You’re one of the pioneers of YouTube—
So much dysentery. So much Oregon trail.
You, Grace and Hannah are the senior class of YouTube. Everyone is emulating what you three started. You’re now making your second feature film, how are you going to—
Continue drinking the blood of the youth?
I never expected for YouTube to be the path. I got a theater degree from UNC Chapel Hill, and I moved to New York to do serious acting. That developed into doing sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade, where I met Grace. I did not expect it to be this kind of parallel path. The goal has always been traditional, but it turned out YouTube has been this sidekick that’s kicked open the doors for all my traditional stuff. I definitely want to do more television and film. With “Camp Takota,” I didn’t know my first feature was going to be made because of an online following. But I very much believe in, “dance with the one that brought ya.”
You mentioned your original goal was acting. When did start writing?
I wrote a couple of little things in college, but I never thought writing would be kind of 50/50 in my career. The thing about YouTube is you’re a one-person production company, so you’re doing everything besides being on camera: Editing, lighting, sound (which is bullshit on my show), and writing.
Have you written for other people?
I definitely want to help develop things for other people, and hopefully maybe direct down the line. This is going to crack at some point. I’m motioning to my face, readers. I mean—I live hard. When it all of a sudden shatters like an iPhone screen, I want to make sure I have some stuff in the can.
If YouTube was always your side hustle, what was the main hustle?
It was something I was doing in tandem with acting. To bring up Grace again, she was doing all this Internet stuff while we were doing live shows and she wasn’t really talking about it. She was sort of like: “This is embarrassing. I make YouTube videos for a living.” It wasn’t this socially accepted thing. Then, all of a sudden, the shift moved toward legitimizing the power of the Internet, and it was like: “Oh, now you guys are interested? Great. I have this following.” So it’s been the thing that gets me in the room, and then hopefully everything I’ve done leading up to it keeps me in the room.
When do you think that shift happened?
I feel like it only happened in the last two years. Even with “Camp Takota,” it’s not like we went out and pitched it. We had our producer, Michael Goldfine, who believed in it and supported it. People were not funding digital movies, and then after “Camp Takota,” people saw that fans will show up to support your projects across the board, it’s not just clicks. You’re going to sell tickets; you’re going to sell books.
Is there a concern in the industry that viewers won’t cross over? If they’re used to seeing you on YouTube, will they go to a movie theater to see you?
That’s the big fear with traditional. That’s why we opened “Dirty 30” in select theaters, but also on demand and on iTunes. There’s still a little shaking in the boots, but that’s always going to be the case. They’re still making that argument with female-fronted films. They’re just nervous nellies. The cool thing about these digital features is it’s a very slim budget, so you’re not going to be out 30 million off the top because of some celebrity. It’s not a huge gamble, and people need to put their cards down a little more.
What was the inspiration behind “Dirty 30”?
We knew we wanted to do a party movie. I was obsessed with “Can’t Hardly Wait.” I think that’s the perfect movie if you’re 11 or if you’re 30. Grace and I conceptualized it, and then it was a long haul to get it made because you’re juggling three girls who are doing everything all at once. We’re not just sitting around trying to make movies. But once we got the time carved out, it was so much fun. Especially to be able to put our friends in it — even friends Grace and I had from our sketch comedy days, we got to put some of them in their first feature.
That must have felt really good.
It feels fucking great. I know what it’s like to be in this city and do shows five nights a week for two people and a rat smoking a cigarette. So all of this just feels like candy.
Did you ever have any of that embarrassment that Grace had?
Oh yeah, and I don’t mean to speak for her, but it was just such a new thing. Grace is the O.G. Everyone has replicated her. She’s going to be in the history books. There are still people who are learning to understand it. Like when I wrote my book, my Mom was like: “Thank God I have something to tell the ladies in my church choir.” It’s just hard to explain to people that you can make a living off of it. But I’ve never been embarrassed. It’s very tough to embarrass me.
How did it go over with your comedy and sketch friends?
At first it was a little weird when I was doing live shows and fans started to show up. You’d get: “So… What’s going on with you?” There was a little bit of indie versus pop. It’s been fun to see that flip and have people be like: “Can I get some advice?” It’s a little bit of street cred.
That must feel really validating.
It does. It really does. Because it’s not just putting up a video and getting a lot of clicks. It’s been a second job the entire time. It’s nice to see it pay off and to see that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The Rock just launched a YouTube channel. What do you think about traditional stars crossing over into digital?
I think it’s adorable. There’s nothing better than a superstar trying to use Snapchat. It’s great, but I think everyone is always two years too late to everything. It’s legitimizing and it’s only going to help the cream rise to the top of digital talent. It’s nice that there’s a mutual respect forming, and hopefully those lines can blur a little bit.
YouTube fans are mostly adolescents and teenagers. Do you think they will keep watching once they hit college?
It’s too early to know. We’re talking about an industry that is new. Who knows if little Mary who was obsessed with YouTube at 14 will still be watching at 24? Who knows what YouTube will even be at that time? I feel like this case study is too early to tell.