In a minivan laden with an array of guns, ammunition, a writer, a videographer and a gun-handling instructor; the NMR team heads out to an undisclosed location for a feature with the blonde bombshell turned YouTube vlogger sensation iJustine.
After some intense off-roading, we reach our arid destination, where we have been warned that all social media check-ins are banned. It is not long before iJustine herself is clothed in army fatigues, firing a shotgun and reenacting “Call of Duty” scenes in temperatures rapidly approaching the triple digits. Her constant smile and lack of complaints makes it clear that this just may be iJustine’s video game dream come to life.
Justine Ezarik is just a girl from Pittsburgh, PA who found her career and fame through a litte platform called “YouTube” after creating a little video called the “iPhone Bill.” That little video–which has now garnered over 3 million views since its release in 2007– was featured on CNN and subsequently helped to launch iJustine to Internet stardom. She has since capitalized on her 15 minutes of fame and used it to fan the success of her five YouTube channels. Her various channels allow her 1.2 million faithful subscribers to watch iJustine dominate in “Call of Duty,” review the latest tech gadget, vlog from her iPhone and experience her YouTube fame first-hand.
Her more than 350 million video views speaks volumes about iJustine’s success, but on the car ride home from our desert location, she explained how YouTube completely changed her life.
How old were you when you first became interested in YouTube and technology? What made you start getting into it?
iJustine: I was probably very, very young. I’ve always been in technology. I’ve always taken apart calculators and anything I can get my hands on when I was younger. When I was around 12, like 6th grade, my parents always had around Mac computers, because my mom is a teacher. So I’d always be playing around with all the crazy applications and making banners and printing things out and always into graphic design. When the Internet first came out around–I think I was 12–I started making websites. I started pulling HTML code from other people’s websites and kind of making my own. I remember the first website I ever went to was Nintendo.com, and this was back when they had this weird elevator chat room thing, so you’d go down and you’d go into all these different little rooms, and that’s what I kind of remembered my first Internet experience being. I just started making websites and pulling code from random places. I made a daily random photo website that ran from probably 8th grade all through high school and up until college. This was back before there were blogs and before there was anything. I had to code each single page, go forward, go backward, make the archive pages. It’s really been my entire life that I’ve been into technology.
Is high school when you first started making YouTube videos, or was it when you were older?
I think I started doing more of the video probably in college. My major was multimedia, so it was probably closer to then because that wasn’t really readily available and easy to do. My parents had two VHS things, so I used to record tape to tape and do editing. But in college, it was like, “This is great; this is fun.” I started making videos and posting them online at one of my old jobs because I was a really fast editor, so I would be done editing my actual projects, and I would be bored, so I’d make videos around the office and started posting those online.
What was your first YouTube video?
The first YouTube video I posted was this video that I made at said office. I was obsessed with oatmeal, so I just made a stupid video of me making a bowl of oatmeal in the office. It’s pretty boring, but it was fun.
What did you want to be when you were younger? What was your dream job growing up?
When I was really, really young, I wanted to be a cook at Bob Evans, because my parents would always go there every Sunday after church. I was like, “I really want to cook food at Bob Evans!” and I actually cannot cook a single thing to this day. But I always knew I wanted to do something in technology. I loved space, so an astronaut was always an option, but that also did not happen.
What would you be doing if you hadn’t found success in new media?
I would probably still be doing sort of the same thing. I’ve always loved editing, and I have a graphic design background, so I do all of my own editing, all of my own design. I would definitely be doing something in that nature.
What sort of other avenues has your YouTube popularity opened up for you?
A lot with TV, which has been really fun, because I never wanted to be an actress really, but being in front of the camera you kind of learn what to do and what not to do. I’ve done a bunch of guest spots on random TV shows. Right now, we’re working on an actual show for the CW kind of based around my Internet endeavors. I’m really excited about that and other opportunities and a lot of really fun branded sponsored videos and even some consultant jobs as well.
So you work with the show “Escape Routes.” What’s the most exciting place that the show has taken you so far?
“Escape Routes” is awesome because it really showed social media and television in general that they need to change their ways. This was one of the first shows that was fully interactive. We shot the show in a week, and it aired that Saturday. It was six teams, and we went around the country: San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Vegas and all these different places, and there were people competing for $100,000 and a Ford Escape–two Ford Escapes, rather. It was kind of cool how you had to use technology to go and be super interactive. It was fun to guest host with Rossi Morreale, who was an awesome co-host.
How do you think that doing all of your YouTube videos and your vlogs have prepared you for doing live streaming? I know you did E3 and Spike, right? How did that prepare you in terms of confidence and camera?
Nothing can really prepare you for live TV because you never know what’s going to happen. I think for me what really helps is I know what I’m looking for when I’m shooting things, so it definitely helps to have that eye and know what camera you’re looking at. I also did this thing back in 2008-ish where I streamed my life 24/7 for six months straight, so talk about being prepared for live television! I carried around a laptop and wore a camera on my head.
Oh my gosh! Was it a Go Pro?
No, it was just a little Logitech webcam that hooked up to the laptop and a Sprint EVDO card, and I did that for six months, so that definitely prepared me for any type of live situation.
What does a normal day in your life look like? What do you do everyday as far as editing videos and where your channel takes you?
I mean, there’s never really a normal day. On a slow day, I’ll wake up pretty early, play “Call of Duty,” get some breakfast, either shoot a video, do some email or do some edits. On a not-normal day, it could be flying around to random places, climbing glaciers–you really never know where anything is going to take you.
Besides dancing in Apple stores, how do you stay fit? A challenge for a lot of people when they’re working with videos or working on their YouTube and social media is finding time to be healthy and stay fit. What’s your secret?
Well, the past couple of months has not been so lucky, because travelling–it’s just really, really hard trying to fit in going to the gym and getting up early. When I normally am on a healthy schedule, I try to go to the gym or do workout videos or DVDs. I just go for a jog. I try to eat healthy, but I really like candy and snacks, so that’s a little difficult. I guess it’s just staying active and making sure you’re taking care of yourself and just not eating too terribly.
Do you have any tips specifically for people working in this industry–for other people who want to be new media artists?
I think a lot of it is really paying attention to what you are eating. Go to the gym. If you don’t know what to do, get a trainer, because that’s what I had to do because I didn’t know what to do. It definitely helps, because they will teach you what you need to do. Even workout DVDs–there’s a lot of apps too. There’s a really cool yoga app that I always use, because when I’m on the go there’s no yoga instructors to teach you what to do. There are a lot of fitness apps, and even with the Nike+ band I was able to see if I was sitting around too much or if I actually did something that day. Just kind of use technology to your advantage. It definitely helps, because it keeps you on your toes like, “Hm, I only took 1000 steps today. I should probably go outside.”
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You’re very transparent with your audience with all of the ways that you share your life. I was watching some of your videos, like the one when Steve Jobs passed away, and that one was so emotional, and I feel like you let people in so much. I saw that there were a lot scrutinizing comments on that too, which I didn’t understand because you were crying. Why wouldn’t they feel bad for you? Totally hating on you.
There’s a lot of haters on the Internet. I’ve definitely learned that. I almost didn’t post that video, but Steve was such a huge part of my life that for me not to post my actual emotions and how I really felt and reacted–I don’t think that was really fair. I don’t think people understood how much he impacted my life. So, I mean, that was my actual emotions, and I put it out there and everyone decided to hate.
Why do you feel like it’s important to let fans onto the emotional sides of you? Why do you think it’s important to share that?
It is important, and sometimes for me I don’t try to show that, but people are like, “Your life is so perfect! Everything is so perfect!” Im like, “Actually, it’s not perfect.” There’s rough times, there’s hard times. You choose to put online what you want to share, so I’m not going to post all these depressing things or these sad things that happened. When I chose to do that video with Steve, people really related to that because it’s a human emotion, and they are able to understand because everyone goes through those types of things. I think it’s important to do, but you don’t want to overdo it and then people are depressed every time they watch your videos [laughs]. I definitely try to keep a positive attitude because not only do people want to watch positive things, but it makes you feel better even if you’re not having a good day.
Do you ever feel like you overshare?
I don’t think I do, because I’m very conscious of what I post, and I try not to post too much stuff of my family or close relationships. Some of my friends don’t really want to be on camera, so I don’t post it. People think, “You post everything!” Actually, I don’t. So, that’s what’s interesting with a lot of vloggers. Newer vloggers will film the entire day. I’m like, “You don’t need to do that.” For a four minute clip, I’ll probably film ten minutes out of the day. Just film what you want to post and not everything.
I know on Ask iJustine that you answer questions from your fans. I watched them and I saw that you sometimes skip over questions. What won’t you answer?
I think it’s not what won’t I answer, because sometimes they catch me off-guard. It’s like, “I don’t actually have an answer for that.” I don’t know what my favorite so-and-so is or something like that. I try to keep more personal relationships to myself because I don’t think it’s everyone’s business, but they can figure it out if they’re smart.
Yeah, because on the Bora Bora video I saw a comment that was like, “Who’s this guy? Is she dating him? What’s going on?”
I’m like, “You guys can figure it out.” It’s hard too because it sucks to see people scrutinizing people that you care about, especially when I did the live video a long time ago. One of my friends was in the video, and he was like my best friend forever. They were like, “We vote him off your show! We don’t like him!” I’m like, “OK, excuse me. This is not a show. This is my life. There will be no voting anyone off.” People like that–you guys just need to chill.
Do you ever feel like they ask too many questions or want to be too involved in your life or require too much?
They do require a lot of attention, but whenever I think about that and get upset that they keep prying, it’s like, “Wait a minute. This is what I chose to do, and I’m posting this voluntarily, so if I don’t want to do it then stop posting.” I do enjoy sharing, and you become close with this audience of people that seem like all one person, but they are all different people, and you can tell by their comments and the communities that form around them.
I thought it was cool that you did a video for Bora Bora, because it seemed like it was a private vacation. Do you like bringing your fans along to all the trips? Do you feel obligated, or do you just love doing that?
I just love doing it, because for me I have a terrible memory. All these trips that I go on I don’t actually remember everything that happens because I’m always filming. I kind of relive everything that happened in post. There’s all these trips that I took with my sisters and all our family vacations, so it’s cool to go back years later and be like “Do you remember when we went to Vegas and did this and this and this?” and you get to go back and see it. Its like I post stuff on Instagram for me, and a lot of the times it is for them too. It’s cool to hang out virtually with all these people.
In Vlog University, you help people get into vlogging. What do you think makes a good vlogger?
I think a lot of my friends post 20-minute vlogs of their whole day, which is really cool, but for me I don’t have the attention span to watch videos that are that long. I think it’s kind of keep it concise and re-watch your video and be like, “Am I enjoying watching this? Am I getting bored at any parts?” Because if so, then someone else is definitely going to get bored if you can’t even watch yourself. I think it’s just be entertaining, be yourself and talk about things that you are passionate about, because it really shows through in videos that if you’re talking about something that you don’t really care about, that definitely shows.
What’s a piece of advice you give to people who want to start out vlogging?
Just start. Whatever you have, just use. You don’t have to have the best equipment, you don’t have to have the fastest computers. When I started out, I was just using my iSight camera on my Macbook from my boss’s computer. I think it’s just use what you have and make it work.
I feel like the term “vlog” keeps evolving. How do you distinguish a vlog from a YouTube post. Does Jenna Marbles do vlogs? How do you define it now?
I’m not sure, because I don’t think there’s really one set term for vlog. I think vlogs were originally a daily video of “Oh, I’m just walking around doing this and that,” but then something like JennaMarbles or even stuff that I do where I’m just talking in the camera, I feel like that can also be a vlog. Truthfully, I don’t know. Whoever started that word, we need to find them and have them define it.
Has the way you broadcast yourself from the beginning changed to how you portray yourself now?
I think it has changed as far as editing styles and stuff that I’m interested in, which is one of the reasons why I have so many channels, because I’m interested in so many different things and a lot of people aren’t necessarily interested in that. A lot of people give me a lot of crap like, “Oh, you have six different channels. It must be because you want a lot of money.” I’m like, “That’s not why I have those; because if I did, then I’d actually post on them more often because then I’d actually get money, but I don’t really post that often.” For me, it’s more about posting what I want to post and what I want to share and not necessarily because it’s for money, which is why I think a lot of people strive to become a YouTuber now. You obviously want it to be a full-time job, but it has to be passion first and money second. The reason why I have different channels is that I do have all these different interests in technology and gaming, and not necessarily everybody wants to watch me play video games.
Did you actually host the YouTube’s Next Blogger competition, or is it still going?
Yes, that’s still going. It hasn’t officially started, but they picked the YouTubers in the actual Next Vlogger program, so soon we’re going to start doing Google Hangouts and kind of mentoring them and doing different collab videos. It’s going to be exciting to help all these people who are up-and-coming YouTubers. You know, just tips and tricks. YouTube is helping them out giving them equipment and stuff like that, so it really helps to have that extra little push. A couple of years ago, YouTube gave out $1000 to a bunch of different YouTubers, and I was really excited because I got that and so did my sister. I was able to upgrade and get new wireless microphones, and my sister bought a new camera. The little things that YouTube does like that, it helps significantly.
Do you think that blogging is a realistically viable profession that kids should pursue in the future?
I think it is. There’s so many little kids now that have been doing this where their parents have to accept the checks, because they are too young to even have an AdSense account. I think that they shouldn’t really put all their efforts into “Hey, I’m going to be a vlogger; that’s what I’m going to do.” I think you should have different options, because I’m not saying things are not going to happen, but things change very quickly, and who knows? Maybe YouTube isn’t going to be here in the next year. It will be, but you never know, so don’t put all those eggs in one basket.
At what point did you know, “OK, this is my career. This is what I’m going to do, and this can be my career because it’s lucrative and it’s working.”
My mom wasn’t really too excited about it. I think it was whenever the first iPhone bill video came out, and it was kind of an actual viral video. It was a video where I threw down 300 pages of an iPhone bill when the first iPhone came out. Within three hours, this video was everywhere. It was posted on CNN and every major news source. I was getting phone calls, like, “How did you people get my phone number? What is going on?” I think when that video hit, I realized, “This Internet thing is pretty cool. I think that there’s going to be something to that.” I started posting more continuously, and I really started posting just to show my editing skills, so I can get work being an editor or being a graphic designer. At that point, I was doing enough freelance to support my actual vlogging YouTube career. That was the point where I was like, “Alright, I’m quitting my full time job,” and my mom was not happy, but I knew that I was able to do so because I was still doing freelance, and I had that other sort of thing going. I was able to support my YouTube, the non-making money career.
Do you still do freelance, or is that something that you don’t do anymore?
Not anymore. I do a lot of hosting and still just doing mostly production for myself or videos for other brands or clients. It’s mostly stuff that’s posted through my channel.
I heard you say in other interviews that most of your audience are young girls 12-17, which I thought was surprising. Do you think that you’re in a big sister role, and do you like that? How do you feel about that?
I do, and I’ve always been the big sister too in my family; I have two younger sisters. For me, that’s how I always been. I try to keep my content clean and family-friendly, because there’s so much online right now that isn’t. I get emails from parents all the time that are like, “Thank you so much for keeping your videos clean. We can watch this as a family thing, and I can even watch my 3-year-old, and I know you’re not going to do something crazy.” I think it’s that relationship with my audience that they know that I’m not going to do anything bad so that they’re able to watch videos with their parents, where some videos you can’t do that.
What do you want your younger audience to take away from watching your videos and getting to know you through them?
Mostly to be themselves, because for me in high school I was myself. I was definitely nerdy, but I still was friends with anyone from the nerds to the people who played sports. I didn’t judge anybody because I didn’t want to be judged. I think it’s just be yourself and don’t let people bring you down, even though the Internet and the world can be cruel. Just do what you want.
As far as your little sister being on YouTube, do you feel like you inspired her? How do you feel about her success on YouTube?
It started out originally that I made her make a channel. I was like, “Jenna, get on YouTube. This will be fun,” and she was like, “I really don’t want to.”
How long ago was that?
It was a couple of years ago. Once she started posting, she was like, “Alright, this is kind of fun.” It was more like a joke, but I was like, “Just make a channel. Just do it.” We went to an Apple store, and she made her first video. It was kind of cool to watch her in her first video be sort of uncomfortable in front of the camera to now she’s a pro. You can even watch my family change too from when I first started filming them and putting them in my videos. You’re really uncomfortable at first because it’s weird–you’re throwing a camera in somebody’s face. Now, it’s just “Oh, it’s Justine just doing her thing.”
How does your family feel about that? Do they love it?
They do. My grandmother especially, she’s probably one of my biggest fans. What’s awesome is that she’s been making hard copies of everything that I do online for the past forever. We got her a green iMac years and years ago. Since then, she’s been printing out and documenting everything. She makes books and pages of everything, and she goes to Staples and has them all printed out. It’s so cool. She’s very tech-savvy. She’s probably been on Twitter longer than most people. She joined in December of 2006.
Do you influence her to do it?
I don’t even tell her. She just sees me tweet and she joins in. She’s on it.
How do you feel about brand sponsorships? Do you feel pressure to feature brands that approach you, or do you just stick to what you actually like?
It’s really only what I like. I’ve had offers to do a lot of different things with brands for a lot of money, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s really not worth it to me.” They’re like, “How about more money?” and I’m like, “Nope!” I don’t want to say that I really like their product. Either I don’t like it, or I don’t feel there’s a comfortable fit in any of my videos–then, that’s not fair to them to not portray their brand in a way that I feel would be beneficial. I don’t want to sway my audience into something that they might not like.
Do you just turn them down when you don’t feel passionate about it?
Yeah. If there might be a fit later on, I tell them that too.
Do you get a lot of people approaching you wanting to push products since you talk so much about technology?
I think a lot of YouTubers do because people are trying to get their products out there. Some of the weirdest things come through my inbox. Oh my goodness, we don’t have to go there.
We wrote an article talking about when’s a good time for YouTubers to start selling merch. Is it when people start putting your face on shirts? Don’t you have a case that has your name on it? When did that kind of come out and how?
We have been working on that the past couple of years. I met the guy who created this licensing company called iKit; I met him at a conference a couple of years ago. Some items are for sale now and we will be launching an updated line of cases once the new iPhone is released. Websites like Spreadshirt, they allow you to have no money upfront to be able to sell merch. I think anybody should do it. My grandmother should make t-shirts. If you can do it with no cost to you, then why not? It’s not hurting you.
So do you think it kind of backs up your brand? Does it get cheesy at all? Not yours necessarily, but people who really go all out–visors, frisbees.
I think it’s great. I love it. One person will be like, “I really want a such-and-such, so-and-so visor.” Guess what, we’ve got it. It’s just the item for you–perfect.
So you evolved your brand into different platforms, forums and avenues. How did you become so business-minded? How did you develop that side of you, or did you always have it?
I think I just learned it along the way, and I’m very lucky to have a lot of very business-savvy friends who have been like, “What does this contract actually mean?” When someone kind of explains it to you once, you sort of get it. And if there’s something you don’t understand it, you can just Google it, which is amazing. “What are you talking about? Let’s look it up!” I learned it along the way and just trial and error too. A lot of, “Uh, I probably shouldn’t have done that at that point.”
I don’t think with your kind of success that there’s anything that can prepare you for that.
You definitely just learn along the way. It’s so new, so back in the day no one knew how much something cost, so I’m like, “Well, how about this much?” You just sort of set the market price, and it just keeps evolving.
So Mashable called you a “self-made YouTube mogul.” What’s your advice for people just starting out in this platform and wanting to have the same kind of success as you?
It’s hard, because honestly, YouTube has changed so much in these years that starting out is a lot more difficult. The cool thing is–what I always tried to do is find websites that no one’s really using that you can get behind if you think they have potential. When I joined Twitter back in the day, there was really no one on it. No one knew what it was. I was literally taking phones from my friends and signing them up for Twitter so I’d have followers. I joined Instagram, and I was the 103rd person on Instagram. Being in San Francisco–I lived there for a while too–that whole startup scene is so interesting because there’s so many people with so many good ideas, so if you’re able to hop on the website super early–truthfully, that’s the best advice I can give you. Other than that, just be consistent in creating your content. Make stuff that you would want to watch, because if you don’t want to watch it, no one else will probably want to watch it. Make things that you’re passionate about, and I think there’s an audience for everything. There might not be a massive audience for some of the things that you may be into, but there’s someone else out there that will be watching.
How do you stay true to yourself in terms of what you post and not be influenced by the comments or the haters? How do you balance all of that?
To be honest, it’s really, really hard, because one of my big passions is playing video games, and I’ve always loved playing video games, and a lot of my comments were like, “You don’t actually play! This isn’t really playing! You don’t really play!” I’m like, “Why would I spend all this time playing if I didn’t actually enjoy this?” I didn’t go to my prom; I went to a LAN party. My mom would ground me from video games if I didn’t get good grades. The only reason why I got any good grades was so that I can play video games. For Christmas, my mom would be like, “What do you want for christmas?” I’m like, “I want RAM. I want this new game or this new system.” It’s hard to read those things, because you people don’t actually know me. You would if you’d watched any of my videos. It is very hard to read them even after doing it after all of these years. The good part is that you do develop this core community of people that care about you. They’re able to police the comments and stick up for you. Seeing that happen in the comments is one of the things that makes you keep going, and you’re like, “Alright, they got my back.”
Do you comment back a lot? When you see negative comments or even positive comments, are you interactive in that way?
I do, and sometimes I will comment back to mean comments and try to explain myself, and then they retaliate back and say, “Well, I still hate you.” “Well, OK, that’s classy.” Or they’ll be like, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that,” or this or that. There was this one tweet that somebody tweeted at me while I was on the Spike show covering for E3; they said something about me not being a gamer, and I wrote back, “Oh really? Well, tell that to my barbarian level 50 45+ hours of gameplay on Diablo 3,” and he wrote back, “Alright, you win.” People like to judge, and I’ve been guilty of it. I think everyone really is at some point, and that’s one thing the Internet has taught me not to do is to judge anyone ever.
What’s your favorite thing about being a new media artist and being an independent artist?
I think it’s really being able to do what I want. It was always hard for me to work traditional jobs and have a boss who’s like, “Oh, we’re going to do this, and this is really fun and boring.” No, this is terrible. But really being able to have a creative idea and having people be able to go out and do it and having people to go out there that are able to share it with.
What’s next up on your radar career wise?
I don’t know. It’s always so hard, because even a couple of years ago somebody asked me that, and you’re really not able to figure out what’s next in this world. It’s so new, it’s still evolving, and it changes so quickly that I kind of just got ready to go with the flow and whatever happens happens, and I’m ready for it. We will see.
Do you have any new projects right now that you want to tell your fans about?
Yeah, we’re working on a really fun webseries with CW, which if all goes well it will potentially be a TV show, so that can be really awesome. I really want to just do more guest starring in different TV shows, which is still fun because I really like filming behind the scenes and taking them behind all of the TV magic that they don’t usually get to see. For me, that is really fun.
You did “Law and Order,” right?
Yeah, I did “Law and Order” and “Criminal Minds.” My friend Rick Dunkle, he wrote the episode of “Criminal Minds” that I was in, and he was like, “Hey, we need to kill someone. Do you want to be in it?” I was like, “Thanks! Let’s do it!”
What’s the next show you want to be on?
I love “Fringe.” It’s one of my favorite shows ever. I would love to do that and to be in “Dexter,” and I would love to actually kill because a lot of the times I’m the one being killed. I would like to switch roles there.
Do you have any ambitions or specific things that you want to accomplish in your career?
I’d love to do a movie or two. I love iJustine but I really enjoy playing other characters and not really being myself. I’d definitely love to explore more of that too.
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I’m really bad at those questions, because honestly, I never plan anything. I’ve never planned a single thing in my life. So I just usually stick with I don’t like to plan. We’ll just see what happens and just go with it. I would like to get a puppy, so maybe a puppy in the next ten years [laughs]. Let’s get crazy!
Photography by Melly Lee
Weapons Expert: Adrian Zaw