Career and Jobs

Zach King And Terry Crews Bring Out Best Of YouTube And Hollywood With New Short Film: Stranded 3

“I could not be more proud to be involved with Zach King. This man is a true innovator.”

Those words came from none other than Hollywood heavyweight Terry Crews, who is a true innovator himself. Both King and Crews have helped redefine their respective industries over the past decade. While many know Crews as the host of America’s Got Talent and his memorable roles in White Chicks and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he’s also a furniture designer, talented flutist, and ex-NFL player. Not to be outdone, King is one of the largest creators on social media with over 120 million followers. His creativity has taken many forms in the past 14 years — from 3,000 videos with his signature visual magic to comic books with augmented reality to now a short film with Terry Crews.

With Crews teaming up with King on Stranded 3, the third installment in King’s short-film trilogy, it marks a unique partnership — one that represents how YouTube and Hollywood are coming closer together.

I sat down with both King and Crews to learn how their careers led to this moment, what happened behind-the-scenes of Stranded 3, and what this short-film could mean for the future of media and technology.

A Different Approach To Social Media

Years before the Stranded trilogy, King’s story began on YouTube. Paying his way through college with online video editing tutorials, King had his first viral moment when he uploaded “Jedi Kittens” in 2011 which featured two cats dueling with lightsabers.

The reason “Jedi Kittens” went viral is the same reason that King now has over 20 billion views and 120 million followers: he knows how to tell stories that capture a feeling of magic. But with over 3,000 videos made, how does King keep recreating that spark? And perhaps more impressively, parlay it into a high-production series like Stranded?

“I was already like tapping out of the ideas,” King said after his first few months uploading videos on Vine. “I thought the well was running dry”

Early in his career, King had an epiphany, realizing that ideas don’t come from a mystical muse. Rather, they’re the result of “sitting down, and doing the work,” King said.

It’s this philosophy that has guided King to brainstorm ideas and build a studio of some of the industry’s best producers, visual effects editors, and operators.

King was kind enough to invite me to sit in on his team brainstorming session to see their process in action. It immediately struck me that the meeting wasn’t limited to the “creatives” on the team. Rather, everyone from producer Luke Berger to Stranded 3 director Josh Fapp to even King Studio’s Chief Operating Officer Ryan Riggs were invited to pitch ideas alongside King himself.

At this stage, bad ideas don’t exist, neither do budgets. Cutting back is easier than building up, King mentioned when reflecting on their process. After everyone shares their ideas on “T-Sheets” (a rough mock of a visual and text explanation of their video pitch), they have an informal vote to see which ideas stand out. The chosen concepts enter the production pipeline which ultimately turns into videos where King turns pizza into a hovering UFO or reaches into the London skyline for a cheese grater and pepper mill.

In seeing and hearing about King’s process first-hand, it’s almost like he’s taken the best of Hollywood and brought it to social media: the rigor of pre-production, the flow of a writer’s room, and the professionalism to bring it altogether on set during film days. That approach would prove vital in winning over — and working with — Crews on Stranded 3.

How Crews’ Unconventional Career Led To Stranded 3

Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

But Crews may be the rare exception to this rule. Years before his career took off, he told then girlfriend and future wife Rebecca King-Crews, “We are going to play in the NFL. And then we’re gonna move to LA, and we’re gonna make movies.”

Looking back on Crews’ career now, this seems obvious. From his iconic rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” in White Chicks, to his no-holds-barred approach to Old Spice commercials and his role on Brooklyn Nine-NineCrews has become a household name. But when applying to study art at Western Michigan University in 1986, Crews could barely afford a full year of tuition. Walking on to the school’s football team, he ultimately earned a scholarship to pay his way through art school.

“’I’m an artist. This is who I am. And there was no differentiating athletics and art to me,” Crews said. “I’m gonna do both and we’re gonna make it happen.”

The transition to Hollywood was far from easy. Crews ended up working security detail for Ice Cube, sweeping floors, and taking every opportunity he got in Hollywood, leaving nothing on the table. When he was finally given a chance, Crews spent a month rehearsing “A Thousand Miles” in a hotel room before his White Chicks debut. When his entire team advised against the Old Spice ads, Crews did it anyway. And when YouTube began to hit its stride in the early 2010’s, Crews started to upload and experiment with the platform.

“I saw no difference between entertainment and marketing,” Crews said. “Commercials can be just as entertaining as a movie, as a television show… Everything is entertainment.”

It’s fitting that Crews is now launching Super Serious, a full-suite creative studio that embodies this very mantra: everything is entertainment. The studio will produce television, feature films, commercials and everything in-between.

“I started getting into the internet and the power of YouTube, the power of Instagram, the power of TikTok,” Crews said. “I embrace it all.”

So when King reached out to collaborate for his new short film Stranded 3, Crews answered with a resounding yes and embraced every moment of it.

The Making of Stranded 3

While King has worked with Selena Gomez, Jeff Goldblum, and other celebrities in his videos, Stranded 3 marked a deeper production and partnership. With a run time of 18 minutes — this would not be a quick cameo.

“When [Crews] said yes, I was like wait what?” King said after reflecting on asking Crews to co-star in Stranded 3.

“When we shoot a celebrity we usually have [them] for like two hours.” With Crews, King asked for four days — and he got it. Specifically, Crews agreed to a four day shoot in the desert, camping every night. Asking Crews if he had time for a wardrobe fitting, King was met with another yes.

“It’d be kinda cool to read the script together,” King suggested. “We’ll do it as part of the wardrobe fitting,” Crews’ team responded.

With little time for rehearsals, Josh Fapp, the director of Stranded 3, asked Crews to try a few drastically different versions of his character, Nelson Balboa.

“He can flip that switch between those different versions in an instant,” Fapp said. “I’m having him say a line yelling at the top of his lungs. His eyes are bulging. And then the next take we do the same exact line — but he’s on the verge of tears.”

Fapp’s experience with Crews is reminiscent of the star’s Old Spice ads — where on day one of production, Crews was pitching ideas for future commercials, as the legal team drew up the contract.

At one point during the script reading, King turned candidly to Crews, asking him, “Without offending you, why are you doing this project?”

“I just like to experiment, do cool stuff. Meet cool people,” King said, recounting Crews’ answer.

“[King] is an OG in the space,” Crews said, expanding on this during our interview. “I’m a fan just like everybody else.”

For Crews, Stranded 3 represents a different side of the entertainment industry. Coming from major studio productions, King’s ability to achieve special effects and stunts for pennies on the dollar stood out to Crews.

The Stranded series itself are a cocktail of King’s visual magic mixed with Indiana Jones-style action and Mission Impossible-esque stunts. With each installation, King and co-star Nate Norell, get stranded amidst a treasure hunt as they evade pirates and booby traps using Zach’s visual-trickery.

Stranded 3 finds King and Nate, once again stranded, this time in the desert. As the adventure continues, the duo encounters Nelson Balboa, an archaeologist played by Crews. Produced over several months with a budget of $250,000, the series’ newest installment rivals Hollywood stunts with a practically filmed paramotor chase scene as King himself soars through the air.

“My desire for Stranded 3 is to inspire other creators to push the boundaries of what they could do. Attract more Hollywood celebrities to work with social media influencers and create content together” said Fapp. “Maybe they can dream bigger than they thought was possible.”

King echoed these sentiments, stating he hopes to continue building on the innovative storytelling he learned from Hollywood greats Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

With a star like Crews stepping deeper into the world of YouTube, King, Fapp and everyone involved with this production are showing that the lines between social and traditional media are closer than ever. Hollywood stars, visual effects, and stunts are not restricted to Hollywood anymore. While the creator economy was built around a DIY culture, King and Fapp are proving it can be a vehicle for unimaginable growth — from six-seconds of magic to a six-figure production starring Terry Crews.

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