In 1964, United Artists studio made A Hard Day’s Night to cash in on what was, at the time, a new fad called “Beatlemania”. This year, Netflix is offering up Chasing Cameron for the same reason. They’re cashing in on the rise of social media stars like Cameron Dallas, Aaron Carpenter, and Taylor Caniff. Just as the old men in charge at UA in the ’60s never understood the true scope of the cultural shift they paid to document, Netflix thinks it’s doing just another celebrity-driven reality show. In fact, they’ve captured a glimpse at the inner workings of a relatively new and still poorly-understood arm of the entertainment industry.
Who in the World is Cameron Dallas?
If you don’t know Cameron Dallas, you likely just use Twitter to complain about your internet provider or to mock entertainment writers and political figures. For folks who use the platform, and its video cousin Vine, as a frequent source of entertainment and communication, Dallas is one of the most prolific content producers.
Dallas began his career posting modeling images of himself on Instagram where he built a modest following. Then, five years ago, as a shy and somewhat introverted 17-year-old, he began posting pranks and mini-comedy films on Vine. Two years later he had an audience of 8.1 million. Furthermore, each of the six-second productions that he wrote, produced, edited, and starred in found a far bigger audience than most network television shows and ultimately garnered a combined 2 billion loops or views.
Here Comes the Money
Advertisers took note early. They started funneling modest sums into social. In 2013, they could spend a few thousand for Dallas to integrate their products into his videos. For a fraction of the cost of a single TV commercial, they reached twice or three times the audience.
Chasing Cameron shows Dallas’ impressive (apparently innate) understanding of how spectacle impresses potential advertisers. He innocently shut down a mall early in his career simply by announcing his presence. He later did the same thing in Milan, Italy to impress Calvin Klein during fashion week. Mobs of fans shut down streets which resulted in a police riot reaction.
There’s a scene late in Chasing Cameron, one of the few, where we see just how much money is on the table now. We also see just how much of a businessman the now 21-year-old Dallas has become. A new company wants to partner with him for $200,000. For that sum, they’ll get 12 original videos for their new platform. Dallas balks at the deal. He explains that, for helping to build this new venture, he should also get some equity. While it may be unrelated, Dallas signed a similar deal in November to produce content for StyleHaul on YouTube. The details of the deal are undisclosed. Dallas will be doing four videos per month for the company.
Traditional Hollywood Misses the Point
The entertainment industry took notice of the phenomenon a few years ago too but never figured out what to do with it. It doesn’t fit their mold and almost all attempts to move these social personalities and audiences over to traditional media like television and movies fail unnoticed. It’s yet to be seen if Netflix will be the big mainstream success they hope.
Since they couldn’t repackage them, the industry, for the most part, ignores them. Check out the list of stories Variety did about Dallas – the mainstream entertainment media ignored him until he got into traditional media efforts. While the magazine known as “the industry bible” has an entire section dedicated to “Digital” stories, they mostly report on gadgets and the forays into social by already-established traditional media stars. The homegrown platform stars warrant barely a mention unless they cross over. Even though it consistently garners more public interest and interaction, mainstream reporters still fail to treat the social entertainment realm as its own thing.
MAGCON Captures Lightning in Bottle
Netflix’s Chasing Cameron finds its drama during tours of Europe and Australia featuring Dallas during something called MAGCON. MAGCON (Meet and Greet Convention) is exactly what it says on the tin; people pay to meet the social stars in person. Thousands of people turn up for these events. Hundreds pay extra to meet and greet.
Regular ticket holders get to watch most of the talent jump around on stage to a thumping soundtrack. Some of the social stars, like Aaron Carpenter and Willie Jones, are accomplished singers but, in general, the show consists of a call-and-response experience. Dallas or one of the others will say something into a microphone. The audience will scream. Rinse and repeat.
VIP tickets cost upwards of two hundred bucks and will get you a minute or two of interaction with the stars directly. The scenes of this process in Chasing Cameron are uncomfortable to watch. Fans literally jump on Dallas. They force him to pose as if he is proposing to them, kiss them, and generally treat him like an object.
One of the supporting stars of Chasing Cameron is Bart Bordelon. He was the first to package stars like Dallas and other social media personalities into a traveling road show to sell tickets. Bordelon deserves much credit for figuring out how to make money off the phenomenon, but it’s clear he, like the rest of the industry, doesn’t truly understand what’s going on. Throughout Chasing Cameron, Bordelon tries various ways, adding choreography and more musicians, to change his successful formula into something that closer resembles a traditional concert. It’s obvious he cannot comprehend why the audience is screaming and crying and losing their collective mind just seeing these young men jump around on stage.
Cameron Dallas Is Bigger than The Beatles
To my knowledge, he is not a songwriter and doesn’t play an instrument, but, by sheer numbers, Cameron Dallas is a bigger pop phenomenon now than The Beatles were at this early point in their career. When the soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night came out in 1964, it sold four million copies. Dallas’ Vine efforts routinely double that, and that’s just one of several platforms on which he performs.
Now, before you take to Twitter to complain about another clueless entertainment writer, I’m not comparing the quality of the content or talent or legacy. I’m only looking at the total audience. Of course, at the same point in The Beatles’ career, most of the establishment entertainment media types didn’t think they were quality or particularly talented either.
Watching Chasing Cameron immediately brought to mind what the New Yorker’s long-time critic Brendan Gill wrote of The Beatles in ’64. “Though I don’t pretend to understand what makes these four rather odd-looking boys so fascinating to so many scores of millions of people, I admit that I feel a certain mindless joy stealing over me as they caper about uttering sounds.”