Patrick H Willems is one of my favorite YouTube creators—see his channel here. He produces a wide variety of content, but is best known for his videos that discuss movies in interesting and insightful ways, praise films you should give a second chance, or critique the current state of Hollywood.
Trust me, these are more than your typical video essays.
What I love most about his content is the creative lense he puts on everything he does, making each video it’s own story, often displaying the techniques he’s discussing—like shooting a chase sequence before talking about what makes a great chase scene—or framing his arguments with often hilarious bookends.
Here’s his latest video to give you an idea of the kind of content he’s known for.
However, Patrick Willems isn’t just a creavie video essayist. He writes and directs his own short films, has written a horror screenplay, and hosts the We Heart Hartnett podcast.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the interview where Patrick discusses all of these things, and even gives us a little peek into what makes him tick.
Hey Patrick, I’m a long-time fan of yours. It’s been exciting to watch your channel (Patrick (H) Willems) grow from a basic a film essay format to something much more creative and unique. You’ve evolved to incorporate creative devices like the ones featured in the Patrick Explains series and the bookends to the Ethan Hunt and Jurassic Park videos, among many others.
Could you explain to me the process of evolving the channel in this way?
Patrick: The evolution actually goes back way further. From 2011-2016 every video on the channel was a narrative short of some kind. The nonfiction videos and video essays didn’t start until November 2016, but since then they’ve become what I’m best known for (something I have mixed feelings about).
When I made the first video essay, “Why Do Marvel Movies Look Kind of Ugly,” I thought it’d just be a one-off experiment that no one would watch, so I used the classic video essay format, just voiceover over movie clips. Then that video was a big success and people demanded more video essays, so I started making more and just stuck with the same style.
What inspired the change?
Patrick: But after a year of doing them that way, I got really bored with the process. There were a million people using the same style. The videos felt so impersonal. Like, not to shit on the video essays I made last year, but I have zero emotional attachment to any of them.
I consider myself a filmmaker first, and a video essayist second, so I realized what I had to do was blend the essays with the narrative shorts we had been making for years. And since making that shift at the beginning of the year, I’ve enjoyed making the videos so much more.
Is it difficult to keep it fresh?
Patrick: Yeah, they’re more complicated and time-consuming to create, but more fulfilling. That said, I want to create more of a balance between the nonfiction videos and the regular narrative filmmaking. There haven’t been nearly enough shorts this year, and that bugs me.
One thing I really enjoy about this generation of creators is a willingness to bootstrap it until they fulfil their dreams. There are plenty of examples of people who “made it” because they forged their own way. The cast of Always Sunny in Philadelphia wrote and filmed their pilot because no one was giving them jobs. Seth Rogan wrote Superbad because Judd Apatow told him the best way to make it was to create his own material.
Correct me if any of this is wrong, but from what I gather you started your channel with the same kind of intentions. Could you tell me about your state of mind before you launched your channel? Did you launch it with the goal of eventually “making it” as a Hollywood director? Or was the channel a goal in itself?
Patrick: Yeah, this goes way back to when I graduated from college in 2010. I knew I wanted to make movies, but I had no idea how to go about making it into an actual career.
I’d been making movies with my friends from high school and college for years, and already had a big network of collaborators, so I decided to start making weekly short films, put them on YouTube, and hopefully reach enough people that eventually it might lead to other filmmaking work.
This was way more appealing to me than the more traditional route of moving to LA and working PA jobs for years, since at least this way I got to keep making stuff and would be creatively fulfilled.
Now that you’re coming up on 200,000 YouTube subscribers, have your views of your channel or its purpose changed?
Patrick: Definitely. For years I was convinced the channel would never become profitable and was basically just a way to get the attention of places that might hire me for other work. Now it’s my full time job. I still hope to make bigger projects not on YouTube, but in the meantime, I definitely view the channel as a viable career and not just an online portfolio.
You’ve been stepping up production values lately. You seem to have a growing staff too. Has this been completely enabled by your Patreon campaign, or are the sweet YouTube bucks starting to finance your efforts?
Patrick: I wouldn’t really say the staff is growing. We have an unpaid summer intern, and the rest of the cast and crew is the same group of people who have been working on the channel for years. They’re all good friends of mine who lend me so much of their time, most of whom I’ve been working with since high school.
Are you guys working full time on the channel these days?
Patrick: Right now the income from Patreon, YouTube, etc is just enough for me to get by, but my main goal is to get to the point where I can be paying the team and they can devote more of their time to this.
How’s the script coming? What are the biggest hurdles you see in terms of getting it made?
Patrick: I should clarify some things about the screenplay Jake and I have been writing. We’re not actually planning on producing it. This would require a budget of several million dollars. And since I don’t have any non-YouTube directing credits to my name, it’s highly unlikely a studio would trust me to direct it. Our goal is just to sell it once it’s done.
Could you give me the elevator pitch for the movie you’re making?
Patrick: I don’t want to say much about the story, so I’ll just say it’s a teen-centric horror movie.
Sooooooo…… Josh Hartnett? What a weird choice for an actor to explore the career of, but I dig it. When I told my wife about your podcast (We Heart Hartnett), she was like, “Is Josh Hartnett even in movies anymore?” I’m working my way through the episodes and having a fun time with it.
Here are a few rapid-fire We Heart Hartnett questions. Note: links point to We Heart Hartnett episodes.
What is Josh Hartnett’s best movie you’ve seen to date?
Biggest missed opportunity?
Patrick: There are a lot, but I’ve gotta go with The Black Dahlia.
Funniest episode of the podcast?
Any indication that he’s going to make it onto the podcast?
Patrick: None yet. He’s a hard man to reach.
How did you like Bunraku (next episode I think)?
Patrick:It’s pretty nuts. It doesn’t totally work, but I like what it’s going for, and there’s some great stuff in there.
Why no Dredd video? It’s a totally fantastic movie that failed at the box office. It knows what it is and sticks too it well, taking inspiration form The Raid (also fantastic) with the “fight their way up a multi-level building to the boss” trope which is weirdly compelling for a straight up action flick. Plus apparently there’s a TV show in production, and I’d love to hear what they should and shouldn’t do. Come on Patrick! As a comic book guy, you should be all over this!
Pa trick:I saw Dredd once back when it was in theaters, liked it, didn’t love it, and honestly haven’t thought about it much since then. But people bring it up to me a lot so I should probably revisit it.
Lightning round! Answer as quick as you can, no cheating even though I can’t see you.
Top three directors?
Patrick: Spielberg, Edgar Wright, Soderbergh.
Biggest source of inspiration outside of film?
Patrick: Comic books.
Dream actor you’d like to cast as the lead in your film?
Patrick:The one we’re writing right now? That’s tough, since the character is a teenage girl. I haven’t really thought about it.
Anime, yes or no?
Patrick:Yes, mostly just for Ghibli.
Favorite Comic Book?
Patrick: Scott Pilgrim
Best YouTube channel other than your own?
Patrick: It isn’t really active anymore, but Waverly Films. For years they made these brilliant, inventive hilarious short films every week. I became obsessed with their videos in college and they’ve been one of my biggest inspirations since then. And those guys have gone on to do huge things, like writing and directing Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Any fan encounters yet?
Patrick: Lots, and everyone has been super nice and cool.
Can I cameo in your movie?
Patrick: I won’t be directing, so it’s not up to me!
So there you have it. It was great having a chance to talk Patrick Willems. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel and podcast. For the many hollywood producers who read this blog, give this man a directing job.