From YouTube to our TV screens

Derek Muller’s three-part doco series Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail starts on SBS Sunday 9 August. This is Derek’s first time presenting an original doco series on TV, but he’s already got a huge following from his massively successful YouTube channel Veritasium.

Veritasium is a series of science and engineering videos that Derek researches, writes and presents. The channel has more than 2.6 million subscribers and over 160 million views. We chat to Derek about how he turned his success online into a three-part series for SBS.

Screen Australia: What’s at the heart of Veritasium’s success?

Derek Muller: One of the keys to success on YouTube is authenticity. Viewers want to get to know you personally and genuinely. That’s much more important than high production value.

The other thing that makes Veritasium popular is that almost every episode is about something you’ve never seen before: The roundest object on Earth; how quantum entanglement results in spooky action at a distance; how water really swirls opposite directions down a drain in the northern and southern hemispheres.

SA: How did you take your success online and turn it into the opportunity to create the series for SBS?

DM: First my YouTube videos got me noticed by ABC’s Catalyst. And I joined their ranks for a few years. Genepool Productions know my work and brought me the concept of Uranium, which fit perfectly with my background in nuclear physics and science communication – The first job I was offered out of university was at a nuclear power plant in Canada. I turned it down to move to Australia.

SA: What’s the difference between the work that goes into Veritasium compared to making Uranium?

DM: They’re very different beasts. For Veritasium I do everything: Researching, writing, presenting, filming, animating and editing. Whereas for Uranium I was the presenter first and foremost, with some input in story and writing especially around the science.

Both ways of working have their perks. On Uranium I could really focus on my performance and leave the rest to the experts. On Veritasium I have to worry about all aspects of production, but I get full creative control.

SA: Did you change your approach as a presenter for the TV audience?

DM: Due to the nature of the filming process my presenting was different on Uranium. I was working with a great team, including very talented and experienced director Wain Fimeri. He shaped my performance, which was a very enjoyable and collaborative process since I’m usually the only one judging the quality of takes. Wain brought out different energies and tones that I’ve never explored on my own.

SA: For factual content like yours, which medium, TV or online, do you think has the most opportunities?

DM: I think they are complimentary. TV and online reach different audiences. Plus TV still has the bigger budget and can make more visually spectacular shows.

The advantage of online is that you can delve into a topic in much greater detail than you would on TV. And by aggregating small, but very interested, audiences across the globe, you can establish a large and dedicated following.

Take a look at Derek’s YouTube channel Veritasium.

Watch Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail at 8.30pm Sunday 9 August on SBS.