Bertie Gilbert discusses his new film Tick Where It Hurts, his venture into filmmaking, and leaving the YouTube community behind.
“I think it’s my best film so far,” says Bertie Gilbert, who at 17 has just released his third short-film. “It’s grander in its messages and themes. It’s more mature. Out of all my films this is the one that will make you think the most.”
Tick Where It Hurts is about two brothers – one timid, the other charismatic – who make music together. The charismatic brother kills himself, and the film takes place one month later over the span of an evening. “It’s the psychological journey of the timid brother as he comes to terms with the death of his sibling,” Bertie says.
Bertie is particularly proud of Tick Where It Hurts because he feels the themes are fully realised and relatable yet only expose themselves in subtle ways. “All of us have a side that’s very insecure, but we also have a side that makes us feel better – a part of us that’s stronger,” he explains. “Tick Where It Hurts is about what happens when that side disappears. It comes from a very personal space.
“A month or two ago I was feeling very insecure and I struggled to make myself feel better. But ultimately, without any of that I wouldn’t have been able to make this film. It works so well because I’m very invested in it. In a sense, my short films are more personal than any of my vlogs.”
“It’s not really what you do when you’re younger that counts, it’s what you do when you’re an adult”
For someone of his age Bertie is very profound, more so than many of his peers, and he is always looking to his future. Perhaps this stems from making YouTube videos since the age of 14, through which he has grown up faster than others. Or maybe that spark has always been a part of who he is.
“Ultimately it’s not really what you do when you’re younger that counts, it’s what you do when you’re an adult,” he says. “The fact that I felt bad in the past doesn’t matter, it was just the way I ended up making something I’m very proud of. With everything I do I keep in mind that I want it to get me somewhere in the future.”
Part of looking to the future saw Bertie private two-thirds of the videos on his channel recently – predominantly vlogs, but also collaboration videos with Charlie McDonnell, Troye Sivan, Caspar Lee, and many more. Why would he remove these videos?
“The moment I got a taste for bigger things I couldn’t settle for less. Now that it’s within me to do so much more I can’t see myself vlogging again. It’s not enough,” he explains. “In comparison to what I’ve created in the past few months I’m just not proud of that stuff. I don’t want those videos to reflect on me.”
The change wasn’t sudden, however, as Bertie believes he eased his audience into his new style before he privated all these videos. Nonetheless, it has affected his subscriber count. “I’m losing subscribers as quickly as I’m gaining them,” he says.
“But I don’t really care about numbers. I’m at a point where I’m very aware of the future and I know numbers on a screen – in the grand scheme of things – won’t exactly help me progress in my career.”
“With film there’s a million different strands that people can comment on…”
People have suggested to him that he’s putting too much pressure on himself or that he should enjoy being young. He doesn’t disagree with them, but argues that this is what he enjoys.
“I like that it’s difficult, it makes it very rewarding in the end,” reflects Bertie. “I love vlogs, I love watching people who have something interesting to say, but I feel there’s only so much someone can say in response.
“With film there’s a million different strands that people can comment on,” he explains. “And people do. I like getting real responses, be that negative or positive, as long as my audience are engaged.”
Engaging his audience in this way is part of the reason he makes shorter videos with open-endings, such as Diner and Many Moons. “Those smaller videos get more comments than anything else because I’m encouraging people to write stories,” he says.
“I love putting my audience to the test. Their interpretations are always interesting. They come up with concepts I’d never thought of.”
Bertie is also very critical of his old films. While he emphasises how proud he is of them, he still finds things to comment on. “I think it’s healthy to pick out flaws in your own stuff,” he explains.
He wishes the alter ego was more clearly defined in Stray Dog. “I didn’t want to give him an evil moustache or something,” he jokes. “But maybe there’s something good about the fact he wasn’t a good or bad version of me, he’s just there.”
“Despite my maturity my main flaw is that all my insecurities are very teenager”
For The 56-Year-Old Boy, it’s how image driven the core concept was. “It came from ideas of shots I had in my head,” he explains, “so the story served the shots rather than the shots serving the story.”
Bertie is self aware and ambitious, but it’s his concerns about his future that have become the main driving force behind his filmmaking. There’s a clear internal struggle between mature Bertie and his teenage counterpart. Interesting, therefore, that he made a film called The 56-Year-Old Boy. Could it be that he views himself this way?
“Despite my maturity my main flaw is that all my insecurities are very teenager,” he reflects. “I know that when I’m an adult I won’t care about trivial stuff. I’ll look back and think ‘what were you worried about, that stuff doesn’t matter.’
“The transition from young me to me now kind of broke my head for a little bit. And I think that’s why I felt crap for a while. Typical teenage issues come out in different ways through me.”
“I’ve got nothing against the community, it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore”
Bertie’s move into filmmaking, along with the removal of a lot of his older videos has clearly defined a new path for him. However, this direction has distanced him from the YouTube community where he first found an audience.
“In my mind I left YouTube a while ago,” he says. “When I was younger I thought ‘ah this is fun’ but I’m more into ‘ah, this is fulfilling and rewarding’ now. I’ve got nothing against the community, it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
“I put my films on YouTube not as a YouTuber but because YouTube is a place where things are put,” he explains. “Through YouTube I’ve met friends, colleagues and people who have helped me on various films. I’m very fortunate in that respect. But I’m now at a point where I’m focused on my career outside of it all.”
Bertie still watches YouTube however, and actively supports the content creators he really enjoys. Nonetheless he has some interesting observations about the types of YouTubers out there. “There’s people on YouTube making stuff that isn’t great, but I see them as businessmen. They’re just making money, and that’s fine,” he says.
“But when I see 24-year-old guys who aren’t doing too well but are really pushing to do this rather generic thing I feel sad for them,” he continues. “What happened to pushing to make good stuff?”
Bertie compares YouTube to a boat that was sailing strong, but a bigger boat came along for him. “I had to make sure – with my future and career in mind – that I jumped on that boat before the YouTube one sank,” he says. “If I didn’t advance or progress or move on, and I got to 20 and I was still doing the same thing, it wouldn’t pay off.”
Bertie knows where he wants to go and is paving his own way to get there. YouTube was a significant part of that journey, a part that he is grateful for, but he’s making the most of the opportunities he has now, to better himself and his work.
“I wouldn’t change a thing and I can’t change a thing so there’s no point dwelling on any of it,” he says. “YouTube was my launching pad and I’ll never forget that. It’s a trampoline, but now I’m on a bouncy castle.”