As she develops as a filmmaker, the film and TV industry is taking notice. Hazel Hayes talks to TenEighty about what’s next for her career and making the move away from YouTube…
For those who watch her Time of The Month (TOTM) series, it won’t come as a surprise that Hazel Hayes is a busy woman in high demand. Case in point: she rushes across London from a meeting for our interview and shoot, and as soon as it’s over, she dashes off again to get to a film screening.
And this is her quiet period(!), she says. “I’m in a bit of a state of limbo at the moment – it tends to happen at the beginning of the year,” Hazel explains. “I’m talking to various people about stuff – I freaked out that I had nothing on.
“I had so many projects in the run up to Christmas, then they all got completed, so January came around and I was left a little bit lost.”
This ‘lost’ feeling might be one of the contributing factors in carrying on with TOTM for another year, as well as wanting to keep a record of her life. “It’s like a drug, to be honest,” Hazel says. “The idea of not doing it felt really weird, and I had things coming up that I was looking forward to. The first thought in my head [when I get asked to do something] is always ‘that will be a really exciting thing’, and the second is ‘that will be great to film and have to keep’.”
The project has also enabled Hazel to learn a lot about the technical side of videos, including the process of editing down a month’s worth of content. “I learned a lot about the editing process, about storytelling, and even down to the music,” she says. “Trying to make it an interesting narrative – to make someone want to sit through 30 minutes of you, without coming across as pretentious and vain and entirely self-involved – is a hard thing to do.”
And she would “rather eat my own eyeballs than give my TOTM footage to anyone” to edit. A pleasant image, we’re sure you’ll agree…
She explains why: “There are a lot of personal moments in there; I have to pick and choose what I want to go in.
“If you were to go through it and make it a snappy Edgar Wright-esque edit, it wouldn’t be what it is. I want to keep these little moments that may not seem very interesting but they are to me.”
And people do want to watch her for an extended period of time. Her 2015 TOTMs range from 50,000+ to 100,000+ views, but Hazel says: “I’ll genuinely never understand why [people watch the videos]. I’m flabbergasted by the response and support and positivity for this series.
“I watch my videos and think ‘Is my interest waning here?’ – you have to kill your darlings in the edit”
“With TOTM being that longer-form content, people are making a cup of tea… I get photos of people – with their mug in hand, or dinner in front of them, or with their cat – ready to watch it,” she adds. “It’s an episode of something they look forward to in the same way I used to look forward to TV. It’s huge and that’s the biggest thing I ever wanted: to make stories that affect people.”
It’s not just the glimpse into her personal life that viewers like; her films are well-respected, and the passion that Hazel puts into them is evident.
“I sort of threw myself into filmmaking at the beginning of last year, which was great,” she tells us. “I always had a project on the go, whether it was Septem or Weapon (which still isn’t out, due to various technical difficulties). I was always busy, always making something lasting that I could be proud of.
“Going to New York [to film the Field Day one-take Christmas movies video] and getting to work with a different cast and crew in a completely different setting, but still feeling comfortable and in charge of my set was a unique experience,” she continues. “I work with the same people so often here – which is lovely and familiar – but you have to push those boundaries sometimes, and pushing myself was good.”
This is testament to how far she has come, from vlogging in her bedroom and getting help with editing when she started making videos.
“I kept talking about wanting to start vlogging, and everyone was encouraging me to do it,” she explains. “Eventually Ciaran [OBrien] said: ‘If you want to just film something, I’ll edit the first one for you to give you a feel for what it’s like.’ So he edited my first video, and I think the second and third.
“I handed him such a pile of rubbish to edit – it was just me waffling for so long, I wasn’t myself at all. It was all very awkward,” she laughs, at the memory of it.
“After the third one, I started using iMovie and eventually graduated on to Final Cut Pro. That helping hand gave me the push I needed, because I was more worried about the technical side of things.”
Hazel met Ciaran through Tom ‘TomSka’ Ridgewell while she was working at Google. That job, you could argue, was her entrance to the YouTube community. “I had a bit of a safety blanket – I was at Google for six or seven years, and YouTube for three – I had a great job and a really great team around me, and got introduced to all of these wonderful people who are now my friends and colleagues,” Hazel says. “I’ll always look back [on my time at Google] very fondly, but ultimately it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. Working with people who were making the stuff that I wanted to be doing was quite difficult.”
“I just have a bit of a tough exterior, and I don’t take any bullshit. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve stopped doing that”
To make the transition from having a job at Google to being a full-time content creator, Hazel applied for another role at YouTube, as a year-long contractor for a new project. “I became part of a new initiative called Lab Channel Resident. I had to create content, speak to press and brands, be there in the Creator Space, and feed back from the community,” she explains. “[YouTube] were very good to me – they funded a lot of the content I made in that year. It was nice to still have that family around me and still have a physical office. But it was a really tough transition.”
The role meant that although Hazel was still working with Google, she was no longer a full-time employee. She had to start her own company, which she has continued since the Google contract ended.
“Going from working for someone else to starting your own business is difficult, whatever that may be,” she continues. “But particularly with something as potentially volatile as YouTube – it’s so fickle, can change from month to month, and has no real security – that’s scary. Everything is your responsibility, from the content you make, to your taxes. There were days when I was terrified and thought I couldn’t do it. But it was well worth it and I’m glad I did it.” (So are we, Hazel!)
The personal and professional relationships Hazel formed while working at Google and since are obviously invaluable to her, but in her circle of friends she’s known as “a bit of a bitch”. She tells us: “I’m gonna go so far as to say a lovable bitch. I would say the C-word, because that’s what they call me, but you’re not going to print that!”
However, she counters: “I’m a softie, I really am. You can tell that from my videos. I’ve broken down and cried on camera, for fuck’s sake. I’m massively emotional and sensitive and sentimental and insecure and all of those things that people are.
“I just have a bit of a tough exterior, and I don’t take any bullshit. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve stopped doing that.”
This refusal to “take any bullshit” is perhaps where Hazel differs from a lot of other popular creators. In January 2015 she revealed that she was turning *gasp* 30 – “I’m a fucking dinosaur!” she jokes – so at this point in her life, she knows what she wants and doesn’t feel the need to justify herself to anyone.
“It’s so bizarre. That I even had to do that says a lot,” she says, of announcing her age in a video. “It really is easy to allow yourself to feel like a dinosaur on this platform. Everyone is so much younger. I felt embarrassed about my age, which is really sad, and I felt like maybe my audience wouldn’t relate to me as much if they knew.”
Now Hazel feels “more comfortable with my age and myself”, her content has matured, and her opportunities have broadened as a result. “Being a [31-year-old] woman has actually opened up more doors than it’s closed, particularly when it comes to working with established people in the industry,” she maintains. “Shortly after [revealing my age], I did the BBC GCSE Bitesize videos; they were actively looking for someone a bit older. I think they wanted someone with a little more authority.”
Her celebrity Tipsy Talks also require a certain maturity; getting too drunk while doing a celebrity interview would almost certainly get your name added to a blacklist.
Tipsy Talk is a growing franchise, with two celebrity episodes currently under her belt – Amy Schumer and Natalie Dormer – as well as a host of others with her friends. “I’ve been told by the people who organise [the celebrity interviews] that it’s nice to have someone more mature, who can have fun and be casual but at the same time brings a genuine love of film and an interesting dialogue,” she says.
“Particularly with Natalie Dormer – she’s a very articulate, intelligent woman, who has a lot to say about her career and the industry. They didn’t want someone coming in and doing a silly challenge video with her. Not that there’s anything wrong with a silly challenge video, but when you’re working with people dealing with talent and celebs, they want someone to come in and be professional.”
And Hazel is keen to make it natural and comfortable for everyone involved. “To talk to people in [the film] industry in my setting feels like we’re bringing them into the world of YouTube in a way that doesn’t feel too awkward,” she says.
So what’s next for Hazel – more Tipsy Talks? “I’m getting very lucky with the guests I’m getting so I want to keep doing it. But I think this year is, to some degree, about making the move off YouTube,” she reveals.
“That’s not to say I don’t want to do YouTube, I absolutely do, I want to keep making videos. And I’m obviously doing the TOTM series again, so that’s the whole year.
“I’m looking forward to, without overstating it, bridging the gap a bit between YouTube and the film and TV worlds. I think I’m one of few people who is crossing those industries in a way that feels quite natural,” she continues.
“I’m sure Spielberg and Tarantino and the likes had some early stuff they made that was pure trash!”
Pointing to examples such as her work with the BAFTAs, Hazel admits she wants to do more. “I want to branch out and do more acting, presenting and writing,” she says.
Presenting and acting are both things Hazel has done in the past, with her first notable foray in October 2012 with Unnecessary Otter. “It wasn’t even a fucking otter!” she laughs. “I look back on it fondly, but with a slight cringe-factor. I can still watch it and laugh, particularly the first one – it was a fun day with friends, which created this thing that spiralled.”
Ever having a critical eye, Hazel continues: “There’s a lot I’d change about it now, but as a first foray into a comedic web series, it’s not the worst thing out there. It has integrity and it has potential, so I’m not embarrassed by it too much… But I’d also rather it was better!”
Hazel is ambitious and wants to create the best product she can, so it’s interesting to hear her talk about early work. She points out: “Most people who have made films (at least up until now), their early work never saw the light of day, and probably for the best.
“I’m sure Spielberg and Tarantino and the likes had some early stuff they made that was pure trash. It got them to where they are, and helped develop their craft but it wasn’t really for consumption!”
Hazel learnt a lot about filmmaking from her friend Michael Stevens in the early days, and still follows some of his advice now. “He used to get someone else to watch his edit and make a note of the timestamp whenever they got bored or looked away, then he’d reevaluate whether that moment should stay,” she tells us.
“He taught me that longer videos are fine and long-form content is great, as long as it’s interesting. I watch my videos and think ‘Is my interest waning here?’, and if it is, ‘Do I need to edit it out?’ – you have to kill your darlings in the edit.”
Her desire to create the best film possible means that, while she likes to edit her vlogs herself, she’s not averse to getting help with scripted work. “It’s great to work with a good editor on scripted pieces. I work very well with Jack [Howard] as an editor. He just gets comedy and comedic beat and timing very well. With something like the Halloween sketch or my John Lewis Christmas video, he just knows exactly what it is that I want to get out of it. He does that without much back and forth and will often come back with creative ideas that I didn’t necessarily have.”
If you’ve seen Hazel’s Instagram and videos, you’ll already know that Jack is a big part of her life, and not just professionally. “We spend a lot of time together!” she admits. “I never wanted to, and still don’t want to, make any kind of official announcement about my relationship. Relationships are difficult enough without them being in the public eye, so I’m not hiding it as such…”
Fans began to ship Jack and Hazel as they posted more pictures together on their respective Instagram accounts, but speculation intensified after that scene at the end of her December TOTM video. “I think the ending of the December video just felt natural. If it’s genuine and authentic, I’m happy to include it,” Hazel explains. “That was a genuine moment that happened, and to cut it out felt wrong, like I was hiding something. That felt like a nice, natural way to introduce that to my audience without throwing it in their faces or looking like I was trying to get attention.”
Always a filmmaker, Hazel adds: “As a narrative, you look at that year, and that’s the ending, isn’t it? That’s the ending a filmmaker would put in if they were writing it, and I didn’t have to write it. It actually happened!”
Aside from shipping comments, Hazel says that the feedback she gets on her videos is usually positive. “It’s nice to read articulate, intelligent comments; even if they criticise, they do so in a constructive way and I’ll learn from that,” she says. “And to have people tell me that [TOTM] has affected their lives; they lost someone or went through a break-up, are grieving in some way and my video really helped them, that’s huge.”
And she doesn’t discount “the people who are just excited to sit and watch it” either. “My audience tends to be women like me, who are looking for something with a little more substance than the average YouTuber is putting out and targeting to a younger audience,” she says.
But she gets older viewers too, and they can’t all be her mum Helen! “My mother watches all of my friends and calls them her squad,” she laughs. “It’s nice that I can make stuff that I’m happy for my mam to watch.” (Hazel also reveals that her mum watched the Whisper Challenge video she did with Jack and “thought it was hilarious”. Go Helen!)
Ultimately it isn’t about the age of her audience, but more whether or not her films have touched others. “All I ever wanted to do was make stories that affected people in the same way I’m affected by stories, be they film or TV or books,” explains Hazel. “And I’m finally happy to make stuff that I’m proud of, that I feel says something or has an impact in some way that maybe doesn’t get as many views.
“I’ve gone from trying to achieve something specific on my channel to trying to achieve something specific in my career. I’ve made that distinction and I’m much happier for it.”
Want more from Hazel?
Check out these exclusive photosets:
- Hazel Hayes TenEighty March 2016 Cover
- Hazel Hayes TenEighty Photoshoot: Set 01
- Hazel Hayes TenEighty Photoshoot: Set 02
Alternatively, read some of our favourite TenEighty interviews:
- Mawaan Rizwan: Send in the Clown
- Charlie McDonnell: First Time for Everything & The Changing Face of YouTube
- Carrie Hope Fletcher: All She Knows Now
- Michael Stevens: Spilling the Sauce