From Doctor Who to Stranger Things, Samuel Jones and Max Bardsley – collectively known as NitPix – critique your favourite shows with humour and heart.
“I was a sitting in a dark dingy bar in North Dakota,” recalls Sam, when asked about the origins of the channel. “The air was ripe with villainy and hostility. I was sipping on a nice cool margarita, alone in the corner. With my face shrouded in darkness, I reflected on A Series of Unfortunate Events – the Netflix Original starring Neil Patrick Harris.
“A mysterious man came over and sat across from me. ‘You look like you got a lot on your mind, kid. Wanna open up over another margarita?’ […] Five margaritas later. I was blabbing, spewing a nearly incomprehensible tirade about the many problems of the Netflix Original.
“This went on for hours and hours, and I found myself up upon a barstool, ranting and raving to every deranged lunatic in that dark foreboding bar. When I was done, I sat down. A moment of silence passed. The entire bar erupted in raucous applause.
“The man who originally approached me grabbed me by the shoulders and said, ‘You should make a YouTube channel, kid. Everyone needs to hear your amazing opinions.’ It was then that I knew what I had to do.”
To anyone familiar with Sam and Max’s channel, this sardonic, fantastical style of storytelling is what we love them for. While we’re interviewing them, it almost feels like we’re a part of the script for another of their videos.
Sam and Max have shot to success on YouTube over the last few months. With just seven videos uploaded so far, their channel has picked up close to 50,000 subscribers since its inception ten months ago. They gained over 5,000 subscribers days after releasing a video about the second season of Stranger Things, and have amassed an additional 30,000 since then.
You could easily take the cynical view: that the reason Sam and Max have gained this following is down to the popular series they choose to cover. But there’s so much more to this channel than simply clickbait. Every video is carefully crafted, intelligent, and hugely entertaining, and the pair’s satirical, witty comments will stay in your mind long after the video is over.
How do the pair decide what to tackle? “Striking that balance on the see-saw of making content people want versus what you want to make can be very difficult,” observes Sam. “If you veer to either extreme it can leave you feeling dissatisfied.”
“I think the core of it is that as long as you have something interesting to say and you have an understanding of the majority of people’s relationship with the popular content you are commenting on, generally your videos should do okay,” says Max.
He adds, however, that “you can’t just have hope in your heart and a good idea and think everything will work out – you need to present it properly”.
Sam and Max draw their inspiration from several other film critics on YouTube, including The Film Theorists, Nerd Reactor, and Jeremy Jahns, “who is still unmatched in my opinion for hard-hitting and earnest cinematic journalism,” affirms Max.
These creators’ influences are evident in Sam and Max’s style and scripting choices. They make use of choppy, comedic edits, constantly changing music, and energetic commentary to keep up the pace throughout their videos.
Sam’s emotive yet precise delivery really sets NitPix apart, though, and makes the videos a joy to watch. During The New Doctor Who Showrunner is a Hack Fraud (Chris Chibnall), Sam breaks out into an intense, outrage-fuelled rant which just seems to pour from him like a stream of consciousness (rather than a very well-conceived script).
The process of producing a video essay isn’t easy. It takes a great deal of meticulous planning, from coming up with the ideas right the way though to piecing together video clips, music, and additional effects. Max admits that the pair spend a lot of time watching shows for potential videos which they then have to ditch, because there’s not enough to discuss in a video.
“Once the show is chosen we watch the entire thing in one sitting, pausing to rant or rave,” shares Sam, “after which we buy a pouch of tobacco and a fine pot of cheap instant coffee and then steadily work through these luxuries over the course of a day or two as we write together, trying to put our narcissistic chaotic outbursts of opinion into a tangible script.
“Then I fall down the void of loneliness as I begin the slow, slow slog of editing, in which I begin my transformation into a goblin. It is at this point that I question everything I have made on YouTube as well as my entire existence and nearly give up.
“But I pick myself back up again, upload the video, and then read every single comment in order to affirm all the doubts I had, whilst my partner dances around the house taking most of the credit for the video. Then we repeat that process all over again the next week.”
Sam and Max’s most popular video is one discussing the flaws of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The video demonstrates how the pair are able to expertly blend the more humorous takes with some far more serious points about mental health.
Success in the film critic and video essayist worlds is rare, however – especially when YouTube’s algorithm favours weekly (if not daily) uploads. It’s still possible to make a name for yourself, though, and there’s no hard and fast rule about what content is going to do well, and which creators are going to rise to prominence.
Max explains that one way to build your following is to focus on reaching as many different types of audiences as possible, building followers from different fandoms, rather than catering to the audience you already have. He mentions reaching out to fandom groups on social media platforms like Facebook to help promote your content.
So, what’s the secret to making a great video essay? For Sam, it’s collaborating with others who share your philosophies and drive. “The best ideas and jokes come about through discussion or argument,” he says. “If you’re left to yourself it can be easy to get caught up within your own head, which leads to stagnation.”
“Another thing is to make sure you have as much enjoyment as possible,” adds Max. “For a long time this stuff is going to be a hobby – it takes a long time to form this as a career. You need to develop a process that is a fun one and you need to keep challenging yourself as a creator by keeping things interesting and taking risks.”