How a 15-Year Old Student Creatively Expresses His Passion on Film-Making.

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July 16, 2020

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

My name is Sean Treacy (aka stellarsean) and I’m 15 years old. An Irish living right beside Dublin, I create self-discovery YouTube videos, as well as narrative short films! My brand’s main focus is inspiring other people to improve their lives and do what they love, no matter the boundaries. Although I am still in school and am not making a living out of what I do creatively, I do often use my journey of becoming a filmmaker and YouTuber as an example for my audience. That’s what I’d be generally known as-- a filmmaker or YouTuber. I am really inspired by creators such as Matt D’Avella and Nathaniel Drew, and so I love creating content on similar topics to their videos!

Although I do often create with friends, I’m a one-person army at the moment! I spend about eight to twelve hours a week on each video, writing, shooting and then (the most time-demanding part) editing them. Usually once a year I create a short film, which I would then later upload to my second channel (just called Sean Treacy). These types of projects require way more time and energy, but they are almost always worth it. I love the artistic side of structuring the story, writing the script, etc. Then bringing loads of talented people together to actually create the film is always epic. I also make documentaries-- my latest one being a rugby story called ‘More Than Just A Game’. YouTube videos are a lot of fun, and although I do try and challenge myself with them, the major growth always arrives with the “bigger” projects of short films and documentaries. I’m deeply motivated by growth and learning, and so I find these challenges to be a pleasure to take on. Below is the poster for my new docu, as well as the plaque I won from the Fresh Film Festival for my short film “RUE”, which gave me the title of “Ireland’s Young Filmmaker Of The Year 2019”.

I came up with my brand name “stellarsean” when I really kicked off my YouTube journey. In 2016, when I first started taking YouTube seriously, I had no idea what to name my channel. It had gone through various phases. For example, it was called “Video Dynasty” at one point, but eventually I settled on “Stellar Visuals”. This was for two reasons; my favourite film at the time was “Interstellar” (and still is one of my favourites), and I also really liked the sound of the motto “Stay Stellar”. Then, one day, I decided to put together a public Instagram page for this brand, and I really liked the name ‘stellarsean’. Eventually I got rid of the “Visuals” from my YouTube name -- I found it a bit cheesy! I also made “stellarsean” a way more focused part of my brand, as people in public started calling me by that. Now, “stellarsean” is my name on Patreon, Instagram, Twitter and now, I’m starting to look into how I can incorporate my content into TikTok videos!

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory! 

I first got interested in filmmaking when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I was acting on a Tesco commercial and was blown away by the set’s atmosphere and buzz. I instantly knew when I left that shoot that I wanted to make filmmaking my life. For the next couple of years, I watched countless videos about filmmaking on YouTube from channels like Film Riot, and I was constantly making mini films with friends on my iPod Touch with iMovie or with Windows Movie Maker, etc. Overtime, I started buying more and better equipment with money from acting, and that is how my equipment developed. That being said however, I still use my dad’s Canon EF lenses! 

In the summer of 2016, after already having uploaded some Stop Motion Lego videos to my dad’s YouTube channel and some ski edits to my own channel, and having been obsessed with creators like Casey Neistat for months, I decided to start taking YouTube seriously. Here is that first YouTube video I uploaded:

From there, it was just about continuing to create. I began uploading more consistently at first, eventually trying weekly, which resulted in subscriber growth I had never experienced before! I found a lot of success in Irish-based content (eg. talking about Irish discos, things not to say to Irish people, etc), and those videos are what earned me the majority of my subscribers. I am having some slight issues with that at the moment, unfortunately, as people are still expecting that type of content despite my interests having changed immensely. But, I am grateful to have something like this to work on and improve! This was the first Irish-based video I uploaded that garnered a lot more views than my usual videos:

I found being a teenage YouTuber quite difficult at the beginning of second year (around the age of 13). I got quite socially anxious as a result of events when people would be staring at me or talking while looking at me without actually ever saying anything to me. This was a little tough, and there was also a good bit of slagging (mocking) for what I was doing, but the more I created and the more success I achieved, the more respect people had towards me and hence, the less I was slagged. Nowadays, there is practically no slagging. Although by now, I’d like to think that if there was any, then I wouldn’t let it get to me anyway.

My interest in self-development and self-discovery was sparked from a variety of different sources. One would be the media I take in-- i.e. I have always been moved by films and stories with great meaning, and so I decided to make my work a little more meaningful as a result. I also watched YouTubers like Dan Mace, who in 2018 basically introduced me to the concept of creating really powerful YouTube films with purpose behind them. Here is the film I made about the time I got to meet him in Belfast - - he commented on it! Also, in 2018, I went to a camp in Seattle, Washington for filmmakers and musicians. There were about 25 of us, and that experience unconsciously impacted my style of content more than ANY other experience I have ever had before. Since then, I have always made sure that what I am creating is in line with what is morally right and beneficial for the world. Here are two films I made from my experiences at that camp in Seattle, one from 2018 - - and one from 2019 - Come 2019, I started watching creators such as Matt D’Avella and Nathaniel Drew, who both got me really interested in the world of self-development. All of these different sources are what have resulted in me making the content that I am creating today. Below is a picture from my time at the Seattle camp in 2019. It is, by far, the most creatively energised place I have ever been to. So much energy!!

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and your advice in getting the creative juice flowing.

For me, my creative ideas come from the media I take in. When I’m on my runs, I like to listen to podcasts from people who inspire me and have things to say about topics which are of relevance to me. For example, Jason Silva’s podcast “Flow Sessions” discusses the relations between man and technology, about the effects of wonder and awe, and about many other things which could potentially trigger a creative piece of mine. I also watch YouTube videos from people like Matt D’Avella and Nathaniel Drew, and their content often inspires an idea of mine in some strange manner. 

When something hits me, say it is this vague idea for a YouTube video or a detailed paragraph for a short film concept, I instantly grab my phone and write it down in the app “Google Keep”. Then, I’ll schedule time during the week to elaborate on that idea. For example, let’s say I’m about to start practising guitar on a Monday night, and an idea hits me like a strike of lightning. I wouldn’t want to just drop my practise for guitar, so I’ll jot down the foundations of the idea in Google Keep in one or two sentences, and then in the app ‘Todoist’ I’ll schedule an hour for journaling on that concept to see if it will result in a full-length YouTube video or film story. 

Mental block seems to really only arrive when I am writing a film story or looking for things to spice up an edit. What I like to do in these times is simple-- just keep things going. For example, my instinct when I get writer’s block is to stand up and pace around my room. While this may work for some people, with the physical momentum providing momentum, what works for me is just writing ANYTHING that comes to my head. I don’t think about logistics or how realistic it is at first, I just keep writing anything until something worth people’s time comes. A great website to practice this is ‘The Most Dangerous Writing App’ - a fantastic free service which literally does not let you stop writing until a certain amount of time has elapsed. The same goes for the edit, I just experiment with any effect or style that I can see on screen. I’ll add sharpness to a shot, I’ll add in a sound effect, I’ll mess with the speed ramping, anything!

It has to be said that I would try not to expect anything from these writing, filming, editing, anything sessions. If you go into them thinking that they are going to be pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible, you’ll most likely be disappointed when you realise how difficult that is. However, if you get in a mindset of “I’m just taking an inward journey outwardly and seeing what happens”, then there is nothing to be disappointed about! Anything you create will be a bonus. (Meditation really helps me get into this mindset of acceptance and no-expectations).

I usually don’t need to sit down and brainstorm, unless it is for big projects like narrative films or documentaries, which require more attention to characters and emphasis on entertainment value etc etc. For my YouTube videos, I almost always have an idea ready to make a video about. Right now, I’m working on a YouTube video about the debate between living life through non-attachment or through holding on to things. Editing will last all week with 2 hours almost every day, and so by next week I’ll be finished and ready to work on my video about five everyday habits or practices that bring me joy. I’ll spend two or four hours writing, two or four hours filming, and then about eight or ten hours editing. After that, I’ve got another two videos lined up, and many other ideas in my journal or in Google Keep, awaiting development. During these weeks of production, I almost always catch another idea, either from the work which I’m already doing or from a piece of media that I take in. Hence, my number one piece of advice is to watch, listen and read about things that could trigger an idea for you! For example, if you’re a film/photo YouTuber, listen to podcasts about new equipment, read books about new concepts or the history of both industries, etc etc. When you then manage to actually start creating things based on this inspiration, I have found that the flow becomes constant, at least in my case. So keep learning, and keep creating (in a sustainable manner)!

What are the tools and platform you use to help with your brand?

For my video editing, I use Final Cut Pro X, as well as Adobe After Effects for some of the new effects I am experimenting with. There is a strong debate among video editors between the use of Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro, but for me Final Cut Pro gets all the jobs I need done done! I learned how to do the basics myself, just by messing around with all of the tools that looked semi-understandable. For any advanced techniques that I would discover on YouTube channels among the likes of Sam Kolder, I would watch any YouTube tutorial I could get my hand on. I stopped doing that for one or two years, but now I’m trying to learn some fresh techniques in After Effects. Learning is a major motivator for me-- something I need to remind myself of every once in a while!

For my Instagram photos, I use Adobe Lightroom. This is, by far, the most powerful photo editing tool I have used to date. In saying that, I haven’t exactly used them all, but Lightroom is still a phenomenal piece of software. There isn't much to learn, provided you’re familiar with photo-editing terms already (exposure, saturation, etc). That being said, I did head onto YouTube a couple of times in search of making my own presets for personal use. Beforehand, I was using other people’s presets-- ones that I had found online for free, however it didn’t feel great when people would then complement my photo editing, so I decided to make my own presets! I really recommend this, it makes your photos different to anyone else's, even if yours is heavily inspired by another popular style. Below are some of my favourite photos of mine, that I have also shared online on Insta etc!

Outside of my YouTube channel, I only have public Instagram and Twitter pages. I used to have a snapchat account, but there was a lot of spam and I found myself wasting a lot of time looking at people sending me useless things like their streaks, so I decided to sign out of that account for good. On my Instagram page, I like to post creative photos with a similar style that have some sort of meaning to them (although this isn’t always the case). I find that taking and editing these photos is a great break for my artistic side from making videos. Although filmmaking is a process I obviously find a lot of joy in, it can be quite intense, and so photography adds some relaxed creativity into the mix of my life! On Twitter, I just share any thoughts I have, but I don’t have much structure to it. Like Instagram, it is just a different, more laid-back form of self-expression!

The final tool I use for my brand is Patreon. I don’t promote it too much, and I do my best to make it clear that it is not a requirement or expectation by any means. It is just an additional way for people to support me in my creative endeavours! Below is a picture of all of my tiers on there, so that you have any idea of what I offer. I get around €85/90 from this service every month after Patreon and taxes take their cut, but I am so grateful to have some very generous supporters that enable this to occur. I earn little to no money on YouTube from advertising or sponsorships, and so this is a great way for me to earn some money for what I’m doing. In the future, I’m going to have to find more ways to support myself online, as right now I’m miles away from being able to do this for a full-time living. However, I find it exciting to have something like that to work on!

I suppose Discord would hence be another platform I use. Basically, there is a private Discord server in which there are discussions about topics related to those mentioned in my videos! It is a great service, although I personally feel it could be simplified a little bit. There was a good bit of confusion among my patrons when first joining the server.

What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it? 

When I started taking YouTube seriously (putting my face in videos etc), it was right in between the periods of pre-teen years and adolescence. Hence, I wasn’t too insecure at the time, and I still had a childish wonder and curiosity about me, and so I didn’t have much problems in the first few months of my YouTube journey.

My first year of secondary school, when I had under 1000 subscribers, was all about experimenting and having fun. I didn’t have much of a niche, nor much of a plan for YouTube. But, I was having fun, and lots of it. However, going into second year, I started to experience some issues. My channel had passed 1,000 subscribers over the summer, and people in the local towns would start recognising me. 

I remember this being cool at first, but I had a few experiences where people would stare at me and whisper things to one another without actually saying anything directly to me, and this eventually made me pretty anxious socially. I stopped going to social discos (great decision looking back, they aren’t great) as a result. Also, I didn’t really like the idea of going out with friends in towns too much. I feel as though I didn’t know who was a genuine supporter and who was just taking the mick out of me. There were some really bad experiences where, just walking around Dublin or Wicklow, groups of teens would come up to me talking about my channel, clearly with no actual respect for what I was doing. Those situations would be very difficult to get out of-- because I didn’t want to be rude in case they were actually being genuine under all the sniggering. 

People’s immaturity towards it faded away over time thankfully, and now I have very few of those experiences. If they ever arise, I just stick through it, smile and nod, and eventually pretend I have to go. This would have to be the only issue I’ve really had on YouTube in terms of fears. I’ve had some other difficulties, like dealing with low views or lack of growth, or feeling a pressure to upload when I don’t have the time, but I would definitely put them in a different category than those social fears I once experienced. Plus, they’re a little easier to solve than the social fears, because at least when you’ve got low views or subscribers, you have something to aim towards and people to talk to about it. 

How did you build your brand to where it is now, take us through your process.

By now, it has been almost four years of taking YouTube and content creation seriously. My current brand looks completely different to what it looked like back when I started. For the first two years of my YouTube journey, it was all about having fun, making people laugh, and making noise. Now, I’m still focusing on the fun aspect, but I put way more focus on the production quality, the actual value of the video, etc. The transition period to where I am now was one with quite a lot of demotivation-- I had moved on from what once brought me a lot of statistical success, and I didn’t really know where to go, even though I was telling myself that I did know. Thankfully, after learning a lot more about the world through experiencing more of life and also through taking in media from the creators I find most inspiring, I feel like I have landed at something that is sustainable and undoubtedly something that interests and inspires me!

For the first two years, I was posting on every social media platform imaginable. I loved posting and interacting with people online-- it all just felt very exciting! This brought in a lot of subscribers (by my standards), especially when I would create Irish-based content. I was posting as often as possible, trying to be as funny and entertaining as possible in each one. In saying that, it never felt like I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I just posted what felt right on as regular a basis as I could.

In the second half of 2018, I then naturally matured a little more as I headed into my mid-teens, and hence I started focusing way more on the storytelling aspect of my videos. At first this was successful. I was still uploading weekly, and I was still sharing the funny moments in my life with people like my dad, and my dog that people loved to see. However, overtime, my content featured less and less of this noisy fun, and my personality in my videos even started to change from what it had garnered views and success before. I was still uploading frequently, but the views and the rate of subscriber growth were going down. Below is a screenshot of my top ten most viewed videos - only three of them are from my new phase on YouTube, and all three are ‘Irish based’ content.

Honestly though, this did not bother me. I was just still enjoying the process of sharing stuff online, and while I wasn’t that mesmerised by the world of online content creation anymore, I still wanted to contribute to it. So I just kept creating, weekly/bi-weekly, just telling the stories and sharing the posts that I wanted to put out into the world. The transition period was about a year and a half long, from the tail end of 2018 to now. By now, I am starting to see a new audience come in, and the foundation that I have built over the past four years is doing me favours, despite the fact that my first two years of content creation were completely different to who I am now. What has really inspired me to continue doing what I’m doing is, as I have mentioned before, the creators I currently watch. They inspire me by presenting new ideas and new ways of creating that take any boredom out of what I’m doing. Hence, no matter how low my views or subscriber count gets, I’ll always be psyched to create, as long as I see fresh, interesting concepts, as well as new methods of presenting these concepts. The cool thing is, seeing these things is always an open option, I just have to be looking in the right places!

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

For anyone who wants to or is getting into content creation, I would have to give the most common, yet by far, the most useful piece of advice--

Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not, and that goes for all aspects of your channel! Don’t possess a personality that isn’t your own. Don’t make content that you don’t want to make.

Not only will your audience find it much easier to connect with someone who they know is being genuine, but this also means that you won’t have to worry about changing yourself in the future. Yes, worries about changing your niche based on new interests etc. still arrive, but if you are consistently yourself, chances are you will maintain a core audience who are willing to support you on your journey as a creator. 

I would also say be consistent on your main platform. That doesn’t mean that you have to post daily or weekly, it just means that it probably is a better option for you to upload on a specific regular basis, rather than upload something daily for one week and then have no piece of content for the next three weeks. Your audience will find it easier to support you, as they won’t be overwhelmed by your content, and they’ll be reminded of your presence on a regular basis.

Finally, I would say cover all of your platforms regularly! Only recently have I realised that it was once I stopped posting regularly on Instagram stories, Twitter, etc, my views on YouTube started to decrease. I am sure that there were many other factors that played a role in this occurrence-- change in style, change in content, etc., but I still think that it is something to keep in my mind. It can be tough to keep it constantly going sometimes. Don’t forget that it is okay to take breaks, but it is something that is worth it in the long run!

How did you finally commit to X platform rather than your regular day job?

Although I am still in school, I do feel like this is worth commenting on. Balancing school and YouTube has always been a struggle, especially in those early years when I first started studying and my time management skills weren’t exactly through-the-roof. Right now, I am in what could be considered a gap year in Ireland, in which there is very little exam focus and you focus more on work experience etc, and hence I have had way more time to focus on creating YouTube videos, short films, etc! However, next year I’ll be in a very academic-heavy year, and the majority of my time will be taken up by study. My attitude for when that happens is just going to be quality over quantity, as well as imperfectionism! I’m going to create when I can and not rush it, but also make sure that I don’t worry about the content’s perfection so that I’m not uploading once every two months. This way, I will hopefully be able to create without losing my audience, while also studying intensely. Last year I was in an exam year that I took quite seriously, and I slightly rushed weekly content out as a result. I learned from that experience to “take your time, create when you can, but don’t be a perfectionist at the same time”.

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

My first major milestone on YouTube which really inspired me to continue creating was hitting 1,000 subscribers. That was insane, and to this day it remains my number one milestone on YouTube. It was not my biggest achievement-- some would argue hitting 10k or 20k would be - but it was definitely the one that impacted me the most. I can’t describe the excitement the night I hit, going from 998 to 999 back to 995 only to shoot eventually to 1,000. People were shouting me out on their stories and I was getting a ton of messages from friends… AGH it was brilliant! I got together with a bunch of Irish YouTubers the following week, which was such a fantastic way of celebrating what had happened. Here’s the video about the entire experience:

The next major moment in my YouTube journey was when Dan Mace (a true hero of mine) commented on my YouTube video, in which he was featured. The previous weekend, I had travelled to Belfast with three friends to the event “Power Of Video”, where creators like Dan Mace, Peter McKinnon and Sorelle Armour were speaking. Just before Peter’s talk, I got the chance to have a really quick chat with Dan Mace, out of pure luck. He gave such a brilliant answer to my question, and it was enough to make an entire YouTube video about. Here’s the full video:

The next big milestone, which honestly snuck up on me in hindsight, was being asked to co-host a TV show for national television in Ireland. I was asked roughly in the April of 2019, and after a few meetings, we were all set for shooting come June! The show was a real blast, something totally different for me at a time of complacency. It premiered in the late months of 2019, and it is still being rerun on TV today! What blows my mind is that this entire experience came solely from my YouTube channel. I had no contacts in the television presenting industry, and it wasn’t something that got sorted through my acting agent. To think that I would not have presented this show if I didn’t upload that first ‘serious’ video on YouTube back in 2016 is bizarre, and I think it captures the importance of just starting, no matter how good or bad you think you are! Here is the full video I made about my experience making that show:

(Me and one of the directors)

Finally, another big milestone for me was getting invited to work with Junk Kouture, the company behind the major national recyclable fashion competiton by the same name here in Ireland. One of their team came across my YouTube channel one day, and asked if I was interested in working with them on some promotional videos, social media work, etc. This has led to some seriously enjoyable days of work in my life, but the pinnacle of it all was getting invited to the Royal World Premiere of the film 1917 in London. This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and while that was in part due to the quality of the film, it was also due to the fact that this entire opportunity had come to me eventually by uploading that first video on YouTube in 2016, and staying consistent with content creation. Here you can check out what that night looked like for me: (funnily enough, the next day I took a train to Bedford where I spent four days filming my new documentary, another opportunity which came straight from my YouTube channel).

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

The one thing that has resulted in the most amount of brand growth for me has been collaborations, and this is definitely something I need to put a little more focus on in the future. I have almost completely forgotten about this crucial aspect of growing online! My first big collaboration was with Cal Arnold, who is now one of my closest friends. It was back in August of 2017 when I first contacted him. He had around 1,200 subs, and I believe I was on about 700. I commented on one of his videos, giving my snapchat in case he was interested, and he instantly responded. It was a crazy moment for me, and since that day we have both grown online together! Here is the link to our first video together:

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