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Interview With Vine Guru Christiano Covino

3:26 PM PST on February 2, 2016

    christiano portrait 23

    Since its launch in 2013, Vine has exploded into a vibrant community with  focus on one thing: the 6 second video. Though this self-limiting media format seemed like a crazy idea when Vine first launched (remember how silly the 140 character rule seemed too?), over 40 million Viners including comedians, artists, musicians, dancers, DIY experts, athletes, and actors are now actively generating 6 second videos for the world to see.

    Twitter bought Vine in 2012, even before its official launch, and brands have waited ever since for official advertising opportunities on the site.  Until then, brand marketers have instead connected with agencies like Viral Nation to recruit top Viners for influencer marketing campaigns.  If you check out the profiles of the top Vine stars, you’ll see that all of them have a way to contact them for business opportunities; and at the center of this guerrilla marketing style and social media influencer Christiano Covino.  

    Covino understood at an early stage of the app’s success the potential for using Vine for marketing, and was an integral part of Viners cashing in with his Andy Warhol type factory, a gathering spot for all the top viners to market to the brand's assigned to them.  Mischievous Studios became a part of Vine history, creating and providing a live secret performance space for these top Viners.

    I sat down with Christiano Covino at Yucca’s taco shop to learn more about his journey in becoming a social media personality, creating a live vehicle for brands to connect with viners, how brands pay big bucks to utilize their audience,  and using the Los Angeles landscape as a playground for their content.  We also discussed if Vine has peaked, if SnapChat is taking over, and his favorite taco spot...

    How Did you discover Vine?

    Well I discovered vine through a friend of mine, he was close friends with Brittany Furlan and her boyfriend at the time, and he introduced me to vine by saying “hey dude, look at this, my friend Brittany is the biggest person on this platform and she only has 10,000 followers.”  And so, at the time I had 30,000 subscribers on youtube, I had done a bunch of youtube parodies and was running my commercial agency, basically I couldn’t resist.  I downloaded Vine in February of 2013 and watched it for a second, didn’t really make any vines, got an idea of what people were doing on there, and then ended up jumping in and figuring out how to get on the “popular page.”  Back in February and March I was doing Vines with my Husky and I got on the popular page for the first time, and it felt interesting and unique because I had missed out on the youtube goldrush previously, instead was focusing on commercials, and this was an opportunity to be the beginning of something, the beginning community of creators, I decided to make it a side endeavor.

    Who was the first Viner you came in contact with?

    The first Viner I came in contact with was Brittany Furlan.  After meeting her, she had told me that her and her friend Simone Shepherd would meet at the starbucks and collaborate a lot and I had known about youtube collaborations and how people blow up through collaborating with various artists.  And in the beginning of vine, when I was thinking about how I can help guide different creators and help them make their best work, I would a lot of times look at the parallels to the hip hop industry, there seemed to be a lot of similarities between the hip hop industry and their audience, similarities between the art of collaboration to reach people.

    So I invited them to the studio and let them take advantage of all the props, lighting, wardrobe, sets, all stuff I had acquired for my viral video agency, Mischievious. And when their vines suddenly had this giant jump in production value… well, other Viners took notice. Soon, the place was the go-to hang out for Viners in LA.   

    How were you able to forecast an entire movement of creators and influencers through this platform before anyone else?

    Well, history repeats itself.  What I had to do was look at patterns, so I looked at the patterns of growth on youtube, and the patterns of the growth of hip-hop subgenres like Trap, and of course having a viral advertising marketing agency for five years before this didn’t hurt either.  But the work that I had done with Mischievious Studios in trying to destill the viral formula, I got some great knowledge out of that, and some great rules and axioms that I live by and was able to pass down to other creators.  

    What was Mischievious Studios and how did it become the gathering spot for Viners to create their Vines?

    After I had met Brittany Furlan and Simone and the three of us had started collaborating for a bit, you know, I wasn’t really trying to open the studio to all the viners. But Brittany and Simone would come over and really had gotten a lot out of working with me, I had been writing and directing comedy for 5 years at that point, so I helped out with refining ideas and pulling off the frantic camerawork needed for Vine’s fast pace, as well as handling all the props, lights, and editing needs, I mean back then we had to upload vines into the actual vine app, we would try to shoot in camera in the app, but we later on we always uploaded and it became an uploading factory at one point.  

    One day, Brittany and I had a conversation and she asked “what do you think about me inviting KC James over” and I knew what she meant when she said this. Basically, her inviting anyone else meant that the doors were going to be open, and when you have an open door policy it changes your space and the way you do business.  And I thought, you know, Andy Warhol did this, and he was able to shape the face of art and influence a lot of people and get a lot of people to make their best work and he made longtime friends and longtime collaborators from his time at the factory.  And I’m not even a big Andy Warhol fan necessarily, I respect what he did,  but looking at that, I couldn’t ignore the parallels of my studio becoming a modern day Andy Warhol Factory and I said, “You know what? Screw it. All Viners welcome!”

    It was also a sort of Vine’s Ellis Island, in a sense, because when Viners would move from various states to LA, oftentimes they would stay and live at the studio until they found a place of their own.

    The interesting thing, that I guess I should have prepared myself for, was how much vine would changed a lot of people. But not for the better. And that’s my honest opinion.

    I remember that!  People like Brandon Calvillo and Rudy Mancuso moved out of their mother’s homes seeking a new life in Los Angeles and had nowhere to go.

    Brandon lived there for probably the longest, he lived there for about a couple of weeks.  A lot of the now famous Viners have bunked at the studio at one point or another.

    Who would hang out at your studio?  What kind of things would go on there?

    At Vine’s peak, the studio was basically run like this.  I would get into work at seven or eight am.  Because basically once the Viners started showing up any hope of getting work done was gone.  What ended up happening was I had to work a full work day in the morning to get my duties done as CEO of my company and the first viner would show up around 2 pm.  I would be finishing up work, let them get settled, play with props, come up with ideas for vines… The biggest part of vining at the studio was that you would get to hang out for two or three hours first. You didn’t get that at Starbucks. And a lot of people were actually very nervous and stressed about having to come up with brand new ideas every day. Getting to hang with other people who knew exactly what you were going through was part of the magic of Mischievious for a lot of the Viners. They formed lifelong friendships there, some lasted, some flamed out spectacularly, haha. But that whole image of the LA Viners, this group of friends in LA, shooting vines and getting hollywood agents, the substance behind that mythos was experienced at Mischievious.

    Was there a certain jealousy yourself when you saw your friends using your studio space and then getting signed with big agents such as William and Morris did that influence you in your decision to become an social media influencer yourself?

    Not at all. My goal with the viners was always to help these talented people get where they want to be. I wasn’t really seeking representation, as I had a full slate of directing work from my own agency. So it was always about helping people achieve their goals, that’s how I network.

    The interesting thing, that I guess I should have prepared myself for, was how much vine would changed a lot of people. But not for the better. And that’s my honest opinion.

    It would be tough for any other viner to get as publically honest about that as I would, but I have talked to a lot of them behind closed doors and asked them if they could take it back would they not have blown up on Vine and there have been a lot of resounding yes’.  Because of the trouble that came along with it,  because there were a certain group of people who thought you were famous but you weren’t really famous. And you would end up with these budding artists with so much learning left to do having this conflated sense of fame with a very small, very vocal audience, that didn’t really translate to anything but some brand deals and meet and greets. And all that has nothing to do with their original artistic ambitions or dreams.

    And so, any upset with me or hard feelings or resentment towards anyone that I met only boils down to me trying to help them as an Artist, not as a Viner, “Cool, lets get your Vine work done as fast as possible so you can focus on what you really want to do.”  The only harsh feelings I have are the people who didn’t get that, and who took the illusion that they were famous and allowed it to get to their heads and prevent them from coming back and continuing to work with someone who helped them when they were fresh on the scene.

    Right.  It feels to me that you are communicating that some of them got swept up in this fake, LA, manufactured fame, maybe from being new to town, and a lot of them didn’t realize that it was quite a mirage and stopped hanging out because of that.

    A few of them, yeah. The joke was, when people would leave the studio and never come back, that their heads couldn’t fit through the front door anymore.

    What was the first moment you were recognized on the streets of LA as an internet celebrity?

    I mean I would hang out and collaborate with Brandon Calvillo a lot.  So it would be kind of a thing that they would see me and then they would see him and then put it into reference. To be honest, a lot of the time people think I’m Nicholas Megalis if Brandon’s not next to me, we have similar hair and beards, so I got stopped a lot as him. His fans are great. Haha. But I have had people stop me on the streets, and occasionally I get a real fan, I call them ChristiAnimals.  

    My whole message that I put out there is no one is better than you, you're a person they are a person you have just as much of a right to make art and make people smile as everyone else.  I try to be an artist of the people, and inspire the next generation of dreamers. So my ChristiAnimals are a beautiful community of dreamers and artists, who dare to be themselves and stand up for what they believe in. So, as you can imagine, when I meet one of them in person, we usually end up talking for 2 hours. Haha.

    Did this pursuit of fame change you or anyone else you surrounded yourself with?  

    Well, I would say the pursuit of fame for me was never necessarily about fame.  My goal was, and has always been to offset the amount of misdirection there is in the media and the entertainment landscape.  All I’m saying is that it’s one thing to sit on the outside and complain about how much media influences our values as a society, but once you realize that, for me at least, I have a higher level of responsibility for that.  So I made a decision ten years ago that I was going to put all of my energy into becoming a master of media, music, and film so I can offset the negativity with positivity and put some good vibes out there.  If fame comes along with that, that’s an unwanted side effect, I always take the finger and point it back at the audience and say “You are the ones you deserve the admiration. Don’t put me on a pedestal, put yourself on that pedestal.”  So my thing is turning it back on the audience, “What can you do to make yourself better? You’re the star.”

    What were the LA Viner parties like?  Walk me through one of the craziest parties you have gone to, and why are they only exclusive to Viners?

    The most misunderstood thing about viners is they come off as pretentious and egotistical and clique-ey, when really, I’d say 90 percent of them are just incredibly socially awkward.  Haha.  Because to get big on vine in the beginning, the thing you had to do, was not really go out and be social, it was lock yourself in your room and make vines with all the free time you had.  So the people who spent a lot of time talking to an iPhone camera instead of actual people in 2013 were the people who became the first Vine stars.  The parties are exclusive to viners because they feel comfortable hanging out with other viners because of the level of awkwardness and social anxiety and also a bit of who knows who.  People would reach out to each other because they liked each other's work, and so one person would bring another person and bring someone else and after a few weeks of that, there became a formidable crew of collaborators gaining this huge network effect on a scale that Vine will probably never see again.

    Has Vine Peaked?

    In terms of active users, Vine peaked a while ago. Whether or not it will experience a second, higher peak, and more peaks after that, well that depends on what they do next.

    Would you go as far as saying Vine is a dead platform, now over saturated with advertising, essentially transforming a lot of Viners have into “sell outs”?

    I wouldn’t say Vine is dead.  I think that declaration of death is premature, since there are still people there.  There are still creators ready to embrace it again. But there is a massive percentage of inactive accounts on there, and that demotivates creators.  But I think Vine fans can be brought back and I think Vine is starting to push for that that with the trends page and suggesting vines and things like that, but they could do more.  I'll say it on the record now, Vine needs to enable playlists.  Playlists for vines and that will change the whole platform and people will come back.  Because then, as storytellers we want to be able to thread stories, we want to make ten stories of 6 seconds and thread them together or make a playlist out of them.  Snapchat lets us do that. Let us tell stories, not just one-liners.

    the people who spent a lot of time talking to an iPhone camera instead of actual people in 2013 were the people who became the first Vine stars

    There’s been some big personnel moves at their parent company, Twitter and they have fresh eyes on the product. Along with some new functionality, and I think something is coming, I think there eventually there will be a nostalgic factor that's gonna cause Vine to blow up again with the people who were 15 when they got on and are now 18 or 19. And so it’s about Vine being prepared for this second wave of popularity.

    Has Snapchat taken over?

    A good percentage of viners have moved to snapchat.  So I think snapchat has done a great job at making creators comfortable with the way they can put together stories, and also what I really like about Snapchat is that they hide your follower count.  Only you see how many people view you and you can still pass it on to advertisers, so it makes it a platform where one person can’t just blow up and get a million followers and be the only outlet, it’s a more democratized platform.

    Personally I love Snapchat way more then I like Vine these days.  The realness of snapchat is so rare and the people on Snapchat are so engaging and so raw and it really has, to me, been amazing how Snapchat has picked up all these Vine celebrities.  Has it become less about content creation and again about this pursuit of fame all over again?

    We are in a weird time with that, where now the term ‘social media influencer’ has lost meaning.  What we’ll soon experience is a big crash of the ‘social media influencer’ based marketing bubble, because what happens when you have too much supply and not enough demand?  So what's happening now is there’s a massive second wave of copycat influencers. There are like 100 knock off Brandon Calvillos.  Probably 10,000 knock off King Bach’s. This massive wave of people thinking that this is a career opportunity in turn are going to eventually crash the system.  If there are too many influencers, all looking for a piece of the pie, yet not enough advertisers putting money in, the person who offers the lowest price, gets the money. Without some sort of price-fixing agreement, the race to the bottom will decimate the effectiveness of ‘social media marketing’ as a viable media spend, and the advertising industry will move on to putting ads in virtual reality worlds or something. The gold rush to become an influencer will die off and there will be a few stars all over again.   

    Have you had opportunities to help others through your audience base?

    Yes.  The only reason I ever wanted an audience was to be able to use the power of the crowd to spread messages and help people who needed it.  Throughout my entire time as a social media personality, I made a rule that I will answer every message I ever got in my inbox.  And so I have been very diligent about going in and responding. A lot of these influencers don’t realize that these fans reach out for help like the song “Stan” by Eminem,  I’m sure if any social media influencer were to go into their social media inbox they will find someone who is saying “I’m going to kill myself today.” I answer every message that I can.  I have talked to a lot of people.  I have helped a lot of young people feel more understood.  

    What are your views on Cyber Bullying? Has a fan reached out to you that their boyfriend, group of friends, or anyone else with other associations to them have reached out asking how to get that person to stop harassing them via text or social media?  Is this common amongst youth with the rise of these highly public and social platforms?

    You would not believe the stories I have heard.  I didn’t know what bullying was really like now.  I thought I experienced bullying like wedgies and a bit of teasing.  One girl told me that someone threw a pack of razor blades in her face and said “fucking kill yourself, bitch.”  So I didn’t even realize that that’s what youth are going through at school.  So imagine what these kids are capable of on the internet.  I have reached out to bullies who I have seen going around the internet bashing my fans or me, I always reach out to that person and say, “What's the deal? Do you need to talk?” It’s always just a kid, and he’s just hurting as well.  

    One kid wrote something like “kill yourself” and I reached out and asked him what the deal was and he said “I’m sorry I have manic depression and making a mean comments on the internet makes me feel less shitty, I’m sorry, I’m trying to get a handle on it.”  He went and deleted the comments, he just needed someone to talk to.  Bullying is just a cry for help.  It’s just a bunch of kids trying to get them to notice them, they want to get caught bullying, they know it’s public.  So I think that on both sides of the equations there are humans. And we need to reach out to the bullies with compassion.  

    What is the most moving experience you have had interacting with a fan?

    My fans reach out on a daily basis.  Fans have made me art.  One fan,  actually, she reached out to me and I was the only person she told that she had been molested.  And I basically urged her to come forward to the police about her neighbor. After she spoke up, like twelve other girls came forward too and now he’s in jail. Which is awesome, it felt really good.  

    Are there any downsides to this industry?  A lot of your friends initially came onto the platform wanting to become actors or comedians, and in your case, you are using Vine as a vehicle to become a musician now.  But Does being a viner pigeonhole you in a certain sense?  

    Well that’s why I was always adamant about never putting my full focus into vine.  I was a director and producer helping the vine community.  I had put music on hold for a film career. But when I suddenly gained a Vine audience, I realized I now had a great platform to show them my true passion, music.

    What is your favorite taco joint in LA?

    Probably Deltas Tacos in Silverlake.  I like how it’s super small and super cheap.  You go and get a burrito and mexican coke for like five dollars and people watch hipsters at Intelligentsia.

    @HeyChristiano on Vine, also find him with the same handle on Twitter, IG, Snapchat... - YouTube channel

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