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  • Photo courtesy Telly Blackwood

    Telly Blackwood, left, with Richard the Rockstar, a fellow aspiring performer whose songs are available via iTunes. Blackwood hopes his videos will propel him to fame.

  • Courtesy of Telly Blackwood

    Telly Blackwood – known as "Leatherface" in his semipro wrestling days – is laying plans for stardom on the Internet.

Looking for stardom in online video world

Published: Sunday, May. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 5, 2013 - 1:56 pm

William Telly Blackwood doesn't instantly strike you as a movie star or a major motion picture director.

He speaks softly, is covered in tattoos and wore a faux-fur rabbit hat during a recent interview.

Blackwood – who also goes by his old semipro wrestling moniker, "Leatherface" – is like thousands of Americans hoping to achieve YouTube star status and then leverage that into a media career.

While editing tools and social media have made it easier for garage producers to create and market content, going viral is easier said than done, media experts say.

Blackwood has an entry on the digital encyclopedia Wikipedia and a listing on Internet Movie Database and he's the CEO of a Sacramento digital arts company, but he's far from making a comfortable living practicing his art.

His current vehicle, "Off the Hook Television," is billed as an "extreme Internet variety show." He and a crew of actors/reality personalities record their adventures and post the videos to their YouTube channel. Since it was created in 2004, the channel has generated more than 8.5 million views. In its early days, "Off The Hook" closely mirrored the stunts, pranks and flatulence humor brought to a national audience by MTV's "Jackass" show and movies.

Blackwood's largest claim to fame – unless you count an appearance on "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" – was his guest appearance on "Viva La Bam," a "Jackass" spinoff.

Blackwood said "Off the Hook" is branching out.

"We're trying to break away from the whole 'Jackass' thing. … We're grown up," he said.

The show's latest video, a campy defense of gun ownership rights, involves Paul Revere – at George Washington's behest – traveling forward in time to bring back filmmaker Michael Moore and CNN host Piers Morgan. The two are questioned and then waterboarded for their alleged mistreatment of the Constitution, primarily their advocacy of gun control. The video has drawn more than 200,000 views in the three weeks since it was posted.

The five-minute video – which Blackwood has high hopes will go viral – is the latest entry of "Off the Hook" in a video contest created by libertarian radio host Alex Jones.

Knowing full well that controversy sells, Blackwood excitedly reports that Moore is unhappy with his depiction in the video by the also-hefty Blackwood.

"We're for the Constitution and our rights," Blackwood said. "They want to disarm America so we can be sheep to them."

While working a day job at a restaurant, Blackwood pops up on numerous local projects, including a ghost-hunting show that producers hope will be picked up by the A&E cable channel.

Going viral is no simple feat, said Bob Knorpp, host of "The BeanCast," a New York-based marketing podcast.

With YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Twitter, digital content creators have more tools than ever to bring their music, shows or other creations directly to the public.

But Knorpp points out that just because you put something on YouTube doesn't mean people will see it.

"It democratized the ability to put content out there. The tools have become easier. (But) it's just as hard to rise out of the chaff," Knorpp said.

He said great content can reach a million views from friends passing it along from one fan to the next, but reaching the viral stratosphere (see "Friday" by Rebecca Black or "Gangnam Style" by South Korean rapper Psy) takes real marketing know-how.

In both of those examples, the videos were catapulted into the general public consciousness not by word of mouth, but by traditional news outlets.

"A lot of great content never goes viral," Knorpp said.

Some things go viral naturally, but those instances are rare and the parties behind them are rarely in a position to capitalize on the temporary fame.

Blackwood's trajectory is not a straight line.

In 2009, he accepted a plea deal after he was caught buying Vicodin in a police sting operation. He said it was for systemic pain lingering from his wrestling days and disputes many of the facts presented by the authorities. The end result was an extended break from video production.

"In those few years, everything changed," Blackwood said.

Like most digital entrepreneurs, he works hard to cultivate Facebook fans, Twitter followers and YouTube channel subscribers.

He said he and his partners regularly plan segments to tape – like a visit to an indoor surf park – but need to be ready to ride the wave of online memes, fads or things in the news.

"To get viral you have to stay current," Blackwood said.

He said he's toyed with the idea of moving to Los Angeles, but wants to stay in the city where he grew up.

"I have too much going here to move down there," Blackwood said. "This is a rough town to do entertainment out of, but I love Sacramento."

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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