Hazel Hayes: One woman, one camera, nine million views

Along with her hugely popular YouTube videos about life, heartbreak and coming out as ‘old’ (she’s 30), the Dubliner has begun making short films

 

YouTube has become a multimillion dollar business for some top video makers, such as Zoe “Zoella” Sugg and Alfie “Pointless Blog” Deyes, who have become household names (in houses with teenagers, at least).

They make videos – known as vlogs – on YouTube about everything from their favourite products and inviting YouTuber friends over to partake in various challenges to showing what they get up to every day.

Hazel Hayes, a 30-year-old Dubliner, originally got involved in this world through her job at Google in London, where she looked after some top creators and developed emerging talent. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the world these creators were working in, she signed up herself.

Five years on, her channel, Chewing Sand, is her full-time job. She has nine million views on YouTube, and has progressed from simple vlogs made in her bedroom to also making short films.

“My channel is just an outlet for my creativity in whatever form that takes,” she says. “I started with vlogs, primarily because that was the easiest thing to start, and developed into low-production comedy sketches and then into bigger productions like short films and bigger sketches.”

When we speak, she’s finishing a day filming for her final short film of 2015, Not the John Lewis Christmas Advert, a satirical, dark take on the retailer’s famous Christmas tear jerkers. It was her third short film of last year. Upping her number of film projects has convinced her that a career in film is what she wants.

“YouTube has been an incredible platform to get to this point, and I absolutely do intend to keep making stuff for YouTube, but I have to do that with my own future in mind. I would absolutely love to be working in TV and film, both in front of and behind the camera. I’ve always been a lover of a good story, well told. I’ve always wanted to do that and evoke the same emotions for people that other people have evoked in me.”

Watch

The longest-running project on her channel, a documentary series about her life called Time of the Month, was released month by month last year, with the final episode still to come.

Her friend, Sammy Paul, had done a similar project the previous year, so she decided to turn her daily vlogs, where she would take her camera out and record her day, into monthly ones. “I felt [daily vlogs] were overkill and also I couldn’t make the narrative that I wanted from that,” she says.

Girls and film

The series showed the process of making each of her short films: writing, casting, directing, acting, editing and everything in between. She felt that seeing behind the scenes would give her audience an idea of the work that goes into every film, but what she didn’t expect was that this would stir up such an interest in film among her viewers.

“I’ve been inundated with people saying it’s made them think a lot more about a career in film, in particular young girls. So many people have literally told me they’re going to film school having seen me make stuff. There are very few examples even on YouTube of girls who are making films and making sketches. I think it’s just opening their eyes to the fact that girls can do this too, and that shouldn’t be weird or unheard of.”

Vlogging is sometimes criticised for showing only the glamorous, happy side of life and masking the bad days, but Hayes says she made a conscious effort to keep the series as authentic as possible. Even something as simple as celebrating her birthday became a revelation of sorts.

“Turning 30 is not a big deal, and I don’t know why I ever thought it was. I actually found it really liberating, not just turning 30 but announcing on the internet that I was. It seems so ridiculous that you would have to almost come out as being old. The assumption always was because so many vloggers are so young, that I was young as well, so when I did finally say I was 30, people were really taken aback, yet absolutely nothing changed.”

The break-up

However, there were times when keeping the series honest was much harder. In July she broke up with her boyfriend of five years, with whom she lived, and it sent her reeling. The theme of her August video was grief, but it took some time before she could decide what aspects of the break-up and her feelings afterwards should be on camera.

“The thought of having to make a video about that seemed absolutely terrifying and a bit gut-wrenching,” she says. “I didn’t actually pick up a camera for a couple of weeks. I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to smile at a camera. I didn’t want to even be my sad self in front of the camera. I didn’t want any of it.

“Of course, there are things that I don’t say or share on the internet, but definitely with this series I felt I owed it to myself and my audience and the part of me that intends to be a film-maker to make it as honest and authentic as I possibly could.

“Morally it would feel wrong to exclude such a huge event in my life and the impact that that had on me, but also logistically I just couldn’t see a way around it, really. I’m documenting my life, and to leave that out, then it becomes fiction, it becomes a completely different project.”

Stopping to reflect at the end of each month is something she has never had to do before, and the project has taught her more about herself than she ever imagined it would.

“I’ve been stopping at the end of every month to sit and pore over the footage and make a narrative out of it and try to glean some kind of understanding from it. It’s really made me stop and take stock of everything that’s going on in my life and think about it on a much deeper level than I ever would have before. It’s made me learn a lot about my own resilience, strength and perseverance, because there have come points where it’s become very stressful and was almost a burden. I could have scrapped it, but instead I soldiered on and made it work for me and made sure that I was still learning from it.”

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