Huddled in an intimate circle, surrounding a palm-sized digital camera sitting atop a black tripod, five casually dressed twenty-something year olds break into fits of laughter. Their eyes laser in on the camera’s screen as they review the footage they just shot.
The actors filmed a parody of popular dating websites, such as Match.com, taking turns speaking to the camera about their blunt and gritty expectations of a romantic partner.
Standing a few inches above the rest, Javon Carey asks the cameraman to rewind the footage so he can take a closer look at one of the clips, wrinkling his forehead and lowering his face so that it is now level with the camera.
Carey, known online as Careyboy, writes, directs and acts in comedy skits that he broadcasts to nearly 900,000 followers across several social media platforms. When the 25-year-old decided to move to Los Angeles from Houston in 2016, his popularity on social media preceded him.
“People come up to me all the time and want to take pictures. I didn’t think that I was as known as people make me seem, but when I go downtown or to Hollywood, people just stop me,” Carey says.
Two years ago, he began posting videos to Instagram, his most popular social media account, with more than half a million followers. His ultimate aspiration is to act in film and television, which prompted his move to Los Angeles. The original purpose of the Instagram videos was to give him a platform on which he could practice acting, unaware that it would become his claim to fame, with videos totaling more than 200 million views.
He attributes the quick rise of his page’s popularity to celebrities redistributing his videos.
Carey says rapper Waka Flocka was one of the first celebrities to repost his videos. Singer-songwriter Keyshia Cole was also among the first to repost.
Olympic athlete Usain Bolt follows him, comments and frequently “likes” videos on Carey’s page. Carey direct-messaged Bolt, letting him know that he was filming a skit about him, to which Bolt replied, “I will be looking out for it boss and I enjoy the work u do bro keep it up.”
Noticing that his follower count was abruptly rising, Carey began to look at the business side of social media fame. He discovered he could make a living off his online presence alone.
“This is my job,” Carey says. “The promotions, the advertisements, they come all the time. I had to get a manager to set prices and see what I’m worth outside in this world because everybody’s going to want stuff promoted.”
Carey says he charges anywhere from $1,000-$15,000 per sponsored post on his Instagram page, depending on the popularity of the company.
“Whether they’re with it or not, that’s just what I’m worth because the views and the activity that I get on my page are tremendous,” Carey says. “It would only make sense to charge high up and to look at myself like I’m worth that.”
Karina Walters is a casting director at Fiorentino Casting, and she has been involved in that aspect of the entertainment industry for 12 years. According to Walters, social media is a newly considered side of the casting business, especially if a project doesn’t have a big marketing budget.
“People will think that if someone has a big following on social media, that’s a way to get almost a built-in audience,” Walter says. “If that person has 3 million followers and they’re in something, there’s a good chance that some of their followers will see anything they’re in. They can tweet it out and they can do an Instagram story about what they’re doing and that will get more interest.”
Walters says there’s been a bigger push in the film and television industry to consider social media influencers for acting projects. Although an actor’s online popularity is desirable in this social media era, a high follower count won’t guarantee them a role.
“A lot of those people are talented and a lot of them are lucky,” Walters says. “It’s not to say that everyone on social media is not a good actor, but just like the regular population, some of them are going to be good and some of them aren’t. Just because you have a huge following doesn’t mean you have acting skills. So it’s about finding that balance.”
Carey hopes his follower count will help him in the audition room as he branches out to start an acting career.
His videos aim to find humor in everyday things that will resonate with young social media users. He says he can come up with 20 video concepts in a day. Seemingly trivial moments, such as couples arguing in public, or a disagreement in the workplace, will spark inspiration.
“Ideas come and go. You just have to look at other people’s stuff and see what they didn’t come up with,” Carey says. “I think I’ve done this for a while, so now it’s easy. It just depends on who I’m working with. If you’re easy to work with, then we’ll get through this process real easy.”
Carey usually films twice a week. During these sessions, he tries to acquire enough footage for four or five videos so that he can try to post to his social media accounts three times a week. Once the footage is in, Carey edits the videos. He used to edit on his computer, but he switched over to his cell phone because he says it’s easier and does not restrain him to needing to be at a specific place to get the task done.
His videos usually feature the same circle of actors, who are also building up their popularity on social media through skits and short videos. Carey’s roommates have Instagram pages and are similarly trying to find success in the entertainment industry.
“I mostly do videos with them. I knew them before I moved to L.A. I knew a lot of people before I moved out here,” Carey says. “We all noticed each other from how many videos we post and from other celebrities re-posting our videos. Depending on if they wanted to collab or not, I contacted them and said let’s work. I’ll work with people who may not even have an Instagram. It’s about whether we can help each other out or not.”
Aspiring actor Milan Carter appears in a handful of Carey’s videos and has an Instagram page comprised of self-written and directed skits. Like Carey, Carter uses Instagram as a stepping stone to outside acting opportunities.
“I feel like social media gives us power as creators, and that’s the best thing,” Carter says. “It’s a gift and a curse. With social media, everything is oversaturated. It gives you the opportunity to express yourself no matter who you are, but it also creates a big ocean for you to try to stand out.”
Carter, who has 26,000 followers on Instagram, thinks the instability of internet trends and the constant change of what is considered funny and worth sharing makes social media success even more temporary and fleeting than the everyday celebrity.
“I feel like social media doesn’t last. If you’re not always on it, your content disappears and you fade to the dust,” Carter says. “It’s no money coming in that way if people just forget. There’s no residuals, there’s no after-the-facts, it’s just here and now. If you have the right mindset and look at social media more as practice for a bigger battle, then I think you’re on the right path.”