Do you break into a cold sweat as you watch Imperial TIE Fighters shoot down Rebel X-Wings in “Star Wars: Episode IV” (1977)? Do you scream at the crew of the Nostromo to get back to their ship as they enter a chamber full of Xenomorph eggs in “Alien” (1979)? Or do you find yourself issuing a furious tirade against the mayor of Amity as he encourages people to swim in shark-infested waters in “Jaws” (1975)?
If so, then you may have what it takes to star in reaction videos — or videos that capture your raw emotional reactions to a film, TV episode, music video, movie trailer, or other media content as you watch it, often for the first time.
Once limited to short clips of celebrities reacting to videos on Japanese variety shows, reaction videos have since turned into big business on the Internet. Thanks to platforms like YouTube and Patreon, “reactors” can sell subscriptions that let audiences watch their funny, thoughtful, and silly responses to movies and TV series. Some reactors have amassed thousands of subscribers, turning what began as a fun side hustle into a full-time job.
But before you make the mistake of thinking you can collect a paycheck just by posting an iPhone video of yourself bawling as Rose and Jack bid farewell in “Titanic” (1997), read on. There’s a lot of work that goes into building a successful reaction video career, and Hectic just interviewed two professional reactors: Amanda “Kazzy” Cryer of “KazzyReacts” and Cassie of “Popcorn in Bed” to learn how to succeed in this unconventional freelance business.
Let’s get the big question out of the way first. Why would people spend their time — not to mention their money — watching someone else react to a movie or TV show?
It’s a question both Cassie and Kazzy puzzled over when friends and family suggested they get into this line of work.
“When the pandemic hit, I became unemployed as a filmmaker,” says Kazzy. “And one of my friends who’s a purveyor of movie reactors said, ‘I bet you if you sit in front of the TV and just be the same way you are in theatres, people are going to want to watch that. You’re hilarious.’ And I was like, ‘That’s ridiculous.’
As Cassie and Kazzy got to know the subculture of movie reactor viewers, however, they began to understand the appeal of reaction videos.
“It’s impossible to recreate that first watching experience,” notes Cassie. “But watching movie reactions is as close as you can get to watching a movie for the first time again and remembering what made you love it.”
Reactor fans also love watching someone become immersed in a popular franchise like “Star Wars” or the Marvel Cinematic Universe and witness them become a fan of something you enjoy.
“When I see a reactor have the same emotional reactions that I had to a movie or to certain scenes in a film, I say to myself, ‘See? I’m not the only one!’” states Kazzy. “It validates how I felt and I've been told that is how it is for others as well, when they watch me”.
Then there’s the fun of hearing reactors deliver hilarious and ironic lines like the ones below:
“He doesn’t seem creepy… he’s cute!” — Cassie seeing Norman Bates for the first time in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960)
“Aw! Little kid Jedis! What’s going to happen to all these Jedi?” — Reactor Natalie Gold seeing Yoda train younglings in “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” (2002)
"You can't kill Spider-Man... wait a minute... You can't kill Spider-Man!" — Kazzy seeing Kingpin threaten Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)
Take a look at all the reaction videos on YouTube and you’ll find people from very different backgrounds sharing their unique takes on movies and TV shows. Cassie admits she avoided watching anything but “chick flicks and movies with happy endings” for most of her early life. This lets her go into movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Terminator 2” with a completely fresh perspective.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kazzy grew up watching ‘80s and ‘90s movies with her dad, and went on to produce films of her own, including her upcoming documentary on the prison industrial complex “Inside Men.” All of this informs her reactions as she comments on a film’s actors, production design, and music during her videos. Her editor Jordi (aka Spain-based YouTuber Skynobi) even inserts clips of classic movies for comic effect in her YouTube edits.
Nevertheless, reactors tend to share certain traits. Both Kazzy and Cassie get very invested in films, displaying empathy for characters and even screaming or crying during high-stress moments. Both are also willing to laugh and show the entire range of emotions a story can evoke, which helps connect them with their audience.
“I often get triggered by things in movies, especially when it’s something emotional,” says Kazzy. “I have a high startle reflex too. So, any kind of intensity is definitely going to evoke a reaction from me. And for me to not speak during a movie, to not make comments, actually takes something from me. I am naturally a very emotive person."
However, Cassie finds new reactors shouldn’t feel pressured to act like established YouTube personalities.
“Be yourself,” she advises, adding that she likes picturing herself with friends when watching a movie. “What’s really worked for me and what people comment on is, ‘I feel that you are genuine and real in your reactions.’ So don’t try to emulate another reactor that you saw. Find something that’s different about yourself — for me, it’s a cozy feeling because I watch movies in my bed.”
Many reactors start their Patreon and YouTube channels with a minimal financial investment. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a reactor’s first few videos to be shot from their iPhones as they watch the movie from a laptop.
As they begin building an audience, however, improving production values becomes a priority. Although reactors tend to keep their equipment to a minimum, providing audiences with quality videos means investing in better picture and sound.
“About ten movies in, my husband said, ‘I think we should order a camera,’” recalls Cassie. “And I was like, ‘Are you kidding? A $600 Sony Zeiss camera? It was a major investment. But then we added a ring light and a RODE microphone. And I could instantly tell the difference in production quality.”
Kazzy, meanwhile, invested in a boom mike that hangs over her head, giving her more freedom of movement when she reacts. She also found she had to get used to being vulnerable on camera.
“When the camera first came on, I was a little uncomfortable because I had a hard time actually believing anyone would derive joy out of watching me 'react' to a film,” she admits. “So, there were times when I held myself back, much more than I would at a theater — even though I was in the comfort of my own home, in front of a camera. I’m much more comfortable now that I see there’s a rather large level of acceptance and appreciation for what I’m doing. I feel freer to be myself in front of the camera. All of my ridiculousness included.”
So, how does a reactor make money? Actually, movie reactors can generate multiple streams of income with their content. Some of the most common ways to do this include:
Most reactors post their full-length reaction videos on a Patreon channel that audiences can access by paying a monthly subscription fee. Both Cassie and Kazzy offer different subscription levels with higher priced “tiers” granting access to perks like community and video chats.
Because reactors can’t show an entire movie or TV episode on their Patreon channel for copyright reasons, the full-length reactions blur out the media content while focusing on the reactor. Viewers can then sync up the reaction video to their own copy of the movie or TV show and watch them in tandem on their flat screen or laptop.
Reactors who post edited versions of their reaction videos on YouTube can collect ad revenue based on the number of views each video receives and the number of people who view the Google Adsense ads attached to each video.
Creators need to have at least 1000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours in the past year to apply for YouTube’s Partner Program, enabling them to monetize videos of their choice with ads, subscriptions, and channel memberships.
YouTubers earn a percentage of what advertisers pay for every 1000 ad impressions (also known as “cost per 1000 impressions” or CPM).
Exactly how much ad revenue gets paid out varies. Months like October, November, and December tend to pay higher due to holiday advertising fees. January, February, and March pay less for the same number of views.
Reactors can get more views by getting people to subscribe to their YouTube channel and liking their videos. This encourages YouTube’s algorithm to promote a reactor’s videos to more people, increasing the likelihood that their videos will earn more ad impressions.
In addition to subscribing to YouTube channels for free, viewers can join a “membership only” section of both Cassie and Kazzy’s channels. Much like Patreon, membership costs a monthly fee (anywhere from $0.99 a month to over $19.99), granting members early access to YouTube reaction videos, photos, behind-the-scenes videos, and even shout outs to members and their businesses.
As more people subscribe to their YouTube channels, reactors may get approached by marketing groups representing different brands. These groups will offer to sponsor individual videos by having the reactor promote a product or service prior to showing their reactions.
Some reactors just talk about a product for thirty seconds while others, like Cassie, film full-length commercials promoting brands like Hello Fresh.
Reactors will be asked to provide a rate for promoting products. Kazzy encourages reactors to only promote products that align with their values. She also advises them not to undervalue themselves.
“Some people are asking for a hundred bucks per video, some people are asking for ten thousand,” she says. “It really depends on how many subscribers you have and what your reach is. People who aren’t filmmakers don’t always realize how much it takes — there’s work that goes into making these commercials and making them look professional.”
Reactors may also be invited to register with marketing platforms like Influencer Active, a B2B influencer marketplace that seeks out influencers on social media and connects them with users, brands, and agencies. These businesses can then book social media personalities to help market their products and services.
Some reactors host livestreaming chats where viewers can ask reactors questions and request new movies and TV shows for them to watch. Reactors like Cassie enjoy opening the gifts and packages viewers send to her PO Box and thanking fans live on YouTube.
While participating in chats is free, reactors can also monetize them by offering viewers a chance to donate different amounts of money when asking a question. The question will then be displayed in a larger font, making it easier for the reactor to see it and respond on air.
Once they build an audience, some reactors find their fans are interested in purchasing memorabilia infused with their brand. This drives them to partner with graphic designers, print shops, and drop shipping companies to produce everything from T-shirts to tumblers inscribed with their logos and catchphrases. In addition to being another revenue stream, this help promote brand recognition.
Regularly promoting your brand is key to successfully monetizing all of your channels. Kazzy finds posting on social media can draw new viewers toward YouTube channels.
“You have to be willing to put yourself out there to be successful,” she states. “Cutting your reaction videos down to 30-60 second videos and repurposing them for Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok is a good way to market your YouTube channel with short repurposed video content.”
Editing reaction videos for Patreon just requires blurring out a movie or TV episode before posting them online. Editing YouTube reaction videos, however, is more complicated.
Reaction videos cite Section 107 of the federal Copyright Act 1976 that allows for the “fair use” of copyrighted works such as movies and TV shows if done for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Reactors then include edited snippets of a movie or TV episode for context while the majority of the video focuses on their commentary.
For the most part, this enables reactors to promote their work on YouTube. However, issues do arise.
“We have to make sure our cuts of the footage are short,” states Cassie. “So, a couple seconds of each scene and then it goes to my face. But sometimes we’ll upload the movie and a bot will immediately come back with a copyright claim. My husband will cut a scene, but if it comes back, we have to try again.”
Movie studios may make copyright claims against specific videos, requiring the reactor to either remove the video or de-monetize it on YouTube. Issues with movie soundtracks also arise, requiring reactors to muffle the music to avoid copyright violations. Reaction channels have been shut down over copyright claims, making proper editing of YouTube videos a time consuming but important part of a reactor’s success.
Some reactors get approached by professional editors who reduce their work load. Both Cassie and Kazzy employ outside editors who spend anywhere from eight to ten hours editing a full-length reaction down to an acceptable YouTube reaction video.
Editors can also create thumbnail images to advertise their YouTube videos, add animation, and sound effects. Some reactors also edit their own music into videos — Kazzy’s brother, for instance, composed an original song that plays during her intros and outros.
Contrary to what you might think, the most time-consuming part of building a successful reactor channel isn’t filming or editing your reactions.
It’s connecting with your audience.
“Every day I set my timer for an hour and a half and I just reply to as many comments on my social media as I can,” says Cassie. “Because I want people to feel heard. That’s my biggest thing right now. YouTube comments, Instagram comments, Instagram DMs, Patreon messages, Patreon posts — I could do that for ten hours a day.”
Kazzy also makes a point of following her viewers on Instagram and YouTube and interacting with them regularly. She sends subscribers research polls to learn which movies and TV shows viewers want to watch with her, granting them a voice in the direction of her channel.
“My patrons are giving their hard-earned dollars to me, which gives me an opportunity to continue working from home, and that’s been a godsend,” she states. “I feel a responsibility to provide them with regular content they want to see and content they love."
Giving viewers unique experiences is important. Cassie films some of her reactions with her sister Carly and has rented out movie theatres to record reactions to newly-released movies alongside other reactors like BrandonLikesMovies. She’s even hosted live movie trivia games on Discord and AhaSlides for fans.
All of this helps build a stronger relationship between reactors and their audiences. Reaction videos thrive on the connection viewers feel with reactors, and being able to regularly interact with the creators gives them more incentive to keep watching.
While reaction videos may seem like a new phenomenon, they’re actually a logical evolution of what’s come before. Movie and TV studios regularly pay test audiences to review upcoming movies and television shows, and the classic 1980s comedy series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” built an entire fanbase around a group of snarky reactors riffing on B-movies.
And there are signs that reaction videos are moving into mainstream entertainment. In 2021, Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi filmed a mock reaction video trailer, with their Marvel characters Deadpool and Korg reacting to the actors’ movie “Free Guy.” Over in the United Kingdom, the reality TV series “Gogglebox,” which films the reactions and observations of families and groups of friends to television shows, will celebrate its nineteenth season in 2022.
Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of room for new reactors to make their voices heard on YouTube and Patreon — and earn a side or even full-time income doing this. By learning to be honest and vulnerable in front of a camera, connecting with online audiences, and monetizing your content, you might find your tendency to talk during movies can become your greatest asset.
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