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Interview: Geoff Ramsey, Rooster Teeth

Interview: Geoff Ramsey, Rooster Teeth

Blitz sat down with Geoff Ramsey, of Rooster Teeth and Achievement Hunter to talk careers, creativity and of course, shennanigans.

What was your journey like from leaving high school to being in the position you are now?

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. As long as I can remember I wanted to be a writer. Ironically, I am not writer. So when I graduated from high school, I joined the army to become a journalist. In the army when you become a journalist you actually have to do two jobs, you become photographer and journalist. I realised very quickly I was a much better photographer than a journalist, so I basically specialised as a photo journalist for the 5 years I was in the military.

When it was time to get out of the military, I had recently gotten married, I was young and was about to start a family. I had done a lot of research and talked to a lot of photo journalist and realised that photo journalism, if I was going to excel at it, was a very difficult job to have and raise a family. It’s a seven day a week job, 15-17 hours a day. So I decided not to do that and was kind of left up in the air. I was 23, out of the army and didn’t want to be a photographer anymore, I mean I did, but I didn’t think it was a viable option for me. I was living in a very cold place in America called New Jersey and roadieing for bands for fun.

We went to Austin Texas, in December, and we were wearing T-Shirts and shorts since it was so warm, and I had spent a lot of time there before in a previous station in the military, as soon as the tour was over I packed up all the things in my life and we moved to Austin the next day. It was December 13th I was in Austin, December 17th I had moved there. I had already been in love with it, but I was like, ‘why the hell am I in cold New Jersey, when I could be in warm Austin’. I went to the first apartment complex and took the first job that I got. The first job that I got was at a tech support company where Gus [Sorala], Burnie [Burns] and Jason [Saldaña]. Gus and I became friends very quickly, and we decided that we wanted to make content for the internet. I was already doing like fan zines and stuff online, punk zines that kind of stuff.

We wanted to get into comedy together so we started making funny websites, and eventually started working with Burnie who also worked at the company. So video kind of started to permeate what we were doing and his idea was to make this episode of Red vs Blue, where we use a video game to kind of digitally puppeteer a cartoon, and we made that first episode and everything in our lives changed.

Did you ever see yourself in the position you are in now when you finished high school, or even in the industry you are in?

I don’t think I could have even envisioned it. Even when we started Rooster Teeth, I don’t think this kind of career even existed. Nobody played videogames for a living in 2003. Maybe the professional gaming scene was kind of starting at that point but the idea of taking video games and making entertainment out of them didn’t really exist. So I don’t think I could have envisioned any of this, growing up I thought I was going to be a writer, I was gonna be like Charles Bukowski, and instead I became an idiot who plays video games.

There’s a saying about the dangers of mixing business and friendship, but you started Rooster Teeth with your best friends. Do you feel like this made things easier or harder?

I think we were incredibly fortunate. I think what we were able to do, were right place, right time. We were a complementary set of talents, there were a lot of things that were perfect storm type moments. But I think one of the big things about it, about our success is that we were very fortunate that we got along and work together and had similar passions to such a degree. It’s always considered a bad idea to start a business with you friends, to work with your friends, and I say 95% of the time it is, I think it was just very very very very fortunate that we all met each other at the place and the time that we did, where we were all able to devote our lives to this thing, and luckily our friendships were strong enough to deal with it.

It’s funny, it went from the first 5-7 years working together 6-7 days a week, 10-15 hours a day every day, travelling together, we were basically all married to each other.

We were together 24 hours a day. I look back at those days with such fondness because the company has grown from 3-4 people in a spare bedroom to over 250 employees, and we all do very different thing, which is awesome. Gus is able to do all the things that Gus wants to do, and I am able to do all the things I want to do. But we’ve grown to such a degree that like, I can go 3 weeks without seeing Gus, my best friend in the world, and that’s awesome, that’s fine.

Because maybe if we were still spending 10-15 hours a day together we would have killed each other, but I do sometimes lament and miss those early passionate days where we were all huddled together in spare bedrooms. I’ve gone weeks getting up and going to Rooster Teeth every day, literally weeks, going to work, going to meetings and filming Achievement Hunter content. I’ve probably gone 2 or 3 weeks without seeing Gus, Burnie, Joel [Hayman] or Matt [Hullum]. And they’re there, there just in there department with their thing. So I think the key is at some point you need to find a way to give each other space.

Looking back, is there anything you would have liked to do differently?

I would like to come up with a better name than Rooster Teeth. Gus agrees with that. I would have liked to come up with a better name than Achievement Hunter, naming stuff has never been our strong suit. There are little things here and there you would twink. For the most part, I can’t imagine being happier and being in a better place in my life than I am right now. So I would not want to screw with that timeline.

Where did the ideas of Achievement Hunter and Letsplay come from?

I made Achievement Hunter as a side project in maybe 2008 or so, to do something creatively different from Red vs Blue since I had be doing it every days for years and years and years. We spent a long time trying to figure out a name and that was the best one we came up with. We wanted to incorporate Achievements into it because the original focus of Achievement Hunter was to show guides, to show information how people could get achievements on the Xbox 360, because I was obsessed with them, Burnie was obsessed with them, Gus was jealous that we so far ahead of him. So, it was the best I could come up with.

Unfortunately. Let’s Play was a little more serendipitous. I have been inaccurately credited with creating Letsplays many times, and I didn’t. We were very early adopters of it. Based on conversations with Michael [Jones], he was pretty influential in this as well. Michael was the one who spearheaded us in starting making Let’s Plays. We had done some a few years before. Gavin [Free] and I had a couple. Burnie, Gus and I had done a couple. We didn’t call them Let’s Plays then, it was just us playing the game. When I saw them, we started to entertain the idea of making them.

So I petitioned YouTube for the account Let’s Play, since it was a dormant account and I thought, I’ll just hold on to this because maybe, someday, it might be a thing. We used to squat domain names constantly, at any given time back in the day we would have 30 different domain names. For shows we thought we would make, for ideas that may pan out down the road, I used to do the same thing with YouTube accounts. Every couple of months I would go to YouTube and petition them to give me like 15 different accounts for different ideas and names. Let’s Play was just one of those and as we started to do them more, and they became more and more fun and the audience liked them more, then I thought I we should just own this and make it our brand. And so we did.

When starting out, was cornering different domain names and YouTube accounts the most important factor?

I wouldn’t say the most important, but we wanted to stay ahead of the curve. One thing about Rooster Teeth is we’ve done a pretty good job of staying just a little bit ahead of where things are going and a lot of that is sitting around, spending time forecasting and trying to think where the industry is going, and how to be on the forefront or one step behind the head. So it just kind of been our philosophy from day one.

Do you have a unique creative process in coming up with ideas for new content, like Theatre Mode or Heroes and Halfwits?

Every idea I’ve ever had, I think, comes to me in the shower, honestly. I take like a 10 minute shower every morning, and that’s where a lot of stuff comes to me when I’m zoned out and not thinking of anything. Or, I have weird sleeping patterns, I keep my phone next to my bed, at night. I will very often wake up at 5 in the morning, with an idea. I’ll just grab my phone and say the idea into it and go back to sleep. So most of my ideas sneak up on me. I don’t know if I had to sit down and come up with an idea I don’t know if I’d be able to do it.

From what we see in videos, there never seems to be a quiet moment in the Achievement Hunter. Do you think this helps get the creative juices flowing?

I think so.

“The thing I loved about Rooster Teeth, starting Rooster Teeth, was it was 4 or 5 best friends in a spare bedroom working on the same thing.”

Being around and collaborating and somebody says something funny and somebody says something after that, you have a whole scene written. I really love that collaborative energy, and as Rooster Teeth grew and we went from 5 to 6 to 10 to 30 to 40 employees. I looked up one day and realised, I didn’t feel that energy necessarily anymore. When Achievement Hunter started to grow, and I started to see it as a viable thing, so as it started to expand my instinct was – we were in a 6000sqft building when we had previously started in this spare bedroom – was to take an office and shove it down, and make it like the spare bedroom I had started Rooster Teeth with, and fill it with 4 more idiots in it with me. And that’s what we kind of tried to do. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, success inevitably makes things grow and I don’t know if I would want to be in the spare bedroom anymore. I think it was critical for the growth and success for Achievement Hunter. And having Michael and Gavin and Jeremy [Dooley] and Ryan [Haywood] and Geoff and Jack [Patillo] and Matt Brag, Trevor [Collins] and Lindsey [Jones] and just being around each other in the same room, laughing and joking around. It creates so much creative energy but also, there’s so many ideas getting bounced around, so many dumb shenanigans happen, I couldn’t imagine a more creative space to work in.

With your daughter appearing in some videos and starring in the ‘Schooled’ series at such a young age, do you feel that the entry barriers to producing content, especially online, have become increasingly smaller?

I think so, I think the element was always there. If you read autobiographies from like Steven Spielberg or famous directors, they all started when they were ten years old, with an 8mm or 16mm camera, shooting with their friends in the backyard. The barrier to entry was a lot higher and more expensive back then. I think it’s just we’re at this great, unique point of time, like where the tools are so readily available and so cheap and so accessible and so easy to use, that there is almost no barrier entry, and anybody with any motivation or desire to explore and try creatively can. I think that when kids get in the 10-13 age, that’s when they really start to blossom and become the people they want to be, they start to think about their career more, and what they want to do long term. They see PewDiePie and want to emulate him so they want to make their own version of PewDiePie videos, and it’s very easy to do and get feedback. I think there’s probably not a better time in history for people to be creativity.

What show, series, or single video are you most proud of?

It’s been 14 years, I’m going to give you two. The obvious first answer is Red vs Blue. Rooster Teeth, and especially Red vs Blue, is a second child to me. I’m very proud of Achievement Hunter and Let’s Play, but none of those things could have happened if we didn’t, in that moment in time, make Red vs Blue. I will forever love that thing unconditionally and unabashedly. It was probably the best point in my life. Besides having my daughter and spending time with her. The other one would probably be a show we used to do, but not anymore called Fails of the Week. That was the first Achievement Hunter show that was meant to be more entertaining than informational. The audience loved it and it was a real light bulb moment for me. Guides are great, achievement guides are great, collectable guides are fun but you’re appealing to a niche of a niche. It’s got to be an Xbox fan, and that Xbox fan has to give a shit about achievements for them to be interested in your content.

Fails of the Week was just about making fun of video games. And taking the hopefully irreverent humour that Rooster Teeth used in all the content and putting it into video games, and celebrating video games. As I was saying it was a real light bulb moment when that went off, when that first episode came out and it did so well. I thought I could do this every week. That made me think of programming Achievement Hunter more like a television network, which I no longer have to do. There was a point in time when people on the internet were learning to get used to content on the internet, and they had to view things in the lens of television. So they had to look at weekly program show like Lost every Wednesday night, Wheel of Fortune every day from 6-6:30, whatever. I realised if I approached making content on the internet like that, people would treat it like television. So after Fails of the Week did so well, and I realised that we didn’t have to be restrained by being informative and doing guides, was a huge creative moment for me. I can come up with other silly ideas for shows, make those weekly, and get people to like those. And before people know it, they’re watching our YouTube channel much like they’re watch NBC or CBS

There’s an ongoing joke in videos that you are never there because you’re always in meetings. By stepping away from appearing in videos,  do you feel like you have become stronger on the business side of things?

That is something that I struggle with every day.

I’m at a point in my life where I feel like I can do more good for the things that I have created by helping grow them from a business stand point.

Partly why we turned Let’s Play into the family we did last year, I don’t think there’s anything more fun and sitting down with Gavin and Jack, Michael, Jeremy and Ryan and playing GTA for an hour. That is about as much fun a human being can have. But, I’ve been doing it now for almost 15 years, and some point you know, you have to look down the line. When I started out I was 27, it made sense to make content for high school and college students when I was 27. Now I’m 41, still makes sense a little bit, but I’m definitely getting up there in age. When I’m 50 I don’t know if it will still make sense. I think maybe my skills are better utilised helping grow the brand right now. So, I’m not in as much content as I used to be, I think that’s probably a good thing, I think you’re all sick of me by now. I will always be in content, I will always be a part of stuff, but I think the things that I’m doing for Achievement Hunter, Let’s Play and Rooster Teeth behind the scenes are probably better for the company than being on camera every day. And maybe less is more. Maybe if you don’t see me three times a day, you’ll appreciate me more. Probably not.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start getting out there and produce content like yours?

I give this advice a lot, because I get asked this question a lot.

“If you want to make video games, start making video games. If you want to make YouTube videos, start making Youtube videos. If you want to be a writer start writing. If you want to start making Machinima videos, start. But don’t wait.”

Don’t say that I need expensive equipment that I need to wait for it. Like Michael Jones, the guy that works for Achievement Hunter, I found him, we found him, actually Burnie is the one who discovered him technically and Jack contacted him, we found him on YouTube. He used to make Rage Quit like vignettes, and would take a digital camera, set it up on some books and record the screen that way. And Michael got a job at Achievement Hunter from literally recording a screen with a camera. So the advice I would give would be, start immediately, and continue to make content every day, or every opportunity you can. You will get better every day, you’ll get more comfortable and you will learn from it. You don’t have to release it if you’re not comfortable with it or you’re not happy with it. You can always delete it or throw it away. If you want to write, write. If you want to make video games, make video games. If you want make entertaining YouTube videos, just do it, every single day. You’ll get better and you’ll get good it at some point.

Rapid Fire

  1. Minecraft or Grand Theft Auto 5
    GTA 5
  2. Most time spent on a single Achievement
    Probably the 100 days of Minecraft Achievement
  1. Worst Game to 100% complete
    Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Vollyball
  1. Favourite Game to 100%
    Peggle 2
  1. Most excited Release for 2017
    Mass Effect: Andromeda

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About Samuel Radford

Samuel Radford
Hey, I'm Sam. I'm currently accepting any applications by those funnier or smarter than me to come up with a decent bio.