Last June, three months into sheltering-in-place and unable to perform for a live audience, actor Patrick Clanton decided to tackle an idea he has had for a while about starting a YouTube channel about the hidden gems of Disney. Originally called Behind the Ears, the channel’s early videos explored the making of Zoog era Disney Channel shows like The Famous Jett Jackson and short-lived Disney Broadway productions such as The Little Mermaid.
In the last four months, the channel has undergone a number of changes, including it being renamed to Behind the Magic.
“I reached a point where I didn’t know what to make a video about next under that umbrella of hidden Disney gems,” Clanton explained in an interview via Zoom. “So, I started thinking, ‘What can I do to branch out?’ And I decided, I think maybe rebranding the channel might be the best way to go.”
Broadening the scope of the channel wasn’t the only reason for the name change. Once he saw some very disturbing search results under “behind the ears” on YouTube, he realized then that the switch was needed.
Although the channel is no longer called Behind the Ears, it is the name of one of its three series; the other two being Behind the Curtain for Broadway-focused videos and Behind the Camera for non-Disney films and TV shows. Clanton was inspired by another YouTube channel, Bright Sun Films, who also has a variety of series under their umbrella.
Clanton always aims to make each video better than the one that came before. He recently released the second of two videos about Wicked, which was his first time doing a two-parter.
“Doing a two-parter, it felt ambitious to do, because at first I was just going to do one video,” he said. “But then as I was thinking about it, I was just like, it was either going to be very long or very truncated, and I wouldn’t be able to talk about everything. There would have just been so much stuff left out about the history of Wicked and I really wanted to go from the beginning and then bring it all the way to the present day.”
Similar to when he released his video about So Weird, Clanton was a little nervous leading up to the videos’ releases, knowing the passionate fan base Wicked has. Now that they are both out, he has been hearing a lot of positive feedback from the viewers.
“People are giving me their stories about what this show meant to them,” he revealed. “It’s just been really touching and wonderful to see. And seeing people comment like, ‘Wow, this is the best Wicked documentary I’ve ever seen’… I feel like I’m bragging, but it’s so interesting to see people be like, ‘This feels like something that could be shown on TV’ or it’s, ‘Just thank you for all the effort that you put into it.’”
As of his Tarzan video, Clanton has been incorporating interviews from people who were involved in the making of the projects he explores. From original Broadway cast members to those who took part in touring productions, their stories have widened the scope in understanding the history of these projects.
He’s been able to acquire the interviews with help from friends and connections in the Broadway community. However, eventually he’d like to directly reach out to those he wishes to feature.
“I feel solid enough in my confidence in the quality of them, and I’ve been able to get some great people to be interviewed,” he explained, “and now that the channel has grown in terms of subscribers and in terms of views and everything, I’m hoping that I will be able to reach out directly to people and hopefully be able to get interviews that way, because it’s wonderful.”
The number of subscribers has also been another big change for Behind the Magic. Clanton’s video on the 1997 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which was originally one of the lowest performing ones on the channel, experienced mini surges both last November around the film’s anniversary and the following month after Natalie Desselle-Reid’s death.
“By the end of the year – last year – it hit 10,000 views,” he said. “It was my first video to hit 10,000 views and I was just over the moon thrilled. I was just like, ‘I can’t believe it.’”
But in early February, not long after the channel reached 500 subscribers, it was announced that Cinderella would be coming to Disney+. Soon after, in Clanton’s words, “it totally took off.” The subscriber count started going up and it wasn’t long before he hit 1,000 subscribers. One he crossed that milestone, he believes that the algorithm on YouTube adjusted to where his videos started getting recommended to potential audiences and the number of views on all his videos started going up as well.
“It’s just been mind blowing to see it,” he remarked, who reached 5,000 subscribers on the channel three days prior to this interview. “[It’s] small by YouTube standards, but it’s just something that when I started making these videos, I never would have expected a little less than a year later that people would be responding to them in this way. So, it’s really exciting.”
With more people aware of Behind the Magic now, a drawback to the sudden surge of subscribers has been the appearance of trolls lurking the comments section of his videos. They most notably remark on his commentary about the diversity – or lack of – in some of the Broadway shows he has covered, such as in his second video about Wicked.
Clanton has no desire to engage with the naysayers. “I just want to keep it positive on my channel. But if you read my pinned comment on that particular video, I’m like, ‘You can leave that stuff at the door, because it’s not coming onto my channel. It will get deleted. So, you can try, but just know your comment is going to get deleted.’”
He also plans on inserting his opinions more often in future videos on subjects such as diversity, as a way to show viewers that he is a real person and not a disembodied voice. As he later added, “As a Black man, as a Black performer, and now as a Black creator, I’m going to talk about the issues that are important to me, and that one in particular is something that as a Broadway fan and as a Wicked fan, it’s always been something that has bothered me. And so, there was no way that I could make this video and let them off the hook. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to approach this the best way that I can.’”
On the bright side, Clanton has seen his videos be recommended by people he doesn’t even know and they have even been used in educational settings. A friend of his, who’s a drama teacher, showed the video about Cinderella to their students and afterwards addressed Clanton as “the patron saint of Disney.”
“That’s just been so, so cool to know that my videos are being used for educational purposes,” he said, “because as much as I’m so thrilled that people are finding them entertaining, their main point is to educate and to teach people about their favorite shows, or some shows that they’ve never heard of, or movies that they’ve never heard of, TV shows [they’ve never heard of]. So that was just a moment of, ‘Oh my gosh, look at my little video babies out there teaching the children. That’s wonderful!’ So yeah, that’s just made me so happy.”
Clanton is next looking to do a video on the Broadway version of The Lion King. While he also aims to continue the Behind the Ears series, he is prioritizing the Broadway videos due to the high appeal they’re drawing in from viewers. He also wants to prioritize doing videos on projects that he is passionate about. As he commented, “I feel like if I do a show or a TV show or whatever that I’m not truly passionate about, it’s going to come through in the video.”
While the future beyond COVID-19 is still vastly unknown, Clanton is waiting in high anticipation for it, in hopes of conducting interviews for his channel in-person, instead of over Zoom. He believes it will take the overall quality of his videos to a new level once masks and social distancing become a thing in the past.
Until then, Clanton continues to make videos that he would want to watch and hope for people to continue enjoying them, no matter how time consuming they may take to make.
“I just love it when I am able to put this piece here and put this piece here and then watch it all the way through,” he said. “And I’m just like, ‘Ah, that’s what I wanted.’ It really is just like a puzzle, making these videos, it’s just a big digital puzzle. So yeah, I hope to keep it up.”
All images courtesy of Patrick Clanton.