Vidcon conference celebrates YouTube culture

Los Angeles, already the capital of movies, music and tearful celebrity courtroom breakdowns, has acquired another distinction — it’s the epicenter for YouTube videos.

Of the top 72 most subscribed channels on YouTube, 26 are created by amateur videographers who live in L.A. Most of them are in Century City this weekend for Vidcon, a sold-out three-day conference celebrating a culture of homemade online videos compulsively watched by millions.

The event, which bills itself as the first YouTube convention organized by the site’s users, attracted more than 1,400 video bloggers from all corners of the world, most of whom call themselves vloggers and many of whom are so young that they had to be accompanied by their parents.

Call it a convention for the most famous filmmakers you’ve never heard of, including iJustine, MysteryGuitarMan and Shane Dawson — all three of whom earn a decent living making YouTube videos in Los Angeles.

“There’s a higher concentration here in L.A. than anywhere else,” said Margaret Healy, YouTube’s manager of strategic partnerships. “If they don’t already live here, they’re planning to move here.”

One of those who made the move was Joe Penna, a 23-year-old who moved to West Hollywood from Boston a year ago to launch his video career.

“This is the YouTube Mecca,” said Penna, whose YouTube channel, MysteryGuitarMan, has more than 1 million subscribers, or people who sign up to automatically receive all of his videos. For months, his subscriptions exceeded those of the Jonas Brothers, Michael Jackson and Miley Cyrus, giving Penna a “six-figure” annual income from advertising that appears on his videos.

“I picked L.A. because it’s the place to be if you want to do video,” Penna said. “If you need to do a shoot and your camera’s broken, you can just borrow your neighbor’s camera.”

Penna’s stop-motion music videos feature his quirky performances of classical music pieces using household items such as root beer bottles, phone books and plastic laundry baskets.

That may seem gimmicky to some people, but not to the hundreds of giggly fans who lined up spontaneously for Penna’s autograph wherever he happened to stand still at the conference.

Justine Ezarik, a 24-year-old who moved to Los Angeles in 2008 from Pittsburgh, said the community of YouTube vloggers has grown in the last two years. Some come to be near the established entertainment industry. But increasingly, they’re coming to be near one another, she said.

“There’s now a big group of us here,” said Ezarik, whose channel, iJustine, has 660,000 subscribers. “We meet, talk, share ideas. We’re all friends.”

The event’s organizer, Hank Green, is from Missoula, Mont., but he decided to hold his conference in Los Angeles, thanks to people like Penna and Ezarik.

“We made a map of the people whose videos we love to see,” Green said. “We found that the place with the most people by far was Los Angeles.”

Green, a musician who has a YouTube channel with his brother, John Green, called VlogBrothers, put together the conference on a shoestring budget. And like the grainy, far-from-perfect videos on YouTube, the event hit a number of snags — faulty microphones, misplaced cameras and a shortage of lanyards, among other difficulties.

Few in the audience seemed to care, possibly because they’re used to the hiccups of watching online video. One of them, Kim Wenham, rushed the stage after a presentation to hand Green a My Little Pony doll that she hand-painted in reference to one of his music videos.

“I’m still dizzy with excitement meeting all these people,” said a breathless Wenham, a 23-year-old marketing manager who traveled from Brisbane, Australia, with her boyfriend for the conference. “It’s so strange to see them in person after watching them for so long on my computer.”

Though held in the midst of the world’s movie and TV capital, Vidcon was less slick Hollywood and more of a cross between a comic book convention and summer camp.

Clusters of self-proclaimed nerds stood around, trading video editing tips, swapping user names and, of course, shooting footage for their next video upload. Their discussions were punctuated by loud screams each time a YouTube celebrity wandered past.

“L.A. is like YouTube,” Penna said. “It’s a place where I can do whatever I want. Where else can you do that?”