Your movie I Am a
Channel - in a few words, what's it about?
Brian Wiebe: I Am a Channel is about an influencer who becomes a cult leader. I have
always wondered if megalomaniacs genuinely believe their bullshit or if
they were truly just great hustlers/con artists? Or a little of both?
Christine Vrem Ydstie: The one thing I’d add dovetails with Brian’s thoughts about
megalomaniacs: I think I Am a Channel is about everyone’s secret belief in their
own exceptionalism. A lot of millennials were told that they were special
when they were growing up by very well-meaning adults, so we have this
generation of people walking around trying to reconcile their banal daily
lives with this promise of specialness. What ultimately makes Heidi’s
belief in her own exceptionalism so toxic is social media.
Now how did this project get kicked off in the first place?
We have been great friends and artistic collaborators for quite some time.
We had recently completed a project and were talking about where to go
next. Christine had a growing interest in wellness, lifestyle influencers.
I had some familiarity due to my love of cringe comps. And we had a
mutual love of cults, multi level marketing scams, hucksters, etc. We decided to spend a
day filming both the content and the bts, if you will. It was a lot
of fun and when I started cutting it together, we both felt it was pretty
compelling and developed an outline and kept going.
I Am a Channel
diving into the world of YouTube influencers, what kind of research did
you do on the topic when conceiving the film, and your personal opinions
CVY: I followed a lot of lifestyle and wellness influencers on Instagram and
YouTube for research, and two things stuck out: First, how utterly long
and mundane so many of the videos were. We played a lot with the duration
and banality of the Tiger Lily videos, but most of it ended up on the
cutting room floor; we couldn’t in good conscience subject our audience
A lot of these videos were also incredibly intimate/exploitative. I remember
one in particular where a woman filmed herself waking up her toddler.
Like, there was a camera in this kid’s face when they opened their eyes.
And then she posted it on the internet!
Granted, I was seeking out the more extreme examples of the form, but I came away
from all that research feeling pretty icky. I think “vulgar” is a
great word to describe a lot of this content.
BW: Christine sent me various wellness, lifestyle, wannabe guru channels.
And it resonated with a lot of the internet rabbit holes I’d ventured
down, whether it was cults, multi level marketing scams, cringe, and all
the various intersections of such things. I also think the spectre of
Trump’s presidency had some influence: He was an extremely successful
social media figure who parlayed that into being the leader of the ‘free
world’ – we all lived through it, so I think the objective insanity of
the statement has lost its luster… but as for how I feel about
influencers – I think it can go both ways, I think there is the potential
to be a good influence, but power, fame, attention tend to corrupt.
Other sources of inspiration when writing I
Am a Channel?
BW: I’d say that despite our skewering, Christine and I both have
appreciation for aspects of new age culture (?)
– I am a music nut and I
was particularly into assorted new age, 4th world, ambient music at that
point in time. I’ve long been an Eno fan, but I was getting pretty
deep in to stuff like Suzanne Doucet, RVNG & Freedom to Spend catalog,
the Kankyō Ongaku compilation… and I do think there is something truly transportive
in that music. And I can certainly understand the desire to search for
something more in terms of spirituality outside of the mainstream
traditional religions. So I guess all of that goes towards saying
that I always wanted to take Joanna/Heidi seriously on her terms.
CVY: I’ve always been curious about countercultural lifestyles – i.e.
fermenting your own food, food as medicine, therapeutic psychedelics, etc.
What I noticed with the rise of Goop and wellness culture online is that a
lot of countercultural wisdom gets paraphrased to death and regurgitated
by people who have no grasp of the original context until we’re buying
$100 water bottles with crystals in them, or wearing stickers that have
been blessed by a “shaman”. That disconnect between the source and the
megaphone was really interesting to me.
After we finished the film, we were shocked by the thematic overlap I Am a Channel shares
with two real life cults that are getting a lot of attention right now:
Love Has Won and the Twin Flames Universe (there are great docs about both
– highly recommend!). What’s eerie is that those two cults were first
emerging at the same time we were filming. There must have been some weird
energy in the ether around that time, because the beliefs, practices, and
personalities of those groups are so similar to what we created in the film.
Since you've written I
Am a Channel together, what can you tell us about the writing
BW: We both really respect each other, and that goes a long way. This film was
largely built on improvisation, and that improv was built around an
outline. And it was collaborative every step of the way. We worked
together on the outline, and then I would hit record, and marvel at
Christine (and Ryan and the rest of the cast), stifle laughter, take a few
mental notes… and then after we cut, I would make a few observations and
suggestions, and then go for it again. It was so much fun.
Christine, do talk about your character, and
what did you draw upon to bring her to life? And how much of Christine
Vrem-Ydstie can we find in Heidi, and how much fun was it to play her? And
did you write her with yourself in mind from the get-go?
Yes, I was always going to play our influencer and there’s a LOT of me
in Heidi – she’s like a shameless, supremely confident parallel
universe version of me. For example, all of the info Heidi shares in the
Tiger Lily Magic videos, like how Mayan warriors ate chia seeds to sustain
them, is stuff I’ve picked up from online wellness content over the
years. I’m sure most of it is bullshit, but I didn’t make any of it
up. The big difference between me and Heidi is that she has no qualms
spreading potentially baseless information if it will benefit her in some
What can you tell us about the rest of I
Am a Channel's cast, and why exactly these people?
We hadn’t planned on casting anyone else initially, but as we were
setting up on that first shoot day, it occurred to us that we had a
fantastic actor hanging around the apartment – my husband, Ryan Imhoff [Ryan
– click here] – so that first bit of casting was as much a stroke of luck/genius as it
was an afterthought. I’m so glad it worked out the way it did; I think
the character Rian adds so much to the movie.
The Mother was originally going to be played by the late MaryAnn Thebus, who
was a teacher of mine and a legendary Chicago stage actor, but she had a
cat allergy. So Joette Waters stepped in – I believe she had worked with
a friend of Brian’s previously.
what can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at
BW: A few things I can think of to say here… the classic: directing is 90%
casting and in terms of performance I believe that is true. I wanted to be
an auteur but I find that to be a fantasy, because even on a small
production, film is a collaboration.
In looking at the film more formally, I had some ideas that I believe were
successfully conveyed. I wanted to compare and contrast the lowbrow
influencer style with the more revered art film style (at least at that
moment). The influencer often sets up a static shot and then jump cuts for
very practical purposes. The art film is often deliberately slow -
static or very controlled camera movement. The influencer feels
keenly aware of the audience's attention span, never allowing for a dull
moment despite being only minimally conscious of composition, mise-en-scene. While the art film is hyper aware of composition, but in
contrast seems to deliberately try the audience’s patience. I often
thought of Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions (but didn’t actually
revisit so it was a hazy memory). I was particularly happy with the
exorcism scene in which the art film becomes the YouTube content almost
All the followers are wonderful friends and actors/improvisers in Chicago. I
sent an email and they showed up – very much the Chicago way. Bless them all!
Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set
BW: All I can think of now is that it was super fun. It felt extremely
productive and rewarding.
CVY: We always have a good time! This particular project felt really relaxed
because, for the most part, it was just Brian and me on set – he was a
one-man crew and I was the talent. I think we got as close to
“peaceful” as a filmmaking process could possibly get.
What can you tell us about your
collaboration with one another during the whole creation of I
Am a Channel?
BW: I think we complement each other well, and enjoy each other’s ideas and
company, so it's all good.
CVY: It’s a really easy dynamic – we’re lucky in that way. And we have a
similar sense of humor, which is always a plus.
Am a Channel wasn't the first time you two have worked together,
so what can you tell us about your previous collaborations, and how did
the two of you first meet even?
BW: We first met during a casting call for a film I made called A
Good Person. Christine just absolutely nailed it, and then we became
friends over the course of making that, and have worked on several other things since.
CVY: A Good Person was the first really good project I
was ever cast in. Making that movie was such a joy – we had a little
on-set family by the end. Working with Brian again was a no-brainer. Not
long after, we made a webseries called Actress, which is great and
available to watch on my website – www.christinevy.com/.
Back to I
Am a Channel - where can the movie be seen?
streaming on Tubi! https://tubitv.com/movies/100013857/i-am-a-channel
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of I
Am a Channel?
BW: Getting people to watch my work has never been my strong suit, and being a
filmmaker has certainly taught me to have a thick skin and brush off
rejection. And I think we both accepted that this was an odd idea that
would probably have a limited audience, but all that being said: We have
received a great response to this movie. I am so grateful to everyone who
has watched it, and I hope people keep taking the chance and hitting play.
I’ve been floored by how many people have responded positively to the
movie. I’m over here waiting for the other shoe to drop!
Based on your experience on I
Am a Channel, could you ever be persuaded to work with one another
again? And/or other future projects?
I would jump at the chance. Life, children, geography might conspire
against us, but I certainly hope we create more work in the not too
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results?
The links below
will take you
CVY: No question, we’ll work together again. Now, we just need an idea and some funding!
Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?
Official trailer: https://youtu.be/YARERnaThAg
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
asked such thoughtful questions! Thanks so much for watching – we’re
so, so glad you enjoyed it and grateful for the opportunity to talk about
for the interview!