Screenwriter Gary Whitta (who is also a former game developer) has a unique origin story when it comes to how he built his community on the popular gaming livestream app Twitch.
Whitta started working in Hollywood as a filmmaker and screenwriter working on such films as The Book of Eli, After Earth, and Star Wars: Rogue One. And while these are incredibly impressive projects we have all come to know and love, sometimes the finished product is not quite what the screenwriter originally envisioned. There are also times in Hollywood when projects get picked up but then get dropped or stalled. Whitta elected to take ownership of his projects from start to finish without the status quo of Hollywood gatekeepers to compromise his artistic vision. He has taken to Twitch, the popular live streaming gaming platform, to fuel his artistic vision in a myriad of ways.
BGN sat down to chat with Whitta at TwitchCon, inside the San Diego Convention Center, to discuss his career on the platform and his talk show Animal Talking — a virtual talk show with a similar format as a late night show, complete with guests and performances. He has had a ton of guests on, ranging from Selena Gomez to Brie Larson to Sting.
For Whitta, integrating Hollywood with gaming was a good opportunity. He says, “I’ve been fortunate to have these two back-to-back careers where I essentially got to do both of the hobbies that I had growing up.” Able to do these hobbies professionally, he’s a self-described video game nerd and movie geek. Both of these industries were a part of his DNA.
Whitta also describes both gaming and some aspects of Hollywood as being a Venn diagram of nerd culture.
“If you’re into Star Wars and Marvel, you’re probably also into Minecraft and Fortnite, and all of these things kind of collapse into one,” Whitta says. When Twitch came along, he thought it was a good opportunity to try and combine those two interests. Like most people did on Twitch at the time, he started with playing games on the livestream platform. At the time he joined, Twitch wasn’t what it is today and didn’t expand to incorporate music and other kinds of content creation. It still was primarily known as a place where people played video games.
A light bulb moment happened for Whitta when a film he worked on, The Book of Eli, made its debut on another streaming giant platform — Netflix. There were all these special features for the film, but the studio never put out audio commentary for the movie. Whitta decided to provide commentary since he had some knowledge about it (he did work on the film, after all). He says, “I had this idea to try to use Twitch in a slightly different way, which was to kind of do a live-watch.” While live-tweeting isn’t a new phenomenon, conducting a live-stream watch via Twitch certainly was for Whitta and his community of followers. This was also uncharted territory for him as a screenwriter on Twitch talking about movies and doing Q&As. Fans could learn in real time the fundamentals of screenwriting while watching a movie on Netflix.
The self-admitted streamer confesses that he’s very active on Twitter and social media. “I’m pretty much a homebody and I don’t get out much,” he says. “Twitch is a way to connect with people.” His virtual talk show Animal Talking blew up during the pandemic, which was a time in which many people grew their platforms as online creators.
Twitch is a place that offers many options for content creators, such as categories like just chatting, cooking, or comedy. Whitta thinks that gaming will remain the cornerstone of the platform; however, he does believe the platform is branching out in other ways.
In addition to his work as a screenwriter, streamer, and former game developer Whitta has created an audiobook podcast called Gundog: a sci-fi apocalyptic alien invasion thriller featuring Shannon Woodward (Westworld, The Last of Us Part II) and Troy Baker (The Last of Us Part II), with music by composer Austin Wintory (Journey). The story is full of giant robots and alien invasions, so Whitta is sticking to his sci-fi roots with this project.
If there is one thing to take away from Whitta’s story, it is that he used what he knew to build a community on Twitch and was authentic in his approach. He took something as simple as doing a live-watch of a movie that he worked on and answered questions from his community about that film to keep them engaged and build an audience. While his path started with gaming, ultimately it has led him to other areas.
You can follow Whitta on Twitch on his channel GaryWhitta.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.