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Live Your Best Life

By Serena Fox

Three years ago, an irrepressibly optimistic college student named Sara Dietschy saw a need for fun, honest micro-documentaries that show how creative professionals navigate the world. Entirely on her own, she took the plunge and launched Creative Spaces TV on YouTube.

Today, with 130,000 subscribers eagerly watching upwards of 13 episodes a season, the 22-year-old Texas native has proven her point—and propelled herself into a chaotic but successful career as a YouTube personality and videographer, now based in New York.

With three seasons under her belt, Dietschy is eager to share lessons learned. “The goal of this show is for people to be inspired to live their best life,” says Dietschy. “It’s taught me so much, but there’s so much more I want to do.”

Dietschy crisscrossed the country to interview filmmakers and art teachers, fashion photographers and writer-directors, street artists and jewelry designers, painters and illustrators, songwriters and potters and leatherworkers.

To get an idea of the show’s range, check out the current season.

So just what has Dietschy learned from creating a hit YouTube show? “The biggest thing is this: If you see a blank space out there, if there’s something that doesn’t exist in the world but you wish it did, just go and do it,” says Dietschy.

Her point: Sometimes we let self-doubt, overplanning, and perfectionism get in the way. Creative Spaces TV was born on a road trip to Nashville. “I literally visited a friend and shared my hopes and dreams. She knew this cool audio engineer, and it came down to the only thing standing between me and doing the first show was a 10-hour car ride. So I said, ‘All right, let’s do this.’” That first episode, which profiled musician Brandon Owens, set the format for the series and is still one of her favorites.

Audio engineer Brandon Owens in an episode of Creative Spaces TV by Sara Dietschy

Click to watch Dietschy’s interview with Brandon Owens.

But Dietschy has many favorites. In fact, as she reminisces about various episodes, it’s clear one of the high points for her is the work itself—the chance to visit the intimate work spaces, examine the tools, and have face-to-face, genuine conversations with creative pros who love what they do.

The common thread of Dietschy’s work is authenticity—something she strives for consciously. “My aim with every episode is to take the personality I see in real life and translate it to an audience in seven minutes,” she explains.

A good example is her piece on author-illustrator Becky Simpson. “Becky is this super-talented graphic designer, but she’s also one of the coolest, funniest people I’ve ever met,” remembers Dietschy. “I had watched another video on her, but as soon as I met her in real life, I realized the video talked about her work but did not capture who she was at all. She is super quirky, super great. I said, “Let’s make a video that oozes Becky.’”

Prepping for the interview, Dietschy asked Simpson about the previous profile. Turns out there was a big crew for that video, and Simpson got shy. “So being a small one-woman crew was an advantage,” says Dietschy. “I showed up to her house with just my gear and literally my mom as a helper, who is the least intimidating person in the world and just awesome. I said, ‘We’ll just shoot around your space and have fun for a while, okay?’ She relaxed, and we started laughing and talking,” Dietschy says. “You try to make the camera disappear. That’s when you’re going to capture the best stuff.”

Becky Simpson gets quirky in her Creative Spaces TV episode.

Click to watch Becky Simpson letting her hair down in this interview.

For a self-avowed gearhead, Dietschy doesn’t go in for complicated equipment. She uses two SLR cameras—one on a tripod for the wide shot, one handheld for close-ups—and a $400 RodeLink wireless mic system hooked up to a Tascam digital recorder. “It’s a myth that you need all this fancy recording equipment,” she says. “The majority of people can’t tell the difference between my $3,000 camera and a $20,000 RED camera. As long as I’m comfortable with my set up, that’s what matters.”

She has, however, come up with some low-budget technical tricks along the way:

Want to avoid camera shake? Use your camera strap. “Just pull out your 35mm camera so there’s no slack in the strap. It creates this amazing stabilized shot.”

Don’t have a camera person to get that side-angle as the subject talks to you? No problem. Dietschy sets up an empty chair and coaches her subjects to talk to the chair while she holds the camera. “It’s a little awkward, but it works,” she says.

Need a fancy boom mic and sound crew? No, you don’t. Dietschy just records hours of audio, whether or not the camera is running. “I get a lot of good sound bites when the camera isn’t perfectly on their face,” she says. “I just plug the wireless receiver directly into a portable Tascam DR-40 recorder, and it records forever.” In Adobe Premiere Pro, she imports her two camera angles and the audio from the Tascam, adds the scratch audio from the two cameras as a backup, selects all the tracks and clicks Synchronize. Premiere automatically lines up the shots based on the audio, and Dietschy starts editing.

Because she favors a documentary style, Dietschy keeps herself entirely off camera. But she injects her commentary — and her trademark YouTube personality — in post production. Her interviews are marked by fast pacing, frequent wipe transitions, overtly narrative music, and random jump-cuts to close-ups of stuff she observes around the artist’s studio. “The music is super-important,” says Dietschy. “That’s me telling the story.”

Dietschy has learned a lot by operating as a one-woman shop. “You don’t have to have this massive team and this crazy budget,” she says. “From season one through three, it’s all been me.” She makes the initial calls, builds the relationship, transports and sets up the equipment, sits right next to the cameras to do the interview, and does all the post. “At this point, it’s getting slightly exhausting,” she laughs. “I have stretched as far as I can with doing things on my own.”

The next step, Dietschy says, is to take it beyond just her. “I want longer episodes, I want to feature two people per episode. That definitely requires help and planning.”

As an experiment, Dietschy expanded her format for one episode this season on Oil & Cotton, a homegrown Dallas creative exchange. “It almost killed me,” she says. “I just hit this wall because I interviewed three people, not one. So when I sat down to edit it, I had three different stories, three backgrounds, all this stuff I wasn’t familiar with. It messed me up.” The episode took her three weeks to make, and gave her an entirely new appreciation for creative block.

Click the image to enter the enchanting world of Oil & Cotton.

“That was the hardest episode to extract a cohesive story out of,” she says. “But the moment I got it done and posted, I felt like I had leveled up in a video game or something.” Lesson learned, Dietschy is more confident than ever that she wants to expand her format next season.

And that’s not all Dietschy wants to change. Her dream is to take Creative Spaces TV to the next distribution level. “I love YouTube,” she says. “But I’m at the point where I want more eyes on these cool creatives every week. I believe the show has the potential to reach way more people,” because, she says, there is something universal about people who create.

“You don’t have to be interested in design or art to be inspired by these stories,” she says. “These are classic entrepreneurial stories of creative people who love what they do. Everyone can relate to that.”

As an example, she points to “A helmet you actually want to wear,” which tells the oddly compelling story of one designer’s quest to manufacture a more stylish and functional bike helmet.

Click to follow Gloria Hwang through her journey.

“There are so many good, genuine stories like this out there, about people making it happen, that I think everyone would be interested in,” says Dietschy. “It’s refreshing when you see people who absolutely love what they do.”

Looking at today’s documentaries and reality TV, Dietschy sees a “weird division” between real life and celebrity. She wants shows like hers to blur that line with a new level of authenticity. A recent episode, for example, gives a behind-the-scenes peek at the online performance art group Schmoyoho as they “songify” a presidential debate. It is both topical and self-referential, and it deals with fame in a disarmingly uninterested way. It’s as if, these days, people are so used to living their lives onscreen that public performance is a given—part of the background of storytelling.

Click to go behind the scenes with Schmoyoho.

“If you’re a video content creator,” says Dietschy, “I truly believe this is the best time to be alive. Right now it’s the wild west when it comes to video content. With the landscape that is now television—which is basically if you have an Internet connection—there are an insane number of platforms available and so much room for stories to be told.”

Dietschy’s plan is to create one more season of Creative Spaces TV with more complex episodes, a little more polished production, and a bigger team, and then pitch the product to a mainstream online distributor. She has her eye on go90, Hulu, HBO GO, or (“dreaming big”) Netflix.

She has no doubt she will get there. “I’m a firm believer in ‘See it clearly and speak your dreams into motion,’” says Dietschy. “And as my mom always says, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’”