At just 19, Modesto native Drew Monson is already used to a life in front of the camera.
The 2013 Beyer High graduate has been on YouTube since he was 12 and has regularly chronicled his life and comedy in his self-made video posts. But now, Monson has two more cameras to add to his résumé. One was for his first feature film, called “ Not Cool,” and the other is for a behind-the-scenes TV series on the making of the movie, called “ The Chair.”
The making-of TV documentary series will première on the premium cable channel Starz at 11 p.m. Saturday.
Monson’s road from creating videos in his bedroom to starring in a movie comes courtesy of his YouTube connections. Monson’s channel, mytoecold, has some 200 videos and more than 160,000 subscribers. Some of his more recent posts have gained upward of 380,000 views each.
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“I was making videos before I knew what YouTube was, just on a camera and showing them to my dad,” Monson said. “When YouTube started getting popular, I was like, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool to put up these videos and have people want to watch them?’ I showed them to my friend and it took off.”
It was through YouTube that Monson met “Not Cool” director Shane Dawson. A fellow YouTube star with more than 6 million subscribers on his Shane Dawson TV channel, Dawson found Monson by watching him on the video-sharing site. The two became friends over the years, and last fall Dawson cast Monson as one of the four leads in his film, in which Dawson also stars.
“(Monson) was the first person cast because I had been watching him on YouTube since 2008,” Dawson said. “I wanted to work with him, but I didn’t have anything for him. I always thought he was too good for YouTube and should be in a movie. So this was perfect.”
The film is set to première in limited release in Los Angeles on Sept. 19 and in New York on Sept. 26.
Dawson described “Not Cool” as a teen comedy in the John Hughes vein. It focuses on friends who return from their first year in college to their hometown during Thanksgiving break. Dawson plays Scott, who comes to the realization that he is not as cool as he was in high school and that the girl he liked back then is now much cooler. Monson plays Joel, who was a nerd in high school and returns to try to hook up with Scott’s sister.
The movie was Monson’s first professional acting role, and he said it was nerve-wracking the first day on set.
“I was terrified. And when I got there, I was even more terrified. I was just scared all around the board,” he said. “But eventually I was just there and there was nothing else I could do but act. I was like, ‘I can’t be nervous right now.’ ”
The film shot for four weeks in Pittsburgh beginning in January. Monson described his character as “the nerdy, weird guy, which wasn’t a huge stretch.” While the project was his first foray in front of a movie camera – and TV camera, too – it wasn’t his first time performing for an audience.
In 2012 and 2013, Monson won the specialty talent prize for comedy in the annual Valley’s Got Talent competition at the Gallo Center for the Arts. He also took home the 2012 Modesto Area Music Association Award for comedy in 2012 and has performed stand-up around the area.
His parents live in Modesto, as does his grandmother, Dorothy Griggs, who makes frequent appearances in his videos. He brought Griggs on stage with him at Valley’s Got Talent last year, as well.
“She is just the most interesting and charismatic person that I know. So, naturally, I have to put her in anything I can,” Monson said. “She is really amazing and she will do anything. If I say it’ll be funny, she says, ‘All right, fine.’ She’s not embarrassed at all. She’s like me in that way. She’s like, ‘I don’t care what people think.’ ”
But having an added layer of cameras following him around for the documentary series did make Monson think twice about what he thought, and said, while on set.
“I kept thinking, I’d better not say anything I don’t want my mom to hear,” he joked. “But honestly, looking back on it, I feel like a lot of the time on set, that was such an afterthought. The movie was so in front. That was what we were doing; we were making a movie. It was not, ‘Today we have to do this for the show.’ It was very fly-on-the-wall.”
The series about the making of the movie, “The Chair,” comes from the executive producer of the successful “Project Greenlight” series and “American Pie” and “Good Will Hunting” movies, Chris Moore. The concept for the show was to follow two first-time filmmakers as they were given the same screenplay and budget, and see what separate films they delivered. Dawson’s film became a comedy romp, while the other filmmaker, Anna Martemucci, produced a more dramatic picture.
“Star Trek” star Zachary Quinto also partners in “The Chair” as a co-executive producer and mentor to the filmmakers. The series, which is still shooting, is ultimately a competition. In the end, the filmmaker with the most votes will win $250,000.
Dawson said he cast Monson for his comedic skills and sees a bright future for him. At first, producers were skeptical about casting someone with no acting experience, but their apprehension was short-lived.
“(Monson) is just a genius. It’s funny because every person producing this movie was apprehensive. I said, ‘Oh, I have this kid from YouTube. He has never acted a day in his life.’ But he blew them away,” Dawson said. “He is quick and odd and original. He’s the next Woody Allen. I think this guy is the next huge comedian, really.”
Dawson has so much faith in Monson that he is working with him and another producer from the film on a TV pilot. Monson has finished writing the script for the show, in which he also would star. The project is in the early preproduction phase and Dawson said he hopes to have it shot and edited by the end of the year to shop around to networks.
For his part, Monson said he hopes to take advantage of his first film role and move to Los Angeles to pursue acting soon. He doesn’t expect the movie or making-of series to make him a star, but they have helped him achieve one of his lifelong dreams.
“I loved being on the set and acting. That is what I’ve always wanted to do since when I was little. I just wanted to be in a movie someday. That was my embarrassing dream that I found dumb to talk about and people rolled their eyes about,” he said. “I think that my close friends knew it was something I wanted to do. But I didn’t expect that I would be in a movie while still living in Modesto. It’s kind of crazy that it happened. I feel surprised by it and really grateful for it.”