From YouTube to Hollywood: How Abigail Thorn Is Changing the Film Industry

Abigail Thorn

Warning: This article makes reference to abuse, which may be distressing to some readers.

Once upon a time, YouTubers and Hollywood didn’t mix. Before the 2020s, it was considered miraculous to successfully transition from creating online content to making studio films, and the few YouTubers who attempted the leap often crash-landed on the Boulevard pavement. Between 2014 and 2019, Smosh, Shane Dawson, the Fine Brothers, and Lilly Singh, among others, all scored mainstream projects, but didn’t flame the zeitgeist alight. Despite journeying up the heights of LA, their audiences weren’t willing to follow them.

In 2019, YouTuber Freddie Wong spoke about the hurdles that were making the jump from YouTube to Hollywood so difficult. Wong is best known for creating RocketJump, a YouTube channel that tells action-packed stories with spectacular special effects. As of 2024, his online body of work has over two billion views.

Freddie Wong

But while Wong is a legend on YouTube, his early Hollywood pitches weren’t fruitful — a reality he ascribed to YouTube’s then-terrible reputation.

“We did a lot of stuff on YouTube, we did a lot of stuff web-series wise, we set records for crowdfunding,” Wong said in 2019. “Blah, blah, blah, who cares, nobody gives a shit.”

“When people look at our past work, they say ‘Oh YouTube? That thing where that guy recorded the body of a dead dude? Oh YouTube, the thing my kid watches.’ The stigma never left.”

However, over the last few years, the reputation of YouTube has begun to shift. Now, it seems Hollywood is becoming more open to the idea of allowing YouTubers and content creators into their circle. Take for instance, Danny and Michael Philippou. Between 2013 and 2021, the Philippou brothers made viral comedy skits for their YouTube channel TheRackaRacka. In 2023, they released one of the most successful horror movies of the year, Talk to Me.

Talk to Me
Maslow Entertainment

Likewise, the artist Abigail Thorn is also killing both games. Thorn is the creator behind YouTube channel Philosophy Tube, an educational series that has amassed over 100 million views. She is also appearing in several mainstream productions later this year.

Yet, it’s worth noting that Thorn’s journey to two successful artistic careers is particularly fascinating. It’s a journey full of Shakespearean drama, creative gambles, and vampires. A journey where she repeatedly defied all the odds. 

Curious? Excellent. ‘Cause we’re about to dive into how Thorn took a plunge into the sphere of Hollywood.

Act I: Who Is Abigail Thorn?

On Philosophy Tube, Abigail Thorn creates video essays that unpack and discuss philosophical theories in a way that anyone can understand.

However, Thorn does so much more than flick on a camera and talk to it. Her work is defined by its monologues, grandiose sets, overarching stories, and artistic sensibilities. For instance, in Thorn’s video Food, Beauty, Mind, she plays the role of Kelly Slaughter, a tech CEO who exploits her workforce. To demonstrate Slaughter’s ethics, the character goes on a dramatic tangent about how she made one of her employees work while on maternity leave.

Speaking to The Latch via email, Thorn said that while she’s been on YouTube since 2013, her work has become more creatively ambitious in recent years. It’s a change that grew out of a plethora of positive circumstances. 

Abigail Thorn
Abigail Thorn

First of all, Thorn had just graduated from drama school, with her head full of creative ideas. Secondly, she was inspired by the work of Natalie Wynn, the YouTube essayist who also goes by ContraPoints. Like Thorn’s work, Wynn’s videos also feature monologues, play-like scenes, and other poetic details.

“Natalie Wynn reinvented video essays,” Thorn said. “Her early work is sadly no longer public, but I remember one in particular inspired by Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. She took the formula that people like Lindsay Ellis invented and elevated it.”

On a more personal note, Thorn left an abusive relationship in the late 2010s, and with her newfound freedom came a new wave of creativity.

“I had been in an abusive relationship and finally found the courage to end it,” Thorn said. “My abuser had stifled my creativity and my channel, so suddenly I was free to make whatever I wanted!

“When those factors combined, I began what I call Philosophy Tube Season 2. My episodes became creative works in their own right rather than just summaries of academic texts.”

From Thorn’s perspective, her artistic style has continued to grow and evolve. What’s more, she believes that performing on YouTube has refined her acting skills.

“The characters on Philosophy Tube tend to be villains because they’re there for you to test your critical thinking skills,” Thorn said. “Can you apply the concepts I’m trying to teach you to understand why these people are wrong?” 

“The fun thing about playing villains is they think they’re heroes! I can’t play them with judgement, I have to get inside their heads and understand where they’re coming from.”

However, while Thorn loves creating Philosophy Tube essays, her creative ambitions extend far beyond the reaches of YouTube. Which brings us to her first play, The Prince.

Act II: The Prince

Abigail Thorn’s The Prince follows a number of Shakespeare characters who realise they’re stuck in the Shakespearean Multiverse. Within the play, Thorn explores the themes of free will, gender, and the identities that society thrusts upon us all.

The Prince premiered in 2022 at London’s Southwark Playhouse. But unlike other London productions, its funding was rather unconventional. Instead of being beholden to traditional sponsors, Thorn asked the streaming service Nebula if they could fund it. In exchange for being patron saints of The Prince, she offered them a filmed version of her play. 

The PrinceAbigail Thorn

Now, it’s worth noting that this idea was a risky one. Not only was Thorn a new playwright, but the idea of a streaming service funding a piece of theatre was largely untested at the time. But Nebula took a leap of faith, and the gamble paid off — The Prince was a smashing success. It sold all of its tickets, made its money back, and won BroadwayWorld’s Best New Production of a Play award. Additionally, Nebula’s recording of the play was embraced by social media.

“So many people signed up to Nebula to watch The Prince that we were actually breaking even before the show even opened!” Thorn said. “My agent came to see it, and he asked me afterwards, ‘How have you done this?!” A show by a new writer, getting standing ovations, selling out, winning awards, and making a profit, at a time when British theatre was still on its knees from COVID?’ It was a revelation! I told him it was all thanks to social media.”

The Prince signalled a new direction for the creator economy and traditional entertainment. I think we can combine these two to make something more powerful than either one could be alone.”

Following the success of The Prince, Thorn soon found herself on the receiving end of a number of other traditional media opportunities.

Act III: Dracula’s Ex-Girlfriend

Since creating The Prince, Abigail Thorn has once again proved that the 2010s are behind us. Thorn is now writing and starring in a Nebula film called Dracula’s Ex-Girlfriend

“It’s about two women dealing with the trauma inflicted by their shitty ex, and the ex is Count Dracula!” Thorn said. “It’s partly inspired by my own history with abuse.”

She continued: “Just before COVID lockdowns, I was working on a stage adaptation of the Dracula novel with two super talented actor-producers: Niamh Handley-Vaughan and Nicholas Benjamin. We wanted to make something about #MeToo and how powerful men get away with awful things, so our Dracula was a very Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein-ish character who specialised in manipulating people’s insecurities.”

Dracula's Ex-Girlfriend

“In the end,” Thorn concluded, “COVID put the kibosh on the show, but that central metaphor of ‘vampirism as emotional abuse’ got filed away in my mind.”

And that’s not all that Thorn has been up to. In 2024, we’ll hopefully see her on another streaming service or two.

“I filmed a couple of projects in 2023 with Disney+ and HBO that I’m not allowed to announce yet, and when that news drops it could be a very big deal,” Thorn said. “I say ‘could be’ because you never really know until these things come out. You might film 10 episodes of a show, and they edit you out of five, that sort of thing happens all the time. I try not to get too excited until I have something solid.”

Act IV: Has Hollywood Changed?

The Prince’s critical and commercial success has helped make some of Thorn’s artistic dreams real, but Thorn doesn’t believe that she’s an anomaly. Rather, she thinks her success is indicative of a broader shift in Hollywood circles taking YouTubers more seriously as artists.

Thorn has some more data to back her theory up. Whenever she goes to Los Angeles, everyone is talking about Helluva Boss, an animated comedy that’s first season is streaming exclusively on YouTube. In Thorn’s experience, industry professionals want to have a Helluva Boss success of their own.

Helluva Boss
Vivienne Medrano

Since Thorn chatted with us, Amazon Prime has announced a Helluva Boss spin-off called the Hazbin Hotel. Its first season will premiere in early 2024, with a second season already on its way.

“I feel like American producers are starting to understand the new model!” Thorn said. “In Hollywood, money talks. If you have a show that makes a profit then, for better and worse, people listen.”

ACT V: Kill James Bond

Once upon a time, YouTubers and Hollywood didn’t mix. But in 2024, you don’t have to choose one sphere over the other. 

While Abigail Thorn is stoked to be working on numerous Hollywood projects, she’s still super proud of her smaller-scale works. In fact, at the end of her Latch interview, she even plugged an indie podcast that she’s a member of — which also uploads to YouTube, of course.

Kill James Bond
Kill James Bond

“Did you know I also have a podcast called Kill James Bond where me and two of my best friends talk about macho movies?” Thorn wrote. “We started it just after lockdown, and it blew up. We accidentally became one of the biggest film podcasts in the UK! If you like movies and you like hearing funny people make fun of them, check us out!”

The Prince is streaming right now on the service Nebula. 

Kill James Bond is available wherever you get your podcasts.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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