My Soapbox: Chase Whiteside, New Left Media

Chase Whiteside never intended to make documentaries. The 25-year-old Mt. Sterling native spent high school convinced his band would make it big, then went to film school at Wright State University to be a screenwriter. 

In 2009, though, all that changed. While still an undergrad, he and classmate Erick Stoll checked out university cameras and took a 20-hour road trip to Washington, D.C. for the 9/12 Tea Party rally. 

“We asked people why they were there, what their opposition to the health bill was,” he says, noting that they started the journey as activists, not journalists. The video they created based on their interviews with attendees went viral. 

“It was on the front page of Digg, it was on the front page of Reddit, the front page of the Huffington Post,” he says. Within a couple of days, the video got more than a million views, and the name the duo had happened upon in their attempt to create a YouTube channel on little sleep—New Left Media—was born.

“It was just good luck,” says Whiteside, whose fledgling company was featured in The Washington Post and Vanity Fair. Documentaries, he realized, could be made much more cheaply than the films he had thought he wanted to make. “You just need a camera, good taste and a point, and you can make a movie.”

Now settled in the Pendleton neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, Whiteside is still working with Stoll, 26, a West Chester native. Together, they are documenting ArtWorks’ Pendleton artist project, planning their first full-length feature and figuring out how to ditch the New Left Media brand for good. 

Whiteside, who describes himself as “churlish,” but comes off much more as “charming,” talked with Soapbox’s Elissa Yancey about his path to the city and why, for now at least, he’s staying.

Q: Who is New Left Media?
New Left Media is nothing except for the name of the political web series made by myself and Erick. We met in film school and studied under Julia Reichert. Neither of us were interested in documentary film making.

Because we hate our name, we’re in this slow transition not only to change the name of our organization, but to change the kind of work that we make. We’ve really gotten bored with partisan Internet content and the kind of audience it creates. Not all viewers are made equal. 

Q: New Left Media is known, in large part, because of your interview style, which comes across as sympathetic, yet also direct. Where does that come from?
I grew up on an almost-chicken farm. It was organic and free range, but only because of the amateurness of the operation. 

We had many acres, seven horses, dogs, cats, chickens, chickens, chickens. Now I eat chicken with a vengeful memory of growing up around so many chickens. We ate more eggs than chickens.

It was a rural and definitely conservative area. I was a little mo—gay—and I had a great time growing up. It’s just the politics were fairly regressive. We’ve become most known for my patient interviews with conservatives, and it’s because I grew up with that. My family is that in large part. I get where they are coming from even if I don’t agree.

Q: Your first video went viral when you were a junior in college. What happened then?
I never graduated—I will graduate, but the stuff with New Left Media blew up and I took off to write a book in Denver. The book is coming from Picador Publishing (a division of Macmillan). 

Q: What’s the book about? 
It’s basically about the effects of our modern communications medium on public discourse. It's basically 150 pages of me griping about the Internet. 

Q: But the Internet has been very good to New Left Media, including a successful online fundraising campaign for general operating expenses for the company.
We raised $22,000 online in 2010, but we don’t like to ask people for money. 

People think because we found success on the Internet that we must like the internet. I hate the Internet. YouTube comments sum up everything I think about the Internet.

Q: Talk a bit about LifelikeDocs (the new company and name for your work with Stoll).
We made doc called “Lifelike,” which premiered at the True False Festival, did a whole festival run and won best doc short at Atlanta’s Documentary Film Festival. It’s a day in the life of a taxidermist, essentially. We actually returned to the festival this year and made another short, called "Staring Eyes," which we just put up online.

And we’re in pre production on our first feature, more on that soon.

The main difference is that these films are not intended for the web and probably won't be political in the same way – they’re not going to be about whatever political debates are being had in the news.

Q: Why Cincinnati?
I ask myself that every day. I was living in Denver with my ex-boyfriend and writing the manuscript for the book. Erick lived in Cincinnati, and we wanted to get back to work on various projects.

I didn’t want to move back to Dayton, so here I am. I’m one of 30 million people that is perpetually ‘about to move to New York.’ But I think cities are made better by the people who finally give up. I shouldn't move to New York; I should stay here and make things better.

Cincinnati is just beautiful. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever lived. Cincinnati feels like it’s got this history and this beauty and a state of regrowth and decay alongside one other. . . . it’s just a wonderful place to exist. It feels very much more alive. 

I’ve only been here for about a year and four months and I’m only now starting to feel like I like this. You have to know a net amount of people. 

Q:Why do you do what you do?
I don’t think I know how to work a real job. It’s not like I make good money doing this, but I want to be a filmmaker. I consider myself extremely lucky that I am.
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