“Netflix felt like, ‘Oh my God, I was at the very top,’ and now anything in comparison is going to be not as impressive.”
That’s Los Angeles-based artist and creator Christine McConnell talking about the cancelation of her Netflix show, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, after one six-episode season.
While McConnell admits the cancelation marked a difficult point in her career, it also led to the success of her new YouTube series From the Mind of Christine McConnell, which today, is being funded by nearly 4,000 patrons. The monthly series follows Christine as she builds installations, bakes eerie desserts, undertakes home projects, and more — all with the macabre twists she’s known for.
“I’m choosing to do what I love doing and being compensated for that effort.”
So how did she successfully pivot from a streaming giant like Netflix to connecting directly with her fans via Patreon? We sat down with McConnell to find out.
From Viral Monster House to Netflix
McConnell’s creative career kicked off in her mid-20s when she started doing elaborate installations around her house (think Tales From the Crypt and Dark Shadows as influences) and posting them on Instagram — for example, a nature-inspired critters picnic which includes a watermelon tarantula, an Alien-inspired housewife photoshoot, and her fabulous Freddie Mercury gothic cake.
However, when she turned her parents’ Victorian house into a giant monster in 2015, her internet fame rose to another level.
Inspired by the animated horror movie Monster House, McConnell added eight eyes, teeth, and spider webs to the front of the house. She used foam core insulation boards and latex paints to put the pieces together, and along with green lighting and other spooky accoutrements , the house transformed into something you have to see to believe.
“I didn’t expect the monster house to go over as well as it did,” she says.
The house made such a splash on the internet that McConnell started receiving pitches from producers for projects across the scary spectrum. But one stood out more than the others — through a connection with a producer at NBCUniversal, her work caught the eye of famed puppet masters, the Jim Henson Company. Not long after, following a successful pitch to Netflix, the streaming service offered her a deal for a show.
“It’s one of the strangest things that can happen to a person.”
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, which aired on October 12th, 2018 just in time for Halloween, follows Christine and her army of monster puppets — including Rose, a resurrected raccoon — as she bakes strange and wonderful edible goods.
The opportunity was huge for her career, but it also came with some hard lessons. “I never had to do such collaborative work, especially when you’re dealing with budgets. You’re willing to pour endless hours, but other people may not be available during those hours,” she says about bringing her vision to life.
Only six months after the show went live, McConnell announced in an emotional tweet that Netflix would not be renewing her show.
The cancelation took a toll on her and her work, but so did the anxiety that led up to it; the entire team behind the show had waited for months to learn if they’d be picked up for a second season. “I felt like there was all of this momentum building up to something that just ended up going nowhere,” she says. “It was super sad.”
McConnell says that the key to surviving the end of this opportunity was perspective. After her cat got sick following the news of the show’s cancelation, she realized what actually mattered more. “If you compare how upsetting one was to the other, I didn’t even care about the Netflix show. It caused me to recalibrate my feelings about it very quickly. I didn’t have much time to wallow in it,” she recalls.
Bouncing Back by Getting Personal with Her Fans
The idea to fund her own series on YouTube through Patreon came from her husband, a videographer, who she calls a silent partner in the operation. At the same time, she had another meeting with Disney, but she couldn’t see herself investing another couple of years into something that might get canceled again. McConnell and her husband started filming on the weekends, and less than a month later, he was able to quit his job to go full-time on the new series.
“For me, doing it by and for myself is a more fulfilling experience.
“I’m choosing to do what I love doing and being compensated for that effort,” she says of her transition from Netflix to Patreon and YouTube. “I’m able to go out and buy supplies for decorating my living room and make more money than I’ve ever made for doing that. It’s strange to have that worry removed from the equation.”
For McConnell, the pivot from traditional media to Patreon and YouTube was crucial. Now, she has the time to give her all to every creative project, like transforming a regular pull-out couch she found on Craigslist into an Edwardian-style sofa (with added wood snakes on the backing, of course).
“Everything is better,” she says. “You’re in complete control of your schedule and your finished product. You don’t have the luxury of tinkering with things in network television. The creative control I have now is incredible.”
For many creators landing a Netflix or HBO deal is their North Star, and McConnell doesn’t necessarily want to knock those dreams down. There are different paths for everyone, but she wants creators to know that this path is also available. “You don’t have to go all the way there to find success,” she says, “For me, doing it by and for myself is a more fulfilling experience,” she says.
So what’s next for Christine? She’s currently working on finding and buying a Victorian house on the East Coast to make it into a spooky, on-going project (imagine HGTV with an Addams Family spin). She’ll unveil more about this project next spring once she has the property all picked out.
And, if you’re wondering what happened to the house that started it all, she rebuilt the monster house installation again last Halloween. While she was only expecting a few trick or treaters, it turned into a five-hour photo-op with more than 2000 people on her sidewalk. “It was crazy and exciting. It was exciting meeting people that are excited to see you and also like your work,” she says.
She’s won’t be bringing the monster house back this Halloween (sorry, you’ll have to find other plans). However, she is preparing to decorate it for Christmas, but with her usual supernatural flourish. We asked her for more details, but the artist remained tight-lipped to not ruin the big surprise. We’re not sure when she’ll reveal her holiday plans, but one thing’s certain — her patrons will be the first to know.