From Hyattsville to Hollywood
Local filmmaker awarded YouTube's "NextUp" grant.
When he was young, filmmaker Matt Kovalakides used to play in the woods in College Park with his friends, toting BB guns and making war films for fun.
The scene has changed somewhat, and the set is decidedly more laid back. But Kovalakides, a Hyattsville native, has carried on with his dream of making videos.
The L.A. resident was one of YouTube's first "NextUp" grant recipients—one of 25 selected nationally to receive $35,000 to advance their YouTube careers, mentoring from YouTube and global promotion of their videos across the YouTube Network.
Until last year, the DeMatha Catholic High School graduate was working as a cameraman and video editor and doing odd jobs as a freelancer in L.A.
“YouTube was a side thing I did,” he said, adding that he used to put about 30 percent of his effort into the online video cache.
All that has changed.
“I got on YouTube just as a hobby just to creatively vent,” he said. “I had been in Hollywood for some years writing screenplays. I loved showing films to friends and family.”
And they were his initial audience, once Kovalakides began making short films at age 14.
“My buddies and I would go into the College Park woods and dress in camouflage and take our BB guns and shoot war movies,” he said. “It was fun. Better than getting into trouble in high school.”
Kovalakides’ family eventually moved to University Park. He attended the University of Maryland but left when the school dropped its radio/TV/ film program. At Towson University, he studied film and graduated in 1997.
“I came out to L.A. thinking I was going to do the Spielberg thing,” he said. “That hasn’t worked out like that but I’ve been able to stay on the cutting edge. Entertainment is going through a major shift right now. I feel like it’s a paradigm shift. Movies and TV are merging with this online space.”
Enter: YouTube, with all its nudges forward.
“The hard thing with YouTube is that when you’re first starting off there’s no money involved so your resources are limited.”
And for introverted, behind-the-camera Kovalakides, getting in front of the lens was way out of his comfort zone.
“I would rather be working in the basement than in front of a camera,” he said.
But soon Kovalakides recognized that on YouTube people really want to know who the filmmaker is.
“If you kind of hide and people only hear your voice it’s a huge disadvantage,” he said. “It really was not easy but I forced myself to get in front of the camera.”
And he started with—of all things—video blogs telling embarrassing stories about his life.
And then, the Fuplers came center stage.
The first episode was created as a short film video contest for Klondike bar. The grand prize was $100,000 for the winner.
Kovalakides didn’t win the money, but the Fuplers were a gold mine.
In his videos, the Fupler family of four sits around a dinner table doing life. Soon they became the filmmaker’s niche.
“It was so silly to me,” he said. “It was so embarrassing because I play a 5-year-old girl in pigtails. I told myself I would never show anyone this unless I won the big grand prize."
He didn’t win, but the comments on the contest website were really good.
“People were saying that they were just laughing their a.. off,” he said.
Kovalakides was off to the races.
“With YouTube … you have to feed the beast,” he said, adding that he decided to add the first Fuplers film and people went crazy about it, demanding more.
As of now, Kovalakides has about 50 videos posted and they have received 10.4 million views total.
Now that his YouTube career is picking up steam, Kovalakides remembers fondly his time in Hyattsville.
When he was born, his family lived on Gallatin Street. He attended Hyattsville Middle School and spent time walking down Baltimore Avenue and going to the [then] 99-cent movie theater.
During high school, Kovalakides joined the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department for community service credits.
One day, former Chief Doc Moltrup got a big call and Kovalakides rode along.
“It blew my mind,” he said. “It was one of the best things I’d experienced.”
He was very active with the HVFD for about three years during the 90s.
So while Kovalakides may no longer be the hometown boy, he carries with him all the homegrown experiences of life around Hyattsville.
And maybe he offers the city its own 15 minutes of fame.