Paige McKenzie, who you might know as Sunshine, has taken the YouTube world by storm with her more than 280,000 followers. Her channel, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, tells the ongoing tale of girl who always seems to be running into ghosts, ghouls, and other things that go bump in the night. Now, equipped with a book deal from The Weinstein Company and a television show in the works, she is poised to become a household name.
Embracing the ideals of independent filmmaking and a desire to tell a good story, McKenzie and her team took to YouTube in order to create on their own terms. Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed for long, as the self-proclaimed “adorkable not-star” proved too likable to stay under the radar and her story provided something for everyone to enjoy. Now with a legion of fans and a company known for their love of independent productions firmly behind her, the zombies, spirits, and creepy crawlies won’t be able to stand in the way of stardom.
The last time we talked the first novel had yet to be released. What has the response been and how have things changed for you?
I am overwhelmed with the response so far! I knew my Sunshiners (regular viewers of the channel) were likely to love seeing the Sunshine story in book form but I wasn’t sure how brand-new fans would react. I’m happy to report that the response has been overwhelmingly positive! And many of the reviews are hitting on what I truly cared about : people are loving the girl power aspect, they love that it’s horror “light”, recognize that they don’t have to have watched a single video to enjoy the book, things like that! Every author hopes for good reviews and I had no idea I would get so many well-written, thoughtful reviews. I’m incredibly grateful!
You’ve been doing book signings and publicity events, what has it been like meeting face to face with the people who have spent countless hours watching you and interacting with you via message boards and social media? Do you have any stories about your most die-hard fans?
The book tour and events have afforded me the chance to really get to know the Sunshiners in a more personal way than social media has so far. When someone leaves a comment you have no idea how old they really are or if they are shy or anything really. But when they come all the way
out to a book store and wait in line just to take a selfie with me, you get to talk with them and find out a bit about them! And THAT is such a blast! One young fan was maybe 11 or 12 and he was clearly very excited but nervous to talk to me. When it was his turn he handed me his book and blurted out “you look very pretty tonight!”. Then he realized what he said out loud and didn’t speak again! His blush said it all! So stinking cute!
What has the transition been like, going from a truly independent to production, to working with The Weinstein Company, one of the most well-known and respected companies in entertainment?
The great thing about YouTube is that you can truly be independent! But one thing that Weinstein has always been known for is being a very independent studio. They’re amazing about thinking outside the box. I’m incredibly grateful that they looked at my little YouTube channel and saw the potential!
In interviews you seem like you have kept a really great perspective on your growing popularity. You seem to be mature well beyond your years. How have you been able to stay so grounded?
Mom still makes me take the trash out, I am sure that helps! Seriously though, I am just so enjoying every moment of this amazing adventure. And I am not taking any of it for granted. Now excuse me while I go empty the dishwasher…
You’ve created hundreds of chapters of this story online, in video format. What was the experience in translating them to chapters on the written page?
I had already told the Sunshine adventure in video form so translating it to page was surprisingly easy. There were some changes that I felt were necessary to tell a more complete story but that was actually the fun part! And I had the help of a very talented (and very patient) co-author so that helped too!
There was talk about a film series, but recently you stated The Haunted Sunshine Girl would find itself a home in television. Do you feel a television series better suits the world you’ve created and are there any details you can give us at this point?
We are in the middle of an amazing time for entertainment and it does seem as if television is having a “moment”. For the Sunshine universe, TV makes a lot of sense. Especially since so many of my current viewers are used to watching Sunshine on the “small” screen of their phone or tablet. Plus, I just really love TV! At this point there aren’t any real details I can share beyond I will play Sunshine! Hopefully more news can be released soon!
As things continue to move forward can we still expect new YouTube content? If so, is there anything you can tell us about it or how it might interact with the novels and television show?
My intention is to keep up with the YouTube as long as possible! Not sure how the YouTube will correspond with the books or TV but no matter what, the Sunshine universe will continue to give chills and thrills in many formats!
There have certainly been others who have risen to fame thanks to popular web series and online video content, but you seem to rising to a higher level of prominence than most. What do you feel made Sunshine Girl stick out in what has become and increasingly crowded medium?
While there is no way to know for sure, the fans I hear from tell me they just flat-out love the Sunshine adventures! They love that while it is scary and creepy, it isn’t all that gory. The blood and guts most horror rely on is just not what Sunshine is about. The girl power aspect, the healthy mom/daughter relationship, the Nolan and Sunshine will they or won’t they …all makes viewers want to be in the Sunshine world!
You obviously have an incredible work ethic and you certainly don’t lack for talent, but do you feel like the path you took afforded you more opportunities than the more traditional audition and pitch process would have?
I am certainly familiar with the more traditional process and even attempted it for a while. But I wasn’t having all that much fun! With YouTube and now the books and TV show, I am having nothing BUT fun! The people are so amazing and talented and the collaboration process is stimulating! What more could I hope for!?
So many of the people we connect with everyday are trying to accomplish exactly what you have through their own web series. Did you envision having some level of success when you embarked on this journey? Or is Sunshine Girl the product of something you wanted to have fun with that ended up taking on a life of its own?
From the start I had this inkling that if I could just tell a great story on YouTube, the viewers would come. And if I could get enough people to be interested in the Sunshine story, Hollywood would pay attention. Of course, I never dared dream as big as the Weinstein Company. One thing I’ve learned from this experience… Dream bigger!