A couple of months before my college graduation in 2020, when things were getting serious with Covid, I was trapped in my apartment at The University of Edinburgh. I was a linguistics major, but I had been dabbling in photography and video as a hobby. I had a post-graduation job lined up doing video work for Grande Cosmetics in White Plains—I had decided that the academic path I had been going down was not really for me. So basically, I started a TikTok account to practice using my camera and just make some fun content before I started the job. I had a YouTube channel at that point, but it had like 80 subscribers, nothing was going on for me in the social media world at all.
My first few videos did not do very well. But then I started a series I called “Making Epic Commercials for Random Objects,” which was just this idea I had to make a commercial for a fork—and it got 2 million views, which was nuts. Some other random things I filmed were a paperclip, toilet paper, and a single kernel of corn.
Yes! Toward the end of 2020, a toilet paper company called Who Gives A Crap hired me after seeing my toilet paper “epic commercial.” I filmed a national commercial for TikTok in my bedroom! After that, the soda company Celsius reached out to me. I created and posted that ad in February 2021 and it got 8 million views. I’d say that was the turning point for me which led to a lot more brand deals.
Olay, Dawn, Sabra hummus, Sunkist, Logitech, Samsonite luggage, and Miracle-Gro (a partnership that came about after viewers repeatedly tagged the brand in Wells’ uber-popular “dirt” commercial that garnered over 16 million views).
I originally started filming in my college apartment bedroom, and then I had commandeered the living room, which my roommates were very kind to let happen. When I moved back into my parents’ house in Peekskill in September 2020, I couldn’t really take over their living room, so I worked out of my sister’s bedroom while she was in college and started looking for a studio. Now I rent a space with my dad, who does some work of his own there (he’s a retired stop-motion animator). It’s a spare room in a convent across the street from my house.
My dad is a very crafty, hands-on guy who’s helped me tile and wallpaper, all these skills that I never needed before. I think because I do everything in one video, people might think that the whole process is a one-day thing. It typically takes me four weeks to do a video—a week of storyboarding, a week of prop-sourcing and set building, a week of filming, and a week of editing. So, it’s actually a really long process, because I’m only one person doing these jobs that would typically be done by a team of people.
The success of the Celsius ad gave me the confidence to quit my job at Grande Cosmetics. I definitely had hesitations, since social media is a very unstable space, and I was worried that my success was a fluke. Luckily, I haven’t had a moment to rest since leaving that job. The vast majority of my income comes from my TikTok, and in 2021, I nearly tripled my corporate salary.
I really do think social media opens you up to a whole other world. Not only for people being able to see you and your work, but also being able to connect with other creatives and network with other people in your industry. I have met so many talented people through TikTok and I’ve learned so much from them. Social media can be a scary place because you have to make yourself vulnerable to put your work out there, but I encourage people to just try it out. There’s not much to lose, and you never know what might happen.
A production company (Tool of America) in Los Angeles recently started a new division in their company comprised of people who are successful creating content on social platforms. Initially, they took me on as a consultant for a project, and a few months later they hired me as a director. I traveled to Los Angeles last September to do a project with Amazon Prime Video for a show they released in October (I Know What You Did Last Summer, find videos at @ikwydls on TikTok), and recently went to Atlanta to do a commercial shoot with Shaq! It was my first time in both cities. It’s also been a huge transition for me, going from doing everything myself to being in charge of over 50 people for a shoot, but it’s just so much more enriching to be able to collaborate with other people and continue learning.
I don’t quite know what the future holds. I love creating the commercials, and I love the music video space as well. Those two things often go hand in hand, just because they’re both short-form style content that require the same skills. A lot of people who start in commercials end up doing movies or television. At this point, I don’t really see that for myself. I actually really love working in the short-form style, and the backbone of my career to this point has been social content. I see myself kind of staying in that space; I don’t envision doing feature films or anything like that, but we’ll see!
TikTok (@gracewellsphoto): 1.3M followers, 33.6M likes