Mikey Neumann, president of Chainsawsuit Original, poses for a photograph at his home.

Mikey Neumann, president of Chainsawsuit Original, poses for a photograph at his home.

Jae S. Lee/Staff Photographer

Even when his own life hits rock bottom, Mikey Neumann thrives on being a voice of positivity.

The Plano-based writer, producer and movie critic (though he questions whether he can call himself that) had a widely publicized stroke in 2011, when he was 29. Not long after, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And because, as he puts it, he "lost the disease lottery," he had to spend time earlier this year relearning how to speak, walk and write after a nearly 10-day hospital stint during which he initially thought he had the flu. (He didn't.)

Still, Neumann has made an increasingly successful career making things for the primary purpose of bringing others joy. His fan-funded YouTube series found its way to an Emmy nomination. He is expanding the business he started with a friend and he has cultivated a small but dedicated community of viewers who share a passion for making the world a better place.

'Movies with Mikey'

For most of his career, Neumann was a public face of local video game company Gearbox Software. There, he served as Chief Creative Champion and was the writer on several of their most popular games, including Borderlands. When he wasn't writing game dialogue he might be found providing voice work -- he's the voice of Scooter on Borderlands  -- editing trailers or writing comics.

In his free time, he collaborated with cartoonist Kris Straub on multiple projects, the most notable and popular of which was the Chainsawsuit Podcast, named after Straub's webcomic. That eventually led to him starting Movies with Mikey, a YouTube show he could make on the weekends so as not to conflict with his full-time job.

The series combines quick-cut editing, a  jovial tone, humor and, most importantly, smart commentary on movies. The videos, which range from 10 to 30 minutes each, aren't reviews -- they're deep dives into movies you have ideally already seen.

Neumann argues that the series isn't actually about movies. It's about watching movies to make your life better.

It got off to a good start for something that Neumann was doing to keep himself occupied on weekends, but it never got a lot of traffic. Neumann took a break, but he decided to come back with a video on the movie The World's End, directed by Edgar Wright. He didn't feel as if audiences fully "got" or appreciated the film, and he wanted to explore it.

Both Wright and the movie's main star, Simon Pegg, tweeted out links to the video when it went online. Neumann thought that this would be the moment the show exploded in popularity, but those tweets only earned him about 400 unique views. Still, the experience led to new fans, and Wright was one of them.

So he kept on trucking, landing an occasional episode that would achieve more popularity than the rest. (His episode on Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an example; it's one of the first episodes to eclipse 100,000 views.) But it was never something he made his "career" until life threw him another curveball.

The hospital

While on a plane heading home from PAX East (a convention in Boston that primarily revolves around video games), Neumann felt like he was coming down with the flu. It's not unheard of after attending such a busy event -- the term "PAX Pox" gets thrown around often. By the time he picked up his bags, though, he was having trouble moving. He knew something was "very wrong," but he didn't know how wrong.

Over the next two days, he lost his ability to move and walk. He also lost his ability to speak, which he didn't realize until his father called and he found that he couldn't talk back. His father asked, "Do you need to go to the hospital?" and he was just able to verbalize the word "Yes."

He wrote about the trying experience on a public blog post in which he details how he lost his ability to even think coherently. Not long after getting out of the hospital, he released a video on the Chainsawsuit channel chronicling his efforts to take out the trash.

During a conversation in July,  he sounds much more like himself than he does in that video, but it's not easy. "The amount of effort I'm expending to speak to you right now, and to enunciate words, is a lot more than you think," he says.

Movies with Mikey kept on. He edited his next episode, based on the movie Moon, 10 minutes at a time. He occasionally leaned into his difficulty with speech, opting to fight internet trolls with self-deprecating humor.

Somehow, he remains positive. "That makes it more important, right?" he says. "If I can be positive, you can. It's not hard."

The jump

After his trip to the hospital in March, Neumann slowly came to the realization that he wouldn't be returning to his job at Gearbox.

"I can't do this job anymore. I physically can't," he said to himself at the time. "That was a rough day, because I was like, 'Tomorrow I'm going to quit. How am I even going to write this [resignation email]?'"

The split, he assures, was amicable. Gearbox Software president, CEO and co-founder Randy Pitchford tried hard to keep Neumann on board. "He bent over backwards trying to find a way to make this work," Neumann says. "He desperately wanted to, but I needed a clean break."

He still cares deeply about the company, and the people there still care deeply about him. 

"That's my family," he says." That was actually one thing Randy said to me that day on the phone. After I sent that email, he called me, and he wanted me to know that no matter what, I'm still part of the family."

Mikey Neumann at his home in Plano

Mikey Neumann at his home in Plano

Jae S. Lee/Staff Photographer

Before he resigned, though, Neumann launched a Patreon campaign for Movies with Mikey. Patreon is a site on which artists can solicit financial support directly from the people who consume their content. Fans of a musician can, for example, pledge to pay $5 a month, or $5 every time the musician releases a new song. Many creators incentivize payments by offering perks such as live Q&As or early access to content.

Within a day, Neumann's fans had collectively pledged to pay $5,000 monthly for his videos. As of this writing, that number is at more than $9,000 a month.

"What was incredible about that was that, not knowing that I was about to jump, that I was about to take the plunge and make this my full-time job, they still caught me.

"The lesson I learned was that it's not the size of the audience, it's the quality of the audience."

The future

In June, Movies with Mikey was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series or Special. Notably, it wasn't nominated for one of the traditional internet video categories, but rather was sharing the nomination list with television programs like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Adam Ruins Everything

Though Movies with Mikey didn't make the shortlist and is out of the Emmy running for 2017 (which Neumann expected, in large part for his inability to reach Emmy voters with  things like screeners), its inclusion on the original list is meaningful. Being placed alongside a major Bourdain production for something one man made mostly on his own, in his spare time, is remarkable.

"I don't think it's going to be the last time you see me on that list," Neumann remarks in one of the rare moments when he allows himself to be proud of the thing he's made.

In the meantime, he's expanding his reach as the president of Chainsawsuit Original, where he's looking at ways to expand the brand beyond video content. He and his colleagues recently launched Chainsawsuit Games, a new YouTube channel dedicated to original programming based on video games. Less forward-facing, they have also started providing marketing services to video game companies -- something that Neumann and one of his chief collaborators, Chis Faylor (who worked with him at Gearbox), know quite a bit about.

Mikey Neumann (left), president of Chainsawsuit Original, and Chris Faylor, head of operations of Chainsawsuit Original

Mikey Neumann (left), president of Chainsawsuit Original, and Chris Faylor, head of operations of Chainsawsuit Original

Jae S. Lee/Staff Photographer

Mostly, though, he'll be focusing on his goal of leaving the world in a better place than it was when he woke up. "It's actually really easy to sleep when you accomplish that," he says.

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