As you know, this blog focuses on creativity, on inspiration, the effects creativity has on a person, and on where creativity comes from. I want people to recognize their own creativity wherever it lies. I want them to hear their inner voice that says, “I want to make something.” I want everyone to allow themselves to tinker and create, to develop a creative identity. Like William Steagall, Jr. has done in video and in selfies, sometimes as Wild Bill, sometimes as himself.
He talked to me about his videos and selfies, and what motivated him–a cybersecurity professional–to create them…
Turner Houston: Bill, I “met you” in maybe 2009, responding to your profile photo on a dating website. I LOVED that photo of you with your mouth wide–REALLY wide open–as you ate a ginormous cheeseburger. That photo made me laugh and made me want to meet the man who was so confident on a dating site that he would use that photo instead of one posing as a brooding hunk with his Harley.
Let’s begin here, with your online photographic identity. How did you become “Wild Bill?” Who is Wild Bill now? Is there a difference between William Steagall and Wild Bill?
William Steagall: Wild Bill – it started as a nickname that I did not earn, in junior high school, after an older kid mocked me. I hated it. When I decided to have a web presence, I wanted a nickname that would not be easily tied to me, so I decided to embrace the bold side of life I had been suppressing, and I chose Wild Bill. It wasn’t who I was (or so I thought), but that is the funny thing about words. I think I became a bit wild in my outlook and sense of adventure… my joie de vivre found an outlet online.
TH: You once posted on Facebook that you had made your 1,00th video, and that you have X number of followers. What was your purpose making videos in the beginning? Has your video making goal changed, and if so, how?
WS: Originally, I was being told by someone close to me that I was not interesting, not charming, not clever, and that no one liked me. I decided to get a second opinion by making videos. As it turns out, only one person thought I was not interesting, not charming, not clever, and that no one liked. We aren’t married anymore.
TH: What’s your process for making videos? Do you only film with your phone? Do you edit the videos?
WS: I usually made my videos at an arm’s length (I have long arms), with a pocket snapshot camera in video mode. The quality of the video was low at first, and as I broke or lost a cameras, and replaced them every 12-18 months, the quality of video improved.
The first regular subjects of my videos were my sons. In the series “ParentingForTheRecord” I tried to show the love and humor the joy of parenting can reveal. Teaching my sons to drive, teaching them to drive into a tornado (or not), teaching life lessons like how to change a car tire, or global warming… all have humor.
My editing process has almost always been just assembling the video clips in the order they were shot, occasionally deleting outtakes, adding a title and ending text, and posting. These were not great works of art, or cinema… but in some ways, they were a slice of life that gave perfect (and imperfect) strangers a glimpse into what I was going through.
TH: What are your hopes for “Wild Bill?”
WS: Seriously, I hoped the YouTube videos would appeal to a woman of appropriate age who would find me clever, charming, and interesting, and it would lead to a romance. Generally, with only a few exceptions, I appealed to gay men in Europe. As they say, “you don’t choose your audience, your audience chooses you.” Nothing wrong with that, but I horribly missed my target audience (with very few exceptions).
TH: When you look back at your videos, say, from your early days, what strikes you about them–and about YOU?
WS: The videos from the early days (BillGetsFit and RedCarDiaries and others) show a man who is trying hard to find his way, to show that he was fun, fit (or on the way), ate healthy foods (ChefBillCooks), and enjoyed travel and adventure.
TH: You take a lot of selfies for Facebook sharing. There seem to be themes that you create for: the Red Car, The Treadmill, your Commute to Work and the ties–and outfits–you wear on the commute… What inspires you to take the selfies? Are they mostly for you, or for your audience?
WS: Good question – I think I started the commuting selfies when a girlfriend was in Europe, to send a daily shot which would convey that I was thinking of her. It became a habit. My tie rotation started as a joke, but has become routine: Red Tie Monday, Blue Tie Tuesday, Green Tie Wednesday, etc. Now, looking back, I can tell by the tie I’m wearing what day of the week the photo was taken.
“We’re all products of what we want to project in the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there,
I think that ultimately they have their whole lives
groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present
a face to the world.” – Cindy Sherman
TH: Is there a difference in the selfie persona and your Wild Bill persona in the videos? Do you like one of them better than the other?
WS: I think the Selfie persona is more fun than the real me. The Selfie-me lives la vida loca, but the real me does the laundry, dozes off in the comfortable chair, and knows that the bathroom scale doesn’t lie the way a high angle snapshot does. But, at least there are moments of fun I get to share.
TH: Are there any online personas that inspire you? Do you follow them?
WS: A follower once said, “You are the next Nalts!” His seamless storytelling was an inspiration early on.
TH: What advice would you give someone who wants to create a robust online identity like yours but doesn’t know how to start? Should they create a persona on paper and then figure out how to shoot photos that show them LIKE that persona? Or did your persona emerge FROM the photos?
WS: As they say about writing, “Write what you know.” I would encourage them to be themselves, to post often, and to tell their story. Inviting people to share in your life is a big step, and if the creators find they don’t have much to say (or show), they should get out more. Three of my early fans were wheelchair-bound, and my adventures gave them a glimpse of an adventurous life. They got to travel through me.
Some of my backstory:
My most popular video (248,000+ views): Pat’s the King of Steaks (Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches)
“For the last five centuries, humans have had this compulsion to create images of themselves and share them; the only thing that has changed is the way that we do it.”
—Nigel Hurst, CEO of the Saatchi Gallery
Brief bio of William Steagall, the Man Behind Wild Bill:
I was born and raised less than 5 miles from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia suburbs (actually in South New Jersey). I lived in Southern California for 30 years, then Chicago (northwest suburbs) for 15 years, and now I live in the Washington DC suburb of Northern Virginia. Divorced twice (I am not afraid of making a lifetime commitment to a spouse; I’ve done it twice, and still pay for one).
I spent my productive years as an IBM sales person, and intertwined with that, as a reserve Naval Officer. At the age of 58, ten years ago, I filed for divorce, retired from IBM, and moved to Washington DC to become an IT cybersecurity consultant and Bon Vivant.