Three pranksters are about to pull their biggest stunt yet: releasing a movie.
Columbus’ own Roman Atwood, along with Cincinnati-based Dennis Roady and Russian transplant Vitaly Zdorovetskiy — professional pranksters who got their start on YouTube — presented their movie, “Natural Born Pranksters” to a sold-out Capitol Theatre on Friday night.
Atwood said they have been pranking since the beginning of their time, a concept that inspired the title of the movie. The trio has a combined total of more than 18 million subscribers and upward of 12 years of experience posting prank videos on YouTube.
Atwood, Roady and Zdorovetskiy met through their shared interests and collaborated on pranks over the past several years. They made an official announcement that the movie was being produced on Atwood’s vlog channel in April of 2014.
Atwood said that even in the time it took to film the movie, the YouTube pranking landscape has changed.
“I think, in the YouTube world, pranks started out so good because there was no level you had to compete with,” he said. “Over time, for you to stand out as a prankster, you had to take it to the next level and then the next level and the next level. It became oversaturated with YouTube pranksters, and now pranks in general have kind of a bad name at this point.”
Even with the reputation following, the trio still wanted to take their videos to the next level.
“The movie is a whole different level of production and creativity. It’s on a different playing level, there’s not many people who can play on that field,” Atwood said.
Zdorovetskiy added, “The movie has many layers.”
“Natural Born Pranksters” is 90 minutes long and has a series of pranks often requiring elaborate disguises, along with short highlights from older videos on the pranksters’ respective channels. Many of the segments also use other actors and YouTube personalities apart from the original trio to pull of the prank.
One of the segments — in which Atwood acts as if he is trying to sell dogs to an Asian restaurant for them to serve — has been under scrutiny for racist undertones. Many of the other pranks incited panic in the victim of the prank, with fake threats of incarceration or even death. Other clips are more lighthearted and show the comradery between the trio, with eating contests, shooting each other with confetti cannons and attempting to make art with poop.
Like the pranks they set up, the movie might not necessarily encourage a more positive view of pranking, but it will elicit a reaction from the audience, Roady said.
“I think it’s going to stir up even more controversy as well,” he said. “We give everyone something to talk about.”
While much of “Natural Born Pranksters” was filmed in Los Angeles, the pranksters agreed that Atwood’s hometown of Columbus is still one of the best places to film prank videos.
“The temperament of the people are great,” Roady said. “The people in Columbus are probably better than anywhere else … because everyone is a good sport, they’re very supportive, they have the best reactions. A lot of people go to Ohio to make videos, especially videos like we make. Ohio is the best for pranks, I guess. Especially Ohio State.”
Roady and Atwood have pulled pranks in and around campus in the past, but they ran into trouble with the police back in 2014. The pair said they are banned for life from the Thompson Library on OSU’s campus, as chronicled in a 2014 video posted to Atwood’s vlog channel in which they are kicked out by security before being able to perform the prank. They still have a sense of humor about the incident.
“Will this interview lift our ban from the Ohio State library?” Roady asked.
Zdorovetskiy joked, “We made a movie to be allowed to go back.”
Even with the occasional conflict, Atwood said Columbus has treated them well.
“We’ve had our run-ins, not that we didn’t provoke it, we’ve had our trials and we’ve always come out on top,” Atwood said. “Columbus for the most part has been really good to us. That’s where we got our start. I’m very thankful to be part of the city.”
“Natural Born Pranksters” is rated R and will be released via the iTunes store for free on April 1.