Kyle Exum of West Hartford, a 2016 Hall High School graduate, stars in a promo he helped create for the new Disney Pixar animated film ‘Soul,’ with a cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Tina Fay, and Questlove.
By Ronni Newton
Kyle Exum had an enviable social media following even before he graduated from West Hartford’s Hall High School in 2016, and his status a YouTuber and social media influencer has continued to grow, and has now led to a partnership and sponsorship with Disney.
Exum, who graduated from the honors program at Howard University’s business school in May 2020 with a degree in marketing, recently got an unexpected invitation.
“Disney reached out to me and they were telling me about this new movie, ‘Soul,’ and they were looking for influencers to promote it,” he said. They told Exum they were looking for a core creator to work with on a promotional video, and then they told him who was in the cast – celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, and Questlove.
“Soul” is the first animated movie from Disney Pixar to feature a Black lead character (Foxx, who is the voice of “Joe,” a middle school band director). “It really fit my audience,” said Exum.
Even though the film was 10 years in the making, said Exum, “It’s very much fitting for 2020.”
The premise of the movie, according to its website is: “Joe is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz – and he’s good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.” (See more on IMDb and click here to watch the Disney Pixar trailer.)
The theme is “find your spark,” Exum said, not wanting to give away too much about the movie, which premieres on Christmas Day on Disney+. “It’s not necessarily a specific thing, it’s whatever give you joy.”
The promo is a blend of Exum’s ideas and Disney’s ideas, but with Exum’s characteristic spin. He appears with Foxx and Fey, but also interacts with other YouTubers who try to teach him new things to help him find his spark – like singing, dancing, and cooking.
The video was created at Exum’s apartment, with the use of his two cameras and tripods and some help from his newly-hired assistant.
While he he was busy being a student, Exum’s career has also been on an upward trajectory. By the time he was halfway through high school, he had built a following creating comedic videos on Vine, a now-defunct social media platform which featured 6-second looping clips. He made the most of those six seconds – playing multiple roles including a mom, dad, grandpa, teacher, and more – and incorporating his rapping skills.
Exum ultimately made the transition to YouTube, where he has nearly 4.4 million subscribers, and sponsorship from Axe, Amazon, and Raid Shadow Legends.
Exum’s unique style is evident in his highly-entertaining promo, and both “dad” and “grandpa” make appearances. And his appreciation for the movie – which he was able to see just as production was completed – is genuine.
“It’s really my favorite Disney movie to date,” Exum said.
He’s been promoting his promo – and the movie – through his social media, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted some of what Exum does, but it’s also given him time to reflect on where his career is going.
“I’m gearing up mostly for next year,” Exum said, making connections.
Last year he won a “Streamy” – an award for given to the best online directors, producers, performers, and writers – and this year he was honored as a creator at the 2020 Streamy Awards (his segment begins at 38:51 in the Dec. 12, 2020 virtual awards show).
He’s creating skits and working on music, and will probably spend more time creating content in early 2021. His said one of his next projects will also likely be turning “Trap Nursery Rhymes” into a series. “Trap 3 Little Pigs,” which is also a book, has had more than 16 million views on YouTube since it debuted in July 2019.
Exum is back in Connecticut, currently living in Bloomfield, not too far from his parents’ West Hartford’s home. His mom, Tammy, was recently elected to represent the 19th District in the state House, and his father, Earl, is a vice president with Pratt & Whitney.
There’s a bit of them in the “mom” and “dad” characters he plays, Exum said, but the “grandpa” is the one that’s closest to being like one of his family members. “The energy is just like him.”
Exum has some other goals for 2021, including growing his YouTube subscriber base to 7 million.
One of the best things about doing the “Soul” promo was getting to work with Jamie Foxx, Exum said. “He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time.” He’d love to be able to work with Foxx again.
“Soul” may eventually be shown in theaters, but will be available for streaming on Disney+ on Dec. 25, 2020.
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