The untold truth of Zach King

Do you believe in magic? Zach King, an American filmmaker and internet star, used his charm and mastery of deception to build an amazing fan base. His short- and long-form videos earned King over 23 million followers on his Instagram page and almost 8 million followers on his YouTube channel. By June 2020, King had become the second most-followed account on TikTok and, as of August, he had close to an incredible 50 million followers on the app. While many of the top stars on the social media platform are dancers still in their teens (like Charli D’Amelio), the 30-something star is proud that his magic videos shine in their own way. “You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing,” King told Forbes. “In fact, that’s where people are going to find their strength: By figuring out their niche and really owning it,” the star added.

This filmmaker started from humble beginnings and worked his way through seemingly every internet medium. And did you know he’s been building his résumé in traditional forms of entertainment? The common thread running through all his videos is one of joy and awe. King told Coconuts he wants viewers to have a “sense of wonder, that child-like moment where they say ‘Oh that’s awesome!’ or ‘How did he do that?!'”

Want to know more about this lovable star? Abracadabra! It’s time to pull the untold truth of Zach King out of a hat.

The Zach King origin story

Though not at the level of Harry Potter, Zach King’s upbringing was magical in its own right. Born in Oregon, he represents a diverse set of cultures. “I’m half Chinese, my dad is full Chinese, and I’m a quarter Nicaraguan and a quarter Austrian from my mother’s side,” he told The Guardian. “I’m a global mix.” King’s parents homeschooled the young boy alongside King’s three younger sisters, teaching them classic subjects and classical music. He recalled his parents having them “practice piano a ton until we found something we really wanted to do.” King continued, saying, “I got placed third in Oregon state in high school one year, my sister was placed second.”

But the turning point in King’s trajectory likely came around his eighth birthday, when his parents gifted him a video camera. “I fell in love with it,” he remembered. And he used his videos as a bonding moment when sharing with others. “What I loved was how you could get a group of people to feel an emotion together,” he explained. Taking inspiration from his favorite directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, King continued to hone his craft.

At 14, he upgraded his setup. According to Biola Magazine, King “used money in his ‘car fund’ to buy video equipment instead, purchasing his first Mac computer, camera and tripod.” Luckily, this started his passion and eventual career.

How a senior project changed Zach King's life

As a senior at Biola University majoring in film and music with a minor in worship, Zach King came up with a video idea. He looked to one of his favorite directors, George Lucas, as inspiration to make a short clip based on Star Wars. Though, not exactly with the same type of actors. “My buddy Aaron and I were hanging out at his house with his new kittens that he had adopted [and] we started talking about cool cat viral videos,” King explained to The Chimes. “After throwing out some random ideas, I thought it would be sweet to see cats fighting with light sabers,” he revealed. And who wouldn’t love fighting space kittens? No one, that’s who.

King’s “Jedi Kittens” YouTube video amassed more than a million views in the first three days. “Of course kittens and Star Wars will make for a popular video but I didn’t expect a couple million views so quickly,” King remembered. And just like the actual Star Wars franchise, King set out to make an even more spectacular sequel. His video “Jedi Kittens Strike Back” more than tripled in length from the original and, in just three weeks after release, received over three million views, according to The Chimes.

Looking back on the experience, King considers the occasion momentous. “We couldn’t believe it,” he told The Hindu. “Going viral was something we’d seen happen to other people, never us.”

Is Zach King a magician?

During a sit-down with Red Bull, the interviewer asked Zach King if he considered himself a magician. “No, but I get that question all of the time,” he confessed with a laugh. That’s understandable, given the trickery in most of his videos. King elaborated that “maybe film illusionist” is a more fitting title. “At the core I would call myself a filmmaker,” he clarified.

King recalled wanting to be a magician when he was younger, adding, “I did magic with my grandpa from age 8 through early high school years.” The filmmaker also remembered attending various magic conferences and shows. Plus, he admitted, “I was always a little prankster and mischievous, so I like magic because that’s really the best way to do it.”

In an interview with The Guardian, King explained that while he practiced “classic, white-glove magic,” making videos of these tricks seemed incomplete. “I saw a lot of [people doing] stop-motion and magic, but there was never a great story,” he continued. “That’s what I wanted to add back in, the story element.” The young man clearly figured out the trick to bring magic to the masses.

The literal blocks that built Zach King's imagination

What would you guess is Zach King’s answer to the thing he can’t live without? Okay, with the exception of his phone. “Legos,” he told The Orange County Register. “That’s something I go to every day, partly for creative inspiration but also as a way to get my energy out for 10 minutes a day,” the internet star explained. And sure enough, King found a way to incorporate his favorite building blocks into his professional environment. “If you come to the office, we have toys everywhere, we even have Legos and train sets, just continue to build stuff,” he revealed to Red Bull. King elaborated that the “idea is to keep those younger ideas in our head naturally.”

The brand must have caught wind of this star’s love of Legos — and his filmmaking prowess, of course — as it enlisted King to direct a web commercial for the brand’s Ninjago series, according to IMDb. The filmmaker explained to PRWeek of his decision to collaborate with family-friendly brands, saying, “When I hear brand names like Lego, Disney, Crayola — I immediately think about how I played with those as a kid and try to figure out how to make something with them,” he said. King added that he requires “a product I’m already excited about, I have, I use, or I am passionate about.” You can probably guess the example he provided: Legos. 

Zach King doesn't consider himself an actor

Despite starring in essentially all of his videos, Zach King still considers his acting a work in progress. He admitted in an interview with Red Bull that “people always tell me I suck. I’m not an actor at all.” King explained that his role on screen is simply “to brand the videos.” He even confessed that he and his team “tried to stop talking in the videos” as he came to learn the “less talking, the better.” Fans don’t seem to mind either way, though.

The internet star considers himself primarily a filmmaker and aspires to create feature films. So, what would his first film be about? “I don’t know, but I have a feeling it will have to do with animals,” King said. “The mystery of ‘what if’ … will always be a theme of our films. A little bit of sci-fi or fantasy because we do like the visual flair elements in movies.” As of this writing, King hasn’t made that feature film a reality, but he did land a role in a hit movie about animals; King voiced a “criminal wolf” in Zootopia.

How Zach King became a software extraordinaire

Before Zach King’s hilarious cat videos took over the internet, the star had already found a degree of online success. He launched his website, FinalCutKing.com, in 2008 “to offer training and tips on how to use the editing software Final Cut Pro,” Biola Magazine reported. With that, he also started a YouTube channel.

Although the content King produced wasn’t exactly riveting, he was able to host training seminars as a source of income while in college. “I had no idea what I was really getting myself into,” King admitted. He explained that the idea came out of necessity after he couldn’t find good tutorials for the software online. “I decided to fill that need and post free tutorials online,” he explained to The Chimes.

After a couple years of posting tutorials, King decided to experiment. He told the Los Angeles Times that he “turned to posting cool videos, doing digital effects.” After a particular video involving a fake “hologram setting” on the Apple iPad 2 became popular, King created more special-effects videos — like his video titled “Contest Entry Gone Wrong,” which he sent to YouTube for the video sharing platform’s NextUp Creators contest. The clip earned him the YouTube NextUp award worth $35,000 and the confidence to continue creating videos.

Zach King capitalized on the Vine craze

Remember Vine? You know, the social media platform dedicated to 6-second video clips? When Vine launched in 2013, it invented an entirely new type of storytelling. Clever creators and regular consumers jumped on the app to explore the possibility of a quick, looped clip. Zach King used the service to kickstart his personal brand. “When I first heard about Vine, and the 6 second videos, and saw the creators with 20 million followers, I thought, ‘This is easy. Step aside guys,'” King told Forbes. “But I quickly realized that it’s the story aspect that make videos successful. It still needs a beginning, a middle and an end.” And all in an incredibly tight time frame.

In an interview with Mashable, King elaborated on the typical cycle of a “Viner.” That is, those who would “create an account and expect to publish their own personal content, but after realizing it’s not as easy as they thought to film something interesting, they give up and become a consumer,” King explained. He added that the app greatly helped himself and other creators perfect “their timing and craft, especially for comedians.” Though the site ultimately died in 2016, King and many other Vine stars were just getting started.

YouTube was only one piece of the puzzle for Zach King

“I love YouTube and right now it’s my full time job,” Zach King told The Chimes back in 2011. “Most people are confused when I tell them that I create videos for YouTube for a job but it’s such a valuable experience,” he said. Through the platform, King said he used comments on his videos to help “craft my work and push me to improve.”

Although King was crowned a winner of YouTube’s NextUp Creators contest in 2011, he found more of his viewers outside of the video sharing platform. “It’s funny that my smallest following is on YouTube, which is where I started,” King told Forbes. Ironically, King’s popularity skyrocketed through his use of Vine, Instagram, and TikTok. However, the star admitted that out “of all the platforms,” he’s “most grateful for YouTube because they really invested in their creators financially.” He continued, saying, “So, I think I’ll always call myself a YouTuber.”

Life is an Amazing Raze for Zach King

In 2015, Zach King and his wife Rachel sent in their audition tape for consideration to be on The Amazing Race. The couple explained in a YouTube video that the adventure would be the last big trip before opening their home to a foster child and starting a family. Producers ended up loving the couple and the Kings appeared on Season 28 of the long-running reality show. The two trained and played admirably but were eliminated midway through the season. In an interview for The Loop, King recalled the experience, saying, “It was gruelling. At that point we were like, ‘What did we sign up for?’ It’s not just physical but mental as well,” he admitted.

Looking back on the adventure of a lifetime, King confessed to CBS his fears before filming. “We were nervous going into it because we’ve seen enough seasons to know that this puts a serious stress on relationships and we’ve seen a lot of couples fight and argue,” he explained. But in the end, the internet star said the experience “brought our communication to the next level and helped us get to know each other even better.”

The Kings further revealed that of all the places the couple visited on the show, Chamonix in France stood above the rest. “It was absolutely breathtaking,” according to the filmmaker. “I was getting a little distracted because, one, I am afraid of heights but, two, it was so beautiful.”

Zach King is growing his family

In addition to his busy schedule making videos for multiple platforms, Zach King is growing his family. The star revealed to The Orange County Register in 2016 that the bigger, the better when it comes to family. “I want to have six kids eventually, and my wife and I, we’re fostering one kiddo now as a way to kind of start growing that,” King said. He added that while it’s easy to “fill our schedules super jam-packed,” he constantly thinks about how to prioritize his wife and children.

The couple welcomed a biological son in 2018 and, of course, King shared the news with a touch of magic in a video clip on Instagram of his new son. And the following year, King posted a heartwarming video on YouTube detailing the adoption story of his oldest son, Mason.

Can you guess one of King’s favorite games to play with his children? “I love doing the most basic magic tricks for them, watching them freak out,” he told The Hindu. “After all, that’s where the magic all began.”

Zach King found storytelling success in a different medium

Clearly, Zach King has mastered just about every form of social media using his video wizardry. And when fans see him in person, many ask to see a live magic trick. In a video for Shelf Stuff, King explained that he typically replies, “Well, it’s filmmaking or there’s this whole behind-the-scenes process.” From these interactions, King committed to give fans “an actual kind of origin story for the character.”

He produced this by stepping away from the camera for even more imagination. In 2017, King released his first children’s book entitled My Magical Life. The book was part of a three-book deal, which later included the follow-ups The Magical Mix-Up and Mirror Magic, according to King’s website. The book also features a virtual component (naturally), as a free app can be used to bring the book to life thanks to augmented reality. 

The first book was such a success that Amblin Entertainment optioned the feature film rights to My Magical Life, Variety reported. And even sweeter for King, Amblin Entertainment is the production company of his childhood hero, Steven Spielberg.

How does Zach King come up with his wild and wonderful ideas?

While life as a social media star may seem simple, consistently pushing out clever and captivating content can be difficult to sustain over a long period of time. So, what is Zach King’s creative process that keeps his fan base growing? He explained to People that inspiration comes from the world around him and personal experiences. For example, he feared cracking eggs because “I always thought when I made scrambled eggs, and I popped the egg, I’d find a dead baby chicken.” He took this premise literally and turned the thought into a Vine video. Puns are also a consistent source of material, as King can turn a phrase like “scaring people to death” into a brief and humorous visual version.

Other ideas include common dreams and wishes, like the desire to create money out of thin air. “That’s just something everyone can relate to — wanting more money,” King explained. He elaborated in an interview with Red Bull that these concepts “are all things [he] and the team have thought about, and wished they could be real.”

King cited his magic laundry machine idea as an example, in which “you just put your clothes in, it cleans it, folds it and pops it out the other side.” He added that many of the stories start from “ideas that we wished were real as kids. Solving a simple problem in a cool creative way.”

This is how much Zach King is worth

It’s no surprise that Zach King’s blend of humor, special effects, and storytelling turned this filmmaker into a bona fide star. In addition to his massive online following and all the revenue that comes from ads, King previously collaborated with the biggest brand names in the world. “I work with Coca-Cola, Disney, Pixar, and colorful brands like Crayola,” he told PRWeek in 2016. “We are about kids, inspiration, creativity, and color. Those are the partnerships that excite me,” King added.

With income streams from YouTube monetization, brand partnerships, and royalties from his children’s book series, King’s stack of money continues to grow taller. And this is no trick. According to Celebrity Net Worth, King is worth an estimated $3 million as of August 2020.

Despite his big bank account, King doesn’t appear to flaunt his wealth. Perhaps because as a kid, King needed to be clever with his money. As an aspiring magician, he “never really had the money to buy the tricks, so I had to think about how I could reverse engineer them,” he told Esquire Middle East. When he couldn’t afford a $75 magic pen, King just built one — and that’s the exact ingenuity that has transformed him into a star.

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