UPDATE 3/17/23: The documentary has been released on Amazon Prime. Schaeffer can be seen as the thumbnail/poster for the film.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A local TikToker with a few viral videos caught the attention of a documentary filmmaker in the U.K. in 2021.
Preston Schaeffer, or better known on TikTok as Prestonseraph. He uses that platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and began taking TikTok seriously at the beginning of 2020.
“I had the entirety of that quarantine time to focus on my channel and to focus on growing it. So I essentially had to start off by posting about three times a day, and that kind of got the algorithm working in my favor to where I would have more people commenting and liking,” says Schaeffer.
He says his view numbers got bigger and bigger as he began doing makeup videos reaching upwards of 1 million.
“So those videos actually got the attention of some people that didn’t quite like that. Which is totally OK. You know, some people have their opinions. I have mine, and that’s totally OK. But I don’t like whenever people enforce their opinions on me.” says Schaeffer.
According to Schaeffer, when he saw a video of someone reenacting the events of the Orlando shootings at Pulse nightclub, he made a condemning response video to it.
The response video reached 4.6 million views. One of those viewers was Liz Smith, director of “I am Gen Z.” She asked for permission to use his video and asked him to be in the film.
“I honestly, I thought that it was a scam. At first, I was kind of scared. I was like, What is this? You know, I wasn’t used to all of this attention.” says Schaeffer. After Smith reassured him she was the real deal. He agreed and shot a couple of segments for her film.
According to the film’s website, “I am Gen Z” describes its plot as, “Through expert interviews and the web lens of Generation Z, the documentary explores how the digital revolution is impacting our society, our brains and mental health, how the forces driving it are working against humanity and have put us on a dangerous trajectory that has huge ramifications for this first generation growing up with mobile digital technology.”
Schaeffer’s TikTok video was used in the film as an example of how hate groups have come together to spread their message.
Due to the original nightclub shooting video reenactment’s author commenting and tagging people on Schaeffer’s response, the social media algorithm began leading hate groups into seeing his video easier.
“It had actually gotten so many hate comments right after that started happening, and it was like night and day. It was crazy that the algorithm was able to switch like that. And then it wasn’t just that, but months later, I was still getting hate comments and people telling me that I should kill myself, people telling me that they can’t wait to put a bullet between my eyes.” says Schaeffer.
Last year Schaeffer stepped back from posting so often due to the negative comments and death threats. He told ozarksfirst.com that he wanted to slow down because of family.
Now he is focusing on finishing up school at OTC and pursuing a doctorate.
Social media isn’t gone from his life either. Instagram is now paying Schaeffer to make Reels.
He also said that he will be involved in Liz Smith’s next film project.
Ozarks Technical Community College will be showing “I am Gen Z” at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 in Lincoln Hall, Room 211. Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion about the issues the film raises. The panel will include OTC students, faculty, and administrators. The screening is free.