Commentary: Hit viral video spoofs Jamie Lynn Spears
Allan Murray and Sean Haines collecting the clicksSpears spoof: In the age of the Internet moviemaking means creating two minute viral videos for YouTube or MySpaceTV just as easily as it means making two hour features for theatrical release.
A case in point is the very funny new video hit "Reproduction Rap," which pokes some well deserved fun at 17 year old unwed mother Jamie Lynn Spears. "Rap," which runs a quick 2:52, had already received over 900,000 viewings early this week on YouTube and MySpaceTV and is still going strong. It's the latest viral video from the talented filmmaking team of Allan Murray and Sean Haines, who emerged early last summer as Internet stars with their first celebutard satire "Paris in Jail: The Music Video." After seeing their "Paris" parody I spoke to Murray and Haines for a column that ran here June 29, 2007.
My hunch that Murray and Haines were on the road to success was right as "Paris" went on to generate over 25 million hits on YouTube and MySpaceTV and was a YouTube nominee for Best Comedy video of 2007. It was the most watched online video in the world in June '07 and now ranks fifth on YouTube's All Time Most Viewed Comedy list. Post-"Paris," Murray and Haines created an assortment of other spoofs, including the particularly amusing "Lindsay Full Loaded" spoof of La Lohan.
The guys have another web success story underway now with "The Blog Monkey Show," which has racked up over 10 million hits since late January. If you haven't already discovered these zany monkey puppet videos, check them out on YouTube:
And if you haven't run into "Rap" yet, here's a link.
I was happy to be able to catch up with Murray and Haines July 9, the day "Rap" was first posted online, to explore the still growing business of creating viral videos spoofing pop culture. "Our ears are always open for the big scandal," Murray told me when I asked how the Jamie Lynn video came about. "The irony that made 'Paris' work was 'hotel heiress in jail' (because) you can't write something that good. This is a child star of Nickelodeon pregnant at 16. That's like, 'Oh, my gosh!' How often does that happen? I said to Sean, 'How is she going to explain everything to her young fans?' And Sean said, 'Well, that could be the video. Like teaching kids about the reproduction system. But we'll do it in a very young form.'"
As they got into it, Murray said they decided the best approach was, "Let's really explain. Let's make it scientific -- something that you can see in health class -- and (with) really big words popping up (on screen) and Jamie Lynn Spears explaining to her fans how the reproduction system works."
"In this way," Haines added, "we took something that could be potentially offensive to people -- making fun of a young girl who got pregnant -- and put a positive spin on it (with) a humorous slant."
Asked to explain the viral video phenomenon, Haines said, "Almost every video that you put on the web becomes viral in some sense. It's that it's such a wide gap between the small producers and the big producers. Somebody could put a number on it and say, 'Well, a viral video gets more than 500 hits a day and doesn't usually go under that,' but people would argue that if you get 100 hits a day and you always get 100 hits, you're a viral video, too. The nature of the Internet is that once you have a certain amount of eyeballs coming to your websites your videos will always get a certain amount of hits. It's surprisingly easy to predict after a while. We know that certain videos are going to get 10,000 a day and (they do or come very close). It helps us plan because we want to make videos that have that kind of appeal because they're the ones that pay us while we're sleeping."
Those payments stem, he said, from "ad impressions. Google, who basically owns the world as we know it, has a company called AdSense (which) puts ads targeted to your demographic. For instance, our videos are all comedy based so we recently had a bunch of ads for 'Get Smart.' 'Get Smart' would pop up in the middle of our video on the bottom of the video. You could click it and go to the website and watch a trailer. So it's all about the ad impressions and how many times people click on those ads that determines our paycheck at the end of the month."
What helps make "Rap" work so well is that once again Murray and Haines have cast someone who really looks like the celebrity being spoofed. "Her name is Danielle Fenech," Murray said. "Actors Access is the website that we cast through and no girls looked like Jamie Lynn Spears. One girl came close. She truly was 16. She actually was a good little singer. But Sean and I were going, 'You know, it's not as funny if the girl's actually 16. We have to really go easy on this video and be very, very careful.' What happened is she kind of said, 'I don't think I could do it' and we were very sweet about it (and told her), 'Oh, it's okay. Don't worry. No problem.'"
At that point they put an ad on Craig's List, Murray continued, "thinking all the crazies (would reply). All of a sudden Danielle Fenech answered and she looked exactly like Jamie Lynn Spears. Out of all our actresses so far, she's the deadest ringer of them all. So we were thrilled that the young girl dropped out. Also, (Fenech is) 21 so we can have a little more fun with the video and not be so worried about everything."
Planning for the video began, according to Haines, "as soon as we got the headlines in late December 2007. We heard she was pregnant and we said, 'Well, that's our deal. We'll make it a 'Paris in Jail'-style video and when she gives birth we'll be ready to go. We did a lot of other things in-between, but we kept planning for it and as the birth date approached she actually scooped us and had the baby early. We thought we had another month because they had tricked the press the way Paris did when she went to jail. So the baby came early and were at least a few weeks away from our video -- so we decided to wait for the baby pictures to be the launch date and that's today (July 9). The pictures came out today and so did our video."
The fact that "Rap" was an instant hit is good news for Murray and Haines from both a creative and a business standpoint. "YouTube actually pays us. We're in their partnership program now. We get a paycheck from them so we link most things through YouTube," Murray explained. "But we also have a relationship with MySpaceTV, which is the second biggest video hub on the web. They're going to feature this video tonight (July 9) at Midnight for 24 hours so that will be a lot of views in the next day."
While the video looks like it was a quick and easy piece to knock out that's definitely not the case. "A lot of planning goes into the shoots because we do it very meticulously," Haines pointed out. "We (do) storyboards. Allan is a budding cartoon artist and he does these wonderful little storyboards every time and we always get a laugh looking at them later and comparing them to the actual video. We both come from the stand-up comedy world so our brains naturally think in terms of gags visual and verbal.
"The process starts with us going back and forth pretty endlessly until we both agree that we have the best batch of visual gags and the best lyrics for the particular project. Then it's all about getting it into the studio with our actors. We work with a team of technical people when we do the music videos. We shoot with a green screen and we drop in all the images afterwards -- all the backgrounds and the animations come in (during) post-production."
Reflecting on their success, Haines told me, "When 'Paris in Jail' broke really big, Allan and I got big agents representing us and went out to lots and lots of meetings. Record companies were courting us. And then we kind of just had a revelation one day and said, 'You know, we are the record company now. We don't really need anybody telling us what to do and owning our copyrights for the rest of time. We make the stuff ourselves. We have our own channel on the Internet (www.oMovies.com) and the Internet is merging with television anyway. So we can just do this all ourselves. We'll put the songs on iTunes and we'll become autonomous and not answer to anybody.'"
It is, he went on, their "show business dream come true. I gave up stand-up comedy in January of this year to do this full time and it's really everything I've ever wanted to do. I feel just blessed that the Internet kind of leveled the playing field for crazy comedians like us."
Ledger legacy: Seeing "The Dark Knight" in IMAX earlier this week confirmed the buzz that's been building about Heath Ledger's prospects for an Oscar nomination for playing The Joker. The big question really is whether Warner Bros. should try to position Ledger for Academy consideration as best actor or supporting actor.
I'm inclined to think supporting actor at this point, but to do this kind of strategizing requires knowing who the other nominees in both categories are likely to be and it's really too early to speculate since we haven't seen most of the films that could generate those noms. Ledger's untimely death plus the strength of his legacy performance in "Knight" enhances his chance of being nominated, but Warner must still overcome Academy members' tendency to applaud smaller specialized films rather than big commercial movies.
By the way, with nearly half the summer still ahead of us and with less mega-competition than there was earlier, "Knight" has the happy potential to become this summer's biggest grossing movie. The summer pack was led at mid-week by "Iron Man" with $313.8 million and "Indiana Jones 4" with $311.3 million. If "Knight" kicks off this weekend to the $130 million or so that Hollywood handicappers are anticipating, it will be well on its way to topping the summer chart.
Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com