We love Paris in the summer when she fizzles ...
EmptyParis parody: Paris Hilton's impact on Hollywood is greater than we think.
If you're thinking the words "impact on Hollywood" and "Paris Hilton" don't belong in the same sentence, think again. It turns out her bizarre incarceration has unintentionally prompted a rewriting of the basic formula for talented young filmmakers to get studios and agents to notice their work.
Thanks to the media's love affair with Hilton, Allan Murray and Sean Haines' wonderfully funny parody "Paris in Jail: The Music Video" has become an Internet sensation with nearly 8 million viewings thus far on YouTube and MySpace. Its blockbuster success shows that film festivals are no longer the only way or even the best way for aspiring moviemakers to stir up some excitement and get Hollywood's attention.
Creating a viral video like "Paris in Jail" that's timely and relevant in today's celebrity driven media culture has become a great new way for filmmakers to command attention and to get it literally overnight. Moreover, it no longer takes the investment of time and money that in the past had to made in order to get accepted by festivals and then to travel there to see if lightning would strike on the deal-making front.
In the case of "Paris," stand-up comedians Murray and Haines put together a captivating music video that stars Amber Hay, who's a dead ringer for Paris if ever there was one! Paris's singing voice was provided by vocalist Elizabeth Intza, who has exactly the right sound -- a blend that's one part lazy beach babe, two parts dumb blonde and two dashes of naughty heiress on the prowl. Directed by Murray & Haines, the short film's witty lyrics are by Murray. Besides spoofing Paris, the video also has a little fun at the expense of such other troubled headline making celebs as Lindsay Lohan (Paris drives past a billboard for the Lindsay Lohan driving school), Britney Spears (Paris is shocked that she's only getting rehab) and Nicole Richie (Paris sighs that she's a wrong way driver whose zero weight could just let her just float away). After viewing "Paris" on the web, I was happy to be able to ask Murray and Haines how they made it and what it's done for their careers.
If you haven't already seen the piece, which runs about 2 minutes 45 seconds, you don't want to miss it. Here's the link to it on Murray and Haines' MySpace.com page: http://www.myspace.com/omovies
"Before we started the video we wanted to launch a production company and we've been talking about it for a long time," Haines told me. "We've been studying the effect of YouTube on the industry and how people were launching their careers on YouTube whether it's actors or filmmakers or comedians. So we had that thought to make a viral video and launch it over three platforms on the Web and build a brand and it really worked out for us."
Asked what a viral video is, Haines explained, "It's a video that's posted on the Internet that is viewed by an initial number of people who then because they enjoyed it or they're interested in talking about it will link to it. They can take the code for that video and put it on their website or they can send it in an e-mail or a bulletin to their friends on MySpace or YouTube or across any one of the platforms on the Internet. It's that crazy pyramid scheme effect. It just keeps going and going and going. This video had over a million views on June 8 and it was really quite astonishing!"
"Basically, it's that video that you have to see," Murray added. "It's like a real hot movie that everybody's talking about, but a lot easier (to see because) it's free."
Looking at how times have changed in terms of how filmmakers can now attract attention in Hollywood, Murray said, "In the old days, if you made a short (film) you had to get an application (and pay a) fee and send it in to a film festival. Or for an idea for a network you had to pitch it to development people and whatnot. In today's world you put it on (the Internet) the next day, if you like. You let the world decide as opposed to letting networks decide."
"You have a global audience as soon as you hit that upload button," Haines noted. "And if your video stands the test and is watchable and, most important, if it's worthy of comment (it will find an audience). What really made our video take off is that people wanted to talk about it. Either they hated Paris Hilton or they loved Paris Hilton, but they kept refreshing that screen so they could leave more comments. And that's why it really caught fire. That's why viral videos catch fire."
The key to success in taking advantage of the opportunities the Internet offers is that you've got to have a great product -- otherwise it's not going to go anywhere. "You can definitely get lost in the shuffle if you don't have something that appeals to a core group," Haines agreed. "That's for sure."
When did they get the idea to do their Paris parody? "When Paris was going to go to jail, every time the news would do a story on Paris the bumper would be her song 'Stars Are Blind,'" Murray recalled. "We were wondering what we should do for our first little project on the Internet and I thought, 'Hmm, 'Stars Are Blind.' I kept hearing the lyric, 'I don't mind spending some time...' and I heard 'being confined' in my head or 'doing some time.' And I looked at the real lyrics and I thought, 'Oh, this is a song parody. This is easy. This is a fun one.' I wrote them and we jammed on it and started producing it and that's pretty much how it happened. We got a singer. We thought about getting the song recorded first and then we just took off from there with casting and putting together the crew and everything."
The original "Stars Are Blind" music video starring the real Paris is easily found on the Internet and, frankly, isn't nearly as engaging as Murray and Haines' spoof. One reason for that is that Amber Hay is actually better as Paris than Paris is. "Allan actually found Amber through a casting agency," Haines noted.
"Through Actors Access, an Internet casting company," Murray said. "You should have seen the ones that we didn't choose. We saw everybody we could think of and finally when Amber's picture popped up on the computer I went, 'Ah! I think this is it!'"
"The thing that's great about Amber is that she's a really funny girl and she's an acquaintance of Paris Hilton," Haines pointed out. "When Allan heard that Amber said, 'I think Paris would find this video funny,' Allan said, 'You're hired!'"
Not surprisingly, it was a very quick shoot. "There was a lot of pre-production, but the actual shooting was a day and a half," Murray said. "We launched it and it's called 'Paris in Jail: The Music Video' and we thought we had something really great. And the next morning, she was out of jail! It was like -- 'what happened?' Some TV shows that were interested in (doing stories about) our project called us and said, 'You're not relevant any more.' And all our friends were saying, 'Too bad. That sucks for you. Your video makes no sense (now that Paris is out of jail).'"
"So I went into the YouTube account," Haines said, "and I changed the title from 'Paris in Jail: The Music Video' to 'Paris Gets Out of Jail -- Spotted at the Beach' and then the hits started to rise because people thought it was real footage and that Paris was out of jail and she went to the beach already!"
"We got like 600,000 (viewings) that first day, so we realized that even though she's out of jail it's still relevant and it's still funny," Murray observed. "People get it. People like the video. But then the miracle happened -- the craziest part of the story is that we were hearing rumors that she had to go back tomorrow in front of the judge. And we thought, 'There's no way they're going to grab her out of prison, make a new deal with her and then throw her back in the clink. It's just not going to happen.' And it did. I said, 'Sean, change the title! Change the title! Paris is back in jail.'"
"It was really a matter of the stars lining up for us," Haines said. "We were relevant again and then all the TV shows and press started calling us. It was really fun. It was quite an adventure." Murray and Haines have enjoyed a ton of exposure on TV talking about their hit video on shows like the CBS Morning Show with Julie Chen, MSNBC (three times), CNN, Headline News' "Show-Biz Tonight," "Inside Edition" and Court TV's "Hollywood Heat" as well as on international outlets like Reuters Television, E Espanol, TAFF German Television and the U.K. morning show "GMTV." They've also been mentioned in coverage of Hilton done by outlets like "Access Hollywood," MTV, VH1's "Best Week Ever," the TV Guide Channel and "E News Daily." Their music video has been linked to by international websites in places like Egypt, Denmark, Spain, China, Peru, Russia and Africa.
Now with Paris out of jail and having just reached a huge television audience with her first post-pokey interview with CNN's Larry King, there could be renewed interest in the "Paris" music video. "We hope so," Murray said. "We're getting a bump. It's always a funny companion piece when they show all that Paris news. At least we're kind of a fun story that goes along with it."
Are they thinking about doing a sequel? "We've had a lot of requests for a sequel," Haines replied, "and people are giving us their suggestions, as you might imagine. On the Internet everyone's telling us to try Britney next or do Lindsay Lohan. We've been mulling over all the ideas and we've actually come up with a really fun idea for our next video that will also take advantage of the headlines and a massive press push, but we're not really going to talk about that now."
It's probably not going to be Lohan, by the way. "We already kind of hit the Lindsay Lohan driving school joke in the Paris video," Murray said. "We almost think Lindsay's a little too close to Paris for our next video because it's the same, you know -- rehab and driving drunk and accidents and all that."
Asked how they can turn this good stroke of luck into something that catapults them into a moviemaking career, Murray told me, "Well the good news is ICM found us and they signed us and that's, hopefully, good. So we're real excited about that."
"We have a wonderful offer -- again, we can't talk too much about it -- but a major company is talking to us about creating a viral commercial for them," Haines added.
"It's kind of weird just what can happen," Murray said. "Hopefully, the beginning of it is a good agent. Everything's really new right now, but we're looking forward to some good news."
"The idea behind this (was) -- besides making a great video and getting attention to our writing, directing and producing skills -- we really wanted to build a brand and wanted to use the Internet as an experiment to build a brand and do it quickly," Haines pointed out, "as opposed to having to invest in two tons of promotion and advertising. Omovies.com, which is our Internet hub, is slowly becoming a brand that we always wanted. So our evil plan has worked!"
"The South Park guys (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) started off with an Internet sensation that just went around Hollywood -- the little South Park cartoon," Murray explained. "We've tried to emulate them. We respect their stuff."
Looking ahead to the kind of projects they'd like to do, Haines observed, "We do have kind of brand recognition with this style of music video already and that's kind of (made us) the Weird Al Yankovic of the new millennium. We don't want to put our ugly mugs in the video so much because we really like the idea of pulling the strings behind the scenes and creating these funny viral music videos that can really heat up on the Internet. So I think we're going to do a few more of these and potentially that could turn into a record deal or a DVD deal or something of that nature. But we've got nothing against doing feature films down the road. We'd both certainly love that idea, as well."
"You know, the only guy doing really good music parodies is Weird Al, but it always stars him," Haines said. "He's the guy. He puts on the wig and he's Madonna or he becomes Michael Jackson. But our comedy music videos are a little more realistic because they really look like the stars. I think it's an interesting niche. I think that could be really hot!"
Filmmaker flashbacks: From Aug. 7, 1989's column: "Although late summer used to be a graveyard for low-budget youth comedies and action films, this year it's bringing us potentially big product from big name directors -- including Ron Howard ('Parenthood'), Brian De Palma ('Casualties of War'), John Hughes ('Uncle Buck') and James Cameron ('The Abyss').
"'Abyss,' which 20th Century Fox opens Wednesday at approximately 1,500 screens, is an underwater epic...It's the kind of event film where the role played by marketing becomes more important than ever.
"Tom Sherak, Fox's president of domestic marketing and distribution, and Robert Harper, Fox's president of marketing, focused on 'Abyss' when they were my guests Sunday on The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Movietime cable series.
"'It's a film, I think, like none other in the past few years,' Sherak observes. 'It's a film that has adventure, but it's not about adventure. It has a love story, but it's not about a love story. It's a film that has science fiction in it, but it's not science fiction. It's a film for everyone. It's wonderment. It's excitement. From beginning to end, it's just marvelous moviemaking.'
"'It's been one of the challenges of this picture,' Harper points out, 'to present an image of the picture that justifies its scope. The picture is so big and works on so many different levels it's hard to show every bit of it to those diverse (segments of the) audience that would enjoy the picture but may not necessarily instantly be attracted to it.'
"One element of Fox's strong marketing campaign for the film is the elaborate boxed press kit that media people received last week. Instead of the usual collection of quick-print biographies and production notes, Fox prepared two spiral-bound books of information about 'Abyss,' beautifully illustrated with four-color photography ...
"'Unfortunately, because of the technical restrictions and complications of making a picture of this size,' Harper said, 'we were unable to have the picture to show people very early. This picture is coming out, as they say, wet. We didn't have time to show much of the picture so we needed to create an image for the picture that the picture actually justifies. This is a big movie and it's an important movie. We wanted the press to know what we felt about the picture going in.'"
Update: "The Abyss" opened Aug. 11, 1989 to $9.3 million at 1,533 theaters ($6,079 per theater) and went on to gross $54.5 million domestically, making it 1989's 24th biggest movie.
Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.