Sunday, December 16, 2007
Coming to terms with YouTube as a construction site.
I'm one of those people who came of age when the "home movie" look was due to the fact they were made at home, with few editing skills or tools. Also, out of privacy concerns, I confess I have been hesitant to put my contact information out there to a potential virtual community. I definitely need some friends who can show me around. Even though I'm very interested in YouTube and the Internet, I'm still pretty naive about the level of background construction that goes into material that appears there. I'm easily surprised.
Here is a video I found over the Christmas break on YouTube when I searched using the keywords "old" "people" and "technology", and that led me straight to the above 2 1/2 minute comedy video, entitled "Old People vs Technology". It gets the message across about the frustration that many people feel in the face of having to adapt to technological change. The bored young man dressed as a computer, coldly holding the older man at a distance, is a witty representation of access issues.
I wondered "Who initiated this video?", and fantasized that perhaps that young man onscreen is the grandchild of one of those frustrated seniors. The production values: editing, titles, a musical track and good lighting, led me to visualize that the people making the video are perhaps film students -- maybe this was a project for class. The spirit of playful empathy appealed to me. YouTube is supposed to be as much about the makers of the videos as it is about the videos themselves, so I decided to send the makers an email, to bond a bit and to explore what I see as common thematic ground. I wanted to ask how they came to choose that topic, and to ask if those elders who are so eloquently flailing around are in one of their families.
This cozy reading of the video was reframed when I used the contact information to go to a website. Turns out that it was created by a professional sketch comedy troupe in California, consisting of three young men who met while doing improv at university. Justin Michael (the young man in the cardboard box) actually is a film student, although his "comedic short videos" are already getting exposure. The camera work is by Dave Crabtree, a graduate who is now a professional. His bio says he is "a digital media preditor (yes, producer / editor) at FOX Reality. Yes, he works in reality TV."
The amateur look of the video is actually carefully constructed. Does that make "Old People vs Technology" a rip-off which ridicules seniors? No, I don't think so. All filmmaking is an effort to create an illusion. Much of the work on YouTube which looks shallow, awkward, low-tech and cheesy simply does not achieve illusion. The sense of being on the receiving end of a "gotcha" arises upon discovering a successful illusion -- a carefully constructed work being presented as a spontaneous one. Looking for these practical jokes has become a sophisticated game, and part of the sense of discovery that draws people into spending evenings poking around.
The makers "Old People vs Technology" are not out to dupe the viewer. They transparently give us a straight trail via the contact link back to their website Tremendousaur.
Contrast this approach with the 2006 YouTube hoax, Lonely Girl 15 (also known as LG15). Ostensibly, this was a series of off-the-cuff Vlogs (diary-style video blogs) made with a webcam by Bree, a sixteen-year old girl in her bedroom. A real, cheap, webcam was used, but the rest of the context was faked.
From the outset, a group of filmmakers and other professionals set out to mimic the vlogger look, and to deliberately hide their tracks. This "making of" photo, published in the New York Times after LG15 was "outed" by sleuthing fans, shows the crew working with the actors. Near the end, the site gained in popularity as the story line was superseded by a "search for Bree" which had the character of an online mystery game. The number of visits to the site skyrocketed as fans searched for elements in discord with the claim that this was a solo amateur project by a teenager. Finally a sting by some fans revealed that emails from "Bree" were originating in a Hollywood talent agency (which later signed up the "Creators" after they "came out" on the Jay Leno TV talk show). LG15 was instantly rebranded, and the story is proudly told on "LGpedia", a website that still plays with Internet cliches.
The Tremendousaurs also give us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Old People vs Technology" in the video "Old People Poses" which shows the auditions. So I guess those aren't Justin's grandparents. I'll ask him anyway, when I email them to let them know about this posting. Increasingly I'm getting it now that the construction of informality and a cheesy look is just part of swimming in the YouTube current -- part of the playfulness and art.
As the man behind the camera describes himself: "His days now lie in the hands of FOX, his nights with Eyestorm Productions, his bathroom breaks with OgMog, and his weekends with Tremendosaur. And when he sleeps, Dave dreams of the days when Jacob, Justin, and he used to regale hoards of cheery fans every Friday Night with Second Nature Improv. " Sure sounds to me like your basic, playful, arty nice guy ... somebody's grandson.