(Note: This is a pending, unedited post for my JERK movie blog.)
Cigarettes are expensive, video games are draining, and porn is – to put it mildly – rather distasteful. But, I will confess that I am helplessly, irreversibly addicted to one thing: the Internet. The source of all my academic woes, the great World Wide Web has been responsible for many a delayed homework assignments, luring me through my laptop screen’s unfailing incandescence (damn the long battery life!) and refusing to release until my contacts had sufficiently dried out from watching YouTube clips that range from movie scene montages to captured moments of homemade hilarity. (My ongoing obsession is cute baby videos. I’d like to think it’s premature maternity kicking in, but others just tell me I’m borderline creepy.)
I am most definitely not alone in this productivity-hindering endeavor – according to Nielsen, viewer ratings for YouTube averaged a whopping 81 million in September alone. Multiple features, such as the “related videos” sidebar, cater to your interests and abet your search for the freaky/sad (ie: snake baby) to the downright adorable (PANDA SNEEZE!…I need a new hobby). But what is it about this rapidly growing social media tool that makes it so incredibly addictive?
Community interaction. For all the instant gratification-seekers like myself, YouTube is a forum to get immediate feedback on the work you’ve produced, and there’s nothing that feeds your superstar complex more than getting five-star ratings from your peers and breaking the elusive 1 million-views threshold for that mini movie you spent a dreary Saturday afternoon making. Even if it doesn’t reach the pinnacle of cyberworld fame, it’s always fun to plop down in front of your computer and play back something in which you can recognize the set and and you know all the actors because duh, guess what, YOU made it!
I got to thinking about all this while I was watching “Be Kind Rewind” (which was hilarious, FYI) last month and observed the whole grassroots organization aspect of making your own movie. Brief synopsis: Jack Black and Mos Def play two friends who look after a somewhat relic of a rental store (re: only VHS available) and, through a bizarre turn of events that includes Jack Black’s brain getting magnetized, end up erasing all the movies in the store’s collection. To appease their customers, they start to reenact their own versions of famous films (“Rush Hour,” “King Kong,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” a hysterical and markedly better rendition of “Ghostbusters,” etc.), a whimsical idea that quickly snowballs into local success as people start lining up outside the store to request and view these charming, homegrown adaptations. Eventually, the residents all get together to create one epic film of their town’s history and at the end, hearts are warmed, tears are shed, and all that good fuzzy stuff happens as they sit back and watch the culmination of their own effort and creativity project on to a makeshift screen.
“Be Kind Rewind” was a case in point, albeit fictional, of the YouTube/video streaming sensation and testament to the appeal such “amateur” projects have by attracting viewers and subsequent appraisals. Audiences love watching movies that they can relate to, and what better way to relate to them than actually being a part of the whole creative process?
Big studios are finally starting to take notice of what could essentially become an Internet cash cow and attempting to harness the amalgamation of the site’s video offerings – a New York Times article last week announced that YouTube has joined forces with MGM in the film industry and Lionsgate/CBS in TV land to post old feature films and classic series episodes, respectively, with paid advertising. There’s nothing like good old exploitation of 81 million pairs of eyeballs glued to the screen to make a substantial profit.
Some more underground films have used YouTube for extensive viral marketing, relying on the site’s users to spread word-of-mouth publicity by posting links in other video comments and utilizing YouTube’s easily accessible platform to rack up views. Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s “Four Eyed Monsters” was released exclusively on the Web site in 2007 and quickly gained popularity with 400,000 views in its first few weeks. Of course, earning back the production costs and and then some is a different story, but one that seems all too possible in the days ahead.
So what does this all mean? Is the Web-savvy new generation going to kick theaters to the curb and and obliterate any need for the Blockbuster franchise? No, probably not at least for a while. YouTube itself earns little ad revenue for the companies that do promote on its site and though it’s an undeniable force in the media, it hasn’t made much of a dent in Hollywood yet. What it is doing now, however, is changing the traditional showbiz terrain and opening doors for its users while encouraging them to experiment and be innovative with their filmmaking.
When it comes down to it, YouTube already has a devoted, built-in audience; it just needs to get them to stay for the next act.
(How timely – I never read the NYT magazine since I don’t get the Sunday paper but sister and Austin visited this weekend and he happened to buy it to enhance our Sunday brunching pleasure. The mag just came out with its annual screens issue, so lots of interesting articles to peruse. Most importantly, it gives a shoutout to none other than panda sneeze! This proves that it is indeed the Greatest. Video. Ever.)