Joss Whedon Gets Crafty

Image from elasticcamels photostream
Image from elasticcamel's photostream

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and this summer’s web-based hit, Dr. Horrible, was just interviewed by Kim Werker of CrochetMe (transcript found here).  What does Whedon have to say about crafting?  Aside from setting us straight on whether Captain Hammer’s sweater vests are knitted or crocheted, Whedon speculates on the parallels between the DIY craft community and the DIY media community:

KW: I read a quote recently, in an article about the resurging DIY movement, that we’re “crafting to claim identity, to save the world from soulless junk.” Do you see any parallels in people’s approach to internet-based video productions versus the big-media productions for television and movies and how people are really taking those media into their own hands right now?

JW: Absolutely. I mean, let’s face it, in the media there are now eight companies. In any mall you walk into, there are now eight stores: there’s gonna be a Gap, there’s gonna be a Banana Republic. Everything is becoming consolidated, so where there used to be lots of variety, there are now, like, ten giants and tons of tiny little villagers. And yeah, the villagers are going to start making their own stuff because the materials will be available to all of them, and we can’t all just do things the way the giants want, because it does seep something out of your soul. I think it’s absolutely true on every level of art that this is the worst of times and, like some guy might have said once, the best of times.

I find this to be profoundly true.  Everywhere I turn, I see that massive consolidation.  Whether it’s NBC putting Jay Leno in a spot typically reserved for innovative dramas, or the CW potentially creating a Gossip Girl spinoff because it is less risky than shooting a pilot for a new show.  Then again, I also see people figuring out how to entertain themselves with projects like Odd Noggin Land – in which the creators actually made giant heads shaped like ketchup and fries.  DIY projects are inefficient, they are often messy, and they probably appeal to a small number of people.  But the result often has a depth of character and breadth of experimentation that’s absent from a product brought into being by a corporation.  That’s true whether you’re knitting a hat or making a movie in your backyard.

Like the man said:  “You have to remember that if the thing isn’t slightly out of control, it ain’t art.”

Lucky There’s Seth MacFarlane

Family Guy Graffiti Image from Cheryl’s PhotostreamI used to be a pretty big Family Guy devotee (back in that golden age when it was only shown on Adult Swim). While I’ve personally gotten a little tired of the manatees-with-idea-balls approach to storytelling (just watch the South Park episode), I think that MacFarlane’s talent for tapping into everything from Victorian literature to modern art and coming up with a poop joke is kind of impressive in its own way.

And that leaves us with MacFarlane’s latest venture, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. These are mini episodes (1-5 minutes a piece) that seem like deleted cutaway scenes from Family Guy.

Now, if you read the URL in that link, you’ll notice that you can find this Cavalcade at – Burger King’s YouTube channel. Every episode is branded with the Burger King logo and a snippet of an animated version of BK’s King character. That is in addition to the regular YouTube logo that plays in the lower right corner of the clip window.

The Cavalcade is branded in three ways: (1) Seth MacFarlane, (2) Burger King, (3) YouTube. It’s an innovative approach to producing web media, but one that was phenomenally popular in the early days of TV and radio. Comedian Jack Benny was sponsored by everything from Canada Dry to Lucky Strike cigarettes, and the show was labeled as the Canada Dry Show, The Grape-Nuts Show, etc. Philip Morris used to sponsor “I Love Lucy” – and characters, or animations of those characters, actively hyped their cigarettes on screen before the show. This level of corporate sponsorship, in which the sponsor’s brand is equally or more visible than the brand of the show itself, might be exceedingly valuable to indie and mainstream producers trying to get their shows on the web. It also creates some problems.

Up until now, the internet has not been an epicenter for high-quality, original, intentional humor. “Charlie bit my finger” was and is much more typical of online comedy than, say “Nobody’s Watching.” But well-established celebrities producing web exclusive content is going to mean higher production values, actual scripting (gasp!) and possibly even some steady camerawork. This means that maybe, just maybe, your well-scripted, innovative comedy has a chance to shine out there too.

However, while Seth MacFarlane can get away with a foul mouth when he’s sponsored by a “hip” brand like Burger King, I’m sure a sketch about transfats and obesity would not be welcome. Finding a patron if you are not already on the inside will be an uphill battle. And patron-sponsored content may mean sacrificing some ideas to preserve an overall brand image.

Would you go the patron route with your own web TV series? Or would you rather get your content out there, and find funding later?

Sean Tevis runs for Kansas State Rep, XKCD Style

Sean Tevis
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Sean Tevis is running for Kansas State Representative. He needs to raise $26,000 by July 28th. He plans to do this by enticing 3000 individuals to donate $8.34 each on the internet (plus asking his 2 wealthy friends for $500 each).

As of this posting, 2,326 have already donated. If you read his XKCD style campaign story, you will probably understand why.

Running for Office: It’s Like A Flamewar with a Forum Troll, but with an Eventual Winner

Tevis’s plea references numerous internet memes, and communicates his serious geek cred, while simultaneously covering the major elements of his platform. It is entertaining and informational and for several hours today the site was totally slammed. This is a grassroots approach gone viral. I would not be surprised if the majority of donors hail from outside Tevis’s district.

The success of this political ad campaign is not achieved by a large amount of money spent, but in intelligently engaging and entertaining a target audience, and delivering a call to action: For $8.34 you can be part of this event. See Palindrome’s comments on the desire to be part of a communal experience.

Check out Tevis’s site, where if you donate $500, they’ll “send you a limited edition campaign t-shirt, a coffee mug with the Kansas flag on it, and a DVD video from Sean Tevis’ mom telling you how wonderful you are, because you are.”

I want my MTV, I mean. . . YouTube

Weezer is just so cool. . .

They made a video that’s a super impressive mash-up of every YouTube trend in the last year. Some of these are reproductions, but many appear to have been shot with the original YouTube “stars.” In fact, those people have their own videos about being on set with Weezer, or promoting the new Weezer album.

Congrats to Weezer for figuring out how to work an existing system, rather than push against it. This is a HUGE improvement over bands that have allowed fans to compete to make the “official” video (Tori Amos had two such contests). Those contests push against the flow of information. If 25 fans make videos, hardcore fans will watch all 25, and non-fans will probably watch. . . none. Weezer (or whoever came up with this concept) is going to suck in people who have no clue who they are (if you’re 14 today, the Blue Album is 18 days older than you). So while you probably didn’t blast “In the Garage” with the windows down on your way to watch the X-Files, you probably have seen “Evolution of Dance” and “Chocolate Rain.” And if you haven’t, you can watch them all instantly, and get in on the joke.

That’s probably the greatest power that YouTube has. The “ooh, come look at this!” factor is unparalleled in any other media. I guess you could also call that “viral,” but I’m starting to dislike the negative connotation of the word. It doesn’t really express the inside-joke factor, or the psychic reward when you pick up on a trend before anyone else.

Also, the new Weezer song isn’t half bad. . .