Making a big splash on YouTube … and a big difference
Three stories of Internet fame found in self-produced videos
Global warming risk management: how lucky do you feel?
High school science teacher Greg Craven ’91 had one night before the last day of school to finish “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See” in time to let his students know about it.
Downing cans of Red Bull, Craven holed up in a science lab of his school in Independence, Ore., editing all night. At 6 a.m., bleary-eyed, he posted his 9-minute, 33-second global warming video on YouTube.
His students linked to it on their MySpace pages. By that night, 60 people had clicked on it. The next day, 300. By Monday morning, 1,000. Craven was psyched. That kind of “viral” growth gets you noticed on YouTube, the Internet’s anarchic video smorgasbord.
Six months later, Craven’s earnest and quirky appeal to act on climate change has collected more than 4 million views worldwide—roughly 500 times the population of Independence. That puts it near the top of YouTube’s all-time list for views in the news and politics category, despite competition from videos featuring Britney Spears, Satan’s face in a Sept. 11 explosion, and an Alabama leprechaun.
The video inspired about 7,000 comments and discussions, mostly critical—“My toddler drools more cogent arguments,” one said—and Craven had to admit there was a hole in his theory.
To fill it he spent six weeks producing a 44-part, 6-hour, 70,000-word sequel, “How It All Ends,” which employs small explosions and silly hats Craven bought in a Nepalese tourist mart.
He slept two or three hours a night. He spent $500 on energy drinks. He made his relatives very nervous.
“It became a little bit maniacal,” Craven admitted. “But if you think you see the emergency escape hatch when the Titanic’s going down, you’re going to do what you can to help people get to it.”
Craven’s YouTube site gives little biography, and his first video gives none. Jan Hawkins, Craven’s mother, can fill us in: As a young boy, Craven looked inside padlocks and tadpoles to see how they worked. As a young man, he camped out for four days in the Honolulu airport to reflect on his year of traveling in Asia. He and his fellow PacRim students had spent weeks in a Thai Buddhist monastery, where he shaved his head. Later, he was in a group that had an hourlong audience with the Dalai Lama.
“He’s never been one to be superficial,” Hawkins said.
But his activism didn’t really kick in until he and his wife, Jodi Coleman ’91, got high-speed Internet nine months ago. He concluded that a video was the perfect way to get his points across.
Wearing a T-shirt and glasses in “Most Terrifying,” he sketches a four-part chart to help frame his argument: We don’t have to know for certain whether human-induced global warming is really occurring to act on it because “the risk of not acting far outweighs the risk of acting.”
Under a worst-case scenario, excessive regulation to reverse global warming could trigger a “global economic depression which makes the 1930s look like a cakewalk,” Craven tells viewers, waving his black marker pen.
But, left unchecked, climate change could cause droughts, floods, dust bowls, famine, economic collapse, and the displacement of millions of people, making “Al Gore look like a sissy Pollyanna with no guts who sugarcoated the bad news.”
“How lucky do you feel?” he asks.
The video got more than 500,000 hits on Craven’s site. Somehow it also ended up on another YouTube page, where it got 2.8 million views, and on break.com, a video site for young men. There it got 1 million hits, sharing space with videos of skateboard wipeouts and mud-wrestling girls.
Craven says he can’t explain why it happened. The Internet is chaotic, he says. Little things, maybe a link on a student’s MySpace page, can have huge, unforeseen consequences downstream. Small tweaks get magnified as their effects circle back. Things can happen much faster than you expect.
Kinda like climate change, he says. “That’s why it’s so scary.”
Craven’s fans liked his argument, his “inescapable logic.” They also liked his low-key and frank tone, his off-kilter sense of humor, his way of not speaking down to people.
In chemistry class, students said Craven teaches that way. He’s “wacky” and “animated,” Chloe Takacs, 17, said. “He makes a lot of jokes,” said senior James Sprenger, “which is a good attempt to make chemistry fun.”
Craven’s hundreds of critics said his argument was too simplistic. Who was he to talk? What if mankind’s response messed things up even more?
This one hit Craven hardest: His four-part chart laid out the worst-case scenario for global warming, critics said, but didn’t take into account the probability of that scenario actually happening.
Using Craven’s logic, critics argued, shouldn’t nonbelievers be prepping for the potentially devastating Rapture predicted in the Book of Revelation, too? Or as Craven’s explosion-happy “devil’s advocate” (Craven with a Viking hat on) later put it in the sequel, for an onslaught of “giant mutant space hamsters?”
Craven read thousands more posts. The world can solve global warming without dumb interventions, he says: “I’m not talking about putting up space mirrors or injecting ash into the atmosphere. I’m talking about stopping what we’re doing.”
In Craven’s view, the science suggests the probability of damage from global warming is high and the odds of excessive damage from our response are low. But his first video didn’t handicap the odds.
“I almost took it down,” he says. “For a while I was worried I did more harm than good.”
He filmed follow-up fixes, but they were hard to find on YouTube, adding to his frustration. This was his chance of a lifetime, he figured: “I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to make a huge impact.”
Craven took a month off from video production to be with his wife and two young daughters. But then he jumped back in, taking just six weeks to produce his sequel—44 segments under 10 minutes each to meet YouTube’s time limits. He clipped single words from the script, talking as fast as he could. The frantic pace at one point made him worry he was having a heart attack.
His family took out-of-town trips to give him more time. “He loves his daughters more than anything in the world,” says Coleman, Craven’s wife. “But for the first time, he was happy to see us go.”
She worried about him, but her husband was on a mission, and “I needed to honor that.” When she saw the finished product, “I was very relieved to be so proud and impressed and awed with what he’s come up with.”
Life is changing for Craven. He might write a book. He’s shifted to part-time teaching after seven years to spend more time with his family.
The sequel’s introduction has gotten more than 500,000 views, most on break.com.
The backup videos, still fun but wonkier, have far lower totals. That’s disappointing, Craven says. “But I can look my kids in the face years from now and feel OK, that I did everything I could—even if the carbon has hit the fan.”
— Scott Learn
The article above originally appeared in The Oregonian. Excerpts here are reprinted with permission.
‘Live from Tacoma, Washington’
Hosted by Ryan Seacrest, this year’s Super Bowl pregame show on the Fox network was glitzier than ever, featuring red-carpet celebrity interviews, performances by artists like Willie Nelson and Alicia Keys, and bloviating by football announcers Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw, and Jimmy Johnson.
Then there was Paul Brogan, the alter ego of Eric Ankrim ’03. Brogan’s hip-hop-spoof video “Super Bowl Rap”—already an Internet sensation on MySpace—was played on Fox just prior to the big game, traditionally the most watched television broadcast of the year.
“Hey, everybody. It’s Paul Brogan, coming live from Tacoma, Washington, and it’s time for the super bowl of football games—the Super Bowl!” he shouts, before launching into an inspired, hilarious rhyme about New England Patriots and New York Giants players and coaches, as well as the Super Bowl halftime performer, Tom Petty.
“Super Bowl Rap,” which has been viewed more than 722,000 times on MySpace, is just one of a series of Brogan videos made by Ankrim and classmate Ben Shelton ’03 as the Web-era musical comedy team Ben and Eric (www.benanderic.com). Others include “NFL Playoff Rap,” “Shaq Rap,” and “Britney Spears Rap.”
Discovered on YouTube, the pair were hired to write, direct, and star in commercials for Fox Entertainment and create entertainment breaks in the action at Miami Heat NBA basketball games. They’ve also signed the Brogan character to a Web-series deal with MySpace.
Interviewed on a Sacramento, Calif., sports-talk radio station, the Brogan character credited Ben and Eric for his success. “They’re Internet guys,” he said of himself and Shelton. “They’ve been willing to distribute my stuff.”
Brogan/Ankrim also promised more videos. “I’m just kind of brewing ’em up.” — Andy Boynton
Let the people decide
While at Puget Sound, Ankrim and Shelton were theatre arts majors, and they co-founded the student film club now known as Praxis Imago, but there’s also a traditional side to their interests.
Shelton demonstrated it in October when YouTube partnered with Jason Reitman, the director of Thank You for Smoking and Juno, in a contest for budding filmmakers called Project:Direct. Reitman and a panel of experts screened hundreds of short films from all over the world and pared the entries down to a top 20. YouTube members then picked their favorites. The third-place vote-getter and winner of $2,500 was Shelton’s My Name Is Lisa.
My Name Is Lisa is about a 13-year-old girl dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. It is a fictional story (co-written with Ben’s brother, Josh) that grew out of Shelton’s senior thesis at UPS. When Lisa comes home from school each day, she doesn’t know what kind of home she will find. Will it be a good day or a bad day for her mother? In a video log, also posted on YouTube, Shelton explains how the movie was made:
“It took two weeks to finalize the script, even though it was only six and a half pages. I met with the actors before we shot and answered their questions. We shot the film in one day. We filmed with a 7-year-old Canon XL1-S and edited on Final Cut Express HD using a Macbook Pro. The music is all original, written and performed by Josh. [He’s in the Los Angeles band Vajra.] That took about a week. From concept to posting the video, the whole project took a little over a month. My goal has always been a feature filmmaker,” Shelton says. “But until that happens I will continue to make short films on SheltonFilms.com as well as BenandEric.com.”
As Arches went to press, My Name Is Lisa was voted YouTube’s Best Short Film of 2007. It has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.