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Interview with Vlad & Boris - Part 2
On October 14, a YouTube video appeared on a new account entitled "vlad and friend boris presents 'Song for Sarah' for mrs. Palin" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR9V_aOCga0). It bore no identifying markers of its creation beyond the names Vlad and Boris. A music video attesting a Russian crush on Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, it slowly began spreading via email, Facebook, and blog links. Within a week, it had surpassed 100,000 views, and appeared on television newscasts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Soon top political blogs like Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan, and Talking Points Memo were linking to it; as of Election Day, it received over 430k views, over 600 YouTube comments, and maintains a perfect 5 star rating.
I was fortunate to be an early adopter of Vlad and Boris, having received the link from one of my former students. I've been tracking the video's spreadability, and have been impressed both by the quality of the piece (it's really re-watchable, which accounts for a good number of those views) and the dissemination with little effort by the producers. Certainly much of this success is due to how central YouTube has been to the 2008 election, as it's hard to imagine a video on any other topic making as big a splash so quickly. But I think much of its success is also tied to the underlying mystery surrounding the piece - is it really produced by a couple of Russians? Was it "professionally done"? (I've seen sites that suggest it was a stealth SNL piece.) What would it mean to the election if a VP candidate were the subject of sincere affection and/or mockery by Russian videomakers?
The truth is a bit more mundane, but still quite impressive. The creators of the video are four recent graduates of Middlebury College (three majoring in my department of Film and Media Culture) living in New York City. They told me about the video upon its release, and I've enjoyed monitoring its success. And I realized that the world of online video tends to be fairly anonymous, especially as videos are spreading. So I figured I would take advantage of the happenstance of my connection with Vlad and Boris to interview the creators and explore how they see their own practices and culture circulation.
Interview - Part Two
JM: What were your expectations for the video's dissemination? And what constitutes success in getting it seen?
LK: It was incredibly fun to make. Ideally, for me, it's a launching pad for other projects, a chance to leave a sort of minor mark on this crazy, insane election season that we were all very passionate about in general, and a very immediate piece of work to potentially show "important" people of something funny and popular that we did all by ourselves in an apartment one Saturday afternoon. I'd hope that at the very least it will convince us to make more videos together.
AvAA: Since the making of the video basically happened within a matter of hours (Lucas wrote the song in a night, we filmed during a day and Perry edited during a night), I had not really thought about where it would go... When we started seeing comments on the Youtube thread referring to the video being aired on national television in England, New Zealand, Australia and MSNBC in the States, I frankly laughed out loud. ..I also love the discussion it has spurred around the origins of the boys. To me, the spectacularly funny comment threads in conjunction with the video all over the web are the true markers of success. And if Joe and Lucas make it onto SNL thanks to this, that would be swell too.
PB: I'm just very excited…It feels like a new kind of short form movie making, and the rules haven't been written yet.
JM: How engaged have you been with the comment threads about the video? Have you tried to engage in conversation as Vlad or Boris, or as the creators of the fiction?
AvAA: We've pretty much stayed out of the comment threads, but we've all read them with pleasure… they're by far the most enjoyable part of this process.
PB: The comments were fun... almost addicting. I read an article about email addiction, and it talked about how it plays into our hunter-gather nature, forever checking the trap to see if they're new stuff. It still seems totally unreal to me, all the comments coming from out of nowhere.
JM: Beyond the 400k+ views on YouTube, how else has the video spread? Have you been contacted by others for interviews, job offers, etc.? And whom do they think they're contacting?
JB: I know some talent agencies have reached out to Lucas. There hasn't been too much confusion by talent or media types. I think they know professional editing and camera work (hats off to Perry) when they see it.
AvAA: Like I mentioned before, the video has apparently been shown on television in several countries, including the United States. But this is nothing we officially know- only what we have gathered from the comment threads online. The video has also been featured on hundreds of blogs as well as more established media platforms, such as The Washington Post, the Guardian, the Daily Kos, Barely Political...One fantastic moment was when we were contacted (through Youtube) by Russia Today, the English language Russian news channel stationed in Moscow. They actually wrote us in Russian! We had to have it translated to read it. They wanted to know why Vlad and Boris, two pining countrymen, had taken an interest in American politics. JM: Perry - as someone studying to move into the more official & legitimate media world of filmmaking, how is this video regarded? At a place like NYU, is having a successfully-spread online video seen as an asset or a liability? Do your peers & professors know?
JM: Perry - as someone studying to move into the more official & legitimate media world of filmmaking, how is this video regarded? At a place like NYU, is having a successfully-spread online video seen as an asset or a liability? Do your peers & professors know?
PB:My sense is that the film industry is pretty set in its ways, and I think most of my professors, who haven't seen it, would regard it a fun trifle, potentially useful in landing subsequent work…My films school peers thought it was funny and praised some of the lighting and the editing work. I think there is a generally feeling of distaste in the film industry for viral videos, mixed, on occasion, with awe and confusion. I have no idea how helpful making viral videos is or will be for one's career, but its a fun experience, and I think my professors and everyone realizes that in this black hole of an industry, it can't hurt!
JM: What's next for each of you, and/or Vlad & Boris? Do you see this as a useful experience for your futures in the media world?
LK: Honestly, I'd love to get more work out of this. It was certainly tough for me -- as a marginal actor/writer type guy who has heard millions of lectures on "self-marketing" and "you are your own brand!" and all that jazz -- to not put my name on the project at all. I do think the few other websites and comedy blog type people that have seen it do know who we are, and I think it'll definitely be useful as a stepping stone for other things.
JB: Lucas and I have been talking about making movies for a while, but this is the first one that really got us motivated. It's been very inspirational as many of the youtube posters have asked for more materials, which has been really inspiring. Vlad & Boris now have a myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/vladandboris) with another song and a remix. I think this can lead to good things in a future in the media and comedy worlds. When you create something that almost half-a-million people see, I think it gives you some kind of media credentials. I like how this process has really started to get all of us thinking about viral videos and how to create them.
PB: After working so hard within the film school confines of "Old Media," in this case, film, large crews, and long form movie making, I think it is wonderful to be able to branch out and work on stuff that feels more daring. As for a useful experience, I have no idea!
AvAA: I agree with Perry that there is something thrilling about breaking into a new frontier of film making. What role will the viral video play in the future, and what will its relationship be to more traditional film forums? Is the internet always a starting point, a place to be "discovered," or can it also be a successful end point? Let's see where it takes us. I'm game for this ride.
Jason Mittell is a consulting researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and an Assistant Professor of American Civilization and Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College. His book – Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture (Routledge, 2004) – offers a new approach to exploring television genres as cultural categories as utilized by television industries and audiences. He is currently writing a new book on contemporary developments in American television narratives and how they intersect with shifts in the television industry, media technology, and audience practices.
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