If sharing Scenario is wrong, I don’t want to be copyright

“What TV show are you with?”
“It’s bigger than TV. You heard of the World Wide Web?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s us.”

- Conversation between filmmaker and Dallas Penn at Sundance 2007

The Re-Up Gang

On Monday we posted a performance of Scenario from this years VH1 Hip Hop Honors which we had attended as press last week. We had just made it down to the show’s floor in time for the Tribe tribute and capturing that moment of Busta’s Scenario verse was a definite highlight of the evening. Many who saw the VH1 show that evening must have considered it a highlight too because 24 hours after we posted the clip to YouTube it had over 8,000 views and was considered a top 15 most viewed video for the day in the music category. Our director profile benefited as well, cracking the day’s top 80 for most viewed on YouTube overall.

So we felt like our plan to release this cool-ass video (get the re-up as a quick-time file here) to get people hyped for our upcoming VH1 Honors video had gone even better than planned. Then all of the sudden it was yanked, the email from YouTube saying that Viacom had requested the clip be pulled. The whole thing puts a confusing cap on Viacom’s mixed signals to the Internets Celebrities.

Are we the purveyors of cool that they want as one of their flagship sites for their new decentralized social network product Flux? Or are we the XXL blogger that is not allowed to criticize their MTV greatest hip hop groups list? Are we the video crew that is told we are allowed to shoot the VH1 Honors show or the one who gets delegated to the press room and gets their video pulled off of YouTube?

Trying to comprehend CUNY-form

Web video (and YouTube in particular) gets a bad rap from the old guard of the film and tv industry. They criticize YouTube as being nothing but clips of people’s cats and pirated material – but this critique should go both ways. Even we have been affected by TV’s free-wheeling ways with internet clips that they do not own.

NPR host Brian Lehrer runs a TV show on CUNY (City University of New York) TV here in NYC. They recently featured Bodega and spent about ten minutes discussing the issues addressed in our video. You can find this 10/3 episode online in the show’s archives. We weren’t contacted for permission (we certainly would have granted it), or contacted about being one of the guests talking about the problems Bodega addresses (we certainly would have attended). Our reaction upon hearing about the show by a fluke (do you know anyone who watches CUNY TV?) is one Viacom could learn from. The reaction was somewhere between bemusement, flattery and irritation. We were glad to see our video get promoted but curious as to why Lehrer wouldn’t bother to notify us that our video was being broadcast on TV. We have a decent sized NYC following that we could have suggested tune in to the show.

What we wouldn’t do in such a situation though is take legal action. We recognize that in the grand scheme of things we are not harmed in any way by CUNY TV using our video without permission. You may be saying, what does a public television network like CUNY TV have to do with Viacom but the point is that this double standard is pervasive and should be addressed. The web as a medium has that stigma – a den of thieves where people with nothing to offer of their own (amateurs!) re-post the sacred intellectual property of the true creatives in Hollywood / the music biz / the software industry. Yet web properties are seemingly fair game to TV. Was that website you see on some TV show cleared? Was that web video clip?

And so this hypocrisy does come right back to Viacom, who from their high horse have been suing YouTube and demanding Viacom clips be pulled from the video host community, one of many parties in the TV business who assert that YouTube’s success is built on their hard work and intellectual property.

But are they any better? A bit over two years ago Internets Celebrity director Casimir Nozkowski co-created the web site Crying While Eating as part of a viral media contest. The site went very viral when BoingBoing covered it and days later it appeared as part of a segment on the VH1 show Best Week Ever without any permission given from the creators of Crying While Eating. If that segment was on YouTube today, Viacom would no doubt pull it down for a copyright violation but who is truly in violation?

Some of you may be aware that this exact chain of events did happen this year with a different web video for another VH1 show. WebJunk profiled a video by Christopher Knight, Knight was happy for the attention and posted a clip of the show on YouTube. Viacom went after him for violating their copyright, though they had done the same to him by airing his clip in the first place. You can read more about this on Knight’s blog.

So this is the company suing YouTube for copyright violations. The same company that regularly uses background music on MTV without clearance of any kind, and are able to enjoy that kind of privilege because of their position in the music business.

Viacom Dios

But lets look past the hypocrisy of Viacom’s copyright lawsuit. Companies act out of self-interest so there is no sense holding them up to moral scrutiny. The fact is Viacom are foolish for pulling our video – it goes directly against their own interest to pull the Scenario tribute video we had posted.

Here are things Viacom would be better off doing instead of pulling our video:

  1. Enjoying the Promotion!
  2. I posted the video in a few places and around 10% of the comments were people like Jay B at Oh Word who said “I’m more enthusiastic about seeing the show now.” At Philaflava, some replies to the video included “shit gave me chills” and “EASTERN TIME WHEN DOES THIS START?”

  3. Letting their customers go deeper with their content.
  4. At least half the comments on YouTube were clearly from people who had seen the show on TV and then wanted to re-experience or comment on that performance. There’s nowhere online, not even on VH1.com where you provide that experience. Instead of removing the video as it blows up the YouTube charts, how about learning from its success and offering up your content online in small chunks? It’s not like we were stealing people away from Viacom’s online offering of the performance, if anything we were enriching their experience by giving them a way to share and communicate about it. Instead of thrilling its audience or building a better relationship with them, Viacom is wasting serious resources trying to teach their customers a lesson.

  5. Building with us
  6. Good work giving us press passes, we have a video coming out soon of the Internets Celebrities backstage at your show that IMHO is fresher than the show you aired Monday! You should be happy about this, instead of making us worry if we can post it on YouTube.

  7. Embracing the mash-up culture
  8. Can a company successfully front like it represents hip-hop and web culture while suing over intellectual property? Is having an audience that wants to spread your material something to fight? Wasn’t it better once upon a time when people thought you guys were cool?

  9. Realizing it’s not even the same clip we’re showing
  10. We’re just some jerks in the audience with one camera. Viacom has union guys that have cameras on cranes and shit, and top-notch audio equipment. Surely you trust your rendering of the same performance over ours, right? Plus YouTube compression can’t hold a candle to television quality. Although by removing it from YouTube you motivate us to spread the high quality QuickTime file….

Scenario by Pharrell, Lupe, Common and Busta Rhymes from the 2007 VH1 Hip Hop Honors A Tribe Called Quest tribute (QuickTime .mov file).

A Tribe Called Quest Tribute from the VH1 Honors

Common, Lupe, Pharrell and an unannounced Busta Bus drop “Scenario” as part of the Tribe Called Quest Tribute from this year’s VH1 Hip-Hop Honors.

Don’t compromise and settle for cell-phone video – you deserve much more. We smuggle video cameras where no cameras are supposed to be – just for you. The Internets wins again!

Internets Celebrities on the Red Carpet at the 2007 VH1 Hip-Hop Honors

Stay tuned for the next Internets Celebrities video, covering the 2007 VH1 Hip Hop Honors. Coming soon.

Chea!

How to pitch a movie about cereal

Cereal Is Dope was definitely a fun movie to make on my end. Casimir (and Terrence) typically do all the hard work like culling together clips from the hours of footage that we shoot. For Rafi and me the hardest part of the project is pitching the idea to Cas. We have to find a way to endear him or excite him on the subject before he will even consider shooting the movie. For Cas the editing process begins before the tape has even started rolling. The real question is… Why would anyone even want to watch this shit?

The following clips were my pitch to the i.C. in the attempt to have our cereal movie produced. Now if you had seen these first would you have wanted to go ahead and shoot the movie?


Cereal is Dope Outtakes and the secret to creating anything

They say good writing is all about ruthless editing. You could argue that the same is true of any creative art. There’s always the impulse to include everything and the kitchen sink. By nature we are creatures of ego, possessive of every fragment of thought, every image we put out there. But it is the ability to pare down — to take out the distractions and the self-indulgences in order to focus on the heart of the story — that separates the amateur from the artist.

I used to write a lot of poetry back in college. The best editor I ever had was a fellow student who made me re-write one poem at least a half-dozen times, always with the mantra “if you don’t need it – get rid of it”.

Eventually the real poem emerged from the original masturbatory pages I had submitted. The work had transformed and what remained was just the essence: the unfocused language had become crisp, the lines consistently short, the unnecessary ideas removed.

Ironically, this editor had great difficulty following his own advice. Instead of keeping his own poetry tight, he was forever filling notebooks with epic verse about factory workers – their drug habits and trashy women, their fucked up relationships with their fathers and so on. It was colorful stuff for sure but it was impossible not to lose the plot.

Discerning what works from what doesn’t in the context of your own project is a tricky task. It’s one thing to say “if you don’t need it, get rid of it” and quite another to realize what it means for your finished project to need or not need something, let alone having the balls to cut up your work.

Editing video
As with poetry, video moves according to a rhythm and has to be economical to be effective. There is no way to skim a video so if one begins to amble, most people would simply turn it off… If your video becomes monotonous or unfocused — it is doomed.

The video editing workflow pretty much goes like this:

  1. Can this video be cut shorter?
    • If yes, shorten.
    • If not (really?), you’re done!
  2. Is shortened cut worse than previous cut?
    • If not, go back to Question 1.
    • If yes (unlikely), go back to previous cut.

      An example of this would be the 4-minute cut of Bodega that ran on The Daily Reel originally. The pacing may have been nicer for short attention spans but too much was lost which would have been enjoyed by those who had committed their attention. Our preferred 6 and a half minute cut may have broken a rule of viral media by being over five minutes but this version of the video has been a slow-burner for us, with a cult following that has grown and now perhaps tipped with accolades at film festivals and an appearance last week on Digg’s homepage.

There’s a certain zen aspect to it all… Your video should be as short as it can be – but not a second shorter!

Editing may be the most important step in a video’s creation. And I am just beginning to understand that I need to approach video the same way I learned to approach writing years back.

Which baby to kill and which to save!
That’s why when Cas sent us the clip reels for Cereal is Dope — nearly 40 minutes of us improvising about breakfast cereal — I wondered how he’d get this thing down to 5 minutes when about half of it seemed really funny to me. It took Cas a while to find his path but he really didn’t have much of a choice after all. He needed everything he could get with us setting up why we love cereal, to provide the video with structure so it wasn’t a bunch of floating jokes.

One fan told me he could have watched 30 minutes of us talking smack about cereal. As someone who did watch that much and enjoyed it, I get what he’s saying… But the fact is it wouldn’t have been nearly as good an end-result. A great video is more than a string of disconnected jokes – a great video tells a story.

After we posted Cereal is Dope, I was looking through the original clip reels to pick the best of the outtakes. Like my college editor, unable to cut down his own work even though he knew better, I wanted to run it all! Any little segment that gave me a chuckle was worth running .. Before I knew it, I had cut up nearly 20 clips.

The thing is most of them were just so-so. For most of them there was a good reason they were nowhere near the final cut of Cereal is Dope. Cas and then Dallas talked some sense into me. It doesn’t matter if a few fans think they want to see all your footage… You have to know better.

Not everything has to be perfect but if a good chunk of what you’re broadcasting to the world sucks then “you’re doing bad shit” like Kellogg’s.

So with that in mind we dare instead to pick just the best of the unused clips. We end up with six in total for your enjoyment. Only a half-dozen that want to be calling you “cousin”.

Re-watch the original “Cereal is Dope”, in case ya forgot.

iNTERNETS CELEBS Keep It CeReal

What is good party people? Aww ish, we are about to drop another heat rock on the asses of the masses. This next film is called ‘Cereal Is Dope’, and it takes you into a supermercado with Rafi and I as we shop in our favorite aisle.

As you might imagine we fuel our madness with sugar and with beer, and sometimes sugar coated beer. Fuck the breakfast of champions, cereal is the dinner for losers, and the ground troops on the interwebs. You don’t want to have to put a delay in your downloading of illegal music or illicit pr0n videos while you wait the two or three minutes for something to heat up in a microwave. Who has that kind of time, plus who knows how to cook anyhoo? I sure don’t.

One of the first things that Rafi and I learned about cereal was the abundance of racist caricatures contained on cereal boxes. From Black smack junkies to Latino horse dealers and Colombian cocaine addicts, we had uncovered a veritable buffet of racist imagery. The next time I look at a box with Snap, Cracker and Pop on the front I will feel the sting of the master’s whip upon my back. I always knew that racism could hurt, but who knew that supremacy tasted this good?

Another thing that jumped out at us were the abundance of products that were now flavored with honey. Typically honey is used as a sugar subsititute, but in the alternate reality of breakfast cereals honey is just the vehicle to give you more sugar. It’s like turbo charging your breakfast, or sprinkling your weed with coke. What about pouring honey birch beer on your Honey Nut Cheerios? The iNTERNETS CELEBRITIES are the future like that.

So sit tight and get ready to enjoy a big salad bowl of cereal with the iNTERNETS CELEBRITIES

The shrinking of Rafi

I’ve been dieting for the past four weeks and have lost seventeen pounds in that time – going from 265 to 248 pounds. I’m hoping to break the Mendoza line by my 31st birthday in February. I haven’t been sub-200 since college. I did get down to 205 when I decided it was time to get healthy after my son was born in 2002 but in the five years since I had put it all back on plus some.

I’m really psyched about the weight loss and lifestyle changes that I think will keep the weight off but I hope this doesn’t ruin my credibility for our junk food videos.

We have two new videos coming out very soon (one on a great food topic) but both were shot before this transformation began. So don’t expect to see it this month. But an October project or two will reveal a slightly smaller Rafi.

On a related note, do you think Dallas and I should start video blogging in between our official video projects? I think we should launch an Internets Celebrity Fit Club and show those VH1 fools what’s up.

Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival: The Lost Tapes

When the Internets Celebrities cover an event, that event GETS covered. In the fourth video culled from our one-day shoot at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, the Internets Celebrities put everyone from the weed carriers to the label owners on tape.

Bless the mic with the god: The Rakim Mash-Up

Damn you Rock The Bells press pass! You fucked up! You got the Internets Celebrites close enough to shoot a visually dope video of Rakim performing My Melody at Rock the Bells 2007 but ensured our audio would be absolutely unusable. The bass literally eats our camera mic, leaving in its wake a horrifyingly distorted audio track and us with half of something great.

So this is the Internets Celebrities solution: Take the great Kid Capri intro, the great streaky video of Rakim on stage and mash it together with the original audio from My Melody off Paid in Full. This sync will not fool you but the moments when it matches up are very satisfying.

Note the guy at the one minute mark who says “Fuck You” when we turn and film the crowd. He is now an Internets Celebrity.

Internets Celebrities ROCKed THE BELLS

Stop being racist, internets.

White hip-hop fans may be funny looking but they support Wu-Tang, share their weed and provide great entertainment in the form of mud-wrestling. And black guys do like Rage Against the Machine.

On June 29, 2007 the Internets Celebrities visited the amazing Rock the Bells festival on Randall’s Island in New York.

Dallas and Rafi mix it up with the crowd, check the scene by the port-a-potties and catch a performance from the god mc Rakim.

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