Pearls before swine: my first interview as internets celebrity

We recently received an interview request from a Canadian college student who had seen “Cereal is Dope” and was working on an article for her school paper about web video. The questions came and I did my best to oblige but it’s kind of odd receiving questions that really aren’t specific to you as interview subject. Only three of the nine questions really asked us to draw on our own experience.

The rest were more pertaining to general knowledge of the internet and web video. Fortunately for this student, I’m a well informed person who loves the sound of his own voice schooling others.

This experience wasn’t all that different from the interview I did for Juice magazine last month representing OhWord.

By the way, feel free to send any interview requests to internetscelebrities at gmail. Here’s the one I did for the college paper:

When and why did short film making explode on to the internet scene

Wow, tough question. I’m an old-time nerd so I remember surfing the web back on the first Mosaic pre-netscape and there were no pictures in web pages. That was a feature that came in the next version! But everybody’s impulse off the bat has always been to make things more geared towards multimedia. How can we add sound, how can we add video. Only the technology wasn’t really up to it, the software had to develop and that took time. And more people got online and internet connections got faster and that took time.

In the late 90s if you had a broadband connection it probably meant you were on a college campus so really that was a good chunk of who was represented on the internet at the time. And I remember it was in that era literally ten years ago that I first personally came across short films that were “exploding” because of the internet. The two videos that come to mind are the short star wars spoof “Troops” which was a huge hit online and – even before that – the Satan vs Jesus short by the South Park guys. Nobody had ever heard of South Park before and then all of the sudden because of the internet you have all of these people knowing who they are which basically made their career. I remember it playing everywhere on campus… in the dorms, in the computer labs.

So those are a few early examples of web videos that went viral but things don’t really really explode for web video until you fast forward to a few years ago. Because people want rich media and fast downloads and because the technology becomes available and cheaper, everyone starts getting broadband. And then youtube comes along which gives people a way to share videos and embed them on their myspace pages or anywhere else. And a massive community grows which of course means anyone posting there has a potentially huge audience.

Before youtube you mostly had people who considered themselves unique for being filmmakers being the majority of people posting their videos online. The reason they were doing it? They could distribute their video cheaply that way. But still it was a small niche of web video evangelists or else well-funded media sources posting the stuff because there were so many hassles associated with web video. You had to find a host for it. Bandwidth costs a lot of money. You needed special software to stream it. Your audience needed special software to play it and it’s not getting a mass audience because your user has to wait for this experience. A lot of hiccups.

But after youtube, it becomes so easy to post videos, and the reach, convenience and fun of it becomes so clear, that basically what it means to be someone who creates videos instantly changes. Instead of filmmakers being this separate class of person with a huge barrier to entry. Now there’s basically no barrier to entry. A webcam can be bought for like $20 and you have the example of tons of people already doing it to encourage you. And even people who don’t make movies get involved. By posting other people’s content to youtube or by embedding videos that you like on your blog, the individual becomes a broadcaster.

what draws film makers in, why is the internet a good place for their work?

For the same reason the internet is a good place for any musician, writer, business person, human being… There’s no barrier of entry on participation. It’s cheap to distribute your message so you’re replacing so many obstacles and middlemen to be able to spread your ideas.

are interent films taken seriously?

It all depends who you talk to and which films you’re talking about. I think they’re taken pretty seriously. We were lucky enough to attend the Sundance film festival last year and they were offering courses there on how to use the internet to get your films seen, so that shows me that it’s something taken seriously by filmmakers.

You know the internet is in some ways just a reflection of the world so many internet films shouldn’t really be taken seriously. Most of it is made for fun and without much thought and it’s treated accordingly. That’s true of a lot of non-internet films too though, right?

what are your fav internet films ?

Hm, I don’t know. That’s a really tough call… I was pretty into ze frank’s video blog for a little bit. I like bike messengers are on crack. That’s a thrilling one. I’m terrible at “what’s your favorite” questions. I watch a lot of web video but years later I don’t know that any of them stand out to me as above all the rest. If I can be conceited and name one of our own, I pick Bodega.

Actually, I just heard a bit of a Steely Dan song on the Jimmy Kimmel show and it reminded me of Yacht Rock. That is probably my favorite internet film series of all time.

do you think this will get bigger in the future ?

It’s already gi-normous and yes it will get bigger. The internet is replacing television as we speak.

How many have you guys made? how and why did you start? what made you want to distribute over the internet rather than things like film festivals ?

Our director Cas comes from a background in film – he’s made tons and tons of short films. The 3 of us together, not so much. We’ve completed 6 official projects (with 2 more currently being edited) but then we’ll also post out-takes sometimes and 2 of our projects were in a series format. Like, we did a 7 episode series from Sundance, we did 4 covering different aspects of one concert. If you count each of those as separate videos plus the outtakes we have 22 videos up on youtube. But really it’s 8.

Dallas and I both run popular blogs ( and Last year he had blogged about a way to get big mac for less by doing some creative ordering at McDonalds. I thought that was a great topic and blogged about it too, joking at one point that we should make a video about it. My friend Cas said that was an idea he’d be down to shoot, and shortly after we both met Dallas for the first time while on our way to McDonald’s. That became Ghetto Big Mac which if you add up various places it’s hosted at has nearly a million views. That was like a first swing home run so we knew we’d have to do more of this.

Honestly, I’d also been wanting to try web video for a few months by the time that came about because I think many people connect with video in a way that they can’t with writing. We live in a post-literate age. Maybe that’s a nice way of saying illiterate, but who am I to judge. It’s not like I read hoity-toity stuff. I read internet writing!

As for why distributing over the internet… the audience we’re already talking to through our blogs is via the internet. It’s clear how to post video on the internet, and it’s instant. And from what we saw with Ghetto Big Mac, it’s possible to reach hundreds of thousands of people just like that with the right idea and execution. But for the record, we have sent videos to film festivals and Bodega has played at a few film festivals as well as airing on TV. Those have been very rewarding experiences in their own right.

did it start out as fun and become for serious?

I think the 3 of us have a perspective in life of taking fun things seriously and trying to make serious things fun. So from the start yes it was a lot of fun but we’ve also worked hard to make good videos from day 1. It’s become more fun in a way because we’re more comfortable doing it now. It was a little awkward creating our first one. And it’s also become more serious because we’re seeing how this could feasibly become the basis of long term paying work which I don’t think any of us would have considered on that first day.

who are some of your influences?

wow. i’ll say woody allen, ice cube, seth godin.

Internets Celebrities will be hosting Stand Up! – an NYC showcase for underground MC’s

We’re super-excited to announce that we’ll be hosting a hip-hop concert called Stand Up! at Pianos in NYC on Thursday December 6:

DOWNLOAD Donny Goines – Am I Dreaming (MP3)
DOWNLOAD Cause – Ayo Technology (Remix) (MP3)
DOWNLOAD NYOIL – Free The Jena 6 (MP3)
STREAM Hired Gun – The Village (MySpace)

SitDownStandUp has banded together with OhWord to curate a great night of Hip Hop on December 6th called Stand Up!. It will be hosted by Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn, together known as the Internets Celebrities. It’s all presented by Liberated Matter and features four of our favorite underground artists that we think deserve some extra attention. Each artist will perform a solo set followed in the end by a big posse cut with all four artists PLUS our special secret guest. The special guest will then close out the night with a set. Get your tickets here now! All info below.

Liberated Matter Presents
Stand Up!
Curated by &
Hosted by Internets Celebrities
featuring Hired Gun, Donny Goines, NYOIL, Cause & one special surprise performer
Where: Pianos, 158 Ludlow St. NYC (directions)
When: Thursday December 6th, 9-11PM
Buy tix here

Flyer created by agent b

Bodega on CNN Headline News show “News to Me”

Welcome to those who have come from seeing our url or video on CNN Headline News this weekend. You can check the full version of Bodega here:


You may also went to check the rest of our junk food trilogy: Ghetto Big Mac and Cereal is Dope.

If you already know Bodega but want the rush of seeing it (a shortened version) on TV then tune into CNN’s Headline News network for their “News To Me” show which runs today at 12:30pm and 5:30pm eastern. A shortened version of Bodega closes out the show. Thanks to CNN who were kind enough to clear the usage of our video!

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?”
“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 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.


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.

Cereal is Dope (video)

Cereal is dope in every sense of the word.

The new Internets Celebrities video about cereal is also dope!

With music by Greg Glassman.


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.

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