5 Insane Realities When Your Video Goes Viral
No one can predict what videos will go viral, but "Too Many Cooks" seemed like an especially unlikely candidate. An 11-minute parody of '80s sitcom openings that originally aired on Adult Swim at 4 in the morning, it's currently sitting at more than 8.8 million views on YouTube. Everyone from your stoner friend to your mom told you that you had to watch it, and, if you did, you probably couldn't quite put the experience into words. We wanted to know how such a bizarre piece of entertainment gets made, so we talked to its writer and director, Casper Kelly.
The Video Got Made By Pure Luck
Adult Swim is a professional comedy studio. It's their job to make ridiculous, funny things. So, surely, "Too Many Cooks" was birthed out of a massive, deliberate brainstorming session. Not quite, as Casper explains:
"It was an idea I had for a couple of years, but I wasn't sure if I could make it work. I told my co-worker Jim Fortier about it. I wasn't going to pitch it because I thought I couldn't pull it off, but Jim was at a party with our boss, there was a lull in the conversation, and he just decided to tell our boss my idea. He liked it, so we decided we had to make it."
He especially liked the part where their "Who Hacked JR To Bits?" cliff-hanger gets resolved in about five seconds.
That's almost laughably random. If Fortier hadn't gone to that party, it might have never been made. And that's why you should always tell all your friends the idea you had during your midnight shower, no matter how strange it seems in the light of day. You never know, right?
Once it was approved, Casper and his team had to throw it together quickly:
"It took probably a couple of weeks to write it, not full-time. We only had a week or two to cast it because a short window opened up with this production company. There was a very short hiatus between all these other shows. We shot it in three days, with one half-day later."
They needed that extra half-day to film 200 more Wonder Spins.
Because Casper works for Adult Swim, and because Adult Swim has a reputation for catering to a demographic that enjoys a certain contentious recreational activity (we're referring to BASE jumping, obviously), everyone wanted to ask the same awkward question. Vulture asked Casper how high he was when he came up with the idea, Rolling Stone's very first question was about how much cough syrup he had taken, it came up during a Reddit AMA, and half the people who shared it with you probably made the exact same joke. But, Casper had some thoughts about how weed actually affects the creative process:
"I think everybody who does partake knows you can't get much writing done that way. It can be watched that way, but it's not written that way. We just do a bunch of drafts; we keep honing it and honing it. There's a quote from the Coen Brothers that I like -- not to compare myself to them. But, I'm a big fan of theirs, and it blows my mind that they don't outline. There are movies such as Miller's Crossing that are so intricate, I can't imagine how they would not outline. But, they said, 'If we don't know what happens next, there's a good possibility the audience won't know.' I thought that was pretty funny."
Which means the first few drafts of this scene might have been way, way sexier.
So, there you go: Writing and BASE-jumping just don't mix.
The Prep Work Is Exhaustive, Even For Silly Parody Videos
Despite the short window of opportunity, a lot of preparation went into "Cooks." Casper and company watched dozens of old sitcom intros for inspiration:
"We watched as many as we could think of, and then a few we had never heard of. We edited together a prototype of this with real sitcom intros -- different shots, to get a feel of how it might look. We watched maybe 50? Seventy-five? There were a bunch of rare ones."
Remember It's A Living? If so, congrats on being one of the stars of It's A Living!
If you thought the "Cooks" theme was addicting, just imagine having the themes from Family Ties, Growing Pains, Alice, and Herman's Head all competing for your attention. Then, there was casting, and, despite only having two weeks, they were very picky. A sitcom character's image is carefully cultivated -- they have to be generic but memorable, attractive but wholesome. And that's just when you're casting a half-dozen main characters, let alone dozens and dozens of parodies who had to fit very particular niches.
"The casting was awesome, but a big headache -- we ended up having to get several casting agents and an extras' casting agent, just to make sure we got what we needed. It took some time to find, like, the muscular fireman. There would be a couple rounds of 'these guys aren't that muscular!' and so forth. We're in Georgia, so there were people driving in from Alabama and Florida because they had the right look that we needed."
He was the only beefcake with the skill to make you really believe he was asking for that plate of nuggets.
You hear that, handsome muscular men? There are acting opportunities out there for you! But, it wasn't just the specific roles -- Casper worked with one casting agency to make sure the extras had the right smiles. As anyone who's ever freaked himself or herself out in the mirror can tell you, there's a fine line between a smile that says, "I'm a wholesome father of three loving children" and one that reads, "I secretly installed a webcam in your toilet." Casper just had to compare them at a professional level.
Your guess is as good as ours.
The Video Was Shot In Days, But Spent A Year In Post-Production
They shot "Too Many Cooks" in just three-and-a-half days, but post-production took more than a year -- not a solid year, because Casper had his regular work and hopefully took a nice vacation at some point, but there was more tinkering than your retired father does on his car:
"Because it didn't have an air date, we had the luxury of editing it for more than a year. And I could keep showing it to people and go, 'Is this funny?' and we changed a lot based on me watching people and reading their reactions. It's such a hard form of comedy -- it's not my normal style and was out of my comfort zone. We had the luxury of being able to take a break and watch it again, because you know when you spend too much time on something, you get blind to it."
Eventually, your reaction to this scene becomes less "eww, disgusting!" and more "hey, does the ribs place deliver this late?"
They used that time to cram a ridiculous number of jokes into the background. If you're a fan, then you've probably heard of most of them by now, because you can always count on the Internet to dissect popular things with the cold, clinical precision of an evil scientist. The sitcom references have been spelled out, the Easter Eggs have been listed, the killer has been spotted hiding in countless places, and, of course, we all know that inspiration was partially drawn from the 1960 French New Wave film A Bout De Cuisiniers.
A happy little
But, despite the Internet pouring over every inch of it like an ex's Facebook page, there's at least one hidden joke that Casper thinks hasn't been caught yet. "I think there are some words embedded in the killer's credits, if you freeze-frame it. I don't think anyone's caught that."
We're pretty sure this is the frame he's talking about. If you can spot the joke, you've got better eyes than we do.
That's already an impressive amount of commitment to a short that was only going to air at an hour generally reserved for stumbling home drunk from the club. But, there's even more. The music, for example: "The music was very hard, shifting those genres took a long time. A lot of that year was figuring out the music and making it feel like a sitcom theme."
On the other hand, getting all the white people to dance like white people took no time at all.
Casper wrote the lyrics, while musicians Shawn Coleman and Michael Kohler did the music. Both called it the hardest project they had ever worked on. Now, this is just a guess, but we suspect that had something to do with the fact that they listened to various iterations of the song an estimated one thousand times. It's in your head right now, just reading this, and you've only heard it a few times. It will surely follow them to their graves.
A Viral Video Changes Your Life
Casper's success didn't come out of nowhere -- he had written for Squidbillies, Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, and he had also written a book. But, going viral catapults you to a whole new level of attention, and that was a weird mix of exciting, flattering, and surreal:
"It was a crazy, adrenaline-filled experience. Hopefully this doesn't sound arrogant, but most people I admire as writers, directors, or actors have seen it, and that's a crazy feeling. And some of them have tweeted about it. And that's also a crazy feeling. Adult Swim is popular, but it's still kind of a cult thing. It was pretty thrilling and nerve-wracking."
Nobody should be this popular among serial killer fetishists, and yet here we are.
If you're used to working in relative obscurity, suddenly seeing your name everywhere and conducting dozens of interviews with tangentially related comedy sites can mess with your head. It's stressful, but fun.
"I'm not the healthiest guy, but I do a little bit of exercise. During that period, I did, like, triple the amount on the elliptical, because I just had so much adrenaline. I had to burn it off -- I'd see a tweet of, like, James Gunn liking it, and then my mind starts to go, 'Oh, maybe I'll get to direct Guardians Of The Galaxy 3!' Rihanna was a fan -- make sure you get that."
"I simply imagine every murder victim as Chris Brown and then drift off to my happy place."
Think about how you relax after work. Chances are you hit Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or some other media where you can take your mind off your life's problems by watching other people complain about theirs. But, how do take your mind off your work when your work is plastered across the Internet? Casper couldn't escape it for days.
"I'm just gonna sit back and watch US Open highli- oh."
Then, it started working its way into pop culture. There was a Game Of Thrones parody, an Orphan Black parody, and a Sesame Street parody. Bleacher Report did a parody based on the NBA Draft, and CNN did a parody featuring presidential candidates. If you're familiar with Adult Swim, you'll know that's like having your mom accidentally overhear you telling a filthy joke to your friends, then discovering that she's been telling it to all her friends at bridge club.
"I was impressed [by the CNN parody]. There was some real thought and time that went into that.
They nailed creepy smiling guy.
I downloaded them all. I have them archived. It's very flattering. It was weird, because I think we're used to Adult Swim getting written up in the AV Club, or Vice. That's kind of our insane family. Then, when it gets written up in the Wall Street Journal and Us Weekly, that's like all corners of American culture there. That was shocking."
When the alt-kids of Vice and the stuffed shirts at the Wall Street Journal both want to give you a high-five, you know you've made it.
You Still Have No Idea How Viral Videos Work
Casper had no clue his idea would be a hit. "I kind of beat myself up the whole time I was making it. 'You're an idiot, you should be making a pilot for a show, something that could advance your career, not this thing.' So, I was very surprised."
That being said, he may have inadvertently created the one thing that could save Terminator VI.
Viral videos are a total enigma. For every massive hit, there are a million terrible parodies of pop songs that never make it. But, when you do finally hit big, the pressure is on to make an even more successful follow-up:
"[Viral videos are] pretty much still mysterious and [impossible to tame]. I might have a 5 percent better idea, but it's still 90 percent luck. I do think I know a little bit better, but not much. I do feel pressure [to follow up on it], but I already enjoyed what I was doing beforehand. I just try not to think about it. There is some pressure, but there's nothing healthy that comes from it, so I just try to let it pass. It's sort of how it must feel when a band has a hit single and then they're doing their second album."
Not to mention the difficulty of resigning some of the higher profile cast members.
Here's hoping Casper's career is a little more Radiohead, and a little less Baha Men.
Casper Kelly is the co-creator of Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell. Season Two airs Sunday nights at 12:15 a.m. ET/PT on Adult Swim. You can check out a clip here, and then check his website. Mark has a website, too.
Still want to know more about getting creative? Check out 5 Surprising Things You Learn Designing Movie Monsters and learn how Hollywood will likely replace your handwork with CGI. Or learn what it's like transcribing elderly phone sex in 5 Insane Realities Of Captioning Deaf People's Conversations.
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