By Joe DeMartino
It wasn’t terribly easy to get something to go viral back before YouTube, Facebook, and other meme distributors. Most viral videos came in the form of full websites (think the Hamster Dance) or e-mailed .mov files (think the dancing baby) -- odd little accidents that look a bit embarrassing today, like a pair of bell-bottom jeans. One early viral sensation that has held up, however, is the series of GI Joe public service announcement parodies produced by Fenslerfilms. The parodies were an absurdist take on the original PSAs -- exhortations to stay safe and never talk to strangers were warped into a world where heavily armed and armored super-commandos harassed and confronted kids who were playing on construction sites or riding without a helmet. Series creator Eric Fensler talks about the creation process, the legal trouble with Hasbro he narrowly avoided, and what he and Fenslerfilms are up to these days.
NAmag: How did the original idea for the PSAs come about?
The idea to make the PSAs came from just revisiting the footage from my childhood via a DVD I found at Virgin Megastore in Chicago, IL on Michigan Ave. I went there on my lunch break a lot just to listen to music or just check out the sale cart bin of DVD's, CD's, records, and lotions. I found the GI Joe movie on DVD for 5 bucks and it had 25 of the PSAs as an extra supplement. I ripped the footage off and put it on my computer and started just messing around with it. Nothing much more to it.
NAmag: How did you go about making them?
I used Avid, Final Cut Pro, and Pro Tools. Standard programs in the post-production process.
NAmag: How did you find out that the PSAs were receiving wide distribution? This was pre-YouTube, so you couldn't just, say, suddenly notice that their view count had skyrocketed.
My gallery in Chicago, Heaven Gallery, had been hosting them on their site in 2003 and we originally got shut down because the PSAs had exceeded the bandwidth for that month. Something like over trillions and trillions and googillions of hits in 2003. No one could pay the bill.
Uncle Joe figured it out -- he does all my website stuff. So each month, Uncle Joe would put new PSAs up until we exceeded the hits, I guess, and it would shut down. I really don't know for certain. My apologies for not knowing the facts, to be honest I don't concern myself with these types of details. I did get a lot of emails from people saying how much they liked them, that was a good barometer I guess. Should I think about this stuff?