Thursday, July 31, 2008

Humanitainment’s Michael Fox: The Citizentube Interview

During the heated Democratic primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, one of the most popular political videos to surface was a cleverly-produced mini-movie entitled "Baracky." Made up of re-edited footage from Rocky deftly overlayed with images of Obama and Clinton, the video became a web-sensation . Humanitainment, the production team behind the video, soon followed up their first effort with an equally impressive second, The Empire Strikes Barack.

This week, Humanitainment released their latest video, "The Commander In Chief Test" (see below). It's a slight departure from their earlier mini-movies, but continues their style of blending entertainment with political awareness.

Michael Fox, founder of Humanitainment, recently took time to speak with Citizentube and answer some questions.

Citizentube: What motivated you to launch Humanitainment in the first place?

Michael Fox: I’ve always wanted to make a difference. It started by going to law school with the idea of becoming a human rights lawyer. However, sometime during orientation, it became clear that the law was not for me. I started writing screenplays, finished school and then worked for a few years as an entertainment attorney. Then, one night I met a homeless man which led to the creation of a creative non-profit to raise funds and awareness for the homeless called The New Life Project. We had a big concert with Kanye West, Common and some other great artists… but the whole non-profit process became frustrating, so I returned to my interest in filmmaking with the new mission of bridging the gap between cause and creativity. What you see in The Obamacles is an early example of where we want to take that concept.

CT: What's your mission statement, if you have one?

MF: Pop culture… with a purpose.

CT: How many people are on your team?

MF: The Obamacles were created by me and two great editors, Byron Valino and Craig Meyer.

CT: Where did the idea for your "mini-political movies" come from? Who came up with the style? How long (and how much) did each of them take to produce?

MF: The idea started when, for some reason, I couldn’t get this song out of my head called “You’re the Best” from The Karate Kid. I was singing it to everybody a couple of weeks before the Pennsylvania primary. Then, I thought about the climactic scene when Daniel LaRussa does the crane technique and kicks Johnny in the face to win the tournament. I thought it would be fun to put Barack’s and Hillary’s faces on the character. Then, I looked through all my DVDs and came across Rocky. Everything flowed from there…

CT: Your videos tend to lean in favor of Obama—can you explain why you endorse him?

MF: Of all the candidates who’ve been in the race, I believe his combination of ideals and motivational abilities is best suited to address the many challenges we face.

CT: Your first video on YouTube, "Baracky," was enormously successful, and then had to be taken down from the site. Can you go into the details as to why it had to be taken down?

MF: Rocky the movie is owned by MGM and they had it taken down from YouTube. I think it may have come down to a matter of differing political views. Given the non-commercial and educational purposes of the video, I would argue that our use of the footage qualifies for the “fair use” exception in the copyright law. In any case, the internet is still in a bit of the “Wild West” phase, so the traditional notions of copyright are constantly being challenged.

CT: How do you feel YouTube has changed or effected political engagement? Could a company like yours have even existed in a pre-YouTube world?

MF: YouTube has fundamentally changed politics. In my view, it’s largely for good… but also a bit of bad. On the positive side, it provides an amazing platform for the voice of the people to be heard and potentially spread important messages throughout the country. Like Barack says, one voice can change the world. On the negative side, it also provides a forum for misinformation and fear mongering… and also amplifies the current culture of “gotcha” politics by increasing the spotlight on, and nitpicking of, every single statement a politician makes. We certainly could never have spread our current election messages in a pre-YouTube world.

CT: Where would you like Humanitainment to be five years from now?

MF: We’ll be producing what we hope will be an innovative brand of entertainment for film and TV… in addition to some activist-oriented entertainment for the web.

CT: Do you have any favorite YouTube channels?

MF: I’m a visitor of the candidates' campaign channels… and there’s this guy who basically treats the world as his personal jungle gym. He’s pretty amazing to watch.

CT: If you could send a message to aspiring political videomakers, what would you say to them?

MF: Have a point and stick to the truth… or at least the “truth” as you see it!


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