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Interview with Valerie Veatch and Chris Moukarbel

Chris in blonde wig with phone

HBO

How did you discover Chris Crocker, and where did the idea for making a film about him come from?

Chris Moukarbel

We started out making a broader, essay-style documentary about reality performance and the ways that technology is sort of mediating and changing our relationships and the way we see ourselves. We didnt set out to make a film out of Chris, but when we met him his story was a way for us to explore a lot of the ideas we were interested in.

Valerie Veatch

Chris' experiences are emblematic of a lot of the shifts that are happening in the media landscape. Not only with his overlap into a celebrity-crazed media culture. But also the way he ingeniously uses social media. He's like a social media prodigy. That was the path to getting involved with him.

HBO

Chris is a uniquely online phenomenon. What did you learn about the nature of celebrity through working with him?

Chris Moukarbel

Chris represents a new type of celebrity, what might be called a "microcelebrity." In a certain way hes a self-published sort of celebrity. He wasnt waiting for the entertainment industry to find him. Technology allowed him to create an audience based solely on the force of his personality.

Valerie Veatch

Chris really represents the new democratized media landscape. And I think his ability to publish his own content under his own parameters and in his own voice separates him from other kinds of celebrities that exist within old media structures. He took his little camera and uploaded his video, and from that small gesture had a huge impact.

HBO

How quickly did Chris launch' himself online?

Valerie Veatch

When Chris was in junior high he got bullied out of school for being too overtly gay. He was stuck at home with no other creative or social outlets, so he turned to the internet. And by his own account he was raised on online. He initially started out on Myspace in 2004, uploading random videos which caught on with kids passing them around. And so even before the Leave Britney Alone video he was getting millions of hits on his skits and funny diatribes through Myspace.

And then when YouTube came on the scene in 2005, Chris switched platforms and started posting on YouTube. And it was through YouTube's video sharing interface that Chris really found his mainstream fame. And then, of course, there was his massive viral video, Leave Britney Alone, that got forty three million views and counting. His core fan base has stayed with him since Myspace. And now with even more immediate technologies like Twitter, Chris uses those to keep in touch with his fans. And they love it.

The film examines ... the media landscape and the climate we've created with video, image and text sharing technologies. And on the other it's a celebration of Chris' character and his role in internet culture.

HBO

He's also attracted some haters' too?

Valerie Veatch

That's the nature and magic of Chris. Because he's so unfiltered, he's been a galvanizing presence online while at the same time becoming a generational pioneer for the queer community. In some ways he's the first gay person online to express an aggressive, confident persona that I think so many young kids look to and model themselves after. On one level he's extremely entertaining and has a great aesthetic. And on another level he's a very brave person. And I think his bravery and his honesty are what people are drawn to.

Chris Moukarbel

Chris is a free-thinking person, and hes never kowtowed to what other people or society expects from him. Its just sort of his nature. And because wasnt able to have a normal peer group the way a lot of kids his age were, hes kind of a hyper-social person by nature, so his sort of disappearing into the internet was almost a necessity.

HBO

What are you hoping audiences take away from the film?

Chris Moukarbel

I think the film allows audiences to understand the ways that people like Chris Crocker are able to take their fate into their own hands. and define themselves through technology. There's a big shift that were seeing, where a lot of young people are now creating content, and profiting from it online through sites like Youtube and Google, in a way weve never seen before. How that plays out will be interesting.

Valerie Veatch

On one hand, the film examines, rather harshly at times, the media landscape and the climate we've created with video, image and text sharing technologies. And on the other it's a celebration of Chris' character and his role in internet culture. There's also a layer to the film I'm most passionate about, which is looking at our social lives online and the way in which, through social media networks, our lives are being digitized and repurposed by corporations for profit. Which is not a new phenomenon; it happens all the time, to everything. But I think that kind of corporate profiteering is not really talked about or examined, and is shaping the way people are communicating and engaging online. And I think, in that context, it's worth another look.

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