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Art and Marketing All Mashed Up
Video Edits Gain Popularity Online, and Firms Are Noticing

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Just days after actor Mel Gibson went on an anti-Semitic tirade to a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy, the Internet weighed in with the kind of thoughtful commentary users have come to expect:

There's a video featuring a bearded Gibson juxtaposed with a bearded Saddam Hussein labeled "mel gibson has a long lost brother!" Old photos from Gibson's previous movies are woven together -- each with him looking wild-eyed and surprised. Then there's Gibson starring in a "South Park" episode with the introduction: "Passion of the crazy Mel Gibson coming to a highway near you."

In what has become a predictable pattern, the most-talked-about events of the day are quickly finding their way to the Internet and then "mashed up" by people who use the films as a form of commentary or entertainment. A mash-up video mixes original images or sounds with music, quick-witted narrations or creative transitions. The result is a video dialogue of sorts that makes a statement that is political, personal or merely entertaining.

"It's analogous to music remixes," said Josh Felser, co-founder of video site Grouper.com, which has carved out a section for people to showcase the mash-ups they have created. "You can take someone else's original thought, and it inspires a new application of the original thought."

Users at YouTube.com posted clips of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) making a rambling speech about the Internet, set to a techno dance beat. The gay-cowboy-themed movie "Brokeback Mountain" set off a wave of movie trailer mash-ups earlier this year, such as "Brokeback to the Future" (combined with the Michael J. Fox movie) and "Brokeback Penguin" (combined with "March of the Penguins"). Footage of French soccer star Zinedine Zidane's head butt of an Italian player in the World Cup final has been turned into an ongoing video joke -- Zidane flying in like a rocket, or machine-gunning his opponent, or as a video game character, scoring extra points for each player he knocks down.

Marketing and entertainment companies say these creations, most of which stream on video Web sites, are becoming a double-edged sword: a test of copyright laws by altering original content, but also an intriguing marketing tool that has been able to grab the attention of Web surfers.

Consider what Marc Lostracco, a video editor from Toronto, did when he mashed shoot-'em-up video clips from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," with scenes from the film "The Break-Up," starring Pitt's ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston. The love-triangle mash-up -- which he called "Mrs. and Mrs. Pitt" -- was a hit among those who follow the lives of celebrities, Lostracco said.

"Part of the joke is that the mash-up looks similar to a real movie trailer, so as close as I can come to that, the better," he said.

Although many mash-ups use their own images or give credit to the musicians, films and artists who create the clips they use, it's not clear whether what people such as Lostracco are doing is legal. Most of the online video editors said they are creating a form of satire and exercising free speech and do not intend to profit from their work.

In any case, entertainment companies aren't complaining too loudly. In fact, several movie studios, musicians and television networks are actively encouraging fan mash-ups to generate buzz about their products.

In May, Warner Independent Pictures launched a mash-up contest to create a trailer preview for the movie "A Scanner Darkly," which came out last month. During the Academy Awards, MasterCard invited viewers to create their own messages using the company's "priceless" campaign.

And for the World Cup, Nike encouraged people to create a video of themselves juggling a soccer ball and then kicking the ball out of the screen. Nike wove together more than 300 of the submitted clips to create a television commercial that resembled a global soccer ball toss.

"The large media companies are able to get a much deeper awareness of their brand if they allow users to be submerged in their content," said Damian Hagger, vice president of content at vMix, a video site that offered images from the movie "Walk the Line" for a mash-up contest to promote the movie's DVD release.

"They want users to have a great experience, but at same time, they don't want to give away all the rights to the content for something that doesn't represent the brand very well."

That's a risk that comes with the territory, though.

When General Motors Corp. experimented with a build-your-own-Chevy Tahoe online commercial this year, environmentalists had a field day creating mash-up ads that promoted the sport-utility vehicle as a gas-guzzling polluter -- using the company's own images of the car rolling through the snow.

Top-down marketing, when the company creates a message for consumers to absorb, is an antiquated approach, said Tim Hanlon, senior vice president at Denuo, a division of the advertising firm Publicis Groupe. Consumers are savvy about the messages companies send and are now empowered to offer feedback about those products. "They don't need marketers," he said. "It's the new landscape."

Gavin Richmond, whose mash-up about Stevens was viewed more than 150,000 times on video site YouTube.com, said mash-up artists are able to interpret news events in a new light.

"It gives them a voice they wouldn't have otherwise," said Richmond, 34, of Baton Rouge, La. "It allows a back and forth with the people who produce the content in a way you didn't have before with film, radio or TV."

That has created an internal struggle for such groups as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, both of which have actively tried to curb piracy and online sharing of their copyrighted works.

"Obviously, copyright laws come into play here, but the idea of mash-up videos is obviously very popular, and film companies have been moving to harness that as a means of advertising," said Kori Bernards, a spokeswoman for the motion picture association. "We'll continue to monitor it."

In the meantime, mash-up artists are left to experiment, unsure of what the fallout might be once their creations start circulating on the Web.

Fans of the television show "Lost," for example, have been participating in regular mash-up contests at http://www.lostvideo.net/ , using different scenes of the show to create unique video clips.

ABC never complained about the use of video from the show, said Molly McRoberts, 18, of San Diego, who works on the site. But then one of the participants used a song by rock band Nickelback in a mash-up video.

"Their record company sent us an e-mail saying people had used Nickelback's song and they didn't want Nickelback's songs being used," said McRoberts, who noted that no one was trying to make money off the mash-up video clip. "Why do they even care? We're just a little Web site."

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