Michael Jackson, User-Generated, Heavily Directed


We're not sure how "user-generated" the Michael Jackson "Behind the Mask" Project can claim to be when it launches this morning on the late pop singer's Facebook page.

The idea was to piece together snippets of fan-made and uploaded video snippets into a video that was spun off of the song collection released late last year and selling 3 million units, according to Epic records. For the past few months, fans were sent to a page on the Behind the Mask site to choose from highly specific assignments and suggestions for what to record and upload.

While ambitious and unique in the pantheon of fan-made media, the BTM project is creepily controlling as well. Visitors to the site can find detailed performance and even shooting instructions for everything from the signature "HEE HEE" to lead female vocals. There is a need for "Robot Singers" for instance. You are assigned to "Try to look and move like a robot - make a costume. If you can, wear gray and paint your face silver." Sounds like fun. Where did I put that silver enamel? Let's smear some on and dance till we asphyxiate.



And it doesn't stop with singing. There were parts for audience members (hand waving), musicians (lyrics on cards), dancers (pelvic thrust) and "Extras" that included shots of pets and scenic backgrounds.

Radical Media led the project, which was directed by Dennis Liu. Liu had the unenviable task of sorting through the submissions to do what has to be an onerous editing job of pulling the submitted shard and tracks into what is promised to be a 100% fan-made effort.

While I have only had a few minutes to ponder the end result that did launch as scheduled this morning, it looks very wisely done. First, the use of multiple panes in each scene of edited user contribution ensures that thousands of people were included. But more to the point, the editing is very entertaining. There is a lot of moonwalking in here, for instance. But in one sequence the director uses a rectangular box that swipes across the screen and smashes up multiple moonwalkers in just the right stages to complete a wonderful animated rendition that includes many people.

And so it goes throughout this fine video. It is a truly well-sculpted smash-up of fandom. It celebrates the fan as much as it does Jackson. It has built-in virality because of the sheer busyness of the frames and the fact that thousands of people will be viewing and reviewing just to see if they made the cut. Part of the brand mission here was to demonstrate the globalism of the MJ worship, and this is nominally accomplished with some scenic backdrops and a strong instinct for maintaining a broad ethnic mix of contributors. And, perhaps most important to viral video success...yes, there are cats in various stages of dress-up.  

To its credit, the video project appears to have vaulted beyond its own comically controlling roots and made a novel piece of video that does serve to celebrate the audience or new media makers. 
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