I finally persuaded Phillip Scott Johnson, the enigmatic St. Louis-based creator of the widely admired movie-star montage called Women in Film, to give it up a little. I asked with two or three e-mails yesterday and he said very little, explaining toward the end that he doesn’t like talking about himself.
So I wrote back, “Oh, I get it….you’re looking to be the Silent Bob or Glenn Gould orCalvin Coolidge of internet YouTube maestros. The less you say, the more interesting you seem to certain people…right? I know that one. That works. It’s better than talking to everyone and being a blabbermouth, but you’re saying very, very little here. I mean, next to nothing.”
Nothing from Johnson yesterday but today he wrote back with the following:
“You nailed the thinking on not talking much. I’d rather be an enigma than a narcissist. I’m not as bad as I used to be though. Back in June when ‘Women In Art‘ was on fire I had no name, age, or location anywhere on the internet. I was completely anonymous. I was also completely insecure about being myself. A little success has eased those insecurities. I used to tell people [that] the more you know about me the less interesting I become.
“I’ve given two real interviews –one to ABC and one to the first blogger to figure out my name and location (i.e., a woman in Paris). Today I talked to ABC again. I believe they are going to feature Women In Film this Tuesday on a show called I-Caught. I gave them permission to use my real name this time. They briefly showed Women In Art on their first show two weeks ago but only called me Eggman.
“Nobody in St. Louis has spoken to me. So far, nobody here really knows who I am except friends and family. Only two of my co-workers even know I make videos. My boss doesn’t have a clue.
“I have been contacted by a lot of people all around the world but I generally either don’t respond or just say thank you. I’ve been contacted by television stations, print media, museums, film festivals, choreographers, universities… all sorts of people. Actually I was just contacted by CNN today and agreed to allow them to feature me on a show about user-generated internet content later this fall.
“My background: 40 years old, single, economics major with an MBA in finance. I work in corporate finance as a financial analyst/ database administrator. It’s boring, uncreative, and I generally don’t like it very much. I’ve been ‘artistic’ all my life. My mother is an artist. She does greeting cards, cartoons, and paints. I’ve dabbled in all sorts of things throughout my years — music, photography, art, videos — always as a hobby though. I actually used to make videos about 10 years ago with VHS technology and shared them with friends but it was hard to do given the limitations of the technology.
“While not a professionally trained artist or film-maker, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on both topics. I’m a big fan of history in general including art and film history. I feel that Women In Art and Women In Film reflect my knowledge of both topics.
“Last summer I bought my first modern computer and finally got internet access at home. In September I logged onto YouTube for the first time and became immediately obsessed with it. I started trying to create my own content. I also did daily research on the industry of on-line videos — particularly YouTube.
“I’ve probably created about 40 different videos since then. Tried all sorts of different things — anything I found mildly interesting, [and] most of which are generally not that exciting and didn’t catch much buzz. I took most of them down once Women In Art got big back in May because I had art critics trying to analyze everything I did. Most were simple videos I made on a Saturday afternoon just to try new stuff out. Three months ago I had 10 subscribers to my YouTube channel. Today I have over 3000.
“I created both these videos with morphing software that cost less than $100. This was the first software I ever purchased and the first software I made any serious attempt at learning. Both took about two weeks each to make. I made Women In Art in early April and the “first” Women in Film in early May.
“After one month on YouTube Women In Art had 800 views. On the night of May 24th, I put a link up on digg.com in an attempt to get it noticed. This is a site where people post links to their favorite news stories and videos. I gave it the title “Amazing — Watch 500 Years of Art in 3 Minutes!!!” When I went to sleep it had 3 diggs and I thought “Oh well, I tried…better luck next time” When I woke up on May 25th it was on the front page top spot. It literally caught fire from there. In the next three weeks it was viewed 3 million times and was the most blogged video in the world.
“A couple of days after Women In Art got big I realized that I had to take down Women In Film. It was getting a lot of hits also and some of the comments pointed out the obvious — it was all caucasian. I knew in my heart it was racist by exclusion so I took it off the internet. I felt bad and didn’t want to be labeled a racist artist. I thought that version was gone for good until I realized a couple of weeks ago that one person had saved the original and left it on the internet. On top of that, it had gone viral. That was the version you saw first. I was upset and asked the guy to remove it. He completely understood my concerns and took it down.
“At first I was just going to shelve Women In Film and never re-release it. After a month I decided to redo it. But even after redoing it, I knew it would still be controversial. But then I thought ‘is controversy really such a bad thing? After all, I’m just reflecting what Hollywood put out there at various points in time.’ Yes, it could still have far more diversity in it. For example, I wanted to include Diahann Carroll and Michelle Yeoh but I just couldn’t find good enough high-resolution pictures of them. At some point, you have to decide that this is the list and this is what I’m going with.
“The modern stars where the hardest. There are so many good ones I left out and a few that I put in that perhaps don’t rise to the level of the other actresses (I won’t name names).
“Recently I bought some professional video software and want to try some new things with it. I don’t want to be labeled a one-trick pony so I want to move beyond the morph. Like I said before, I don’t want to get too caught up on looking back at what I’ve already done. It’s fun to be praised but it’s is also distracting and keeps me from focusing on creating new things. I need to use this as a stepping stone towards future success. We shall see. I figure the worst thing I could do is to not try at all. I’ve already come up with something that people seem to like. Surely, with some effort, there are other things out there waiting to be created.
“And that’s my story….”