Two Alumni Find the Secret to Going Viral
Edward Sturm ’11
and Michael Sorace ’11
are no strangers to viral success. During their years at Emerson and after graduation, the duo has found themselves producing projects that have caught the nation’s attention.
Check some of their videos out:
Fastest Driven Lap of Manhattan
Fake Celebrity Pranks New York City
Harlem Shake Times Square NYC feat. NYPD
WHAT WAS YOUR MAJOR AT EMERSON?
Originally, I was in the Film program but I switched to Studio TV Production. I wanted to go into TV with a basis in film. Working with the Bolex and actual film was great experience.
I majored in Studio TV Production.
HOW IS EMERSON A PART OF YOUR LIFE TODAY?
It exists through the friends that I have. They keep the Emerson spirit within me strong. They also are still involved with our productions.
Our network of production people is mostly from Emerson.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
We’re making a video about the increasing sophistication of the media industry. It’s very idealistic and it’s supposed to inspire people.
We created an offshoot based on the image of Anonymous
, to make it more marketable. Not because of the goals they set but because they are very energetic about what they like. The project we are currently working on is a combination of all the videos we made at Emerson.
WHAT SERVES AS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THE SUBJECTS OF YOUR VIDEOS?
I really like doing cool things and pushing my comfort zone. The Harlem Shake video
trend blew up on Reddit and Mike sent me an email with the subject line saying, “If you want to cash in on a huge viral trend, this is it.” When it was time to shoot, we didn't have any permits and we had a crowd of 300 to 400 people. With this sea of people and no permit, I was so nervous, but that’s exactly why I had to do it. I was completely in the moment. We managed to get in two 15-second takes before the operation was shut down. We could have gotten arrested for that.
For the “Fastest Driven Lap of Manhattan”
video, we were going into our senior year at Emerson. There was a record set for the fastest lap around Manhattan and we wanted to beat that. I was nervous but I also thought about what breaking this record could mean. Mike and I got together every night from 2:00 to 5:00 am to try to beat the previous record. I would stare up at the ceiling and think, “I could die tonight.” I don't think I ever told Mike this, but I even wrote a will and left it on my desk, so if I died my parents would know why. It came to a point where we only had one day left to do it due to our schedules, and we were at the final part of the lap when one of the tunnels was closed. We came back a while later and the tunnel was opened again so we tried one last time. We did it! And it was even faster than our other previous tries.
Aside from pushing my comfort zone, I also think satire toward the predictable and how society acts are inspiration, as well as other viral trends.
The main thing for me is the power that media has and its effect on people. It shifts paradigms. The media is everything. We are bombarded with it. I think that if used properly it can have an impact on the world. Combining fantasy and reality is very powerful and the projects that we did are in that realm of thinking.
HOW DID YOUTUBE AFFECT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE?
Everybody is on it. Everybody uses it. It’s easy to share content and see the success of others and try to incorporate that into my own life.
It’s a massive, oversaturated monster of bad videos—a huge mess where quality isn’t rewarded. I think that creative skills and content is what appeals to the masses of YouTube.
WHAT MARKETING TECHNIQUES LEARNED AT EMERSON DID YOU APPLY TO MAKE YOUR VIDEOS GO VIRAL?
David Gerzof taught a marketing class and he told us to alert the media of interesting things. We released “Fastest Lap” and put it up on YouTube. We expected the response to be immediate. For a full year, we only got a thousand views. A year later we put it up on a different channel. We sent it to auto blogs and we were featured on the top page of jalopnik.com. At Emerson, they teach you how to work the stories from the right angle.
I wasn’t a marketing student but I grew up on the Internet. You get a sense of what works on the Internet and what people like: Internet-based, trolling, meme-like content.
Mike spends a godly amount of time consuming online media.
DID YOU EXPECT THE "FAKE CELEBRITY" IN NYC VIDEO TO BE AS BIG AS IT WAS?
We didn’t expect any of it. We wanted to do it because we were passionate about it. Whatever happened after that was inconsequential. I posted it on Reddit before I went out one night, to the Meatpacking district in NYC where all the clubs are. I was out meeting new people and I checked my phone and saw that the video got a lot of likes. I kept refreshing the site over and over again, and it climbed to the front page of Reddit. I was so happy about it I gathered a bunch of friends to look at my phone while I kept refreshing it. We were on TODAY and Good Morning America the next day. We had a little media tour that was crazy, awesome, and unexpected.
I was editing the video, going over hours and hours of footage. By the end, I hated this video and told Ed, “This is ridiculous, I’m sick of it.”
That video changed our lives forever.
DESCRIBE YOUR FAVORITE EMERSON MEMORY.
Mike was in LA and I was living at 62 Boylston. I used to listen to a WECB video game show. It had very few listeners; the hours were awful from like 2:00 to 4:00 am. The first time I discovered it, I thought, “Wow, this is a really great show.” I wanted to help out the guy putting this show together so I used 4Chan to get the show a few extra listeners. Mike and I would keep bumping the threads. It was a slow start but there were more listeners. The poor freshman host didn't know what was happening. Not only did we double the show’s listeners, we also increased them by 15,300%. That's the official number WECB gave us. This was the first time we went viral!
This is also my favorite memory. We got amazing results. Everything we learned from this motivated us for our future projects. To some degree, we always think about that first experience to control the masses.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE RECENT GRADUATES?
The first thing would be to always push your comfort levels. Don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve learned the most through the mistakes I’ve made.
I believe you need to check your ego at the door after graduation. It’s not so much about your work; it’s about the results your work is getting. You have to ask yourself, “How valuable is my audience?” Listen to what they want. Make the piece the audience wants to see.