They might be watching you

Times Staff Writer

ON a recent Tuesday morning, Doug Hammond told his colleagues that he had a winner: “We’ve got a strange video of Sharon Stone unleashing a very bizarre ... scolding of a German audience during this auction she did,” he said, sitting in an easy chair, his legs tucked under him. “She’s going, ‘Naughty Germans. Naughty, nasty Germans.’ ”

The rest of the room chuckled -- always a good sign. At the Hollywood loft offices of Ifilm, where Hammond has been for 4 1/2 years, producers look at 50 to 100 clips a day, and they’ve seen just about everything. If a clip can pique the interest of this crowd, it’s got to be good.

Ifilm has designed itself to be an edited YouTube, although the company was originally founded in 1998 for budding filmmakers to put their films online. Like YouTube, Ifilm accepts user- uploaded videos, but those videos are then organized into one of 10 channels, each edited by a producer who “surfaces” the best clips each day.

“There’s not much explicit educational or vocational training for our programmers,” said Blair Harrison, the handsome British chief executive of the company. “We attract people and are attracted to people that have demonstrated passion for Internet pop culture, which is different from regular pop culture.”


The daily editorial meeting is held in a corner of Ifilm’s quintessential (almost cliche) Internet loft office -- complete with occasional brick walls and enormous Oriental rugs on the floors -- and it’s run by Lowell Goss, senior vice president of user experience at the company. At the meeting in which Sharon Stone passed muster, Hammond pitched another video that he heard is getting passed around. It’s a clip from an interview with Barack Obama that took place a few years ago in which the candidate insists he would never run for president. Goss nodded his head, but the room didn’t really respond.

Next was Arielle Rudin, who produces the Commercials channel. Hammond said Rudin is the only person he knows who TiVos shows just so she can watch the commercials. Rudin is quiet and unassuming but sharp. Since taking over the channel, she’s become partial to Japanese commercials because they are insane and only 15 seconds long. A current favorite is called “Panda Woman Goes to the Hospital,” which depicts a woman dressed in a panda suit getting an MRI. It may sound strange that people would go online to watch commercials, but they do. This year, Ifilm’s sixth annual Super Bowl Site (where Rudin posted each Super Bowl commercial immediately after it aired) got 1.6 million unique visitors in the days after the big game.

Rudin tends not to be inspired by American commercials. She thinks advertisers here underestimate their audience. Today she is planning on putting up some “really cute commercials from this English tea company” and a Cameron Diaz commercial for a Japanese phone company.

Music-video programmer Dustin Sussman reported that the new Justin Timberlake video featuring Scarlett Johansson did incredibly well (not a surprise since Ifilm’s audience is 70% male). Goss asked what the posts on the message boards were saying. Sussman said it was mostly guys writing things like, “You’re my hero!”


Ifilm is not the only website trying to compete with YouTube for video-viewing supremacy, but it seems to be the most successful. In November 2005, the company went under the Viacom umbrella after MTV Networks bought it. So now Viacom feeds the site copyrighted material like old “Beavis and Butthead” episodes and recent “Daily Show” clips, even as it begins to aggressively seek to have those videos removed from YouTube. Ifilm has also partnered with VH1 to produce the show “Webjunk,” and Harrison said there are other shows in development as well.

As Goss continued around the room, he heard about video of a guy BASE jumping off the Eiffel Tower and a commercial for Volkswagen that “brings hand puppetry to the next level.”

When the meeting was over Goss was pleased. It was a good day for Web video. The producers returned to their desks, put their headphones on and began scouting video blogs, culture blogs, video collectives and, yes, even YouTube for more.