In the world of online videos, pop culture parodies are typically short, roughly made, and improvised. The nature of sites like YouTube and Vine encourage this sort of timely, often slapdash work. Despite the fact that many young people watch content from these sites more than television, there is still a barrier between what is found on each–namely, professionalism and style. One video maker, Frank Howley, has made a name out of taking a cinematic approach to pop culture parody.
Some of this self-proclaimed “internet video auteur”’s most popular videos include the slasher-film style “Nice Guy,” which skewers geeks who don’t understand boundaries, and the mob thriller trilogy “Trader” that goes after the much-maligned video game trading policies of GameStop. The majority of Howley’s subject matter centers around video games and anime, though he also parodies other pop culture media such as films and music videos.
Howley always had a passion for film, studying film criticism and history at Cal State Fullerton. His inspiration for going into filmmaking did not strike until later, though, through watching big-budget movies that all featured their own distinct style.
“As silly as it sounds, Crank 2 was the film that cemented my choice to be a filmmaker,” he tells BTR. “The behind-the-scenes process of that looked so adventurous and fun that I immediately wanted to pursue it. More serious films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Oldboy showed me the high potential of film art, but Crank 2 also displayed how much fun filmmaking could be.”
As far as internet videos go, Howley’s primary inspirations include The Midnight Show, Whitest Kids U’Know, and Mega64–internet comedy troupes that work on seriously-produced skits and have each developed a large fan community in the process. To Howley, the existence of such groups proved there was an audience for more complex internet videos, representing a “tangible filmmaking goal to meet and compete with.”
One of Howley’s biggest personal philosophies on making parody videos is that timeliness is something to avoid. As much as institutions like Saturday Night Live make a name on satirizing current events, the ease of re-watching internet videos makes parodies of older properties more valuable in the long run. He realizes the “staying power” that older subjects embody, in that audiences can find such features relevant years later.
“The quality of my work will be outdated because I’m always growing, but the ideas will still be exciting,” he says. “In 2014 I did a Chrono Trigger / Looney Tunes parody, but both properties are decades old and were still incredibly fun to mess around with. If someone plays that game today and finds that video, it’ll still be effective.”
Over the course of his internet filmmaking work, Howley has found a good deal of success. His channel has amassed over 12,000 followers, and his most popular videos have garnered around half a million views each. In the seven years he has spent building his short film repertoire, he has often collaborated with Mega64, and has been featured on well-known pop culture sites like Kotaku and Bloody Disgusting.
In 2013, Howley won a sponsored video contest held by Nintendo for his spoof The Blair Wii U Project. The prize was tickets to the Sundance Film Festival, where the winning videos were showcased. The fact that internet videos could be shown at a festival like Sundance reaffirmed Howley’s mission: “Nintendo hooked everyone up with tickets to all the screenings that week, so I got to attend the world premiere of Park Chan-wook’s Stoker and personally meet him.”
Given the younger-skewing, mass-appeal nature of YouTube, many of the most popular channels reign supreme by keeping their comedy baseline. As such, it’s tempting for video makers looking to build an audience to “dumb down” their parodies, sacrificing more intelligent humor to keep things easy to understand for a wider group of viewers. Howley has noticed this trend and chooses to keep his work mature because of the specific audience he keeps in mind.
“I only make videos for myself, so the humor is pitched towards people who have the same sense of humor and understand my level of satire. Too much of what’s being made on YouTube is already dumbed down for a teen audience, so I’m happy to be making something pitched for the same age as me,” he states.
Most recently, Howley has started a new series that takes his signature approach to the crossroads of podcast and documentary. This weekly show, Neighborhood Game Club, has Howley visiting one of his friends, touring their personal video game collections, and sitting down to discuss why they are passionate about the medium. Since its launch in late August, Howley has produced four episodes of Neighborhood Game Club, each accruing at least 2,000 views. While the show is humorous and lighthearted, the real focus is on honest and genuine discussion–something Howley finds lacking in the often cynical world of gaming entertainment.
The main inspirations, Howley says, came from podcasts like Mark Maron’s WTF and the Bret Easton Elis podcast, as well as Louis Theroux’s documentaries.
“As a young creative, [WTF is] an incredibly inspirational and honest look at the entertainment industry with all its highs and lows,” he says.
Will YouTube ever reach the point where it matches TV in style and spectacle? Howley says the answer is no, for better or worse. As a place for TV-style programming, the resources and funds are lacking.
“YouTube is already declining on ad revenue so I doubt that the content will ever get bigger or outgrow its core audience of 12-year-olds,” he predicts.
Nevertheless, Howley points to the open field of opportunities YouTube offers to future filmmakers:
“I think it’s a great place for young people to take risks and learn how to make videos. It’s free webhosting and there’s no costs involved, so anyone can pick up a camera, learn to edit, and pump out as much content as they want.”
Featured photo courtesy of Pixabay.