How Jason Zada Created Facebook's Scariest Viral Sensation: TakeThisLollipop.com
Jason Zada and I think we met on a plane. Oddly, we can't remember our exact conversation but both of us vaguely recall sitting next to each other. That's how our dialog started on Facebook with a friend request asking, "Did we sit next to each other?" Since then, we've messaged about film, advertising and paddle boarding. Not sure if that 's stalking, but that 's how we met. With art often mimicking life (or is it the other way around?), a more intense version of Facebook stalking is the core concept of Jason's video project called
Because we're connected, I see Jason's status updates, which last week announced, "ladies and gentleman, my latest and greatest takethislollipop.com." So I checked out the site -- along with over 7 million other people, of whom 1.1 million have also liked TakeThisLollipop.com on Facebook since last Monday. As the video project went viral, The New York Times, Forbes.com and numerous media outlets reviewed the project. In my sphere, even though I was in Budapest, a friend in Canada and one in California sent me posts about the effort.
In less than a week, Jason's video project has been around the web and back, with one media outlet calling it the next "Blair Witch Project." Thinking about that quote, I messaged Jason to find out more. The piece, which integrates your Facebook photos and location information into an eerie short film, combines great storytelling, high-production values and visual elements that are so realistic you'll think twice about letting your kids on Facebook.
I found Jason on the set in Los Angeles working on a commercial. Jason is also the man behind the successful viral video created for Office Max called "Elf Yourself," which has over 164 million views. When asked if there is a recipe for viral video success Mr. Zada said, "I don't know if there is a magic formula, but don't over think things, keep things simple, fast and easy."
Mr. Zada, who is represented by Tool of North America, came up with the idea only a month ago. He woke up one morning and was thinking about how much he loves Halloween. "I wanted to do something that messed with people and I wrote the script. Instantly, I knew there was something special about the idea," he said.
Tool of North America and others quickly jumped on board and supported the project. He brought on Mihai Malaimare Jr. as Director of Photography. Mr. Malaimara also has an impressive resume and has shot projects for Francis Ford Coppola and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Mr. Zada considered bringing on A-list talent but picked Bill Oberst Jr. for the lead. "When I saw Bill's headshot, I knew he was the guy. It was a twist of a role and Bill was the right type and he'd done horror movies," he added. "Some actors would overdo it, the audience needed to see what you're doing without thinking. I wanted people to feel his anger and discomfort with minimal movements. Bill went deep. He trusted the process."
In the piece, the sweat-covered, mouse-rubbing talent grunts and gives Hannibal Lecter a run for his money. As the story unfolds, the lead clicks through Facebook as your own photos, contacts and geographic location fill the screen.
"It was easy to get into character," Bill told me. "The filming environment was an abandoned and reputedly haunted hospital, that helped and Jason's script and direction did the rest. Stepping onto the dressed and lit set and sitting at that desk, it was very easy to feel the vibe."
Looking at comments on Jason's Facebook wall, others think the creepy creative is pretty unique too. A woman named Heather commented, "You rocked it on take this lollipop… you're the man behind the magic. It's crack."
As for Facebook, Mr. Zada wonders what Mark Zuckerberg thinks about this piece. "I did hear the video project has been polarizing inside of Facebook and I received a call from Facebook's Developer Relations Team, " he said. "They were very nice, respectable and I explained I didn't want to cross any lines."
So why did TakeThisLollipop.com go viral?
"Well, you can't share the piece with others, and you can't put your friends in it. You have to watch the piece yourself," Mr. Zada stated. "I have seen teenagers posting videos of themselves watching their videos on YouTube, but you can't send your videos forward. It was a giant experiment. The trap is around you but nothing bad actually happens," he stated.
This video of someone watching TakeThisLollipop.com has over 3,976 views. So, a viral video is in essence sparking viral videos.
My take is that we all have some narcissistic tendencies and seeing your photo hanging on the dashboard of a stalker's car is unpredictable and thought-provoking. Even if a crazed psycho is stalking you, it's entertaining seeing your personal photos integrate into a video. It doesn't need dialog to suck you in like a vacuum tube.
Intellectually, TakeThisLollipop.com taps your core and brings the sub-conversation that exists around social media privacy issues to the forefront. It has talk value and pass along appeal. Although I may get the Bad Mom of the Year award, I did let my daughter watch the video with me. "The zombie baby display at the Spirit store was scarier than that ," she said.
Mr. Zada, at least, thinks it's scary how much information is available about us on the internet. "Our privacy was dead a while back and will never be the same," he said. "Life as a whole has changed. If you look at the video, the scariest part is that your information is in the video. The piece is scary because a person is violating your privacy, not because it's bloody or there's anything jumping out."
I don't think this is the last we'll be seeing from Mr. Zada. His passion for great creative and a growing interest in longer format pieces makes him a perfect candidate for feature work and horror films. In closing, Mr. Zada added, "I wouldn't be surprised if we did a sequel next year."