One of the biggest YouTube hits of 2011 was a satirical web series called Sh*t Girls Say, in which a man dressed as a woman rhymes off a string of phrases ("Can you help me with this computer?" "I can’t believe I ate all that") that, apparently, girls regularly say.
Produced by Toronto duo Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey, the three one-minute webisodes not only garnered more than 30 million views but inspired copycat videos (e.g. Sh*t Black Girls Say, Sh*t Girls Say to Gay Guys).
The series has been an obvious web success, but Sheppard and Humphrey’s greatest validation may be that the fourth episode of Sh*t Girls Say is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.
It will be included in the festival’s short film program, marking the first time a viral video has been featured at TIFF.
"A lot of shorts start and end online," says Magali Simard, a Short Cuts Canada programmer at TIFF.
"So this time, we thought we’d give it an audience and see what happens. People, I think, are eager to talk to these guys, and we’ll have them here."
Not only will Sheppard and Humphrey screen their latest episode, but they will be doing Q & As as part of the festival’s Mavericks lecture series, which in the past has included such esteemed directors as Quentin Tarantino and Werner Herzog.
"I’ve studied film and it’s a really big deal for me," says Sheppard, who plays the leading lady in the videos. "The spirit is good and we’re honoured to be a part of [TIFF]."
One of the reasons that Sh*t Girls Say got so much attention is that it offended quite a number of people, who argued the vignettes were misogynistic or just plain stupid.
"I’ve flipped this every way possible – is it a good idea? Is it a bad idea? Is it normal?" says Simard, reflecting on the videos’ content.
"When I start thinking this way, I find it’s interesting in itself – why do people find this funny? Why are people upset?" When asked whether a comedy skit should be included in a film festival, Simard points out that the series is done as "visual art."
"It’s very well crafted, well written and you can only imagine out of that one minute, what was edited out – [and] mastering one minute of comedy is as hard as mastering 90 minutes."
Sheppard defends his film’s inclusion: "It’s not a traditional narrative, but it’s a moving picture and it’s entertainment. It’s parody, too. All these things are filmmaking."
Will Straw, head of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada in Montreal and a regular commentator on pop culture, says the creators of SGS should be "proud."
"They got more than 30 million views – that’s as good as a hit film," he says. "Why shouldn’t they stand on a stage and be proud of what they did?"
Short films hard to program
Straw acknowledges that TIFF and other festivals have run into a problem in dealing with the explosion of online entertainment.
"Everybody has to have a short film competition, but one ever sees [the films] again and they’re always, by nature, obscure. [Festivals] are trying to appeal to people who never go to see short films," says Straw.
He also points out that the inclusion of a viral video at TIFF actually hearkens back to an earlier period in cinematic history. "We’re going back to the 1920s and ‘30s, when short films were funny or musical entertainment shown before the big feature," notes Straw. He says he recently watched a series of Three Stooges shorts, and compares SGS to these types of classic films.
"Over time, shorts became associated with the National Film Board or good causes, but the idea that they were highly professional entertainment fell away. [With SGS] you have something that’s really funny, well done and you want to watch over and over – it brings us back to those old days."
Soon after the Sh*t Girls Say videos first emerged, Sheppard and Humphrey – who appears as the anonymous boyfriend in some of the videos – went to Los Angeles for meetings.
"We got agents in the U.S., so we got a team that’s helping us move to the next step. Who knows where these meetings will lead," says Sheppard, who is feeling a bit apprehensive about his TIFF premiere.
"It’s different than showing [the video] to someone on the computer. It’s more tempered and people are a little less vocal about their laughter," said Sheppard. "Hopefully, they will be receptive."
Simard puts it all in perspective. "It’s only one minute, so if it’s not to [the audience’s] taste, it will be over in the blink of an eye."