Ferrell ditches old school with Web film

The Baltimore Sun

HOLLYWOOD -- Doesn't it seem like whenever enterprising amateurs pioneer a new artistic medium, pros have to come in and ruin it by making it better?

Last week, Will Ferrell became the latest "real" celebrity to star in a homemade-looking Internet video. The Landlord is a genuinely funny two-minute movie in which Ferrell plays a layabout who is accosted by his angry landlady. The catch: Pearl, the landlady, is played by a toddler who couldn't be more than 2.

This wunder-infant does an amazing job of parroting the lines that an adult clearly has taught her moments earlier.

"I want my money!" she shrieks at Ferrell's character, then taunts him with a string of unprintable invectives.

Pearl's lines, including her explanation of why she needs the money so urgently -- "I need to get my drink on" -- are helpfully subtitled for the viewer.

After being posted two weeks ago on a new video site called funnyor die.com, The Landlord quickly went viral. It has been piling on tens of thousands of views every hour.

The obvious question, in an age when making your professionally produced video look DIY is a great way to grab attention (see lonelygirl15): Did Ferrell make the video on his own, or did he have industry backing? Is this just a new way for celebrities to mess around between gigs? Then again, that seemingly unprocessed appeal might be just what Hollywood's PR machine is trying to engineer.

Neither Ferrell's publicist nor a person associated with funnyor die.com would comment on the origin of the Landlord video. "We just need a little time to get our stories straight," said a representative for funnyordie.com, which describes itself only as "collaborative effort of people in Silicon Valley and in Hollywood to create a venue for accomplished as well as aspiring comics to try out new ideas, experiment and generally have fun."

Whether a video such as Ferrell's is independently made or not, Jeff Stern, chief executive of the industry-friendly Net video site The Daily Reel, says there are going to be a lot more, chiefly because casual Internet video is a low-risk, high-reward venture.

"It's easy to do, it's fast, you don't have to go through a two-year development process in order to put something funny out that will get to a lot of people," Stern said. "You put something up that's three minutes long. If it works, great, if it doesn't work, it'll be overwhelmed by other things that do."

Let's say someone at Ferrell's level, with a major movie to promote, wanted to get together with friends and make a three-minute video. How many people does he need to ask permission of?

As more celebrities and their handlers are lured by the exposure possibilities of a viral Internet hit, Hollywood's need for control of its content surely will bump up against the near-impossibility of controlling anything online.

Stern of The Daily Reel says Hollywood is freaked by the unpredictability of viral video but that, until a better system comes along, there's only one way to ride.

"You put it up," Stern says, "and see what happens."

David Sarno writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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