On March 9th, 2016, I published a dumb video on Youtube. Normally that’s a sentence that would precede the story of a video blowing up but I’m not gonna act like that, as of writing this it still hasn’t cracked 1000 views. Nevertheless, this dumb dumb video was somehow the most formative moment in my creative endeavors so far. This is the Story of the Ballad of Safety James.
Safety James: Origins
The Safety James video was originally created for a Specialist High Skills Major competition I entered for my school. Me and co-creator Adam Garrett were approached by our school’s communication technology teacher Mr. Morphet about representing our schools multimedia talent at this event that would take place come March. We forgot about it until March 1st.
Adam was probably a lot more involved in the creative process than I’ll make it sound, but I’m writing this and I’m the protagonist of this story so sucks to be him.
We knew the subject matter we had to cover in our video ahead of the actual event date. We were to make a work safety PSA with the intent of virality in order to communicate our message with #millennials. Ahead of the competition, we were to prepare a comprehensive script, production document, storyboard, and any graphics or audio that couldn’t be produced on location. I knew immediately that one thing we could not do was make something that takes work safety seriously. Part of that decision was that I am for the most part incapable of sincerity, irony is integral to my existence. But the bigger reason was that I recognized that nobody cares about a serious work safety PSA. We’ve seen it all before, so I took a different approach. I decided to rap.
I’d like to get it out of the way, I know I can’t rap. I thoroughly understand that. And that’s why I wanted to do it so badly. Now, while I can’t rap myself, I am a big hip hop fan. It is pretty much all I listen to. In particular, I am a big fan of bad rap, the kind that out of touch old people make to reach out to use #millenials.
I’d like to give a shoutout to another Wendy’s song that, although irrelevant to my story, is just legitimately super catchy. Check out Hot Drinks
The most quintessential aspect of these raps is the simplistic AABB rhyme scheme, and the bars whose syllable counts are, well, not great. This concept would serve as the formula for The Ballad of Safety James as I began to write my masterpiece. The biggest obstacle still stood in front of me though, the opening lines. I knew these lines would have to be iconic, if only because I needed to communicate the tone of the video right away. If it wasn’t clear that it was parodic of these other cheesy raps. Enter podcasts (yeah that’s right this thing is a freakin’ Odyssey, it has got everything).
While half of my inspiration came from old training videos, the rest came from improv comedy podcasts. Improv rapping helped with a crucial part of the process. I knew I needed my opening line to be a powerful signifier of tone, so what could work better than stealing the popular opening line of choice of Comedy Bang Bang host Scott Aukerman. The format of “My name’s x and I’m here to say, I love to y in a z way” is by no means unique to Scott Aukerman, but I feel he is a master of the phrase and also like I’ve got other things to talk about this is already way too long, like I’m barely halfway through, I don’t have time to like list every comedian to use this line ok so just chill.
I also need to cite Dan Harmon, creator of Community, Rick and Morty, and host of the podcast Harmontown. In his “Family” freestyle from the podcast, he introduces himself with a “my name is MC John” over the instrumental “Who Like to Party” by Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech.com. While that opening line was also partial inspiration for mine, the bigger influence here was the instrumental which I straight up copied for Safety James. While musically it is more of a disco track, it was the best approximation of the kind of backing music those training videos would use that was royalty free.
Don’t worry, that’s hopefully it for video references for a while. Now, I wish I could say there was a better story behind the actual name Safety James but it’s rather boring. I just went with James to create an internal rhyme with “names” and throwing Safety in front of that seemed sufficiently stupid enough to work.
Not Especially High Skills
While I was busy being a creative genius and formulating pretty much every aspect of this video, Adam wasn’t doing much. So I left him one thing to do, I gave him the script and asked him to make a storyboard. I believe this is where you could say things went “downhill”. We had roughly 2 or 3 hours during which we would have to both shoot and edit our video. Once we arrived, I looked at Adam’s storyboard and realized a problem. He wrote some props into the storyboard, A LOT of props, and didn’t exactly realize he needed to bring these props with him. So we improvised.
Looking back now I find these awkward substitutions add to the aesthetic, but we were there for a competition so it was a legitimate setback as we’d be docked points for straying from the storyboard. Some of these items we were missing included, beakers, a door that said manager on it, a mop, and a wet floor sign. The beaker was substituted for a Tupperware container I happened to have in my bag, filled with some strange coloured water from a water fountain. The fact that the water was so poor quality was a happy coincidence. I have no idea how the door that said manager on it was supposed to happen, even if Adam had brought things. The shot of me leaning up against a locker with a floppy piece of paper with “MANAGER” writing in block letters sticking out of it is probably my favourite shot in the whole video. The mop and wet floor sign were to be used during the iconic “hip, hop, hippity hop” refrain at the end. It was replaced by me awkwardly bobbing by various walls. Once again we got somewhat lucky when I found a door with a warning about wet floors on the window.
There’s honestly not much else to say about the actual creation process after that. I genuinely feel that the audio sync was pretty darn good aside from that rough beginning, and I recognized the sync was always gonna be kind of off. But once again, I figured that kind of minor error contributed to this vibe we were trying to achieve. It’s a bad rap song, chances are that this character isn’t great at syncing audio.
The real meat to this part of the story is the conclusion of the competition. We were actually finished and had our video exported half an hour early. We were feeling confident. Despite those faux-pas with the props, we basically created exactly what we set out to do. Besides us, there were 5 other teams competing in this category. It was actually a sort of qualification competition, the top 3 picks by the judges would move on to the next level of competition. After lunch, the judges went to watch the videos and choose the 3 winners. They would be presented in no particular order of victory after a screening of all 6, and those who didn’t make it had no idea if they were a fourth choice or a sixth choice. In case you haven’t figured it out through context clues yet, we were not in that top 3.
I’m not gonna lie, I felt snubbed. I WAS snubbed. We saw the other videos, so I saw the winners. And they were bland, conventional, formulaic. The objective of this competition wasn’t just a workplace safety ad, it was supposed to be one capable of spreading virally to reach the #millennials. There was nothing about these winners that suggested to me that they would fulfill this goal. I was a bit vindictive, you could say I was being a little vain but I know and believe to this day that I should have placed. So I decided to prove them wrong. The next day, I put it up on Youtube and began to share it.
Part 3 (I swear it’s almost over I’m sorry)
The Post-Safety James Era
Once again, I won’t go as far as to say that I went viral. I remind you I have yet to reach 1000 views. But it still spread considerably far for the size of my town. By the end of that school day a substitute teacher I had never seen before recognized me in the hallway as “that safety guy”. Somehow my manager at work had seen it by the time I went in that night. I believe I was at something like 300 views by the end of the first day. It grew slowly for the rest of the week, until it stagnated at roughly 450 views. It kind of died off after that, and faded into the background. I’d show new people I met it occasionally but it became rather minor to me.
That was until I went off to university and I showed it to my entire floor. It was a big hit among my floor mates and it reinvigorated my belief in this video. I look back and knew I was justified to doubt the judges’ choices, because guess what? I did it, I got a couple hundred #millennials to watch a work safety ad. My ego grew even bigger after my views spiked all the way up to 900 one day. I still don’t even know where those views came from, but they watched it and that’s what counts.
It sounds dumb, but this whole experience has been instrumental to my growth as a creative individual. For so long I tried to tailor my content, whether it be in a Twitter joke or actual conversation, to the audience that was there. Then I realized I didn’t need to do that. Obviously somewhere out there is an audience that responded to what I want to say. So I changed my outlook from changing content to serve my audience to just making the content I want until I find the audience that likes that. So, while I still haven’t crack 1000 views and only get about 2 or 3 likes on most of my Tweets, I don’t really care anymore. Because I believe it’s only a matter of time until I find that audience that jives with me, and when I do I’ll be ready.
So where am I now today? I am in the process of creating multiple scripts for new videos I want to make soon. I doubt even 1 in 10 people I know will like this content, or even understand the jokes I’m making, but why build a viewer base on content I don’t enjoy making? Today, a year after the original video went up on Youtube, I’ll be filming Safety James’ return to video for another work safety PSA as part of an advertising campaign for a university assignment. I’ve been wondering for a while what a Safety James sequel would look like, but I’ve decided he is best relegated to official assignments and competitions. As a figure he stands to satirize an out of touch persons attempt to connect with us #millennials, and I believe that to use him in a arbitrary situation that I create by myself would be dishonest. If I want to make a statement on an establishment with my work, I don’t see a point to making it about an establishment that doesn’t actually exist. That would be using a lot of words to say absolutely nothing. And I already did that once today.
If you made it all the way through that epic of a blog post (according to the word count this is literally longer than any of the essays I have written at university so far), thanks. You may have noticed that this is my first post on this specific blog. I have retired the use of my old blog as I am doing some rebranding of my online presence in preparation for this new content I am hoping to get out there. I plan on being much more lighthearted and actually funny here, keeping the political stuff to my Twitter feed (@DrewNot_Andrew), but we’ll see how that goes. My Twitter feed will also be the best place to keep track of anything new I do, though I plan to share them on all my social media, I am a #millennial after all. I also uploaded a design for some Safety James merch to a Spreadshirt store. They are not great but perfect if you want to wear something super ironically, which is the best way to wear something. Look through the products for the cheaper shirts if you want, because it puts the priciest of the t-shirt options at the top. And honestly the cheaper shirts have better colour options and the placement of my face is better. I also get like 4 dollars per shirt sold which is nice because I need money.