There is no shortage of people having epic meltdowns on YouTube these days. You’ve got the guy who smashes his Xbox to bits because someone calls him fat, the eHarmony girl whose love of cats sets her off on a crying jag and the minor league baseball coach who famously freaks out on an umpire, rips a base off the diamond, and hurls it across the field.
As distressed as these people are on YouTube, we see them in a different light in “Sunny Side,” a Volkswagen Super Bowl pre-game spot released on YouTube. Created by Deutsch L.A. and directed by MJZ’s The Perlorian Brothers (the directing duo of Michael Gelfand and Ian Letts), the video gathers the real people behind the Internet’s most famous freakouts, including the three mentioned above, and plunks them down in a field where they frolic holding hands, smiling and basking in joy while listening to Jimmy Cliff singing The Partridge Family’s “C’mon, Get Happy.”
“Since Volkswagen has always been a brand that champions positivity and happiness–last year, we did a brand spot where people just laughed all the way through the spot, from babies to nonagenarians, and signed off with the line, ‘It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them’—we saw an opportunity for Volkswagen to do something relevant and compelling by transforming the most notable YouTube cranks with some uniquely positive Volkswagen vibes,” says Deutsch executive vice president and group creative director Matt Ian.
That said, Ian and his partner Michael Kadin were hesitant to move forward with “Sunny Side” when Deutsch creatives Mark Peters and Brian Friedrich first brought the concept to them. “We were well aware of all the negativity and vitriol online in social media. How could we not be after living through the last election? But we questioned how many compelling videos we could actually find online to illustrate this trend. However, ten minutes of Googling search terms like ‘meltdown,’ ‘temper tantrum’ and ‘freakout’ uncovered an epidemic. We weren’t making this problem up,” Ian remarks. “Publicly going to pieces is a legitimate cultural trend.”
When it came to casting, a couple of the YouTube tantrum throwers were, not surprisingly, difficult to deal with. “I do know that I was on the phone late with our producers the night before the shoot trying to figure out how to get a couple of people [to the shoot] who had agreed, then backed out, then reconsidered, then backed out again. It wasn’t as amusing as it was completely enraging, and if someone were filming me on the phone that evening, I might have wound up in the video myself,” Ian says, adding, “Ultimately, the people I am referring to didn’t end up in the video anyway, and honestly, I don’t miss them. Michael [Kadin] and I really love who we ended up with. Everyone was great.”
“Sunny Side” was shot in Thousand Oaks, California, at Ventura Farms. “Everyone who came to be in the video was really positive and psyched to be there, but as for getting in a ‘happy place,’ it was a bit tougher than expected. The two days we shot on that hillside were two of the coldest friggin’ days I’ve ever felt in Southern California,” Ian says. “We were all freezing. It was in the thirties when we showed up, and people were huddling around portable heaters between takes. I felt bad for the talent. They couldn’t bundle up in jackets for this thing.”
Cara Hartmann, aka “the crazy cat-hugging lady,” probably suffered the most. She had to wear what she was wearing in her YouTube video: a tank top and pajama bottoms. “But if you look at the shots she is in, she’s got a smile on her face the entire time,” Ian notes. “She was a trooper.”
So was the shoot like some freaky YouTube reunion? “I’d imagine they did recognize one another. I mean, most of them have had mega hit tallies on YouTube, numbers we advertising types would kill for,” Ian says. “I think most of the people on the crew recognized them, too. Michael and I can specifically remember seeing each one of their videos when they broke. I shared the Green Bay fan video–Casey Lewis with her bad luck sparkly nail polish–in every conceivable social media channel I could.”
Prior to shooting the spot, Deutsch went into the recording studio with Jimmy Cliff to lay down a new version of “C’Mon, Get Happy.” While Ian and the creative team loved the song, they were worried that The Partridge Family’s original version might be too over-the-top happy for “Sunny Side.” “So we wanted someone to give it a little more of an edge. Jimmy Cliff immediately popped to mind. We love Jimmy Cliff. The guy is the real deal, a living legend. I remember seeing him as a kid in 1986 at the Capital Theater in Port Chester, New York, and him blowing the roof off the joint,” Ian says. “We felt Jimmy had the cred, the style and the voice to take that Partridge Family theme and really make it his. But even we were surprised by how f-cking cool the song turned out. Watching Jimmy walk into the Brooklyn recording studio of Vel Records, nail the song in like two takes and blow us all away was something to behold.”
For now, the plan is for “Sunny Side” to run on YouTube only, although that could change. “Last year, we intended to do the same with our pre-release spot, ‘The Bark Side,’ but then ended up running that on TV as a sixty second. So who knows?” Ian says.