This magic moment

How one family's home movie on Christmas morning became a Web phenomenon and then a car commerical

December 18, 2006|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

It began as a typical Christmas morning eight years ago, two kids in pajamas opening presents. Brandon Kuzma, who had received a pogo stick the year before, was expecting a skateboard. But as the 9-year-old peeled the gold wrapping paper from his parents' gift, he knew what his heart really wanted. ...

"Nintendo 64! ... Oh, my God!"

Brandon's screams and the repeated bellows of "Thank you" from Rachel, his 6-year-old sister, resounded in at least a minute of unmitigated joy that their father Tom captured on home video - not unlike scenes filmed in millions of homes on Christmas morning.

Except that millions worldwide have now seen the Kuzmas' Christmas moment and have come to love it (or did the first 11 times they saw it). The Kuzma kids own the most famous scream in recent pop culture since Howard Dean - and, unlike his, theirs launched a campaign.

This year, their home movie wound up on YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site. And it didn't stop there: During the past six months, the video has leapfrogged its way onto late-night television, daytime music networks, even a BMW luxury-car commercial.

The kids in the video are teen-agers now, living in Jupiter, Fla. They've created a Web site based on the video and seem to be enjoying their 15 minutes - or more - of fame. They've fielded interviews from around the world. They've heard from fans from as far away as Sweden and have seen their home movie translated in Japanese and German and remixed in hip-hop form.

Brandon, now 16, said he recently marveled at a photo on a picture-sharing Web site of a man at an anime convention, clutching a Nintendo 64 and mimicking their video scene.

"I thought to myself, `Wow, people have really gotten into it,'" he said. "I totally didn't expect it. It's surprising people want to use the clip and think it's so funny."

Their taped just-what-I-always-wanted feeling has resonated with people of all ages and helped demonstrate the new media's ability to create its own stars.

Last spring, Brandon Kuzma's girlfriend saw the home movie, thought it was cute and suggested he post it on his personal Web page. He subsequently copied it to a Web site popular among skateboarders, a current passion of his.

Someone saw it and copied it to YouTube, then to other video-sharing sites. It eventually spawned dozens of alternate versions that include sound effects, visual manipulation and pulsating music. The versions have been seen, in total, more than 4 million times.

The home video crept into the mainstream after Web Junk 20, a VH1 show that showcases such clips, picked it up in July. It hit the big time in September when Jay Leno presented the clip on a segment during the Tonight Show.

Then, BMW, through Austin, Texas, advertising agency GSD&M, bought the rights to use the clip for a winter holiday promotion. The company altered the Nintendo machine to look like a generic toy robot.

Don't be surprised if commercials similar to the BMW ad follow, as advertisers turn to both conventional and alternative media for more creative ways to reach the masses, experts say.

"I think that what you see happening with online services like YouTube is that the barrier between professional and amateur content is broken," said Emily Riley, an advertising analyst with New York-based Jupiter Research. "Advertisers need to speak to consumers in a much different way than they had before, especially younger consumers."

Brandon and Rachel, now a 13-year-old eighth-grader, have coined themselves the N64 Kids. They created the Web site N64kids.com in part because other people were making claims online to be them, they said. They now use the site to display the video and offer others a place for their own unforgettable moments. They have no other plans to commercialize the video.

The N64 Kids describe themselves as regular teenagers who like playing video games. But because of the home movie turned Web phenomenon, they've become anything but ordinary.

"When all of my friends introduce me to someone, they say, `This is the N64 Kid,'" Brandon said. "And the person says, `No, that can't be you! Oh, my God! I put you on my Myspace page.'"

The fanfare shows little sign of letting up. The N64 Kids were mentioned on ABC's Good Morning America Thursday and on Live with Regis and Kelly Friday. Next month, they're slated to be featured again on GMA, and talk-show host Maury Povich plans to air the clip.

"This sums up the emotional power of a Christmas story. It is It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol all in one minute," said Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University.

"I think everyone has some memory of childhood where something you got made you that happy, and not just in childhood, but that job you really wanted or that person you've been dying to go out with," Thompson said. "This kid has no inhibitions in expressing that kind of joy. I've never seen someone as good at it."

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