Lindsey Miller is my friend. She’s 26. And she has cancer.
Before my trip, Miller told me that she’d like to go on a date with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star of the recent movie that deals with cancer, “50/50.”
Miller and I used to work together at Ragan. We decided that with our combined knowledge of writing about how companies make viral videos, we could make one of our own. In it, she briefly explains her situation—and then asks out a movie star.
We created the 30-second video Monday evening. At 10 p.m., we had 45 views. The next day, we had more than 130,000 views. As of Nov. 17, we’re over 220,000.
On Tuesday morning, an executive producer from Anderson Cooper’s new daytime show, “Anderson” emailed Miller and asked for an interview. The video went on to spark media coverage, including The Huffington Post, International Business Magazine, MSNBC, Entertainment Weekly, EOnline, The Next Web and even Perez Hilton. The social media site Reddit also picked up the video, drawing nearly 500 comments and counting.
And by Tuesday afternoon, Will Reiser, writer of “50/50,” emailed Miller. Reiser said he would pass along her request to Gordon-Levitt, but not to be disheartened if she doesn’t hear back right away, Miller told Ragan.com. Reiser, who also has cancer, told Miller he was glad she enjoyed the movie.
Her story is compelling, of course, and the appeal is directed at a big-time celebrity. But technique can make or break an attempt at producing a viral video. So, here’s how we approached it:
1. Get a stopwatch
We knew this video had to be around 30 seconds—no more, no less. When Miller read the first script we wrote, it was more than a minute. That’s way too long for a viral video. We cut out clunky phrases and long sentences. We timed the new script with a stopwatch and made sure it was about 30 seconds before we hit the record button.
2. Take two! Or three, or four…
It’s hard to get it right the first time. You want your subject to deliver with confidence but not sound overly rehearsed. As a videographer, you should experiment with how you frame the video and pay attention to the light and sound. Hold the camera steady and hope for the best—and don’t let any “uuums” or “uuuhs” slip into the final production.
3. Look good on camera
If you’re going to ask a celebrity out on a date, you should look your best. No baggy sweatpants or sweatshirts allowed—and make sure you don’t have spinach in your teeth.
4. Watch what’s behind you
At first, we thought we should go outside and shoot the video under a palm tree. Definitive Hollywood, right? But the camera we were working with wasn’t that fancy, and we didn’t want to risk the distraction of ambient clatter. We decided to shoot the video in Miller’s bedroom, in front of an Ikea fabric room divider.
5. Optimize your video
If you’re trying to make a viral video, don’t forget about the writing. We brainstormed a few titles before we decided on this: “Girl with cancer asks ’50/50′ star on date.” We also put in a lot of keywords to improve SEO, and we included a link to Miller’s blog, I am a liver, in the video’s description. Her blog attracted more than 1,000 new visitors overnight.
6. Tell your friends and co-workers
After we posted the video on Monday night, Miller wrote a blog post about it and shared it on her Facebook account. She also tweeted the post to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, saying: “I’m 26. I have cancer. Coffee?” (And the Twitter community showed directed a flood of tweets to the actor @hitRECordJoe.) On Tuesday morning, we posted it to Ragan’s Millennial Mafia blog and Facebook page, and we emailed our Ragan co-workers, asking them to tweet the video.
7. Tell the media
We knew things were looking good when the executive producer from “Anderson” emailed Miller with an interview request and when the International Business Times wrote a story about her. We also pitched local TV stations, along with “The View,” “Regis & Kelly,” and all the big morning TV shows.
8. Be prepared for crazy people
One thing we weren’t prepared for: trolls. Who knew people on the Internet could be so mean—especially to a cute young woman with cancer? If you’re acting as someone’s publicist, don’t let them read the comments—for that matter, don’t read them yourself. The majority of people from YouTube were incredibly supportive of Miller’s video, but there are always going to be a few “haters” out there, as YouTubers say. Oh, and some creeps, too.
Also, don’t take medical advice from people on the Internet. Not only was Miller’s inbox brimming with requests for dates with guys from around the world, but people also sent along cures for cancer. Here’s one:
“Ingest one drop of cannabis oil the size of a grain of rice every night before bed,” one guy wrote. “After three months, my friend’s tumor shrunk in size by 50 percent and after six months, he was completely cancer free.”
9. Answer media calls
On Tuesday morning, Miller and I planned to take a bus tour of L.A. But we decided we should be available for media calls. If Brian Williams called, she needed to take the call in her apartment—not on top of a bus.
10. Get some sleep
This was my first time acting as a publicist, and after we shot the video, I couldn’t wait to see how many people would see it. When we went to bed around 10 p.m., about 45 people had watched it. When we woke up in the morning, more than 400 people had viewed it. Instead of staying up all night and worrying about it, I should’ve just gone to sleep—and let the Internet work its magic.
This story is developing.