Some of the most popular viral videos are the ones that make you ask yourself, "Did that really happen?" This week, a buzzy clip on YouTube showed a guy apparently hacking into video screens in Times Square with just an iPhone and a piece of hardware the man calls a "video repeater." It's unbelievable, but the video looks thoroughly convincing. And so far the clip has been seen nearly 1.5 million times. Take a look for yourself:
So it is real? In a word: nope. What it is, in actuality, is a surprisingly effective bit of marketing for a movie. The video was created by a company called ThinkModo to promote this weekend's new release, "Limitless."
The original video was posted to YouTube on March 13, and there is barely anything in it to suggest that it's promoting a movie. The only clue is on the big video screen towards the end of the clip. As the unidentified man in orange jacket raises his "video repeater" up on a balloon, before he takes over the screen it is showing the trailer for "Limitless."
In a follow-up video posted by the same YouTube user, BITcrash44, there is an expanded introduction where the person operating the camera asks the man how he was able to create his device. He credits NZT, the fictional drug in the movie that gives the character played by Bradley Cooper supercharged brain power. The expanded video then ends with a full commercial for "Limitless."
So how did they pull off the stunt? Michael Krivicka of ThinkModo told The Village Voice, "Instead of some crazy CGI, we actually went to the screens and paid to play our own stuff on them." They choreographed the timing just right so that the video playing on the iPhone in front of the camera would pop up at just the right time on the big screens when the man held up his fake device. The screens were rented to run the footage over and over for an hour while they did takes of the clip to get the timing just right. The creators even made an effort to shake the camera around, giving it the look of an actual viral video.
The clip doesn't tell you much about "Limitless" as a movie, but that is the point. ThinkModo's James Percelay told The New York Times they are trying to promote "a whole new mind-set where you don't have to wrap everything up in a bow and if you don't, people are going to be a lot more interested in you and what you're selling." They believe that you can get the public more interested in a product by starting a conversation than with a traditional advertisement. Does it work? Well, you're reading this, aren't you?
However, if you'd actually like to know something about "Limitless", you can watch the trailer for the movie below. And no one in an orange jacket will interrupt.