Graydon Sheppard (l), one half of the comedy brains behind Toronto-based @ShitGirlsSay Twitter account looks at the groundwork that lead to their first video going viral this month (heading for 7million views!) – and offers a few tips for those looking to do the same.
A background in photography
I did my undergrad in photography and then got the chance to work for filmmaker Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways) while I was in school. After graduating I got representation as a music video and commercial director based on my photography.
I tried to break into narrative filmmaking but realised I didn't really understand how to write or direct a story, so I applied to the MFA Film Program at Columbia University in New York. I attended for a year, but then ran out of money and had to come back to Canada.
So the mix of a visual background, getting the chance to work for a visionary director, getting to experiment with music videos and bigger productions on commission, then finding my own voice in school got me to this moment.
The Twitter account began when my boyfriend Kyle Humphrey (who co-writes the Twitter feed) and I were watching TV and one of us said "Could you pass me that blanket?" It struck us as a question specific to women. We started to think about what that meant, for a phrase to be attributed to a sex, and began to come up with more on the spot. Suddenly we had gone back and forth with 20 quips and it dawned on us that they were the perfect length for Twitter.
A celeb fan helps (don’t be a stalker though, omg)
Juliette Lewis was one of our first celebrity followers. It was really exciting and we felt like we were catching on. Then one day in the summer we tweeted "Hey, where are you?" as a Shit Girls Say phrase. She replied to it, and it turned out she had just arrived in Toronto to start filming The Firm for NBC. We started to direct message, and it turned out we knew some of the same people, so we went out for a drink. Once we’d filmed all our material we showed her the fine cuts, and she agreed to do the appearance. Next thing I knew I was on set with a legend! It was incredible.
Think about shooting a test video to get your crew on board
The crew was mostly made up of my (very talented) friends and people I had worked with before. We had shot a little test video at home so we could show people what we were trying to do, and luckily everyone was really into it. Our DP, Jonathon Cliff, who shot features for Brian DePalma and Bruce McDonald, used his own camera, some crew members brought their own gear, and our producers rustled up the rest of the equipment.
We were so lucky to have Jonathon and he helped me look not too gross. The production went incredibly smoothly on both the original shoot day and on the pick-up day with Juliette. The first day we shot in four different locations with several setups and a lot of material to cover. We got it all in ten hours. The producers and crew were amazing, and I think that we all believed in it and really wanted it to work.
I edited the episodes myself on a laptop that I bought in 2005! The screen turns off every once in a while, but other than that it's a good little machine. Luckily we got to do a grade at a great shop called REDLAB in Toronto, so we got that extra polish.
Find a partner website with the right audience
We approached a website called HelloGiggles which was founded by Zooey Deschanel and two very talented and internet-savvy women named Sophia Rossi and Molly McAleer. Their site has mostly female contributors posting content aimed at "smart, independent, and creative females," so it seemed like the perfect spot to post our first video. We approached them once we had the first round of cuts done and they said yes, so we've released the first two videos on their site and then on our Twitter account at the same time or shortly after.
Keep the momentum going
Right after we posted the first video I left to do some work, but it went so crazy so quickly I had to come home. The internet had just picked up on it and it spread at a shocking rate. We heard from people we didn't know that it had shown up on their Facebook walls 30 or 40 separate times in a day. That's where most of the traffic came from, people spreading it around on Facebook.
The whole week was packed with calls and interviews, and we just did our best to respond to everyone as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going. We did an interview with ABC News Online on the first night, and then two days later Hoda (Kotb) and Kathie Lee (Gifford) showed it on The Today Show on NBC while drinking white wine. It was on Perez Hilton, Dlisted linked to it, there were articles in The Guardian, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and so on.
There’s no formula, really
I feel like I stumbled upon a unicorn. We thought it would do well, but never imagined it would bring this much attention so quickly. Having worked in advertising and on music videos, this is the dream. Everyone wants you to do something for no money and have it "go viral". I've always found that to be a dangerous and often disappointing pursuit.
We were lucky to have struck this chord that people are responding to, but it truly has been a project that we have been excited to work on every single day for eight months. I really hate to be cheesy, but this was such a labour of love, and the joy I had while making it gave me the energy to do it as well as possible.
Oprah said on her final show to "Listen to the whispers!" You know in your guts when you don't love or fully believe in something you're doing. There were no whispers on this project, just a woman inside me screaming to get out. God I love Oprah.
Watch the first two episodes of Shit Girls Say. Episode 3 goes up on 26 Dec with more due in, like, the New Year.