By the time directors, actors, producers, and buyers descended on Park City last week for the Sundance Film Festival, a competition documentary had already been picked up by HBO. Back in 2007, a young man from Tennessee named Chris Crocker posted a video to YouTube in which he tearfully defended pop star Britney Spears against her critics. Titled “Leave Britney Alone!” the video received over four million page views in two days and caught the attention of major news networks and late night comedy shows. Me @the Zoo, directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch (with Michael Stipe among the producers), tells the post-modern story of internet celebrity and its consequences.
Crocker, who came to Park City to promote the film and participate in a few of the audience Q&A’s, sat down with Elle.com on the heels of the film’s premiere.
ELLE: How did the directors of Me @TheZoo first approach you?
CC: I was friends with Chris Moukarbel’s boyfriend online. Chris had been working on another documentary and his boyfriend told me that he wanted to interview me. The original documentary was about reality TV stars and how they affect pop culture. So they flew me to New York and interviewed me. But then I think they just realized that my story touched on the themes that they wanted to explore so they used it as an example of a larger story about the internet and what it says about where the entertainment industry is going.
ELLE: Given that it all began with the Spears video, what do you make of the all the attention that that YouTube video received?
CC: There was already an interest in Britney’s life at that time, but there was no one in the media who stood up for her. So I guess I was the first person to say, ‘Hey, Britney still has fans. Leave the girl alone. She is clearly going through a hard time.’ I was worried for her as a person. I wasn’t doing it to be funny. I was used to online attention, but the mainstream news and stuff I guess really was a shock. I went to the grocery store the next day and someone was like, “Are you that guy they just showed on Fox News?” It was just overnight. So the documentary is about how I get the fifteen minutes of fame, lose it, become a joke—and what then.
ELLE: Has Spears ever acknowledged the video?
CC: Never. Obviously, she was going through a hard time when I made that video so I didn’t expect anything. But there was a time later when I thought, ‘Lord, maybe I would have sent me a fruit basket or something.’ You know?
ELLE: What do you think of Sundance so far?
CC: It’s like LA came to Utah! It takes so long to do anything in LA. Like, you can go eat and go home, but that’s it. It’s almost the same here. You can barely catch your breath. The most surreal are the screenings. Posting videos and reading comments is so different than watching my life story with all these people around me. A lot of them don’t even realize it’s me because I look so different so I’m totally incognito. I’ll sit in a screening and hear ‘God, He’s so crazy.’ If they laugh, gasp, shriek—I get to hear those reactions in real time.