“The Impression Guys” is the best online-video series of 2014. Get a bowl of oatmeal, pull out your phone, and check it out. So far episode one and episode two have launched, and new episodes are each Monday.
It’s produced by Soul Pancake, which was founded by Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office). It also features Angela Kinsey (who was Angela Martin in The Office), and this week’s episode (number 2) featured Matt Jones from Breaking Bad.
But the duo that carries the series so far is Jim Meskimen (playing Jim Marshall) and Ross Marquand (as Ross Marvin). Long-time readers of WVFF will know I’ve had a long-time creative crush on Meskimen, who is the voice behind the infamous JibJab cartoons. He’s a masterful impressionist who also is a really sweet guy. His mom is Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham.
Meskimen admits a lot of it is improv, but credits the success to “Impressionist Guys” writer and creator Ben Shelton, who also does The Flipside series for SoulPancake. “He runs a really happy set, has a great crew and makes the most of what has to be the smallest budget in television,” Meskimen told me.
SoulPancake also is living up to the “soul” in its name. Says Jim about SP, “their flow is positive and re-affirming… not edgy.”
Anyway, here’s the fun of the series. You’ll first dismiss it as an excuse to stitch together some very good impressions by Meskimen, Marquand and others. But if you give it time, you’ll realize there’s a depth to the characters and a compelling storyline. Some vulnerability that you don’t see coming.
I’m at an industry event yesterday in NYC and I run into the affable Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3. He follows this little blog occasionally, and we’ve spoken at numerous industry events. (Jim is also cool, geeky and provocative… important attributes of “emerging media mavens”).
For no particular reason, I asked him when someone was going to acquire his studio. He smiles and says, “acquire or invest?” Moments later a Google guy tipped me off to the TechCrunch rumor earlier this week that Discovery was acquiring Revision3. Psychic powers? Apparently.
Discovery isn’t disclosing a purchase price, but multiple sources familiar with the transaction tell me the cable guys will pay around $30 million for the start-up. The company ended up raising about $10 million during its six-year lifespan, with the last chunk coming from a group of investors that included Mark Cuban.
Revision3 will continue operating out of its San Francisco headquarters, and make its own web shows. Obviously Discovery will want to figure out ways toleverage Revision3’s experience in online-video audience development and distribution.
Revision3 now has Discovery’s dollars, distribution and clout with advertisers, and Discovery gets to learn how to produce video more efficiently. “We produce content on a $500,000 to $750,000 an hour scale,” said Discovery’s digital leader JB Perrette. “Producing something at a tenth of that cost means it has to be very different.”
For those reasons, I like this combination better than peanut butter and chocolate. Revision3 was one of the first online-video properties, and Discovery Channel was a cable network that began to figure out online video earlier than others (see my “Shark” blog post about Discovery from 2009). Now it gets interesting.
One of the things that gets me through the holidays is the anticipation and enjoyment of JibJab’s annual year-end song parody. When Twitter rumors about CNN’s announcing Morgan Freeman’s death this week, I called JibJab’s Voice Jim Meskimen (website/on YouTube) to see if he’d do his classic Freeman impersonation. He did in this “Morgan Freeman is Alive” video, and it fooled many.
Check it out below, and notice it’s all puppets instead of the typical flash animation. JibJab took us behind the curtain with a step-by-step “behind scenes” blog. I can’t find what I’d hoped to see: Jim singing in the studio (there is a scratch music page that’s currently sparse).
As I mentioned in a recent video (“Advertising Doesn’t Have to Suck,” I’m off to Blogworld. It’s the “South by Southwest” of social media, and packed with bloggers, vloggers, and even stupid people. Steve Garfield (fellow video enthusiast) is leading a session, and we’re both doing book signings on Friday. On Friday, he signs “Get Seen” at 2:00 and I sign “Beyond Viral” at 2:30. I plan to stalk his fans holding a sign that says, “if you liked Get Seen, you might also like Beyond Viral.”
Hey, Peter. Yeah- Peter Justason. The guy I used to work with at Johnson & Johnson. I’m gonna kick your ass on Meskimen’s new cartoon-caption contest. Instead of semi-annual, he’s going for WEEKLY. I will destroy you.
Spiridellis acknowledges his Ethopian doll is in poor taste. One of those brilliant moments you’re so glad wasn’t chopped out in a dastardly moment of politically correct editing, because you can see he really feels it.
Meskimen is mentioned as the voice of JibJab like he’s not in the room. You can just hear Evan instinctively honoring that his pal is in character.
Knestor thinks the dynamite figures on a birthday cake are, in fact, wieners. That moment may go unnoticed by most, but it had this 14-year-old 40-something guy giggling.
In a wonderful example of Meskimen’s improv abilities, Knestor reminds us that uploading your head to JibJab permits you to keep your head when you’re done. We don’t care if he’s used this bit before, because it seems to glide out his brain like a child from a water slide.
I saw a live webcast of JibJab by FallofAutumnDistro in July 2008, and remember thinking, “wow these guys aren’t just talented, but really likeable.” The company was born in a manger by a frustrated investor banker with a Wharton MBA (Gregg Spiridellis) and Evan, his award-winning animator and brother. In a parallel universe, I was their third brother who was often picked on, never amounted to much, but helped turn some of their bulletin-board notecards green.
This interview with Evan, a fellow Jim Henson fan, reminds me that the dudes in this Santa Monica, California creative nerve center may not wear tattoos but may sport some of the coolest jobs of our generation.
There are two forms of comedy that I can’t envision ever “jumping the shark.” They are “The Office” (either UK or US) and “JibJab.” While not every JibJab tops the previous, this one is certainly a giant move in the right direction. We see voice personality Jim Meskimen getting tossed in the air from a poke in the rear. We see Obama singing about changing while riding Unicorns over rainbows. Hillary takes on a communism badge for 2012 elections. McCain pokes himself in a puss-filled face and then collapses behind wheelchair-contained friends.
And this is me free forming off my first view of a video experience I’ll no doubt enjoy several dozen more times (today).
Thank you, Jim. Thank you, JibJab. This sent little unicorn rainbows down my spine!