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Exploring the virtual Wild West with Anything for Fame

By Nimra Amir, December 10 2023—

In today’s world, it is not rare to open your phone to an outrageous video made by content creators like Jake Hillhouse or Ava Louise — who you might know from her viral video licking some random airplane toilet seat during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what happens when the camera turns off? Anything for Fame, directed by Tyler Funk, which is now streaming for free on the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) website, explores what life is really like for this new breed of content creators in their relentless pursuit for stardom in the virtual Wild West beyond the few seconds that we get to see them online.

“I grew up with a very small group of friends. Obviously, I’m much older than Jake — I grew up kind of pre-Internet,” Funk said. “We could do whatever and so me and a small group of friends decided that we wanted to go to UBC and become filmmakers.” 

That small group of friends consisted of editor Sebastian Mercado and actor David. 

“David ended up taking his own life while we were at film school,” Funk said. “That obviously was a huge traumatic event for all of us. But it made me really curious about who the performer is and what is that tax on the performer?” 

As we enter the age of social media, the performer is almost entirely unique as we know it in the traditional sense of the word, but the essence of the job is all too similar when we consider that these are people who want to entertain the audience that is watching them. Yet, it is the content creators instead of actors or singers who are often written off as dumb or crazy for doing what they do in order to entertain their audience.

Hillhouse, for example, has roots in content creation that go back to skateboarding videos, but the videos were not all tricks and flips. There were also moments where Hillhouse and his friends were getting kicked out of Walmarts or putting rat traps on their fingers. 

“We would post that and I think there was that reaction of my friends and my family of seeing them cringe or find it funny — I fell in love with that feeling. So we started making videos that were solely focused around the Jackass-like stunts,” Hillhouse said. 

Hillhouse has even self-proclaimed that he is “dumb-as-shit” for going all out on his stunts soon after graduating from high school despite the vague community guidelines of the social media platforms he posts on like YouTube or TikTok. For him, as a performer, that is just what he needed to do to entertain his audience.

“When I was 18 or 19 years old, maybe it was me being stubborn but I just wasn’t willing to hinder my creative process, because at the end of the day, whatever anybody says online about doing stunts, it was like an art for me,” Hillhouse said.

Although this meant that Hillhouse has had both his YouTube and TikTok deleted at some points, Anything for Fame explores how as performers like Hillhouse gain success on these social media platforms, there is some responsibility on the part of these social media platforms to open up channels of more clear communication that other performers like actors have from already established institutions like the National Film Board.

“You just have to really represent yourself, because the platforms aren’t necessarily looking out for you. That was really apparent when we saw Jake’s account got taken down while they were advertising for Jackass,” Funk said.

In a world where the barriers to entry for content creation are lower than ever, it is more important than ever to explore the evolving role of performers in this virtual Wild West and what responsibility lies with them, their audience and the social media platforms.

To watch Anything for Fame, visit the NFB website.

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