Five Minutes of Fame

Every 10 minutes Ben Barrett-Forrest gets a message on his cell saying that someone in the world is Tweeting about his new video on YouTube.

The Whitehorse resident says he’s tempted to shut that function off and just stop paying close attention. But then, he decides to keep riding the rollercoaster of YouTube fame. Who knows how long it will last?

On April 28 Barrett-Forrest posted a 5-minute video he made called The History of Typography. Since then, more than 412,000 people have watched it.

“The exponential curve has flattened out, but it’s still averaging five or six thousand views per day,” Barrett-Forrest says. “My peak was 86,000 in one day.”

It was people from Spain, Brazil and France who started racking up views before Canadians and Americans started to take notice.

Barrett-Forrest’s video uses stop-motion animation to portray the evolution of fonts.

He tells us about the first typeface, called Blackletter, which was modeled after monks’ handwriting. That 1,000-ish year-old font is still around, it seems to be popular for tattoos and death metal band logos these days.

The video uses the history of the tails on letters – and the removal of tails on letters – to illustrate the financial-psycho-emotional impact of fonts. He takes us quickly and lightly through the series of major changes to typefaces that have happened between the 12th century and today – and his storytelling leaves a dent.

All the font options in MS Word start to make sense. And judging by the comments on his video he is stirring up conversations among typeface lovers.

?Alex Hanly wrote, “I got goosebumps when Futura showed up. I’m a loser!”

Alex Sabo wrote, “Comic Sans was created in 2000 BC when Satan walked the earth!”

And Mario Ciceri wrote, “Thank you, just thank you – from an old typographer … ;-)”

The list of comments is bottomless.

“I love them,” he says. “The vast majority of them are positive, which is great. And then there’s the odd naysayer saying something odd. One said, ‘Great video, but you have girly hands.’ Which is funny. And not really relevant.”

Barrett-Forrest’s video is not the only one on YouTube about fonts; there are at least eight other videos with that same title. But his is the big crowd-pleaser. One video called History of Typography was loaded three years ago and has 4,022 views. That’s 408,000 less than our man has racked up in four weeks. And he’s attracting the attention of cutting-edge graphic designers, too.

“It’s been featured on all of my favourite websites,” Barrett-Forrest says. “One really cool thing that came along was that I got an email from Google and they were asking if they could feature my video at the 2013 Google I/O Conference – it’s the annual Google developers’ conference. It’s one of the most attended conferences in the world and my video was played on a big screen at the YouTube booth.”

Barrett-Forrest’s video is 5-minutes in a world where squeezing 3-minutes of attention out of someone is a coup.

“Viewer retention rates are really good – they’re averaging over three minutes,” Barrett-Forrest says. He’s got his YouTube stats to prove it. “And they break it down: the United States has the largest attention span at 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Canada ranks fifth – it’s like 3 minutes and 5 seconds.”

The success has prompted companies to ask him to make 1-minute stop-motion videos for them, but Barrett-Forrest says he’s too busy.

Home from McMaster University for the summer, he’s singing, dancing and acting in the Frantic Follies. He’s got two jobs, and he’s in The Hinterlands, who are playing at the Kluane Bluegrass Music Festival.

“I just don’t think I have the time,” he says.

Given Barrett-Forrest’s multiple talents, fortune will probably just plow into his life anyway — once the Frantic Follies season is over.

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