'SNL Digital Short' film bears creepy resemblance to CMU students' video
The SNL Digital Short on "Saturday Night Live" Jan. 30 was creepy fun. But odd, coincidental similarities between it and an amateur dance video posted online nine days before that by Carnegie Mellon University freshmen are just creepy.
"People were screaming 'They copied you guys! They copied you guys!' " said Sean Hoffman, a CMU information systems major from Virginia and one of the creators of the dance.
No one was seeking any financial compensation. In fact, they weren't even asking for an apology. But in the end, they got something that came close.
Shot by friend Joe Oak during the first semester with a Canon SLR camera, the CMU video was posted Jan. 13 on YouTube. "What is the Creep?" features Mr. Hoffman and dorm mate Joe Reilly doing an exaggerated dance as they skulk around some of the campus' more scenic spots, such as the Pausch Bridge and Margaret Morrison Hall.
They added an instructional follow-up, "How to Creep," to YouTube on Jan. 20.
Then, in the early hours of last Sunday morning, a bunch of friends were playing video games in the dorm's lounge when Mr. Reilly's sister sent him a text message to say she'd just seen their dance on NBC's late-night variety show.
The group stampeded to Mr. Hoffman's room and discovered the video, with a dance titled "The Creep," had already been posted online.
"We had, like, 10 people packed in my room to watch it, and [the SNL video] started with the similarities of the hands, making claws, along the same lines as our 'how-to' video," he said.
In the first two minutes, he said, it was funny and rather flattering to consider that they'd come up with such a similar idea. The CMU students all say they are big fans of The Lonely Island -- the independent filmmaking group that includes SNL cast member Andy Samberg and cohorts Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone that performed the dance on the show.
The SNL short begins and ends with glimpses of iconic indie filmmaker John Waters. The three Lonely Island guys, dressed in Waters' signature skinny suits and even skinnier mustaches, creep around to an original tune written for the video. The show's guest that week, Nicki Minaj, shows up as a female creep.
The dance and "creeper" concept in both versions are somewhat similar, which is not unusual in a digital world where everyone's work seems to be influenced by others.
But a figure wearing a reptilian mask appears for just a few seconds late in the 2-minute, 41-second SNL short -- just like in "What is the Creep?"
"My dorm is three floors, and if you were on the first, you could hear the screaming when they showed that quick shot of the guy with the dinosaur head on," Mr. Hoffman said.
"I look at this as 'the samplers got sampled,' " said Mike Madison, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law whose classes include intellectual property. "And this actually happens quite a bit in copyright law: What's good for the goose is good for the gander."
The "How to Creep" projects were never meant to be anything but amusing, Mr. Reilly said. "It was always just fun, it's why we made the videos in the first place."
It all started during freshman orientation as a joke. He stalked a friend around campus as he'd seen a comedian do. "We said, 'This could be a dance,' and Sean was already big on dancing," added Mr. Reilly, a Maryland native who is considering a major in chemistry or material sciences.
Views of their video on YouTube have jumped, from about 7,000 last week to more than 14,000 by late Thursday afternoon. For this, they can thank Rolling Stone's website, which ran a brief story on what it called a "mini-controversy" Jan. 31.
Although an NBC representative could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, Rolling Stone posted a statement from The Lonely Island. The professional filmmakers noted that their song was recorded last fall and that they were surprised by the coincidental aspects of the videos:
"That's crazy that they have a T-Rex head as well! I guess great minds do think alike. And by great minds we mean ours and theirs.
"We enjoyed their dancing and hope they continue their creeping ways."
Mr. Hoffman said they were thrilled by The Lonely Island's response: "Even for them to acknowledge [us] was cool."
First Published February 4, 2011 12:00 am