Some University of Texas students can stake claim to hundreds of Facebook friends and thousands of Twitter followers. Child’s play. Those figures pale in comparison to the number of YouTube subscribers amassed by UT sophomore Jon Cozart.
The Radio, Television and Film student has ascended to the status of YouTube sensation, drawing in almost 500,000 subscribers. That’s more than Conan O’Brien. Cozart’s latest viral video, posted last Tuesday, attracted more than 6 million views in less than a week.
“After Ever After” is an enthusiastic, candy-colored musical parody of the lives of Disney icons forced to deal with real-world problems. Pocahontas must stave off guns, germs and steel; Aladdin is an innocent target in the war on terror; the Little Mermaid’s idyllic ocean home falls threat to BP oil spills; and Belle (“Beauty and the Beast”) gets a finger-wagging for her preference of lover.
The animated Cozart appears in four vertical panels, harmonizing with himself and providing vocal beats in a musical performance that is part barbershop quartet, part beat-boxing and part Broadway.
Cozart, who performed musical theater at his Houston-area high school, has always wanted an excuse to sing the beloved Disney tunes he listened to throughout his childhood. The parody plays to the core happily-ever-after ethos at play in Disney movies.
“All my inspiration came from those movies and the settings they take place in,” Cozart said. “Disney is so idealistic, and the stories are fairy tales. So if you take the ‘Shrek’ approach and put these fairy tales in a modern world, it’s just automatically funny.”
The Internet agreed. The day after Cozart posted the four-minute video it landed on the Huffington Post. “Star Trek” veteran George Takei posted the video on his popular Facebook page. Cozart gained more than 250,000 new subscribers in short order, as the video rocketed around the Internet through social media.
But what did Disney, a company that fiercely protects its image, think? The president of Disney Theatrical contacted the ambitious student, told him he did an incredible job and passed along compliments from famed Disney composer and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken.
“He’s a personal idol of mine, so it’s amazing that he saw my video and enjoyed it,” Cozart said.
“After Ever After” isn’t the fresh-faced student’s first brush with Internet fame. In the summer of 2010, between his senior year of high school and his start at UT, Cozart produced “Harry Potter in 99 Seconds,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a rapid-fire burst of melody encapsulating the popular movie in under two minutes. The video has attracted more than 13 million views. His collection of videos, available at YouTube.com/user/Paint, has received almost 40 million views.
Despite his energetic performance in the videos, the measured Cozart comes across as savvy and thoughtful in person. He realizes that his Internet persona may appear head-strong or obnoxious to some, an inevitability that has bred some slight resentment and jealousy among at least one fellow RTF classmate. But, Cozart, who is starting to get recognized around campus, takes the judgment in stride and separates his YouTube life from his film studies.
“I think my YouTube persona is so distinct that I don’t want it to translate it into my film things. There’s obviously a distinct difference between a one-take parody song and a film,” Cozart said. “I’m a different person in front of the camera because it sells better and it reads better.”
If he talks like a marketing executive it’s because Cozart, who says he makes enough money from YouTube to support his day-to-day living expenses, has always had an eye on generating traffic.
“I think about the market. It’s different than making art,” Cozart said. “I like to think in terms of what could possibly go viral, and I think the reason this one did was because it appealed to a broad range of people. The keys are watching other people and studying it — figure out what people are making and what people enjoy. You have to find the next audience before somebody else finds it. And just keep working.”
Cozart is taking his first RTF classes this semester, and though he may have a strong grasp on what makes a video a viral hit, he knows he has a lot to learn about film production.
“I don’t know my style of filmmaking yet. I don’t have a voice yet,” Cozart said
The energetic student who also performs in UT improv troupe Giggle Pants while taking a full course load, eventually wants to take a swing at making feature-length musicals and names the poignant, award-winning “Once” as a possible inspiration. But he knows that if directing doesn’t work out, he could always move to L.A. and take up acting. Or keep knocking out catchy videos that always seem to find an audience.
With hundreds of thousands of new followers and the Internet buzzing with positive response, Cozart said he feels pressure for a follow-up hit. And, not surprisingly, he seems to have a recipe in place.
He’s working on a musical parody of “The Hunger Games.” He wants to produce it for the stage at UT and film it for his YouTube channel.
“Hopefully that will take off, too. And I imagine it will.”
Watch all of Jon Cozart’s videos on his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/user/Paint.