What do you think when you hear the name Chris Crocker? Let me guess – “Leave Britney alone!” Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch’s documentary about the eccentric video blogger-turned-Internet sensation likely won’t change that, but it will show that there’s much more to Crocker than an emotional Britney fanboy.
It all started when Crocker’s homophobic high school and disapproving neighbors left him restricted to his home with his grandparents, Britney Spears posters and a camera. With little else to do and few ways to express his feelings, Crocker took to posting uncensored, impassioned and often curious videos on the Internet. Soon enough, Crocker amassed a following, regularly attracting millions of views per video. However, after uploading the epic “Leave Britney Alone” during which he sobs and pleads for Britney’s wellbeing, Crocker received a volatile amount of attention, something that turned him into a celebrity of sorts, but also doused him in criticism.
As someone who began “Me @ the Zoo” associating Crocker with little more than “Leave Britney alone,” it’s almost jarring to see him presented as a real person, let alone speak with him. He is just as unconventional and outspoken as all of his videos suggest, but Crocker is also strangely charming, thoughtful and grounded by the fact that he deeply believes in what he fights for. Check out what Crocker had to say about handing over the camera and letting someone else tell his story, his hopes for the future and much more in the interview below, and be sure to catch “Me @ the Zoo” on iTunes today.
Can you tell me a bit about how this film came to be? Was it your idea or did Chris and Valerie approach you?
Chris Crocker: Interestingly enough, I was already kind of friends of theirs. It was interesting because ordinarily with a documentary, I’m sure that most people don’t know the directors, so for this it was just really organic because Chris and Valerie were already doing a documentary about people performing as themselves on camera, everything from game shows to reality TV and on, and I was just gonna be a side interview in that documentary. Slowly they just started filming more and more with me. I don’t think they intentionally set out to make the Chris Crocker story in the beginning and it just sort of happened this way.
Do you remember what it was that lead them to make that decision? Did they find something in your archives or shoot something specific they felt they could build the story around?
They just filmed more and more. I did grant them access to my archives that people hadn’t seen, a lot of footage. I think it was a combination of both. I think that they didn’t realize that there was actually more reasons behind why I started making videos, growing up gay in the south. I think that it just told a more relatable story for this generation.
How about once you all agreed to make it a documentary focusing on you? Were there any stipulations? Any must-dos or must- don’ts on your end?
There weren’t too many stipulations because I’m always telling my own stories, so I think I was just interested in other people giving it more dimension and actually seeing it from their perspective. But the only thing I really wanted, of course, my grandparents have taken a lot of flack here in this small town from my videos and what I do, so I wanted to be respectful of their privacy as well.
Funny you say that because I bet your grandparents are a hit with audiences. They may not back what you do, but I found them so lovable and charming.
But they’re so unaware. That’s what’s so funny; I tell my grandmother all the time that at every screening they’re like, ‘So, how’s your grandmother?’ They’re so interested in her and she just has the hardest time believing that.
What’d she think about the film?
I think that she liked it. We all had a little family get-together, all my friends came over and my family watched it with me and she didn’t have anything bad to say. She’s not the most vocally positive person at times. She not like, ‘Oh my God, that was amazing,’ or anything. She just kind of keeps her thoughts to herself. But I think she liked it.
What about your grandfather? We see in the movie that he doesn’t want anything to do with your videos. Did the documentary open him up to it a little?
Same thing. It’s just right now, whenever he realized I was doing an interview, he walked in my room and walked right out. He’s the most private. He’s into his bible and that’s about it. Anything pertaining to the Internet or the stuff I do, he wants nothing to do with. I think filming, that was probably one of the biggest obstacles because I could tell from the get-go my grandparents were not gonna be that into it.
How much of what we see on screen is your footage versus the new material they shot for the film?
That was very decisive of them. They have probably, I don’t know, hours and hours and hours of footage. They shot here in my hometown for months. They had more to show, I think they just wanted to leave in stuff that I had shot with that, but I would say out of the footage that is of me, maybe 70% of it is shot by me, if not more.
It’s kind of cool you get a cinematographer title to your name!
I don’t even know! I think I might have a title.
IMDb credits you with one!
Okay, well that’s fair then. [Laughs]
As someone who’s been telling his own story via videos for so long, what is it about film that makes it the appropriate medium for telling what you want to convey now?
I don’t even know if film is the most appropriate. I actually channel everything through writing now. I think I’m really actually easily misinterpreted through film because of my facial expressions and I’m just so blunt in the way I speak, etc. But it started for me because I was alone with the four walls of my room all the time for like three years. I had dropped out of school, I wasn’t going anywhere so I just had this camera that I wasn’t using that my grandmother had bought me, and I didn’t even know you could record video on it! I just randomly found the video mode and I was like, ‘Let me see.’ It was just a really happy accident that turned into a multi-yearlong outlet for me. As far as the documentary and why that’s appropriate for right now, I was just open to my story being told a little bit more and being seen as more than a crying lunatic. I just wanted more dimension to the public understanding.
After having filmed yourself for quite a while, what was it like having someone else putting the camera in your face for a change?
I’m not gonna lie, when you’re doing a documentary there’s definitely times when you don’t want them recording this or you don’t want them recording that, but that comes with the territory of doing a documentary. You’re so in control when you’re filming your own content, producing it, and putting it out there. You’re controlling what the audience sees. With this, I already put so much of myself out there, but it was so vulnerable not knowing what they would use. The whole experience was vulnerable in a really good way.
What’d you think the first time you saw the film? Was there anything in there you wish they had cut or anything you remembered shooting that you liked, but they left out?
Yeah. It was more so the things that didn’t make the cut. I keep saying, I hope there’s DVD extras for extra things. There’s a scene that I was in my bedroom and they were asking me about the Britney video, and it was the first time, honestly, ever, that all the parallels hit me at once. I was like, ‘Oh, wow! Mom was going through this around the same time as Britney,’ and there were people in my family that had given up on my mom when I was still rooting for her, and I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ I saw all the parallels right in front of me and I broke down. It was a really powerful, powerful interview, but I just think that the way they told the story, they didn’t want to make the parallels between Britney and my mom so obvious. I think they wanted it to subtly hit you. I see why they didn’t use it, but that was, to me, such a breakthrough for me that I would actually really like to see that interview.
So many years later, how do you feel about that Britney video now? Are you hoping this documentary might detach you from that a little?
I don’t know that the film is gonna do that. I think by the end of it you are curious. I can watch it from an outside perspective and be like, ‘Hm, okay, I’m curious a little bit more than just the Britney aspect,’ and so I do think it serves it’s purpose and you see me as a person and not just the persona of Britney Boy. I think it sets that up for me, but doing the documentary, I wasn’t hoping that it would give me a new career path or anything like that. I just wanted to be a little more understood and I think I am. I’m continuing my music. I actually just finished my new record, so I’m still charging on with my other pursuits.
Have you had any contact with Britney recently? In the film it’s pretty sad when we find out she didn’t respond very nicely to you. Has anything on that front improved since?
No. When I try to reach out or say anything positive in regards to Britney, if I mention her in a video, if I’m supportive of a song or if I voice my opinion how I don’t like her as a judge on “X-Factor,” anything I say pertaining to Britney, everyone accuses me of just talking about her to get attention. Never mind the fact that I have her posters in my room. Even if I ripped those down on one wall in my room, I always have to explain that, too, that when I ripped down my Britney posters, that was me taking back my identity as more of a Britney boy, and had less to do with Britney and more to do with me. But anyway, long story short, I still support her. I haven’t heard from her and, you know, I think there’s just a lot of misunderstanding about why I made the Britney video in the first place, so her team’s just really confused about me is what I think. I believe he was an Irish reporter, you can Google this, I’m actually one of Britney’s blacklisted questions when she gives interviews. A reporter leaked what blacklisted questions are not to be asked to her. It’s interesting. It’s a little weird to perceive yourself as one of Britney’s biggest supporters, but you’re a blacklisted question.
Are there any other celebrities you’re rooting for? Anyone you’re watching or just a big fan of?
Everyone thinks I’m this huge top 40 music fan, but actually my biggest inspiration is Fiona Apple and Courtney Love. They’re my two favorite musicians. No one I’m really rooting for in the public eye that’s a hot mess or anything, but Fiona Apple and Courtney Love are my favorites.
How about in the film world? Anyone you’re rooting for at the Academy Awards?
You know, it’s so crazy; I’m so behind with new movies. I can’t even tell you a new movie that I’ve seen in the past three years, and I’m not even exaggerating. I don’t go to the movies that much.
You’re missing out!
Am I? Which are the good ones? I’m actually curious because I never go.
It depends. What kind of movies do you like?
I like comedies, dramedies.
Go check out “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“Silver Linings Playbook.” It’s the one Jennifer Lawrence is nominated for.
Oh, okay! I was curious why she was nominated so I might have to see that.
What about viral videos? Do you keep up with the latest big ones?
If I stumble on them, but today viral videos are so not organic. There are so many production companies that work with YouTube and that grind out these viral video stars that the way viral videos happen nowadays is just not the way it used to. I don’t really keep up with them that much.
How about reality TV? Obviously from your movie I know that path didn’t work for you, but I still kept thinking your story could make a good series. You’re an interesting person with a lot to say, so any thoughts on giving that another go?
I know it doesn’t work out for many people, but in my case, someone that’s rolled with the punches in such an under-the-radar way for so long and still managed to do my thing, I think that a reality show would actually help me because it would show the things the documentary didn’t show, which is the more day-to-day life things and how I’ve been working on my new music for the past two or three years trying to make it. I think I’m like 1,000 away from selling 100,000 songs. So I think there’s a multilayered story for a reality show. I like doing music, I’m still in the south, I want to go to a bigger city, I have Pentecostal grandparents, what’s not to love for a pitch?
Five years down the line, where do you hope to be?
I would like to have done a reality show maybe for a couple years, I want to write a memoir and release a book of my writing, and continue to do music and also, actually, if I do say so myself, I’m a pretty good actor so I would like to delve into that. But I don’t know if reality would be appropriate first and then acting, so I don’t know.
When you were a kid did you ever have that cliché hope to grow up and become a firefighter, doctor or something like that?
Never. My grandmother has a book, it’s like first grade, second grade, third grade. You put your first tooth in there, you put your second tooth in there and every year your family asks you, ‘What do you want to be?’ Every single year from first to eighth grade I was saying, ‘I want to be a dancer. I want to be a singer. I want to be an actor.’ It was always entertainment-related. Always.
To wrap up, you’re still well known for ‘Leave Britney alone;’ if you could change that tagline for yourself, what would it be?
I would definitely like to just be known as Chris and seen as a talented person. But again, I understand why people don’t and so that’s something I have to work towards.