It was a magical night in America, writes Chris Iller. And a lot of you have now shared in it. Below is a little bit of the history of my old video that went viral. I have some behind-the-scenes info and answer some frequently asked questions, as well as a few that haven’t been asked.
First off, here is the video in question. 9 minutes. An uncut moment, that seemed to be planned and orchestrated, with funny comments and real people at a 7-11 at 2:30 in the morning, just off Disney World property.
Back in 1987, I was a college student, studying Television and Film Production at the University of Central Florida. I was working part time at Disney World’s EPCOT Center in the Outdoor Foods division (selling ice cream bars & drinks from carts). I also had recently purchased my first camcorder. I loved it. Like many people do when they first buy a new toy, I used it a lot. I took it everywhere…parties, road trips, restaurants, and anything else I could think of.
One night in August of 1987, I grabbed one of my college buddies, Ken, and headed out to a Disney party and brought the camera. The party was hosted and populated mostly by fellow Disney employees from my department. I can’t remember why I brought Ken, or why he wanted to go to this party, but it happened. Along the way, we also teamed up with Jim, who was working with me at Disney.
The apartment complex the party was hosted at was a place once called Vista Village. It was were Disney housed their numerous interns on the College Program, as well as the International Employees that worked at the different country pavilions at Epcot. It was located off of 535, near a bunch of hotels with night clubs and bars. In other words, a lot of partying was going on in this area. And at 2am, the bars closed shop, and we were wrapping up at the party we were at, and decided to head out.
Our next stop was the 7-11 just across 535 from Vista Village. I wanted to get a Slurpee. While I was getting it, Ken decided to grab my camcorder and document the experience. What you see in the video is what happened over the next 9 minutes, while we were there. Apparently it was magic!
I held on to most of my videos, but I always liked this one. I thought my friend Ken was hilarious in it. He was always quick on his feet and a master of improv. I met him doing some Theatre stuff at UCF. But every time I watched this, I got a chuckle. In 2007, I started to digitize all my videos and get rid of everything VHS. I then, started uploading some of them to my YouTube channel. And I shared the links with some of my friends who were in them. Some of these videos had virtually gone unseen by them for nearly 25 years. I saw them many times, but they hadn’t.
Shortly after my initial batch of YouTube uploads I stopped by my old stomping grounds in Central Florida and visited two of the people that are featured in a lot of my videos (one of them being Ken, the guy who did most of the talking in my 7-11 video). I had a new camcorder and decided it would be funny to interview them about the YouTube thing. Here is the video I shot that night.
As you can see with the uncomfortable quiet moments in this video, I was beginning to find out that a lot of my friends were a little uneasy (some with good reason) about having the videos out there for the world to see. Especially, when I was already throwing a camera back on them. What was I up to? Nothing really. Just having fun as usual. And I thought “that was it” in regards this particular 7-11 video. I would get occasional comments from strangers, but nothing really noteworthy.
Flash forward to June of 2013 (6 years after I uploaded it). I started noticing that I’m suddenly getting a lot of attention on this 7-11 video. Apparently somebody posted the video on a website called 4Chan and it was starting to blow up. Then it was quickly reposted on Reddit by somebody else. Then it was quickly followed as a featured video on YouTube’s main page. And as a result, I received close to 1 million views within 3 days. It eventually did cross over the million view mark about a month later.
It appears my little funny video wasn’t becoming a popular find because of the jokes, it was because it was a perfect time capsule from the ’80s. And it featured not only things like cheap prices, old clothes and hair styles…but it also had something that’s missing these days…people being friendly to strangers, and the strangers being friendly right back.
It triggered off discussions of “What happened to America?”, “I wish I grew up in the ’80s”, “The internet and cell phones ruined us”, and other popular comments such as “If you did this today, you would get assaulted or arrested”, “Somebody should do this video today and see the difference”, and of course, the “Where are they now?” comments (mostly focusing on the French Girl).
Then in April of 2014, another round of attention happened when somebody else posted it again on Reddit, which was followed up quickly with a story on Yahoo News. This generated another half-million views within 24 hours.
Where does it go from here? Not sure. That could be it. But I have had two “agents” contact me to help me do big things with this video (Storyful. and Parnavi-Viral Spiral). Not sure if they are legit (if you have any insight, let me know). Not sure what those big things are. But I might investigate.
Since a follow up video had been requested, and many people said you wouldn’t get friendly people to talk to you today if you did this, I wanted to do another video. In the summer of 2014, I made a trip to Florida (not just for this). I tried to talk some of the people about getting back together and heading over to this 7-11 again and doing another little video. I couldn’t get many others, but Ken (the main guy talking in the original) was up for it and we headed over. Here is the video:
Not as fun. Probably because we weren’t there after 2am…plus we are guys in our 40s. But, as you can see, we did still run into friendly people.
All in all, it was kind of cool to have so many people see our fun little 1987 video, and to get caught up in the whirlwind of all the attention.
I will update this page if other news about it comes along.
Did you make any money on this video?
Yes, I do have most of my videos monetized on YouTube. Which means if enough people view the video, I get a check deposited into my bank account. I have been regularly getting a check for about $100 2-3 times a year…until this video blew up. In June I received a $2,000 deposit. I split the money with Ken. Not sure how much I will get from this second round yet.
Do you know where the people in this video are today?
Most of them…no. As you might have gathered from previous comments, I keep in contact with Ken. As for Jim, the other guy that was with us…I haven’t a clue to where he is. Lost touch with him shortly after that summer. Now I did run into the guy with the “Popped Collar” and the French Girl shortly after that at EPCOT’s employee cafeteria. We laughed about it. She went back to France shortly after that. He later asked me for a copy of the VHS that he could send her. I ran into him occasionally at Disney over the next few years, but eventually lost track of him. But thanks to the video going viral, he is now back in touch with me, and he is still in touch with the French Girl (who is still in Europe). They both apparently had many friends send them the link asking if it was them in the video. After it went viral, a nephew of the Night Manager contacted me and said it was his Uncle. He played the video for the Uncle, who had no recollection of that night, but confirmed it was indeed him. He has since retired from 7-11. Most recently, the girl in the yellow top dancing by the frozen foods made contact.
Apparently she was an employee of that 7-11 at the time, and still works for 7-11 at another Orlando location today. She told me her manager showed her the video. Nobody else from the video has come forward. Keep in mind, some of these people were dating people they are probably not with today, or under the influence of something, and probably don’t want to be identified. Even though Ken was squeaky clean in the video, he does have a profession where he has to watch out for things that might pop up in the public about his background. This might be the case for the others as well. In June of 2014, I ran into “Popped Collar” in Las Vegas of all places at The Mirage Hotel.
I guess there is an ’80s way of talking. There are many comments about our “accent”. I don’t hear any difference from then to now. But most say there is. And a lot of people are saying Ken sounds like Ferris Bueller. I don’t hear that either. But he was kind of (as one poster put it) channeling classic David Letterman bits from that time (i.e. “magic night in America”)
I have had a few comments about the “rape van” we got into at the end of the video. Most people just wished they could see what the art was on the side of the van. Well here it is. It wasn’t technically my van. My ’79 Trans Am was in the shop and my parents were letting me drive their van. This was a photo taken in the early ’80s of my mother, my brothers and me. I’ll keep looking for a better picture of the van. But the painting on the side is of a lake or something with the sun setting on it.
Locals Not Tourists
One popular theory to why we all were so friendly, was because we were “tourists” mingling with other “tourists”. And when people are on vacation, they are happier. That wasn’t the case here. We were pretty much all locals. Even the Spanish speaking guys who said they were tourists (one of them was wearing a Disney employee shirt – see the Mickey on it?). I worked at Disney, Popped Collar and French Girl worked at Disney. I’m pretty sure that John and Kelly were Disney employees. The Mozzarella dude was probably Disney. (We all meet the Disney grooming standards of the time). The 7-11 employees were locals obviously. In other words…none of us were on vacation. Who buys a bag of sugar while on vacation?
Video Cameras were common
The other theory to why people are friendly (and there probably is some truth to this one), is that cameras were probably not that common, so it was a novelty to see one and it was “fun” to be the focus of somebody’s camera. The part of this theory that is wrong is, home video cameras were the big new thing. A few years back, they became affordable. And they were becoming more and more portable. We all were living and working in one of the biggest tourist capitals of the world. Every day we saw tourists with cameras. Lots and lots of video cameras. And two years later, America’s Funniest Home Videos premiered, featuring videos shot in the ’80s on everybody’s home video cameras.
They were common enough, that I bought my own when I was a college kid, working a part time job. It was about $1200 at Sears. I used my paychecks from Disney to pay for college as well as my new investment. I believe I put $200 down, and was paying $25/month. This was my first credit purchase, which enabled me to get credit cards later. I remember shortly after I bought it, my dad and I had a big fight about it. I made a huge purchase without involving him, and he didn’t know if it was such a good idea. But he later loved watching the videos I shot with it and living vicariously through my adventures. All-in-all, it was a good purchase. I loved this camera (see it above).
Under the Influence
Another theory to why we are all so friendly is that we are all “coked up”. Let make this clear. I have never done cocaine. I don’t plan on ever doing it. In fact, I was such a goody-two-shoes at the time, I wasn’t even drinking alcohol that night. I waited until I finished college before I would booze it up on occasion. I’m pretty sure Ken wasn’t under the influence of anything that night at all either. I can’t speak for Jim or the others that were featured. If I had to guess, I’d say a few of them recently had a few drinks. And the popular theory behind John’s mannerisms is that he might have been on Cocaine. I don’t know. But I do know that not everybody was under the influence in this video.
Is that 7-11 still there and if so, where is it?
Yes, it’s still there. It’s located at 13407 Apopka-Vineland R (535), Orlando, FL 32821-6368
Draft Card Comment
When Kelly says she has a “draft” card, she actually said “Giraffe Card”. There was a nightclub down the street called The Giraffe Lounge, and it was inside a hotel called The Royal Plaza. The Giraffe Card was something like a “repeat customer” membership card with perks. One of our stops earlier that night was to go inside The Royal Plaza and sneak up to where The Michael Jackson suite was. He wasn’t there though. On our way out, Jim grabbed a “Do Not Disturb” sign that he is carrying around in the video. When we were introducing ourselves to John and Kelly, Jim said he worked at the Royal Plaza (even though he didn’t) and held up his Royal Plaza Do Not Disturb sign, which prompted Kelly to say…”I have a Giraffe Card”. But everybody…including Ken that night, thought she was saying Draft Card. By the way…do people carry around a Draft Card?
World Premiere Comment
When I said “see you at the World Premiere” to the French Girl and the Popped Collar guy, I was actually referring to the Employee Cafe at EPCOT. That was the name of the Cafeteria. And that’s actually where I did indeed see them next. But some people made the clever comment that the “World Premiere” would be on YouTube.
Where did we go next?
I think we headed over to one of the nearby Disney hotels looking for fun, but didn’t find much. So we parted ways and called it a night.
Have any other questions? Just ask.