Thanks to a combination of serendipity and procrastination, Will Braden has made a career of cat videos.
He was a student at the Seattle Film Institute and house-sitting for relatives when a deadline loomed. He needed to profile someone, so Henry the cat became Henri, le Chat Noir. Braden spoofed French New Wave cinema, creating a character filled with ennui. That initial video led to more videos and even a book.
It’s been surreal, he says. Roger Ebert once called “Henri 2, Paw de Deux” the best internet cat video ever made. And Christopher Walken once interrupted a television interview to tell the interviewer to watch an Henri video.
After winning the Golden Kitty in 2012 at the Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, Braden started working for the festival, curating and editing its annual preview reel. Now Braden runs CatVideoFest. Each year, he puts together a new show featuring the best cat videos – funny home videos, of course, but there’s also animation, music videos and even mini documentaries – culled from more than 10,000 submissions and others he’s found online. He makes sure to scour the corners of the internet so that even the biggest cat video aficionado will discover something new in his collection.
“Every time I think to myself, ‘Boy, This is really a tough job,’ I think, no there’s actual difficult jobs out there. Watching cat videos, even 10,000 of them, isn’t one of them.”
The 2019 film came out in February. “The response has been fantastic,” he said. In each town CatVideoFest visits, the screenings raise money for local shelters or animal welfare nonprofits. In Spokane, the event will raise money for Spokane Humane Society.
Friday, CatVideoFest opens at the Magic Lantern. Braden will be there to introduce the compilation reel and answer questions afterward.
“When you’re at the show, your kind of with your people,” he said. “It’s great and the communal experience is really fun.”
As for why cat videos are such a big draw, Braden says dog lovers can take their dogs everywhere. Cat owners can’t do that.
“These videos online, they became this way for people to share the experience of being a cat owner and enjoying cats and their antics,” he said.
Plus, there’s a basic difference between how we view cats and dogs, Braden says. Cats are aloof and graceful, and we like to see them taken down a peg. Dogs are loyal and subservient, and we don’t want to see them fail. So, while a video of a cat falling off a stool garners laughs, a dog falling off the same stool elicits concern.
“You get to see cats doing great stuff and funny stuff, but you also get to see cats trying and failing, and you get to laugh at it. You can’t do that for dogs,” he said.
After watching tens of thousands of cat videos, Braden thinks he’s figured out what makes a good one:
Keep it short. “I can’t tell you how many videos I’ve seen that have some really great stuff in there, but they’re like five minutes long. There’s not five minutes of interesting things of any cat in the world,” he said.
Whatever the big moment is, have it at the end. “As soon as the interesting thing happens or the big laugh happens, if you then cut away and the video ends, people are more likely to share it.”
Make sure your cat is into it. If he’s or she’s not, people are going to see that, Braden said. “Let the cat be the genesis of your idea. Look at your cat, watch your cat and then come up with an idea.”
Braden isn’t making his own cat videos anymore. Henri retired last year and is living a happy old cat life, Braden said. But he feels obligated to include Henri each year, so this year’s reel features an old video of him.
And, he promises that the experience of watching cat videos in a theater will be much different than hitting the next button on YouTube on your smartphone. “There’s nothing like being in a theater with people laughing so hard,” he said.
“I can promise you, that if you if you come to CatVideoFest, the laughs per minute ratio is higher than anything you’re going to see in a theater ever.”
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