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Family with Spokane roots creates Journey music video that’s a pandemic viral hit

It’s hard to parody a video that already feels like a parody.

But for the Heller family in Maple Valley, Washington, it was a natural way to pass the time, and their shot-for-shot recreation of Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” music video has now eclipsed 1.2 million total views and become one of the viral video sensations of the pandemic.

More than that, the video is the work of Steven Heller, a Central Valley High School graduate whose parents and one of his sisters still call Spokane home.

“We’ve been really humbled at the feedback,” said Heller of the video’s reaction, “The fact that anybody comes and says, ‘Saw the video and I loved it, it was awesome.’ Or, ‘It made me smile today, and I needed that.’ That’s just the best feeling in the world.”

Part of that feedback has meant getting to reconnect with people from Heller’s youth, where old friends and classmates from Spokane haven’t been shy to reach out.

“It’s been really cool to have people drop me a line that I haven’t talked to since graduation or a high school reunion, at best,” he said. “A lot of people have been able to drop little notes back and forth, and that’s been super fun.”

Heller will be the first to admit they didn’t expect the video to become a viral smash, eventually appearing on the “Today Show” and even receiving praise from original members of Journey.

Heller, who has a background in corporate video production for companies like Microsoft and Amazon, had a simpler goal: keeping the family occupied through an idea from his wife, Jana.

“She texted me, ‘We need to remake a music video.’ She was just looking for something to do with the kids on the weekend just to keep everybody busy,” Heller said.

However, that doesn’t mean the selection process was a fast one.

“I probably listened to a hundred songs,” said Jana Heller speaking to “Today Show” host Sheinelle Jones, “I just was watching video after video, and when this one came on, it was like a light went off.”

Still, Heller wasn’t immediately sold on the idea – which makes his all-out performance that played a part in cementing the video’s charm that much better.

That same element of corniness was mixed with just enough scenic simplicity to make the recreation possible in the first place.

“It had six people in it, and I’ve got four kids, so there’s six of us. It wasn’t in any weird location, it was like, ‘We could remake this around our house.’ That was really the big factor, is that we knew we could make that – we could do it.”

After hatching the idea on April 2, the Heller family rallied around the idea the next day, with help from their 15-year-old daughter Lily, convincing her two brothers to join and arranging all of the family’s outfits.

“As soon as my wife pitched it to her and showed her the video, she was like, ‘Oh that will be awesome.’ I think she kind of helped get the other kids on board, ’cause if they weren’t on board, if they would’ve been against it, I really don’t think it would’ve happened,” Heller said.

“I was immediately on board,” said Lily, speaking to Jones of “Today.” “This is kind of like my dream project to work on, so I was really excited.”

When filming began on Saturday, 9-year-old Violet turned into the video’s diva, 12-year-old Ashton took up bass, 14-year-old Jackson assumed the keyboard, Lily grabbed lead guitar, Jana took to the drums and Steven transformed into Journey’s lead singer, Steve Perry.

Filming duties were split between Steven and Lily, with the family’s oldest daughter hopping behind the camera for scenes that included her father.

“With one phone she would be shooting, and in the other hand she’d have my wife’s phone with all of these video clips. For every shot we were going to do, I would just look at it 20 times over and over,” Heller said.

After 10 hours of filming and five hours of editing 100 clips, Heller thought he had a video worthy of friends and family, but not much more beyond that.

That all began to change as the family’s video picked up traction after posting it to their neighborhood’s community Facebook page.

Once one of their neighbors sent the video in to a local radio talk show host, they were immediately contacted for an interview.

“That blew my mind,” Heller said, “At that point, that was a few days in. It had already had more views than I would have ever thought.”

The momentum kept pushing the video, which now included the original, a side-by-side comparison to the original music video and a copy on YouTube.

Eventually, the “Today Show” featured the family on an April 14 segment.

“It was awesome. It’s so surreal to say. It just seems absurd to even be talking about our family being on the ‘Today Show,’ ” said Heller.

By this point, the video caught the attention of Margaret Oldsted Menendez, the actress who appeared in the original “Separate Ways” music video.

“I originally heard from a friend of hers on Facebook that said, ‘Hey, do you want her autograph, like a signed picture from her? She’s my best friend – she would love it,’ ” Heller said.

“Then the lady herself contacted me on Facebook and asked for my daughter’s autograph. My daughter of course thought that was the coolest thing in the world. She shared it on her Facebook page, so that was some great validation.”

But the family’s new connections to the original video didn’t stop there. As the video initially made its rounds, Journey’s tour photographer saw the video and shared it with his boss, Neal Schon, founding member and lead guitarist of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band.

“I think that was the first surreal moment,” Heller said. “Journey’s tour photographer contacted me on Vimeo and said, ‘Hey, I saw the video. It’s super awesome, I gave it to my boss, Neal, and he and his wife loved it.’ ”

Eventually, the photographer shared it on a Journey Facebook fan page, where someone on the forum associated with founding member and bassist Ross Valory gave a similar reaction.

Still, Steven is waiting to hear back from his on-screen counterpart.

“Haven’t heard from Steve Perry yet. That’s the one we’re waiting for.”

And while the attention and feedback has been humbling and surreal, Heller hasn’t forgotten what gave the recreation its power in the first place – the focus on family and the ability to make memories out of an otherwise uncertain time.

“What we kept saying to our kids was ‘this is a really historic time.’ I can look back on my life, and I maybe have a couple memories that are really seared into my brain of where I was when such-and-such happened. And this is going to be it for them. We’re all going to look back 20 years, they’re going to be looking back 50, 60 years from now, and they will all remember this time,” he said. “As parents, we really wanted to make sure that when they look back, it was with fondness, that they have some good memories.”

He noted many people are suffering, and the family doesn’t want to make light of that.

“As parents, we just decided there’s all of these things that are out of our control, and we can’t do anything about them,” he said. “So let’s focus on the things we can control and try to make some memories, some lasting memories, that our kids will have to look back on.”

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