I Meow, Therefore I Am

Article excerpt

Seattle cat becomes an Internet superstar playing angst-ridden existentialist feline with the help of his ex-film student partner

SEATTLE -- Henry is a difficult star, but filmmaker William Braden knows how to work with him.

If he needs Henry to run, Braden stands behind him and shouts to scare him into action. If he wants Henry to look annoyed, Braden blows in his face. If Henry won't co-operate, Braden bribes him with catnip and Friskies Party Mix.

Over the last six years, Braden and Henry have developed a special relationship. Braden makes YouTube videos in which Henry plays a French existentialist named Henri. The two-minute videos of the black, fluffy cat with particularly long whiskers are Internet sensations, viewed more than 10 million times.

Henri 2: Paw de Deux, the most popular of Braden's cat videos, recently won the Golden Kitty, a people's choice award at the Internet Cat Video Film Festival. The award, a statuette of a fat golden cat, sits on a shelf next to the filmmaker's desk.

He has signed his first book deal. Henri Le Chat Noir: The Existentialist Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat will be published by an imprint of Random House next year.

He gets about $1,000 a week in revenue from his online store, selling Henri mouse pads, mugs and T-shirts to the existentialist cat's devoted fans.

Braden, 32, used to work as a wedding videographer, but he is no longer accepting wedding gigs. He doesn't need to.

"These past few months I've transferred to Henri full time," Braden says. "I know how crazy it sounds to have this depressed French cat be my primary source of income."

-- -- --

Even Thomas Edison found cats worth filming.

The first cat video was created in 1894, when Edison's film studio produced a 20-second moving picture for his newly invented kinetoscope. "Prof. Welton's Boxing Cats" featured two cats in a miniature boxing ring wearing boxing gloves. The Library of Congress uploaded the video to You Tube in 2009, and it has been seen more than 200,000 times.

No one can say for sure why cat videos attract such an enormous following, but Emily Huh, editor in chief of Cheezburger, a website of humour blogs, has a theory.

"Dog owners have a dog park where they can show off their dogs, but cat people don't have that," she says. "The Internet is where people who love cats can go to say, 'Look how cute my cat is.'"

Henry made his Internet debut in 2006 when Braden was a student at the Seattle Film Institute. Braden was house-sitting for Henry's owner in North Seattle when he got a class assignment to shoot a profile. He thought it'd be funnier to do an animal. Henry, who was easygoing and had a malleable face, came immediately to mind.

"He kind of looks stoned all the time, but that face is a blank slate," Braden says.

Braden got the idea of parodying the European experimental films of the 1940s and '50s that he was watching in his film history class. His feline video Henri earned him an A and was a big hit with his fellow students.

It racked up 300,000 page views shortly after it went up on YouTube and is still being shown in class as an example of how a good film can be made with very little money. In fact, Braden says there is no cost to make the videos except for his time and what he already spent buying the camera and the editing software for his videography work.

Six years later, egged on by his friends and family, Braden decided to revisit the Henri character, with another short film, Henri 2: Paw de Deux. …