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Name: Adam Bernard
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Taking a Ride With Dollar Van Demos
Thursday, January 28, 2010

If you’ve watched television at all in the past month there’s no doubt you’ve seen the McDonald’s commercials that feature emcees rhyming in public transportation vans. The ads are a glossy example of what Joe Revitte and his wife have been doing for almost a full year now with their brainchild, Dollar Van Demos. 30+ videos deep, Dollar Van Demos has worked with a number of former Adam’s World Artists Of The Week, including longtime B-Listers Dyalekt, iLLspoKinn, Kalil Kash, Hasan Salaam, Miz Metro and Poison Pen. “In some ways I call myself a MySpace director,” Revitte explains, “because they have amazing music on MySpace but there isn’t a visual component to their music, so I’m like why don’t you do a video with me inside this crazy Flatbush Avenue dollar van?”

Revitte likes to put the birthdate of Dollar Van Demos at February 28th, 2009, because that’s when they uploaded their first video, which featured emcee Crosby, onto YouTube. According to Revitte, “there was a tremendous amount of preparation before that, but I don’t think we existed until somebody saw us.” With their McDonald’s ad running during American Idol, which is inarguably the most popular show in the country, plenty of people are seeing Dollar Van Demos now. This week I caught up with Revitte to find out a little more about his venture, including how a company that focuses on the underground came to work with such a huge multi-national corporation, and what the reaction has been from their core audience, which isn’t necessarily one that embraces advertising or McDonald’s.

Adam Bernard: Let’s start off with some basic background info. When and how did you come up with the idea of having emcees perform in public transportation?
Joe Revitte: I have a filmmaking background. I went to film school and used to work at New Line Cinema and Hypnotic Films. (Right now) I’m working with Matt Dillon on one specific project that we’re producing together. Over the last handful of years of my life, though, I’ve been stuck in development hell. I would tell people I’m a movie producer, but I’ve never been able to point at the big screen and say “that’s my production.” A little bit out of frustration, but also to prove something to myself and other people, I thought it would be cool if I could at least shoot some music videos and show people that I could produce. That’s what was important to me. I noticed that there was a trend in music videos to make them much more intimate than what had been the traditional music video. I liked how you could take a music video and make it very small scale, but at the same time do something creative with it. I live in Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, and I didn’t think I could do a yellow cab, but I knew there were a lot of dollar vans, so me and my wife went out one weekend and met like fifty of them. We were directed to a couple different companies that run a lot of the vans and pitched the idea like “would you mind if we tried making a music video in here? We’ll take care of the business side of it, but do you have any objections to people filming?” They said as long as you tell people and they’re happy with it then you can try it. That was last February. It just turned out to be this incredible experiment and it gave me encouragement to keep going.

Adam Bernard: You work with some of NYC’s finest underground emcees. How on earth did McDonald’s find you and what was their initial approach?
Joe Revitte: It was the power of the internet. A staffer from an ad agency in Chicago subscribed to our YouTube channel. When people do that I always send a goofy letter back saying “hey, thanks a lot, it means a lot to us.” We’re trying to grow, and it’s easy to try and connect. I’m a big believer in social media. He, surprisingly, wrote back to me. He was like, “I’ve never gotten thanked for subscribing, but I like what you’re doing, would you like to talk to us further about doing maybe a campaign for McDonald’s?” That, literally, was the introduction. It was through YouTube. The best way for me to describe it; in the beginning of November we did some videos with Joya Bravo and Wordspit, we spent maybe $200, and then like a month later a union crew and teamsters and hair and makeup and two vans and six cameras and this huge Madison Avenue production recreated what we did. We were like, this is gonna be a surreal situation for all of us.

Adam Bernard: That sounds crazy. Anytime someone from the underground associates themselves with a major company, though, it can create a little tension with some people.
Joe Revitte: Oh, absolutely, and I felt that, I see it everywhere, and Wordspit and Joya Bravo, we all went into it eyes open, but at the same time some of this backlash is coming from people who basically are on Facebook and Twitter and are watching TV, so we take it with a grain of salt that they’re just reacting to whatever stimulation is thrown at them.

Adam Bernard: Was there any trepidation for you when it was McDonald’s that was pitched to you by the ad agency?
Joe Revitte: No. The way I see it is no matter what kind of artist you are, particularly if you’re in the music industry, you’re being broadcast somewhere, whether it’s on the radio or a cable television station, and it’s advertising supported, and if you’re a major major star you’re profiting, or drawing revenue, from this advertising money, so the fact that we sort of cut out the middle man and went directly to it shouldn’t look negatively on us at all. I’ll speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure for Wordspit and Joya Bravo, it was like this is totally worth it, we’re all nobodies and now let’s see where we can take this exposure from here. We all thought it would be a good way to put us on the map and it was.

Adam Bernard: How did Joya Bravo and Wordspit end up the artists featured in the ads?
Joe Revitte: Everybody who was interested was evaluated and put through a background check. There was an audition process that included both their performing ability and also their musical ability and I think they liked what they saw with both of them. I think it also helped that both Wordspit and Joya Bravo had just made some videos with me and both of them were really energetic and unusual. I think that helped them a lot.

Adam Bernard: The ad has been running during some very popular shows, including American Idol. Have you seen a correlating spike in your website traffic?
Joe Revitte: There’s definitely been an increase, but it’s not like the 30 million people who watch American Idol have visited my site since then. There’s no website listed (in the ad) for myself or Joya Bravo. I think we’re continuing to market and connect with people through social networks and a lot of people are completely surprised that it’s a real thing. I think a lot of people expected Joya Bravo and Wordspit to be actors. When they found out they really are performers and they have credibility and creativity, and that Dollar Van Demos is also like a music video show, we’re kind of surprising them. I kinda like that element of surprise.

Adam Bernard: Can you reveal one surprise before you go and let everyone know who’s going to be in the van next?
Joe Revitte: Top $ Raz, Kid Lucky and AtLas.

Related Links

Website: dollarvandemos.com
YouTube: youtube.com/dollarvandemos
Twitter: twitter.com/dollarvandemos


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:35 AM  
  • At 1:17 PM, Blogger Dyalekt said…

    Joe & everybody on the DVD team deserve all the success they're seeing. Consummate pros, supportive and creative... I'm a huge fan.

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