It took Jonason Pauley and Jesse Perrotta two years, almost to the week, to film a perfect, shot-by-shot remake of Toy Story featuring actual toys. It only took three days for the video to get more than three million views on YouTube.
Toy Story has been Pauley's favorite movie since it came out in 1995. He was three years old at the time. "My parents tell me — I don't remember but they tell me — we went to the theater multiple times to see it. I remember watching it on VHS over and over at home at my Grandma's," Pauley says.
Pauley, now 19 and a film student at the University of Northern Arizona, started the project while he was still in high school. It was shot mostly on weekends during the school year, but in the summer he and Perrotta, now 21, would shoot for a week straight. "Each day we got about one minute of the movie finished," he says.
They didn't really a have a budget for the film, Pauley says. "We looked to find people that would lend us things out of their own good will."
They found a man with a moving van and told him what they were doing; he let them use the truck for free. The bull terrier that plays Sid's dog and his owner also donated their time.
The actors who play Andy and Sid, Pauley says, "were friends of the family from church. They were always anxious to do videos with me in the past so I asked them."
The other characters (Woody, Buzz, et al) are the official Toy Story versions — except for Sid's mutant toys, which Pauley and Perrotta's brother made by hand. Pauley's house doubled as Andy's house. However, some of the locations had to be cobbled together: Pizza Planet in the film, for example, is actually three separate arcades and pizza places in the Phoenix area.
And the whole thing was shot with a consumer camcorder, "nothing special," Pauley says.
"We put up some behind-the-scenes and small clips of it as we were doing it," Pauley says. "People who work at Pixar were excited about it and they had seen the clips of it."
Unkrich wasn't the only one at Pixar keeping up with it. "Basically, whenever we put out a new video, we would turn it over to them, so they could see it first," Pauley says of the animators and directors he is touch with at Pixar.
Pauley, though, is careful to note that the film has not been officially sanctioned. "They knew about it. We sent to things to Disney, for example — not just Pixar but to Disney — saying what we were doing, and telling them that we wanted to put it online eventually." They never heard anything back from the lawyers, Pauley says, "So, we just went ahead and did it."
Last week, Pauley and Perrotta made a pilgrimage to Pixar, where they passed out DVDs of the movie to employees. "[The security guards] didn't let us in, but they let us stay out front and give out copies of the movie to people who were coming into work," Pauley says.
They spent about four hours there, chatting with Pixar's employees — a few of them recognized Pauley, who played grown-up Andy in a short Toy Story 3 video.
So far, Pauley hasn't heard from Pixar's lawyers. "When we were making it, we were thinking that we probably couldn't put it on YouTube because of copyrights and things like that but, the other thing is that we can't really put it in film festivals because of the copyrights."
Ultimately, they decided to go ahead and post it online and see what happens. "So many people wanted to see it, we decided that YouTube was the best outlet for that — to finally let the fans watch," he says.
But they won't be making any money from the millions of views they've gotten. Video creators typically make a few dollars per thousand views of a video from ads. But Pauley says they never planned to make money on the film and they don't want to risk incurring the wrath of Pixar or Disney: "That's when the copyrights become a real issue — if we were making money on it," he says. (Disney did not respond to inquiries about their stance on the film.)
Mitch Stoltz, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that "strictly speaking, copyright infringement copyright infringement is copyright infringement whether or not you sell a product." But in this case, he says that Disney would be working against themselves to fight over this remake. "The valuable thing that they own is a brand," Stoltz says. "This sort of thing just makes their brand more valuable."
As for Pauley's next project? "Not Toy Story 2," Pauley says, laughing. "Too much work."