Headzup interview

Headzup logo

Headzup creates short (25 seconds or so) zany political humor video cartoons designed to be shared via cell phone, iPod, or even (how old school is this) viewed online.

This interview with John Shay, Headzup co-founder, was done by phone and email.

I met John at Gnomedex 2005 as Headzup was just getting started. He wasn’t sure if it would have legs or not. Now it’s getting mentioned in CNN, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, is linked to from zillions of blogs, and growing fast with multiple distribution networks. Most excellent!

Q. What is headzup?

A. Headzup is the world’s first daily political cartoon for video-enabled cell phones. Seven days a week, Headzup publishes short (25 second) video clips that fans can watch over the Internet or on mobile devices. Using their cell phones, fans can share the tiny video clips with others the same as they would a picture message. Headzup represents a uniquely viral form of free speech with clips traversing the globe several times within minutes of publication.

Q. What’s your inspiration?

A. Headzup was created on the notion that an inspired combination of political satire and mobile peer-to-peer file sharing would result in the creation of a new form of free speech and entertainment. Headzup is pioneering a new form of mobile entertainment that we call “Catch & Release Comedy”. Fans interact with the content using multimedia cell phones to first catch the comedy and then release it back into the wild by forwarding it to others. There’s no limit to the number of people sharing a Headzup.

Q. How do you make the clips?

A. Headzup is produced and directed by comedian and cartoonist Matthew Filipowicz. The majority of the the animation is done using Adobe Flash software. The clips are rendered to uncompressed AVI video format and than transcoded to 3GP format for mobile distribution.

Q. Explain to non-techies how the cell phone distribution works

A. The two key elements to producing Catch & Release Comedy clips are 1) create clips that are small enough to be shared across cellular networks as picture messages, and 2) encode the clips for mobile playback.

Although the size of video clip that can be shared between cell phones can vary from network to network, the lowest common denominator for all cellular networks is 100K. With fairly intense digital compression, a 100K mobile video clips equates to approximately 25 seconds of video. Generally speaking, videos longer than 25 seconds (larger than 100K) have difficultly passing across network boundaries.

Encoding for mobile playback is fairly straight forward and is supported by most video encoding software tools. Interested readers can download multiple versions of each Headzup clip from our website to see how mobile image quality varies from Internet encoded videos. Formats available for download include Windows Media, Mpeg4, iPod ready 3GP, and mobile ready 3GP. For the bleeding edge readers, mobile versions can be download directly to a cell phone by pointing their cell phone browser at

Q. What kinds of distribution deals do you have. Do you make different clips for different partners?

Headzup is distributed through a variety of partner relationships and, of course, we’re always looking for new avenues for collaboration.

With over 200 cartoons in circulation we’re starting to see fairly rapid growth on our YouTube director channel. Six months ago Headzup was lost in the persistent baseline video noise that is much of YouTube. Today we enjoy a rapidly growing fan base of politically savvy viewers who understand and enjoy political satire. Our breakout moment on YouTube came during the Democratic CNN-YouTube Debate this fall when the Headzup contribution to the debate was featured in a CNN promotional piece prior to the debate. Although our clip was too controversial to be selected for airing during the debate, someone at CNN thought the animation was slick enough to use it for promoting the event. The same clip also made it onto some mainstream media sites in Europe, including Der Spiegel in Germany and The Times Online in London.

In terms of political impact, perhaps our most exciting partnership is the one we have with As your readers are probably aware, is the new progressive television site launched by Mike Papantanio and Bobby Kennedy Jr. from Air America Radio Network. The success of that partnership can readily be seen in the thousands of Internet users who have watched Headzup while browsing the site.

Headzup is also distributed by iTunes, Brave New Films, Revver, Blinkx,, and Treemo. Each of these partnerships are designed to target a unique market segment which helps broaden our overall exposure.

In terms of content preparation, we’re still in the process of tuning our production line to funnel clips to each of these channel partners quickly and efficiently. Although we’ve pretty much figured out all of the format issues, we’re still working out pipeline automation that will encode and push clips to each partner quickly and efficiently.- what’s coming next?

Now that our fans are helping grow awareness by word-of-mouth and sharing clips between their cell phones, we starting to have time to think about what to do next. We’ve bounced around a lot of ideas on how to broaden our offerings but we keep coming back to political satire. It’s what we love and with the elections coming we’ve got plenty of political high jinks from which to draw inspiration.

Q. Is the universe inherently absurd?

A. Absolutely! Seven years of George Bush tells us so.

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