Fred Speaks to NTV (Squeaky Voice Not Included)

We told you about the Fred web phenomenon last week. Now’s your chance to meet the man, err, boy behind the high-pitched YouTube domination.

“Fred” is actually 14-year old Lucas Cruikshank, and while age ain’t nuthin’ but a number, these other stats might impress you: According to Cruikshank’s rep, Cruikshank and his two cousins made a total of $14,000 on YouTube for 7 million video plays on non-Fred projects during the month of February. Cruikshank did 23 million video plays in May on his own with Fred, which at the previous rate would earn him $46,000. (What did your paper route earn you?)

UPDATE: Cruikshank’s rep contacted me to update some of his data. The $14K actually included some of the Zipit money. So the projections for May will be different, and also dependent on how many people click on the ads.

Yes, Fred pimped the wireless device Zipit, but the character isn’t just some shill created by an ad agency. This was a five-figure deal in which Fred was supposed to do three “viral” videos for the Zipit. Performance benchmarks were set with bonuses paid out for when these spots hit 500,000, 1 million, 1.5 million and 2 million plays. Fred hit all those with the first video in the first week.

Cruikshank agreed to answer a few questions via email about his Internet stardom and his future plans.

NewTeeVee: What has changed for you now that you’re famous? What’s it like going to school for you now?

Lucas Cruikshank: Going to school is still pretty much the same thing. I mean, I’ve known all of my classmates and friends before I started making the videos so they don’t treat me any differently. Whenever I’m outside my hometown now, I get noticed by lots of kids. It happened in LA at my very first audition back in February –- I was at Fox Studios for an audition and other kids waiting in the casting office started raving about my vids, which was weird because they all had these Hollywood resumes I was dying for, and mine was pretty much a blank piece of paper — and they’re asking me for my autograph! I was just in Iowa for a dance competition and went to an amusement park, and a gaggle of kids followed me around asking for my autograph and to take pictures with me. It’s kind of surreal; I keep wondering why’d they want my autograph?!

NewTeeVee: Where did the idea of Fred come from? What do you want to do with the character?

Cruikshank: Two years ago my mom bought me this new video editing software as a gift, and when I was playing with it I realized it had this effect to make a voice sound all squeaky. I thought it sounded hilarious, and came up with 6-year-old Fred and posted “Fred on Halloween,” which was kind of a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at people on YouTube who post video blogs showing and talking about everything they do. I actually hated “Fred” at first and at one point wanted to kill him off, so I sure understand why there are people who don’t like Fred and find him annoying. Fred IS the person you wouldn’t want to be around in real life because he’s annoying, but he’s also got heart and vulnerablility, which is part of what I think draws the fans to him too.

NewTeeVee: I heard that you release new episodes on Thursdays for a reason. Can you go into what your strategy is to get the biggest audience?

Cruikshank: With JKL we used to post videos on Sundays, but May 1st, the FRED launch date, fell on a Thursday, and NBC used to have their “Must See TV” Thursday night line-up that got all that Friday water-cooler buzz, so I liked the idea of posting FRED episodes as schools were getting out Thursday afternoons. My strategy isn’t just to get the biggest audience; it’s to get a loyal audience.

NewTeeVee: What do your parents think of the whole thing? I mean you refer to your dad as being in prison and your mom isn’t shown in quite the best light.

Cruikshank: They’re really supportive and think [the videos] are hilarious. That said, obviously Fred’s parents aren’t based off my real-life parents, haha.

NewTeeVee: Do your siblings get jealous of your fame and money? If so, what do they do?

Cruikshank: No, I have an extremely close and supportive family, and they think it’s really cool. Also, whenever I make a new video, they’re the first people to see it to make sure it’s funny enough.

NewTeeVee: Who are some online people, or what are some online series that you like?

Cruikshank: I love The Onion videos, those are amazing.

NewTeeVee: What do you wish YouTube offered or did differently?

Cruikshank: I think they’re doing everything pretty good. There’s nothing I’d really want to change. I think the social networking capabilities on the site could be improved, but it really wasn’t designed for that.

NewTeeVee: The editing is really quite good on your show. Do you do all of the work? How did you learn or what were your influences in putting your videos together? How long does each episode take for you to make?

Cruikshank: Thanks! I do everything myself –- writing, directing, editing, camera. It’s not because I’m a control freak, though, lol. I basically taught myself; I mean with the instructions manual and everything it wasn’t that hard to get the videos to look/feel the way I wanted them to. Editing usually takes about two to three hours, depending on the effects I have in the video, and filming is usually a 30-minute deal where I just kind of have the thread of the story beats in my head and improv everything from there.

NewTeeVee: Do the comments people leave impact you? They can get pretty mean. Do you pay attention to them?

Cruikshank: The mean comments don’t impact me. I focus on the people who like the videos because at the end of the day, those are the ones who I’m making these for anyways. I get 800 to 1,000 emails a day and they’re from people who write how their day was miserable so they watched my videos and were happy, and who write that I’ve inspired them to make videos, and, a lot of emails after Fred on Father’s Day from people who, like Fred, don’t have fathers in their lives and appreciated the video’s heart. I don’t worry about the negative posts because my fans are very protective of their FRED character and they pounce on the “haterz’”with a fury that boggles and impresses me at the same time!

NewTeeVee: What’s next for Fred? What’s next for you?

Cruikshank: When the first FRED season wraps next week I’m headed back out to LA for more meetings and auditions, etc. I’m an actor so I’ve been pursuing movies and I have some TV series ideas to pitch too.

NewTeeVee: How do you feel about advertising? What’s your position? Do you worry about getting kids to buy more stuff?

Cruikshank: The Onion has the best videos online imo and I certainly think they should be compensated for that. If their arrangement with sponsors or advertisers allows them to keep putting out content like that where the viewers don’t have to pay per view or to download it, I’m not sure how that’s a bad thing for anyone. As for kids buying more stuff, I am worried. It’s a tough ecomomy and I hope that doesn’t prevent kids from buying all the FRED merchandise they’ve been asking for!