Seattle filmmaker Will Braden, who created a video sensation in 2012 with a regal feline expressing the despair that only cats can feel, has landed on his feet; cat videos are now his full-time job.
Will Braden’s story started with a cat and a camera and now it’s stretched across the nation.
That particular cat, a regal-looking feline with white paws and a white belly accenting a jet-black coat, used to be named Henry. (He now goes by Henri.) Henri achieved YouTube stardom in black-and-white videos made by Braden, a Seattle filmmaker, in 2012, starring a laconic Henri looking pensive and musing, via subtitles, about lofty subjects such as “I’ve always felt that art is futile…like hope or scratching posts.”
That was when Braden’s star started to rise.
Internet Cat Video Festival preview
With host Will Braden, 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, Kirkland Arts Center, 620 Market St., Kirkland; $25 (425- 822-7161 or kirklandartscenter.org).
After he won the Golden Kitty (People’s Choice) award for his work at the Walker Art Center’s inaugural Internet Cat Video Film Festival in 2012 in Minneapolis, Braden helped expand the fest, taking it from the lawn outside the art center to cities across the nation and the globe. Braden now is the producer and curator of the film festival’s preview reel, and he travels the country hosting screenings.
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This week, the graduate of Garfield High School and Western Washington University brings his work back to his Northwest roots when the Kirkland Arts Center hosts three screenings of the 2014 reel, one Friday and two Saturday.
“Every time we have an expectation for the level of interest or how many people will show up, it just gets bigger and more fun every time,” Braden said. “It’s a fun thing to be involved in and it keeps it interesting. It’s definitely not a bad gig to have.”
What many do while they’re supposed to be working, Braden actually does for work: He watches cat videos. For months, he watches thousands of fan-submitted feline films. Then he picks his favorites, contacts the finalists, and edits the clips together before showing the reel at the annual August film festival.
When Braden went to film school in 2006, he had no idea what he wanted to do, he said. Now, he’s found his calling directing cats — and watching them, too.
“As time has come to pass, I’ve started to realize that this is right up my alley,” Braden said. “I love editing, I love putting together the reel, I like traveling around. It’s really become a dream job in a lot of ways.”
With all the travel and work required for the film festival, Braden said he has dialed back on Henri videos. Henri’s most recent existential thoughts were posted on Dec. 30, 2014, after the cat stares down a new canine roommate.
However, Braden has continued to build the Henri brand. In 2013, Braden released Henri’s first book, “Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat,” and has a sequel in the works. He has calendars, T-shirts and mouse pads as well.
Initially, Braden was hesitant to turn Henri into a product, thinking that selling items online would be selling out. But when emails poured in requesting shirts, he started an online store.
“People want to share things in real life the same way they want to be able to click the ‘share’ button online,” Braden said. “I was a little resistant to commoditize it, but now I can’t be embarrassed by that.”
Braden likens his rise to a band that hits it big with its first album. Henri’s fame came to be only after Braden procrastinated too long on an assignment for film school in 2006. Now the photogenic cat has racked up more than 21 million views on YouTube.
Braden tries to keep things in perspective.
“It seems like a funny thing to say because it’s such a silly character, but I have to maintain the integrity of the character,” he said. “I don’t have a manager or a PR person. I do everything myself. Even though that makes a little bit more work, it makes everything feel with same voice that I started with way back in film school.”