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The squirrels take the (national) stage

December 7, 2010

With all the attention they’ve been getting lately, it’d be no surprise if Beloit College squirrels’ heads are getting as big as their tails. As of Tuesday (Dec. 7) evening, Conversations with Squirrels, a video featuring the campus’s cohort of fluffy-tailed rodents, had been viewed more than 8,400 on YouTube.

Our furry friends were featured everywhere from the Washington Post to The Chronicle of Higher Education to Huffington Post last week, and mentions of  the video that catapulted them to fame skittered across Twitter and Facebook like…well, like a squirrel out of a campus garbage can.

Below, the video’s creator, Ben Hartzell’10, tells the Terrarium more about giving voice to Beloiters who run a little more close to the ground.

Terrarium: What inspired the video?
Ben Hartzell: The concept for the video originally came up as a joke! Our objective was to highlight Beloit's uniqueness and quirky approach to things, so I was asked to produce something very different from the formulaic promotional videos so many colleges and universities put out. I joked about going out to interview the squirrels instead of the students, and I was surprised when everybody looked at me with complete seriousness and said, “that's perfect!” 

T: Given that you were working with unpredictable (and often skittish) subjects, what was your process like? Did you have any trouble filming the squirrels, or was it pretty straightforward?
BH: The filming process was a lot of fun. I had to crawl around in the grass with my camera like some kind of commando, and I got plenty of weird looks from people who saw me slithering around. It took many hours and a great deal of patience to get the shots I wanted. I've developed new respect for wildlife photographers!

T: Did you expect this video to become as popular as it has? Why do you think people are so taken with it?
BH: I certainly wasn't expecting the video to start garnering national attention like it has. I think people love to know that there are human beings behind the institutions, and particularly that those human beings have senses of humor and are able and willing to be ridiculous.

T: Any sneak peeks of your upcoming projects? What can we expect next?
BH: Now that we know people respond so positively to outrageous productions like the squirrel video, I'm fully intent on pulling out all the stops to produce more fun, quirky, over-the-top stuff. The squirrels were basically an experiment, and now that they've paved the way for us, we can do bigger, hopefully even better things. I've got a number of other productions in the works right now.