Inside a home in Covina once owned by Al Pacino’s father lives the zaniest, ADD’ed new media artist out there. You may remember him as the man who spawned the infamous “Sexy Sax Man” viral video, but Mike Diva does everything from music videos to filming skits and commcercials. It also helped that he’s been doing this since he was 13 and he (and his dogs) are now part of the YouTube supergroup BAMMO. We spoke with the visual renaissance man recently and here’s what he had to say.
What takes up most of your time right now?
Mike Diva: Compositing and editing stuff. Rendering sucks up a lot of time.
How long does it take to edit one video?
It depends on the type of video. For a heavy special effects video, if I’m by myself then a couple of weeks. Now that I have people helping out it’s all switching up. Right now I’m just trying to get the workflow of having other people help out with special effects because I’m not really used to it yet–usually a week or two. If it’s a music video then it’s completely different. I put way more time into those so it takes me a few months.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I eat a lot of junk food and energy drinks. I treat my body like crap so I do feel guilty about that. As far as entertainment goes, I’m going to say there’s a couple of Britney Spears albums that I really like. The album “Blackout” is amazing, not going to lie. It’s one of my favorite albums. “Piece of Me” and “Radar” are my favorite songs from the album. The production is what I’m usually listening to; the electronics are so cool. That and I watch the show “Adventure Time” a lot. It’s a kid show. I’m obsessed with that show. Capri Suns are also my guilty pleasure. I’m trying this thing were I’m trying to work a Capri Sun in all my videos. I don’t know why, it’s just funny. On set for the BAMMO shoot we had boxes and boxes of Capri Sun and I’ve formed this heavy Capri Sun addiction. I’d go through so many Capri Suns a day. You can’t just drink one. It’s such a small pack.
Tell the most ridiculous public stunt you’ve done while filming.
I would say was the band audition prank that everybody hated. I don’t know what that says about us. We made a fake Craigslist ad saying “Major label band searching for lead guitarist/singer” and we held this fake audition. I had two people play members of the band and two people that played record execs at the company. I basically wanted to see what musicians sell out point are and how far musicians are willing to swallow their pride to look ridiculous. To me, that’s fascinating. We made them wear an all fish net outfit and my buddy made a really horrible song that they had to sing to. We asked them ridiculous questions like if they were willing to make a blood oath to join the band. All sorts of ridiculous stuff. That turned out really bad. It got people mad at us. As far as pranks and stuff go, it was the most fun to do because we got to mess with people all day. A lot of people got mad saying that we were insensitive and it was really messed up. The part that pissed everybody off, which I don’t understand why, we asked this dude a question and he answered and we all just left him in the room by himself just standing there and it looked like he was about to cry and people got upset by that. That was my favorite.
Do you think it’s a lot different to punk normal people than celebrities?
It’s different because they already have this kind of cockiness about them. It’s different, a lot different. Messing with people in public, they have a different mindset and attitude. We did this robot prank where I wore this robot costume around the mall. We went to this mall that I was banned from for the Sexy Sax Man prank. I had to keep the robot costume on because the guards that were kicking me out of the place where the same dudes who kicked me out the mall before. They said next time they see me they could get me arrested. I was stuck in this robot costume and they kept trying to pull off the helmet and I wouldn’t let them so it was really awkward. I had to run in this robot costume that I could barely move in. They called the cops and I had to jump in my buddy’s car and change out of the costume while jetting out of the parking garage while the cops were getting there. It was really stressful but fun.
You seem to have a lot of dogs at your place. Are they going to be the next stars of your videos like Diddy?
They are in a couple of videos already. [My dog] Diddy is a superstar, he’s huge! I don’t know if you saw the Skrillex video. On the Skrillex tour he has that kind of stage video mapped with hexagonal shapes and his last tour he used half of the dog step video and projected it on his stage and you can see Diddy dancing. He’s a celebridog.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I live in Al Pacino’s dad’s house. Al Pacino’s dad died in the room next to me. Al Pacino grew up there. It’s really weird. There’s a lot of his stuff still in my house. There’s a poster of him and Richard Simmons in my kitchen.
I was in musical theater in high school. I played Rolf in The Sound of Music which is a Nazi character and I sang, “You Are 16 Going on 17.” I had a straight up Nazi uniform on. I had a wig and everything. Nobody really knows and I’m kind of ashamed.
What’s a typical day for you?
There’s actually a video you can watch that will explain that for you. Lately it hasn’t been an average day. Everyday has been different. Meetings and working on different stuff. Usually it just depends. If it’s a shooting week then I wake up at 8 and shoot until 9. My life is really boring. I do a lot of editing, just sit at my computer editing. I have friends that I toss around ideas back and forth with and stuff. I always have somebody hanging out in my room because I don’t like being alone. I like absorbing other people’s energy and being able to hang out. My friend will chill in my room while I’m editing and watch TV or something. We’ll just toss ideas back and forth. It’s really not glamorous or anything. It’s just me sitting on the computer, editing my life away like a zombie. I attempt to work out and not be a vegetable but lately it’s really hard.
What’s it like working with writers now because you’re so used to have to do everything on your own?
It’s weird, it’s different. It’s interesting having a bunch of different hands on the final product. It’s something that I’m still getting used to and I still have to perfect and figure out how to do it right. It’s my first time working with a bunch of people, having a big production. I feel like I still have a lot to learn from it. It’s really hard to focus on a bunch of different things. When you’re working on a schedule like this where it’s really fast paced, it’s really hard to think, “Hey, is this funny? This is good right?” when you have a million of other things to worry about. I just have to work on really getting that stuff down. It’s all really new to me. I’m used to being a one man crew but I like it. It’s cool getting people’s input…it’s just a matter of taking those ideas and making it my own which I’ve got to find a way to do all the way.
In an interview a while back, Tom Green called you a video savant. How did you get into film making?
I just started messing around with cameras when I was 13. I was never into the kind of stuff. Other kids were into like video games and skateboarding. I was always into special effects and making silly movies and stuff. Then I saw Michel Gondry’s director label DVD and it inspired me to be a music video director. I really wanted to do music videos for the longest time and I still do. Music videos are the most fun for me but I’m also a goofy kind of guy and I like comedy too so sketches are really fun. It’s cool to be able to do both of those things. I started editing when I was 13 and 14 when no one else was really doing that so I got a pretty good head start on that. And music, I’ve always been into programming and electronics so I taught myself how to use the program Reason and compose stuff on that. I played piano for 6 years and cello for 5 years. I was in a couple of orchestras. People were always really active in pushing me into the music thing hard. I kind of absorbed that and worked that into my electronics and programming.
How different was the technology when you started filming?
It was way different. It was slower and clunkier and the videos were really bad. I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was cool. It was still fun you know. My parents were worried because I was never really good at school because I was focusing on theater or film or music. Then they started seeing me doing well with this stuff. They really supported me and they’re been active into pushing me into my music career.
You did an interview with Shira Lazar where you talked about the rule of being consistent. Every video seems to be different. You would do a parody of a commercial, a skit and sometimes a music video.
That’s why my channel’s not as big as it could be because I’m all over the place. It’s hard for me to do one thing. I’m so ADD I have to have something serious on the side and at the same time be doing something goofy. If I don’t have one or the other I go nuts. At the same time, it comes to my fan base. They understand that I do whatever I want and people that do get it, they really like it. I love to tell a story in a short music video format, 3 minutes or 4 minutes. Telling short stories is my favorite thing to do. I have still yet to try a full length film or something longer than 10 minutes.
Will a longer length film be in the works anytime in the future?
Yeah, I definitely want to move on to movies. That’s my final goal. I feel like right now I’m not ready yet. I want to go kind of like Michel Gondry’s route where he basically filmed music videos and did a bunch of commercials and then moved on to films. He was 35 or something. I really want to wait until I know that I can handle it. I’m still learning a bunch of stuff. Every video is a learning experience. Every music video or what I call my serious stuff, everything I do with that, I try to push myself to make something I’ve never done before and try new special effects. Like the M Machine video, I’ve never done frozen in time stuff before like in the end. there’s something different that I want to do and I learn it. I think eventually 5 or 10 years down the line, I’ll be able to do a full length movie.
Going back to the consistency aspect, there is some consistency to your videos. You use a lot of bright colors and have some nostalgic theme.
I like putting weird filters on my stuff. I don’t know if it’s the ADD or what, I feel like a clean crisp image is really boring for some reason. Another trick that I use is that when blending special effects, I use the “hey, look over here” technique where I lay a bunch of sh*t over the image and you don’t really realize the CG and actual environment isn’t blended that well. If you have a full gradient and grunge layer, I make my own custom filters and stuff, that really blends it all together. There’s something in the foreground that distracts the eye and makes everything in the background really blend nicely.
It’s inevitable, we’re going to talk about Sexy Sax Man. How did you guys come up with that content?
Sergio, well, it’s kind of who he is. He runs around without a shirt playing saxophone. It’s the kind of stuff he does. What happened was that he was doing it for quite a while – just popping into places and playing saxophone. He knew a couple of the SNL writers and they said “Hey, we want to make this into a sketch somehow.” There was a sketch that came out involving a dude named Sergio popping up everywhere with a sexy saxophone lick and then we decided to take that out onto the streets and use the song “Careless Whisper” because it’s hilarious. We just filmed it over the course of 2-3 days and we had no idea that it would get as big as it did. It was something that we thought would be funny because you can’t really be mad at a saxophone guy. That’s in the boundaries of what pisses people off. Like the Christmas one where we went caroling at 4 in the morning. It’s a Christmas carol, how can you be mad at that? I like pushing those boundaries.
Let’s change the subject. I know that you’ve teamed up with Mystery Guitar Man, DeStorm and Tay Zonday to form a YouTube supergroup. Tell me about the origins of BAMMO.
That’s all her (Sarah Penna.) She came up with this awesome idea to combine all these different, talented people all in one channel. It’s been really interesting, it’s been fun. It’s a different workflow and different process that I’m still adjusting to. I’m just started to get into the groove of it now. I’m used to just being able to shoot with me and my friends. It’s kind of loose like hey let’s do this idea and shoot it like this. We shoot it over the course of two days and we have two weeks to edit it. The thing with BAMMO is that we have a strict shooting schedule and we have to shoot a certain amount of stuff every day. There’s less room for that, the “Hey try this, this would be funny.” It’s more like, we have to stick to the script and we have to move on. I know that’s how it is in the big league so I have to get used to that more.
I saw some of your BAMMO projects recently, including the Turbo Time skit. How did you come up with the skit?
I wanted to kind of make it like PeeWee’s Playhouse and make it ridiculous and obnoxious. So far it’s flown over the Internet’s head for a lot of it. Some people like it. It’s gotten a lot of mixed reviews. It’s getting better with time and it’s also my first time doing something like that too, a TV show format. It’s something that I’m getting used to and I’m still learning with everything I do. Now I know what people want to see more of and I’m trying to adjust to more of that.
I think laugh tracks are hilarious. People just didn’t get it. They were like, “Why is there a laugh track? What the hell man?” I think with further episodes it’s going to get better with time.
How do you balance between putting out your own creative content and also putting out things that cater to your audience?
There’s always a certain amount that caters to the audience. There’s some videos where I make them and I know that people are going to like it. Then there are other videos where I don’t know if I’m the only one who finds it funny or other people will like this and I get their reaction from those videos and I kind of gauge from there like, “Okay, I know not to do that again.” I’ll just move on from that kind of video and do more videos that people like. I do like to cater towards my audience and my audience knows when I’m out of my element. They are very quick on the draw. If something is kind of half-assed they know right away. A lot of them stick with me.
How do think your career would have been different had you not used social media?
It would be a lot different. I would be broke and not doing anything cool. Before the whole YouTube stuff and before I met Sarah, I was just doing music videos. There’s really no money in that nowadays. It’s such a dead art. As much as I love doing it, it will not pay the bills. It’s really cool to be able to live off of doing something that I love. I’m really fortunate to be in this space where I can do that. Social media is really everything. It’s changed my life, it’s awesome. I’d be a starving artist still living off of my parents.
What does the future hold for you as far as future productions?
This year is going to be a lot of BAMMO stuff – a video every single week. A lot of Turbo Time and different sketches. More music videos on the side. Hopefully some sort of TV show or something. There’s a pilot that we have that’s going to be shopped around so hopefully something like that. I’m pretty much happy just doing BAMMO and music videos and that’s what I want to focus on this year. Hopefully a few years down the line someone would be interested in giving me money to make a movie.
How do we stalk you?
Facebook: Mike Diva
Photography By: Melly Lee