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Christmas joy unwrapped again and again and again

The Nintendo 64 screams heard around the world still give a family seconds of fame.

December 22, 2006|Joe Burris | Baltimore Sun

It began as a typical Christmas morning eight years ago, two kids in pajamas opening presents. Brandon Kuzma, who had received a pogo stick the year before, was expecting a skateboard. But as the 9-year-old peeled the gold wrapping paper from his parents' gift, he knew what his heart really wanted.

"Nintendo 64! Oh, my God!"

Brandon's screams and the repeated bellows of "Thank you!" from Rachel, his 6-year-old sister, resounded in at least a minute of unmitigated joy that their father, Tom, captured on home video -- not unlike scenes filmed in millions of homes on Christmas morning.

Except that millions worldwide have seen the Kuzmas' Christmas moment and have come to love it. The Kuzma kids own the most famous scream in recent pop culture since Howard Dean.

This year, their home movie wound up on YouTube, the popular video-sharing website. And it didn't stop there: The video has leapfrogged its way onto late-night television, daytime music networks, even a BMW commercial.

The kids in the video are teenagers now, living in Jupiter, Fla. They've created a website based on the video and seem to be enjoying their 15 minutes -- or more -- of fame. They've fielded interviews from around the world. They've heard from fans from as far away as Sweden and seen their home movie translated in Japanese and German and remixed in hip-hop form.

Brandon, now 16, said he recently marveled at a photo on a picture-sharing website of a man at an anime convention, clutching a Nintendo 64 and mimicking their video scene.

"I thought to myself, 'Wow, people have really gotten into it,' " he said. "I totally didn't expect it. It's surprising people want to use the clip and think it's so funny."

Their taped just-what-I-always-wanted feeling has helped demonstrate the new media's ability to create stars.

Last spring, Brandon Kuzma's girlfriend saw the home movie, thought it was cute and suggested he post it on his personal Web page. He subsequently copied it to a website popular among skateboarders.

Someone saw it and copied it to YouTube, then to other video-sharing sites. It eventually spawned dozens of alternate versions that include sound effects, visual manipulation and pulsating music. The versions have been seen, in total, more than 4 million times.

The home video crept into the mainstream after Web Junk 20, a VH1 show that showcases such clips, picked it up in July. It hit the big time in September when Jay Leno presented the clip on a segment of "The Tonight Show."

Then, BMW, through Austin, Texas, advertising agency GSD&M, bought the rights to use the clip for a winter holiday promotion. The company altered the Nintendo machine to look like a generic toy robot.

Don't be surprised if commercials similar to the BMW ad follow, as advertisers turn to both conventional and alternative media for more creative ways to reach the masses, experts say.

"I think that what you see happening with online services like YouTube is that the barriers between professional and amateur content is broken," said Emily Riley, an advertising analyst with New York-based Jupiter Research. "Advertisers need to speak to consumers in a much different way than they had before, especially younger consumers."

Brandon and Rachel, 13, have coined themselves the N64 Kids. They created the website N64kids.com in part because other people were making claims online to be them, they said. They use the site to display the video and offer others a place for their own unforgettable moments.

The N64 Kids describe themselves as regular teenagers who like playing video games. But because of the home movie-turned-Web phenomenon, they've become anything but ordinary. And the fanfare shows little sign of letting up.

"This sums up the emotional power of a Christmas story. It is 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'A Christmas Carol' all in one minute," said Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University.

"I think everyone has some memory of childhood where something you got made you that happy, and not just in childhood, but that job you really wanted or that person you've been dying to go out with," Thompson said. "This kid has no inhibitions in expressing that kind of joy. I've never seen someone as good at it."

Lori Kuzma was partly shown in the scene her husband recorded in their home at the time in Emmaus, Pa. She said that initially she and her husband didn't plan to buy the N64 player. They feared their children would spend too much time indoors playing video games, before they had a change of heart.

"Over the years, I don't specifically remember watching that moment [on tape] because we film Christmas every year, and we've had so many wonderful moments with our kids," she said. "It didn't stick out as anything special, but as I see it now, I understand why so many people are drawn to it."

This Christmas, even if Santa is able to secure a scarce Nintendo Wii or PlayStation 3 for Brandon and Rachel, it's unlikely to spawn such a moment again in the Kuzma house. Brandon, for one, acknowledged he hasn't been so enthralled about a present since.

"I just know that later that day, my throat really hurt," the teenager recalled. "I felt like in one day I used up a couple of years of excitement."

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