YouTube - Tomer Appelbaum - September 21 2011
Eran Amir, who created the clip which became a YouTube sensation. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Faces flash by rapidly on the screen. They wear sunglasses, a hat, bicycle helmet, dangle a cigarette from the corner of the mouth, or just look straight at the camera. There are secular people, religious people, women, men, young and old, and every one of them streaks by on the screen for a fraction of a second.

The backdrops behind them also shift quickly. You can spot the Western Wall for a second, protest tents flashing by, as well as the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv port and many other sites that the eye barely manages to recognize.

What is common to all these people is that they are all holding a photograph that they are showing to the camera. The photograph always remains the same size and in the same position within the frame, but its content changes. This series of photographs is also in constant motion, but here the dizzying pace is not felt: The different photographs do change rapidly, but they are a continual series so showing them one after another creates a short film, in black and white, that fits with the tranquil music of the clip and is complete contrast to the colorful and ever-shifting frame surrounding it.

"500 people in 100 seconds," a clip that is just over a minute and a half long and was posted on YouTube last month, generated a lot of interest and many debates on various sites and blogs (among others, it was mentioned by Time, CBS and the Huffington Post ), and within 10 days had registered no less than one million views. By Monday, the number of hits the clip received had climbed to 1.26 million.

Eran Amir, a 24-year-old Jerusalemite who returned recently from a long trip abroad, is the creator of this original clip. "It was an idea I'd had for a long time," he says. "I wanted to take a video clip, print each one of its frames, give different people these photos to hold and in that way recreate the original video."

In February, while he was traveling in Europe, he met an Italian man from an Italian-Croatian-Bosnian troupe called Maxmaber Orkestar. When Amir listened to one of the group's musical clips, he realized this was his opportunity to go ahead with the idea that had been germinating inside him for a while. He filmed a simple clip, in black and white, for the short music clip, and after he finished editing it, sent all the frames to be printed.

"I printed 1,700 photos and when I came to pick them up I received a box that weighed almost 20 kilograms," he says. Now he had to find the people who would agree to hold the photos in their hands and be photographed with them. Amir decided he would film each one three times, holding three consecutive frames. "That way in the final clip you see five people in a second. I thought this would create the proper pace: fast but not too fast, so that you could still identify faces, recognize the people you know."

His original plan was to photograph 50 people a day. "Based on a calculation of three photographs of each person, each day of shooting I left my house with 150 photos. I decided I wouldn't go back home until I found enough people to be photographed with all of those pictures," he recounts.

At first, this goal seemed nearly impossible. During the first two days, he had trouble finding people who would agree to be photographed and had to return home empty-handed, without having taken a single photograph. "On the third day, I decided that I could let myself give up. I told myself that if I only approached 10 people that day and if all of them, one after another, refused, I would give up and go home. But in the end, on that very day I found 50 people who agreed to be photographed and the project was on its way."

Over the course of 10 days he photographed no fewer than 500 people. "Little by little, I began to understand the best way to approach people to get them to agree to be photographed. I discovered, for example, that it's really not a good idea to approach people who are on their own, because they almost always refuse," he explains. "On the other hand, when I approached groups, it almost always worked. I found that if I approach a group and show them photos I had taken of another people holding the frames, it helped to convince them to also be photographed, and that if I tell them that I plan to upload the clip to YouTube and they can see it there themselves - that also helped."

In order to ensure that the photos the people are holding in their hands will always be in the same place in the frame and the inner clip wouldn't float around the screen, he used a black marker to draw a frame on his camera screen. "While photographing, I tried to position the photos as precisely as possible, but I think the fact that it didn't always come out 100 percent exact contributed to the nature of the final work," he says.

Amir edited the final version of the clip within less than an hour and posted it on YouTube. He hoped it would get 10,000 hits, and was amazed to see the index of views climb rapidly and reach that level speedily. He figures there are two reasons for the clip's surprising popularity. "First, many people are trying to understand if the clip is fake or not. Many claimed that I used [the software] paintbrush and that it's impossible that I printed so many photos. Second, most people claimed that you have to watch this clip at least twice: once to look at the people, and once to look at the photos they are holding. There are also some people who said that you have to see it at least four times so that you can also look at the people's hands and at the background."

And what's next? Soon Amir will begin studying photography and copywriting, and in the meantime he is watching the number of views of his clip rise. He was approached by bodies that sought to show his clip - including foreign television stations - and hopes that this original clip will open doors for him in the future.

"At the moment, I still don't know what my next project will be," he says, "but I gave myself a deadline until October, so that by then I will already have filmed the next clip."