The two enormously fake-breasted European women in thong bikinis are invisible to Tom Winkler. He's lying on a chaise longue by the overflowing pool at the Mondrian hotel, picking at the papaya from his $12.50 fruit plate. Remembering to return a call to his actress girlfriend, he pulls out his stainless-steel cell phone. What Winkler needs is a personal assistant.
It's been a monster few months, what with all the meetings he's been taking. Winkler has talked to Brillstein-Grey, the producers of The Sopranos, about creating a television show; hung with Ron Howard in the Grinch's cave on the set of How the Grinch Stole Christmas; and listened to a pitch from some folks at Universal who are interested in having him make a film based on his characters. Also, Adam Sandler just slipped him a small role in his next picture. How did Winkler, a struggling 35-year-old freelance animator, get here? One word: doodie.
For the past 18 months, Winkler has been running a website called Doodie.com that features a daily 10-second cartoon of a character defecating.
There isn't any sound to these cartoons. The art isn't astounding. The technology is the computer equivalent of a flip-book. And the ideas are immature, even for poop jokes. But Winkler's 450 doodie sketches have got everyone's attention. "The world has been deprived of graphic potty-humor animation because animation was expensive," he says of the dark, pre-doodie days. Sitting up on his chaise longue, he pops open the notebook computer from which, in just a few hours, he will send a brand-new diarrhea-plagued bunny hopping along the information superhighway.
The amount of traffic on Doodie.com--9.5 million visits a month--rivals that of the Warner Bros.-run website Entertaindom.com Which is why Entertaindom signed Winkler to make The Peeper, a short cartoon about a Peeping Tom starring Sandler that is the Internet's biggest hit to date. "As long as I do it every day and it's good, people will come to see it, and if the studios have crap on their site, no one will come," Winkler says. You cannot begin to imagine how much Winkler laughs after the word crap.
Entertainment execs turn to potty humor only when they're scared. And they are. Technology has made it possible for anyone with minimal geek skills and lots of free time to make his own movies, TV shows, albums, books and even radio programs at the merest fraction of what it cost only a few years ago. It has suddenly become cheap to create your own entertainment--and cheaper still to distribute it online. It's the do-it-yourself dream, and it's seizing the imagination of thousands of auteurs--amateur and professional alike--yearning for a mass-market way to express themselves.
And this do-it-yourself digital-entertainment thing is only getting bigger and bigger and bigger, like the Net itself. You can trace the revolution back to the best-watched awfullest movie of all times (excluding Runaway Bride), The Blair Witch Project (shot for $60,000 on videotape), which was marketed to blockbuster effect from a lowly website last year.