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'Billiam' boning up for GOP debate

  • Article by: Jeannine Aquino
  • Star Tribune
  • July 24, 2007 - 9:40 PM

With his orange-colored eyes, lemon-yellow nose and baby-carrot mouth, "Billiam" looked a little different from the other YouTubers who posed video questions to the candidates in Monday's Democratic presidential debate.

The snowman (and concerned father) from Minneapolis pressed the candidates about what they would do to solve a serious problem in his life.

"I've been growing concerned that global warming, the single most important issue to snowmen of this country, is being neglected," he said in a sincere cartoon voice during the 18-second video. "As president, what will you do to ensure that my son lives a full and happy life?"

Billiam's debut during the first CNN-YouTube presidential debate was one of a slew of videos shown before the eight Democratic hopefuls. The snowman, who by many post-debate accounts stole the show, was created by brothers Nathan and Greg Hamel of Minneapolis.

"We have the distinction of being the first non-human and first snowman in a presidential debate, which is pretty cool," said Nathan, 26, in an interview Tuesday.

The stop-motion footage was recycled from an earlier video the two video hobbyists had created this past spring involving Billiam the snowman and a samurai. The Hamels decided at the last minute to submit a question to the debate and thought the snowman would be "the perfect ironic poster boy for global warming," said Nathan, who is a Democrat.

Greg, 23, who supplied Billiam's falsetto voice and is a Libertarian, said it was a "rush to see it online and have a candidate respond to it as well."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich was the only candidate who responded directly to Billiam's question, Nathan said. Although Kucinich had a great response, he said, he would have liked to hear from some of the others, particularly Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The video Tuesday had more than 51,000 hits on YouTube. The response, however, has been mixed.

"It's a really polarizing video. First, global warming is a very polarizing issue. Second, the format of this funny snowman really angers some people, but other people love it," Nathan said, explaining that some people prefer a more serious and hard-hitting debate.

The Hamel brothers, who initially didn't think the video would do as well as it did, watched the debate in their living room with their parents and some friends Monday night.

Their mother, Pam Jenkins, whose hat and scarf adorned Billiam, said that seeing her sons' video on national television was a "delightful shock."It just says a lot about the democratic nature of YouTube and the Internet. I thought it was a terrific example of how that vehicle can be used," she said.

The Hamel brothers plan on creating another Billiam the Snowman video for the Republican presidential debate on Sept. 17.

Jeannine Aquino • 612-673-4146 • jaquino@startribune.com

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