Odds are, you are unfamiliar with most of the hundreds of television networks out there. One network, though, is different from those overlooked content dispensaries that are buried in the high-numbered channels of your cable package. Not delivered through cable, satellite, or over the air, this channel exists in piecemeal, on YouTube, Roku, and Amazon.
It's called InfoChammel and it is remarkably, aggressively, stupefyingly weird. It's television antimatter: a TV channel that, it would seem, doesn't wish to be watched.
For four years, Davy Force has been creating videos in a small room in his basement and uploading them to a YouTube account called InfoChammel. (No, not "channel." Chammel.) And in that time, practically no one stumbled across Force's creation: 63 of the 67 InfoChammel videos have under 1,000 views.
That's not the weird part; aspiring filmmakers earnestly upload videos to YouTube every day that never eclipse 1,000 (or even 100) views. But Force isn't an amateur. By day, Force is a talented 3D animator who has ties to the Tim and Eric empire, but works in the more mainstream entertainment industry. More than 6,000 people subscribe to his own personal YouTube channel.
InfoChammel is the kind of Pandora's box of content that has all the makings of a viral hit. Intentionally lo-fi in nature, it constantly oscillates between infomercial-style pitches seen on Adult Swim and community bulletin-style text screens of Weird Twitter. You can describe these videos in a host of unflattering ways. They're senseless. They're garishly designed. They're devoid of purpose. They're intentionally unsettling. They're also fun.
If you watch enough InfoChammel videos, you get the sense that the fictional "network" is a bit unsure of itself, too. In one video, it's described as "the number one anti-tainment and posi-hypno programming television network." In another, Fred Furner, InfoChammel's supposed creator, describes it as "the number one unscrambled re-scrambled uni-corpo-public HD 365/24/7/11,000 [Editor's Note: that's 11,000 years] semi-regulated hyper-dimensional digital broadcast platform in the universe." Okay!
"There are several levels of the onion behind InfoChammel," Force tells me over the phone. And the outermost layer of that onion is the mythos of InfoChammel.
"The official backstory," Force says, "is that in 2012 I purchased the failing, flailing network from Mr. Fred Furner." Furner is a character who appears in a number of InfoChammel videos, always dressed in the stereotypical pitch man's outfit of a polo and khakis.
Both Furner and Force make outrageous and illogical claims when speaking about InfoChammel. Furner says he is the inventor of high-definition television. (He's not.) Force says he bought InfoChammel from Furner for "16.7 million colors," not dollars. (I asked Force how to make a transaction in "colors" and he said "there's a lot of legal tape," and he'd "rather not get into it.") Both the fictional founder and the real-life creator say that InfoChammel uses something called "Techno-Lok," which, Force explains, transmits subliminal suggestions to "increase positive vibrations in the bodies of the viewers and those who are in proximity to the video screens."
All these parts of the InfoChammel story show up in the various videos, in their descriptions, and on the InfoChammel website. But the more I talked to Force, the more he kept peeling back that onion, revealing a deeper, more sincere core.
Force was one of the two minds behind The Chickening, a spoof of The Shining released in January that was more upsetting than it was funny. He makes his living creating these remix-style videos; in fact, he was calling me from Florida where he's working on a project for Disney. "And then there’s InfoChammel, which is like my fully experimental space," Force says. "I know that I could put something out there and it’s just going to get 100 views, and I’m fine with that, that’s what it’s meant to be."
Force says that he'd work on InfoChammel whenever he found free time between projects. "It tends to be very light lifting type of production," he says, especially since most of the content consists of hyper-colorful text screen "shows." There's Whatdafact?, which cycles through Snapple cap-style trivia. Cinescrollz features full screenplays of movies scrolling by just slow enough to be read. And then there's Nite-Listz, where lists of things like cocktail names (real and fake, of course) appear, set to sleepy elevator music.
There are other "shows" with real people, too — though Force says a lot of those were created using either stock footage or Fiverr, an internet service where you can pay people as little as $5 for creative services. Force would write scripts and send them to people on Fiverr, and they would send back footage of themselves reading testimonials about their InfoChammel experience, or advertising for fake law firms. (I asked Force if Fred Furner was an actor from Fiverr, and he quickly hopped back into the mythos of InfoChammel. "No, Fred is the inventor of InfoChammel! I found him, I did my research, and he was in a tough spot when I found him," he says. "Now he sits on his throne every day and counts his colors.")
So why, exactly, would someone put four years of free time into something as crazy and seemingly inane as InfoChammel?
For one thing, Force feels the project has some weight as far as commenting on the state of television. "InfoChammel is kind of riffing off that, and saying okay, if we’re just going to have 500 channels of nothing, then here’s nothing," he says. "Here’s what nothing looks like."
But Force also claims there's more to InfoChammel. "People misconstrue it as being like a comedy thing, which it’s not. It’s really kind of meant to be as real as it can be, and for all intents and purposes it is real, it’s not a spoof, it’s a real network that I’m trying to build."
Force says that he always intended InfoChammel to be a years-long project, and that what currently exists is just the beginning — essentially the base of the soup. "The idea is to get a mountain of programming," he says. "Ultimately there’s supposed to be 100 hours of that. If you see a piece of shit on the ground, you’re like, 'Okay, whatever, it’s a piece of shit.' But if you come upon a mountain of shit? Like a 500-foot mountain of shit? You’re like, 'That is something!'"
That was exactly my reaction when I first stumbled across InfoChammel this past weekend; I found it on Amazon while browsing old horror films. There, InfoChammel exists as a 2.5-hour "movie," a mish-mashy Frankenstein's monster of mostly the same videos you can find on the YouTube channel.
InfoChammel is also available as a constantly looping channel on Roku, and Force says he added it to both of these services last month in order to get the ball rolling on this bigger-picture vision. Each new platform serves a different purpose. With Amazon, Force says he is trying to take advantage of the company's newly launched Amazon Video Direct service, where content creators can upload almost anything and get a cut of the streaming revenue.
Roku, Force says, is more of an ideal fit for InfoChammel, a glimpse at what he hopes will be the project's ultimate conclusion. "I’m hoping this year to start putting actually engaging content over the top of that soup base, so you’ve got a 24-hour stream and then — BAM — at 4:17PM every day, here’s a real show."
Force says he wants to start that with a focus on live (or, at least, taped live) shows in his basement studio, and you can see the makings of this if you are willing to sift through the "mountain of shit" that currently exists on YouTube. Info Test Live is one of the few "shows" where Force and some of his friends and collaborators actually appear on camera, and as messy and goofy as it is, it was apparently a dry run for Force's vision.
"I’ve done some tests with live multi-switch camera broadcasting and I think that’s where I want to go [with InfoChammel], and that’s actually a way to make much more content in a short amount of time," he says. These shows would include real-time interaction, Force says, with fans on video calls or live-chatting on the screen.
Force wants that same spirit of collaboration to bleed over into the text screen shows, too. "[The text screens are] literally like a placeholder for what’s to come, where you could buy five screens and type in whatever you want and they go into the queue," Force says. (The design and function is modeled after the old Teletext systems that essentially did the same thing on televisions in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.)
If and when all this happens really depends on how much time Force can devote to InfoChammel in the coming years. Not only does he have his own day job to work around, Force and his friend and collaborator Nick DenBoer are trying to capitalize on the attention they got for The Chickening. Force says the two have taken a number of meetings where they've been pitching ideas for more traditional TV shows and movies.
But the future of InfoChammel's presence on the internet depends on whether or not people ever pay attention to it. Amazon and Roku distribution will certainly help — there's already a thread in the Roku forums trying to make sense of the whole thing, and it's only a matter of time before it finds its way to communities like Reddit and Tumblr, where InfoChammel can be pulled apart into the most insane bits and pieces. As far as weird stuff goes, InfoChammel is a bounty, and it's spent four years ripening in the dark.