- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

RICHMOND — If you’ve ever dreamed of quipping alongside Bill Cosby, now’s your chance.

A YouTube-inspired campaign will let Web surfers create homemade videos featuring America’s funniest dad, as he urges them to donate toward building a $200 million slavery museum near the former capital of the Confederacy.

Starting this week, amateur videographers are encouraged to visit www.eightbucks.org to download a video of Mr. Cosby and later insert their own backgrounds, pictures and sound effects. They can use links to post the finished product on the popular video-sharing site YouTube, spreading the word about the United States Slavery Museum planned in Fredericksburg, Va.

“We’ve been trying to get everybody in the United States of America to send in $8. Everybody didn’t,” deadpans Mr. Cosby, sporting a trademark sweater as he sits in a director’s chair in the video. “We’re asking again.”

The “Bill Cosby Green Screen Challenge” is based on chroma key video compositing, a Hollywood staple that lets directors separate performers from their background.

Later, they can replace the background with something else — putting the characters amid exploding wreckage or on battlefields, for instance.

Museum organizers hope Web surfers will use their own tools to put Mr. Cosby on the moon or on a beach, or insert themselves into the video.

“I keep my fingers crossed that people will see it as something that is very, very serious,” Mr. Cosby, a key fundraiser for the museum, told the Associated Press. “We need people to think seriously that their donation is crucial.”

The brainchild of former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder — the nation’s first black elected governor and the grandson of slaves — the museum has been in the making for more than a decade.

When complete, the 290,000-square-foot museum will include more than 5,000 historic relics of slavery, galleries and a full-scale replica of a Portuguese slave ship.

In September, organizers urged each American to donate $8 — a number symbolizing slave shackles. Although that ongoing fundraising effort raised $50,000 in one weekend, Mr. Cosby blamed apathy among black Americans for keeping donations below the $500,000 mark.

“When you try to go out and get $8 from every African-American, you do the math and you come up to this whopping millions of dollars,” Mr. Cosby said. “But you never really take into consideration that this project, this campaign, needs followers.”

Organizers hope to raise about $200,000. Similar video efforts have advertised TV shows and political campaigns.

“We are taking full advantage of the ‘new media’ marketing landscape that works very well for corporations and major television shows,” museum director Vonita Foster said.

At the Web site, Mr. Cosby stares straightfaced into the camera as he appeals for cash. Surrounding his image are pictures of dollar bills.

“There are some wonderful people who sent more — but they didn’t send it for you,” Mr. Cosby jokes. “So, it’s www.eightbucks.org. Thank you.”

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