First Person: Ze Frank

The view from an intercontinental flight inspired Ze Frank to try making a snack of our planet

I was looking out of the window on a flight out of Madrid, just daydreaming, when I came up with the idea of the Earth sandwich. I was on my way back to New York, which felt like the other side of the world compared to the Spanish landscape I could see below. The stewardesses hadn’t started serving food but I just thought, what if somebody created the biggest sandwich in the world – with Earth as the filling in the middle?

By the time I landed in America, the Earth sandwich was already morphing into a challenge in my mind. At the time, I was running a daily video blog and I used to ask people to do crazy things – and this was certainly a challenge. I knew people were always looking for wacky ideas but I had no idea the Earth sandwich would take off like it did.

The antipodes of any spot on the planet is the place diametrically opposite it, on the other side of the world. For people to achieve an Earth sandwich, they would have to find somebody to place a piece of bread at precisely the right location, on the opposite side of the Earth, at exactly the same time as they did.

It sounded fairly straightforward – except that 80 per cent of my web audience was based in America, where the opposite side of the globe was a huge expanse of the Indian Ocean. But instead of scrapping the idea, I decided it would only add to the challenge, forcing people to come up with innovative ways to be the first to create an Earth sandwich. To help them, I posted a tool on my website that showed where the antipodes for every location in the world could be found.

I’ve been fascinated by the internet from the very start. In 2001 I had made a funny black-and-white film called How to Dance Properly, a short video of me dancing to a Madonna song. I sent it to 17 of my friends on a Thursday and by Monday one million people a day were logging on to view it. I thought if a film like that could make it, then maybe the Earth sandwich could too.

I didn’t have to wait long because people always rise to a challenge. There were a couple of failed attempts before two American guys took a baguette to London, then flew to Spain and used their satellite navigation to find the right place in a remote field. On the other side of the world in Auckland, a guy was doing just the same thing with the other piece of bread at the antipodes point in New Zealand. Both of them made videos of their adventure and it was a big hit.

Since then, dozens of people have done the same. The Earth sandwich was mentioned by Douglas Coupland in his novel Generation A, and it popped up on American chat shows and news programmes. I had emails from people all over the world who wanted me to put them in touch with others on the other side of the planet – it felt like I was creating friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. It just goes to prove that nothing is impossible if you have a tool like the internet. I wish I could come up with another idea that gripped people in the same way but the sandwich might be my 15 minutes of fame, we’ll have to see.

It’s six years since I took that flight from Madrid and people still email me about the idea. It certainly helped raise my web profile at the time and I’m now vice-president of video for a social media website. I am also helping to build a studio in Los Angeles, which will encourage people to make web videos and connect with others. I have never tried an Earth sandwich: my favourite is a Reuben, a hot sandwich of beef, cheese and sauerkraut.

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