Thursday afternoon, a video spread across the Internet described as footage of a private Shell party at the Seattle Space Needle. In the video, a man tries to dispense a beverage to another guest through a model oil rig, but the model “malfunctioned” and spewed brown liquid all over the elderly guest. It was a perfect visual metaphor for environmental activists and reporters. But, alas, a few hours later the whole video was uncovered as a fake.

So what really happened?

The event, the video and the angry press release threatening legal action were all products of a joint collaboration of activists with Yes Labs, Greenpeace and the Occupy movement.

The Yes Men gathered about 30 participants (mostly people in on the joke, but also some oil industry folks) through email and word-of-mouth, and lined up key acting roles — the advertising executive, the engineer, the designer’s widow — ahead of time. James Turner of Greenpeace played the Shell advertising executive. Paul Horiuchi, a retired actor who regularly appeared on “Northern Exposure,” played the engineer. The woman playing the part of the rig designer’s widow is 84-year-old Dorli Rainey, who is well-known for being pepper-sprayed in Seattle Occupy protests last fall.

Greenpeace footed most of the bill, which included the Space Needle, an ice sculpture and an open bar. Yes Labs staffer Keil Troisi theorized the whole shebang cost tens of thousands of dollars. You probably didn’t notice all the fine details in the one-minute video, but the goal was to fool event attendees from the oil industry in addition to fooling Internet viewers.

According to a behind-the-scenes article on, the actors ran out of time for the planned script (which included more references to the Deepwater Horizon spill, such people saying things like “Shell has no direct relationship with this device”). The model rig was meant to continue spewing liquid for a long time, and the oil company’s “vice president” was going to ask guests to help clean the mess by sopping liquid up with stuffed polar bears and seals. Plans changed, however, after a Space Needle employee unplugged the model rig.

Main photo credit: Ryan McFarland

Video credit: Yes Labs