Man behind the camera: John Sheehan's Youtube channel has around 1,000 videos.JOHN RICE/Contributor

John Sheehan is a Forest Park video blogger who has seen his YouTube site, Dogstar 7, skyrocket in popularity. Since its launch in 2004, Sheehan has produced 1,000 video uploads, attracting four million views. It’s an eclectic collection, featuring video of firemen in action and the boorish antics of Westborough Baptist Church members. Sheehan also focuses on Forest Park attractions.

He was commissioned by the Illinois Labor History Society to document the restoration of the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument. He’s also filmed features on the Eastland disaster victims and the vintage architecture along Madison Street. Sheehan finds Forest Park historically fascinating and sees video blogging as “opening a window onto your own backyard.”

Sheehan has been presenting topics of local interest to the public, ever since he hosted a cable access show in 1980. It was a weekly call-in show based in Oak Park. His day job was producing industrial videos. In the ’90s, he moved to Seattle, filming high-end video for Boeing and Microsoft. While there, he presented himself as a member of the “media” and talked his way onto a Russian ship that spent 10 days retrieving a satellite from the bottom of the Pacific.

That’s one of the appeals of video bloggers. They are seen as more benign than the big news organizations with their intrusive equipment and partisan stances. Sheehan, on the other hand, is disarming. He was recently able to wangle an interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. about school violence.

In 2004, he was filming depositions in Japan when he posted his first YouTube video. It was video of a giant statue of Buddha. The next day, he found a more dynamic subject when Japanese firemen responded to a trash fire at his hotel. It received 80,000 views in its first year. Sheehan had stumbled on the worldwide community of fire fans. Now, every time he hears a siren, he steps off the curb to film the screaming fire trucks.

Sheehan’s minimalist technique, with his compact camera, give his videos an “in your face” quality. This immediacy is especially felt during interviews, when his subjects speak in conversational tones directly into the camera. Sheehan sees himself as a representative of the community, posing the questions to public figures he thinks others would ask. His videos are “cultural snapshots” capturing conditions in communities like Forest Park.

As Dogstar 7’s popularity increases, Sheehan is receiving a modest income from its advertisers. He’s getting commissions and starting his own series on subjects like graphic novels, by interviewing experts in the field. He also would like to partner with local organizations such as the Forest Park Historical Society to produce videos. His ultimate goal, though, is to launch his own live-streaming YouTube show.

In the meantime, John remains a regular guy, armed with curiosity and a camera, “harvesting” events as they happen.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.