15 Minutes with Wong Fu Productions
Student Life: First of all, congratulations on your 1 million subscribers. Could you just describe what that achievement means to you?
Philip Wang: It’s cool. I think there are only 50 or so YouTube channels that are in the million range. It’s taken a while.
Ted Fu: It’s taken a while, yeah.
PW: There are definitely a lot of other channels that have grown faster than our channel, but our content is a little different. It takes a little more time for fans to get into our kind of content. That’s probably why it took a little while. But it’s good. We’re glad, and hopefully most of the people are still watching, and we can keep it growing.
SL: You guys started out doing these college lip-syncing videos, and now you’ve really grown and expanded. You have your whole range of store products, International Secret Agents, your recent MV (music video) for Wang Leehom. How do you think about your own success?
TF: It’s really a gradual (process). We’ve been doing this for 5, 6, 7 years.
PW: Sometimes we do have to step back and be like, “Ok, this was a pretty good year.” To be honest, we’re still always thinking we’re still very far from wherever we need to be. There’s still a long way to go. We are very grateful for all the things that have happened, but we’re not finished. I don’t know what that is about us, but we’re definitely always thinking, “We can do more; we can do more.” But we’ve been very fortunate so far. (It’s been) a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, but it’s been good.
Wesley Chan: There hasn’t been a lot of time to celebrate successes, because once we finish one project it’s onto the next. But that’s not to say we’re not grateful for a project when it’s done. It’s just a nonstop stream, and that’s a good problem to have.
SL: When you guys started out, did you imagine yourselves going in a certain direction or having the success that you’ve had? What was the original plan?
PW: We didn’t have a plan. We never started off by saying, “We want to be Wong Fu Productions; we want to do this, this, and this; we want to be popular on YouTube,” or whatever. We just knew that we had a lot of people following us and supporting us and our only goal was to keep it going a little bit longer.
TF: Our goal is always to make the best product that we can, quality-wise, with the resources that we have available to us. We didn’t really have a plan because the playing field has always been changing. YouTube didn’t exist when we first started. Now YouTube is changing a lot too. Social media has boomed and gone crazy.
PW: It’s hard to plan because everything’s always changing. So our only real set goal is just to keep making good work and things that we like, and we’re very lucky that people have been following us and enjoying our evolving (work).
SL: Have you ever imagined what you guys would be doing if you weren’t making videos?
PW: I’d probably be PA-ing on some set, getting coffee for people.
TF: I think working with these guys and knowing myself, we’re all very driven people. I think if we were too idle, we’d get restless and antsy, and then we’d want to do something. So I think that would always revolve around something creative. The funny thing is that since Wong Fu Productions is our creation and we have a lot of flexibility within Wong Fu Productions, we can actually explore the different interests that we have inside Wong Fu. So for example, Wes is a great designer and he would design T-shirts for us or design different products for us.
SL: Why have you guys chosen to expand your company beyond just making videos?
TF: The simple answer is that our fans demand it. Our fans are like, “Oh, where’d you get that shirt?” And then we’re like, “Ok, if you really want that shirt, no one’s selling it, so we’ll sell it for you.” So we’re catering to the fans.
WC: We’re reacting to what we’re seeing from the fans and what they’re asking for. It’s still a surprise to us. The fact is there are thousands of people asking for it so you can’t just ignore them. So for the stuffed animals, we bought this giant bear thing that was just a joke for us. And then showing it in a video, everyone wants it so it’s just a way to further please the fans and for us, it’s a way to be creative and expand in a different area.
SL: You guys have worked together for a while now. What’s the secret to a great working relationship?
PW: When we first started working together we were in college and we didn’t live together. Then when we graduated, we moved to LA and we lived together for a couple of years. It’s funny to say, but it is a relationship, so it’s all the key stuff in a relationship. You have to communicate; you have to respect each other. And I think that’s why we’ve been able to stay close in a working relationship and as friends—because we have this mutual respect for each other and also for each other’s work ethic. We always know that everyone’s working really hard and there are no egos. I think that where a lot of things go wrong is when people start getting egos and people feel entitled to this or that and that’s something that we never allow to happen. We do live separately now, but not because we had a huge falling out—because we’re growing up. We don’t want roommates forever.
SL: Talking about Asians and media, there are definitely more Asians in the media than there were 10, 15 years ago. But do you still feel like they’re underrepresented in the mainstream media, and do you feel that that is still important?
PW: I think it’s definitely important. Mainstream is still mainstream, and that’s how most of the country or most of the world is seeing us. New media has been great because it’s been more for the community. It’s empowered Asians, Asian-Americans amongst themselves, to say, “Hey, I found this guy or girl that I think is really cool. I want to follow them.” And it inspires them to feel like they can do it, too, because they see someone like them doing it. In terms of how it affects the general population, most of white America is not watching YouTube and nigahiga or whatever; they’re just watching whatever show, so there still needs to be more representation. But (mainstream) is a lot better now. I’m actually surprised sometimes when I see an Asian guy on TV and he doesn’t have an accent and he’s just being a regular guy. That’s cool. That’s progress. And I think Hollywood is learning.
SL: Why do you think Asians have found YouTube as an outlet and gravitated towards channels like yours?
WC: Asians or Asian-Americans are just very tech savvy. It could be a stereotype but it’s pretty true, I think. We spend a lot of time in front of the computer. When you’re first in line to this doorway, you’re going to be the first to utilize it.
PW: It’s a stereotype. That’s like looking at it positively, but I think there’s another side where Asians are still very timid people and they are afraid to fully pursue an art and artistic passion sometimes. So let’s say there’s someone really good at singing, but they’ll never tell their parents, “Hey, I’m going to go all the way and I’m going to move to LA with a suitcase, and I’m going to pursue music.” So instead they do a “cop-out,” and they’re sitting in their room, and they’re like, “I can make a video here and thousands of people can see me,” and that’s their outlet for that talent. A lot of people start off that way and audiences flourish from that and people start supporting them and that’s an inadvertent way that a career in music can start. We have friends that have gone that route. It’s a little bit of that stereotype where no one really wants to take that leap of faith—like other cultures might want to because Asian (people) want what’s secure or they want to please their family—
WC: They’re afraid of failure.
PW: So it’s like, “Oh, I’m just going to put it online and if it doesn’t do well, then I didn’t really try.”
WC: There’s a lot less at stake. Knowing that there’s less at stake, it’s very casual and easy to do. The mentality changes when it’s like that so it’s not like you’re forgoing a college education to pursue music school.
PW: But there still does have to be that leap of faith, that moment of sacrifice when you decide that this actually went somewhere and to take it further. That’s where we were when we graduated. When we graduated, we realized that we wanted to make this happen. That’s where the real dedication and hard work kicked in. Once it becomes your job, it’s not just fun and games anymore.
SL: How do you make that leap of faith?
TF: For us, we had that extra push from our fans.
PW: Yeah, we were lucky in that sense.
TF: They kind of gave us the reassurance that we can do this. So I would say our fans were the main push and drive for us to take that jump.
PW: It was actually when we started touring for a project and we saw people face-to-face and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, there are a lot of people.” It’s different when you meet people face-to-face and they’re not just a web stat.
TF: And they want your autograph…
PW: This doesn’t come to a lot of people. We can’t just let it go. We have to see how far we can take this because it’s a huge honor. We can’t take it for granted so let’s try and keep this going. That was our moment that we can’t just forgo this.
SL: Do you guys have a plan for where you see yourself in the future?
PW: At this point, it’s like, “What are we doing next year?” We’re just trying to keep our head above water. The face of YouTube and new media is constantly changing. The players are changing. Even like two years ago, we were still giving this talk about how Hollywood doesn’t understand new media yet and they don’t take it seriously. In two years’ time, it’s changed a lot. Now, Hollywood is putting millions of dollars trying to start a YouTube channel. We’re just trying to keep up. We want to keep making good content. We want to start directing our attention to web series—
TF: Longer form projects.
PW: We started doing less music videos than we used to because we wanted to focus on more narrative projects. We’re considering also doing a feature. We’ve also had it in the back of our head doing a feature-length film, but we’re playing with that idea again.
TF: It’s difficult, because things come up really short notice. Like, oh, Harry Shum wants to do something so we can’t miss this opportunity so we have to figure something to work with him within a month.
PW: The Leehom thing just came up totally randomly. We had plans to do other stuff, but then we shut down Wong Fu for basically a month, and we couldn’t do anything else because we were so focused on that (project) and stressed out about that. So we do have where we want to go, but there are things that are just constantly tugging at us. And it’s so good for the company, and we still want to do it.
TF: We’re able to pick and choose, but when it’s Wang Leehom, it’s hard to turn down.