Philip Wang (L) and Wesley Chan, from Wong Fu Productions.
Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP
With movies and TV shows increasingly going directly online, YouTube channel Wong Fu Productions is ahead of the trend.
By Chris Lau
YouTube may well replace traditional television. This may seem like a bold statement, but when Philip Wang was asked last month what he thought of the rising trend of video-streaming, he said: "It's starting to bridge ... There are shows being made just for streaming, and not even going on TV."
Along with Wesley Chan and Ted Fu, Wang is the brainpower behind Wong Fu Productions - one of America's most watched YouTube channels. Launched in 2007, two years after YouTube started, the channel now boasts more than 1.6 million subscribers. It features short films and vlogs across all genres, from comedy sketches to heartfelt dramas.
Last month, Chan and Wang came to Hong Kong to speak about their online video venture at the Lights Up! conference at Baptist University.
But the pair are no strangers to our city. Chan's parents are originally from Hong Kong, and Chan shot a series here in 2009 called The One Days: HK. Each video in the series is several minutes long, and looks at Hong Kong from an American-born Chinese person's perspective. Robynn Yip, from Canto-pop group Robynn & Kendy, also features in the series.
The true origins of Wong Fu Productions date back to almost a decade ago. Wang shot his first video in 2003, and the following year the trio was formed, when they met as film students at the University of California, San Diego.
"I think we were quite lucky to have started the way we did," says spiky-haired, talkative director Wang. "We just made our stuff and we got fans because of it."
The 21st century technological boom, along with the rise of social media, has put the Los Angeles-based, independent crew in a very good position. As today's young generation spends less time on TV and more time in front of computer screens, big production companies such as 20th Century Fox Studios and Universal Studios are desperate to tap into the online market.
"A lot of traditional media are trying to go online, which is where we are," Chan says. "We are trying to be the bridge between the old and the new, and see how things change."
Owning such a popular online channel, the three filmmakers could easily venture out into something larger, perhaps even Hollywood in scale.
"When you try to get into Hollywood entertainment, you could have your favourite script you love so much, and someone could ask you to change everything," Wang says.
Wang understands that some people don't mind sacrificing their creativity for profitable blockbusters. But this trio wants full control over its productions.
"We [believe we can become] so big on our own, independently, that when big bosses or studios [come along] and say, 'We want to make a movie with you', we can say [to them], 'OK, but this is what it's going to be and you can't touch it because we already have our audience'," says Wang.
The group also anticipates more face-to-face interaction with its fans.
"We exist on the computer and have so many people watching us," Wang says. "But we never get to be truly honest and transparent with them ... We'd like to sit down with them all day and chill, and [meeting fans at conferences and events like Lights Up!] is the closest we can do."