LA Asian Pacific Film Festival: Interview with Wong Fu Productions

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[L-R: Genesia Ting, Wesley Chan, Christine Chen, Chris Dinh]

On Friday April 24th, I was able to sit down with the Wong Fu Productions team (missing Ted Fu and Phillip Wang) to discuss the recent world premiere of their movie Everything Before Us.  Director Wesley Chan and producers Christine Chen and Chris Dinh gave me their thoughts.

First of all, congratulations on your new movie!  How was opening night and what kind of feedback did you guys receive from the audience?

Wes: Opening night was very surreal; and I feel like that’s so generic to say.  Everyone’s like “oh, it was such a blur” but it really was, like, it didn’t really hit me until like after the event, and I was like “wow, we just showed our movie at opening night!” And even then I was still processing that we even finished the movie, because it’s been such a long process.  You know, from the very first time we started talking to VC (Visual Communications), to finishing it, it’s just been a really long journey.  But we’ve had a very good history with Visual Communications, they’ve recognized us when we were just doing stuff on YouTube, from the very beginning.  They’ve shown our short films over the years, and to be shown and selected for opening night was just a really great honor.  Seeing the community come out is always really fun.  Usually we see everyone when we’re watching another movie, but last time was so special because it was ours.  I almost forgot that we were there for our own movie.  It was just so great having all the cast there, the crew.  Nothing but good things to say.

Chris: It was very… surreal? [laughs] Is that the word? For me, it was extra special because I didn’t start watching Asian American films until my first time attending a VC Film Fest, and it was for Better Luck Tomorrow, many years ago.  I was in the stand-by line and I didn’t get in, but it was the festival that introduced me to Asian American film.  It’s even better that opening night was about how, for me, it felt like traditional school, like traditional media, and the new media coming together.  So for me to be here at the very beginning, at VC, and that’s how I got my introduction, eventually being able to work with Wong Fu, and then coming back to VC, having being here at an opening night with our festival made it that much more special, and surreal. [laughs]

Christine: So I started working at Visual Communications Film Festival, I think it was five years ago?  I was doing the gala after, so it was very surreal [laughs] to walk out on that stage with our film on opening night and just to what Chris was saying, my two families merging and just seeing VC and this media form coming together.  I remember working at the Film Festival, it was still like, “oh,” I mean they knew Wong Fu Productions, they knew YouTube, but it was still just like “I don’t know about this, I’m not sure if this is here to stay.”  And I mean I kind of don’t want to brag, but we kind of made our stamp yesterday to show that we’re capable of making a full feature length film, under budget, you know!  I think the feedback – one of my – what I was surprised about was that the audience found a lot of moments really funny, which – I just didn’t know but it was like, “oh, I actually found humor in that.”  When you’re a crowd of 800 people you just laugh because others laugh.

Who’s idea was it to make this movie initially?

Wes: Well the idea to make the movie, I think, was all of ours.  We all saw that Wong Fu Productions had been making short films for a really long time, a few webseries, and I think the natural evolution was to do a feature.  We had done like a student film when we graduated UCSD, and we kind of got a taste of that.  It was a lot of work – it was a very different process back then, because it was just Phil, Ted, and myself making it.  But we hadn’t revisited features since then.  We kind of compare it to musical artists, like, they have albums, you know.  They have singles, and they would work really hard to have albums, right?  So all our YouTube shorts are like our singles, and we needed to put together an album.  We felt like it was the right time, with the recent success of Crowd Funding, we wanted to involve all the Wong Fu fans.  It totally wouldn’t have been possible years ago.  We all wanted to make the movie, but the specific idea was a combination of things that we’ve talked about.  Wong Fu Productions is known for relationship stuff, so we kind of wanted to stay in that genre, because it is a strength of ours, I think?  And fans enjoy that kind of film, so we knew we wanted to do that.  And then at the same time, I wanted to push for a more interesting kind of context about the film, you know.  Following couples, but in this world, where relationships are overseen and monitored.  That was the general idea we were going off, and we slowly hammered away at it.  Originally, it was actually more sci-fi, there was like a memory device that, when you go to the DEI, you can hook yourself up to this thing and see everything that happened, and that was how they evaluated your relationship.  But there were already so many things in this world that we needed people to buy into that we felt like we might lose them if it was too much stuff.

Christine: But it was a really cool idea.

Wes: It was a cool idea.  Maybe another movie.

Those who have been following you guys on social media are aware of the last minute production grind.  Were you guys stressed about getting things done in time?

Christine:  What do you mean? Not at all! [laughs]

Wes: So it was a conscious choice, either like, don’t tell people we’re grinding at the last minute, and make it seem like everything’s okay, or be totally honest.  We chose to be very honest because, you know, that’s not unheard of.  I think a lot of movies are working up to the last minute.  Actually I think, the movie was pretty manageable – it was actually all the new projects coming into play that made things very stressful.  We had new shoots almost immediately after the production of the movie, we had regular YouTube sketches that needed to come out.  Even last week we had a three day shoot during our post sound and color.  Yeah, it’s stressful, but it’s nothing new for Wong Fu Productions.

Chris: It’s a little unique for them to do a feature and have to do stuff for YouTube as well.  There was even at one point, like, there was something coming in and we were actually talked about during the movie production itself about taking a break in the middle of production so that Wes, Phil and Christine could produce another series, I think.  And then coming back to the feature.  Then we realized we were doing crazy talk, and we decided against it.

So we know you guys make a ton of creative and original shorts, how do you guys deal with creative blocks?

Wes: We cagefight, beat each other up. [laughs]

Chris: Just whoever is the most persistent gets their way.

Wes: That’s actually kind of true!  Creative blocks are different than differences, right.  So I think we don’t have many times where we’re like out of ideas.  Or like, we really need ideas and we can’t think of anything.  That doesn’t happen too much, because there’s a few of us.  You know, between our entire team, we’re bound to talk about lots of experiences.

Chris: Essentially, yeah – Wes is right.  It’s not that we don’t have enough ideas on where to go, it’s almost like we have too many.  I think the process is very thorough, where we kind of explore each one.  And each creative decision has something we get really excited about and has its downsides.  So I think it’s just more like too many.

Wes: Usually we’ll find ourselves talking about one idea more than others and that kind of shows that that’s the next thing.

Chris: What I found, working with Wong Fu, you know, the “nice guy” image?  When we’re writing, sometimes, that can be an interesting block.  Because, sometimes, as soon as a character displays any kind of negative tendencies, we always step back and go like “oh my gosh, are we being too mean?”

Christine: Literally I was just telling Phil, like, it’s okay if the character has flaws, you know?  That’s how the character grows and develops and learns.

Chris: So we have nice guy blocks. [laughs]

So we know you guys have worked with tons of huge celebrities and actors such as Randall Park, Jeremy Lin, and Harry Shum Jr.  Are there any celebrities that you’re hoping to work with in the future?

Christine: Ooh!  Daniel Henney!

Wes: So Christine is a huge fan of Daniel Henney.  Yeah, it’s been really awesome working with people we never thought we’d be even in the same room with.  We just finished a project with Harry Shum Jr. and Kina Grannis, that was really fun.  I mean, we’re not that picky.  It’s more just like good, positive people.  I think I’d rather work with someone with quick-wit and has the same values as me rather than some big name.  Not to say, I mean, I’d probably take that back some point in my life, but I don’t know, like –

Christine: Who? Just name someone!  It doesn’t have to be Asian.

Wes: I know, I know!  Umm –

Christine: Obama.  He does some acting!

Chris: He was pretty funny in that Buzzfeed thing.

Wes: Oh! Sam Rockwell.  Uh, yeah, Robert Downey Jr.?  I wouldn’t know how to interact with someone like that.  Yeah, I don’t know.  Natalie Portman’s cool.  Is she still doing stuff?  Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cool.

Chris: I feel like Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be a good Wong Fu collab.  I wonder if he’s a Wong Fu man.

Wes: I don’t know, I’m open to anyone.

What’s the next step for Wong Fu?

Wes: Immediately after this festival we’re going on a very short promo tour.  So yeah, we’re gonna be kind of pushing this movie for a while, we have that project with Harry Shum Jr. and Kina Grannis.  We have a potential new webseries that we might be doing.  And then miscellaneous YouTube sketches along the way.

Will there be a second movie?

Wes: There will probably be a second movie, it’s in development now, it’s an idea we’ve had for a while now.  But we’re still trying to find the right way to approach it.  It’s a little different than our usual genre.  But it’ll be a lot of fun if it happens.

Lastly, how will your fans be able to view Everything Before Us?

Wes: Everything Before Us is going to be available online, streaming on Vimeo.  That is going to be available June 3rd.  I’m a little nervous saying that, because we haven’t really said anything about that yet.

Christine: We announced it yesterday.

Wes: We did announce it yesterday, and that was nerve-wrecking too, but we kind of took it back.

Chris: How many times can we say it before we can take it back? [laughs]

Wes: We probably reached the limit already.  But yeah, it’s really exciting because Vimeo’s been awesome and we want to let the audience view it as soon as possible and as quickly as possible.  Just right in their own homes.  Everyone’s always asking us like, oh, is it going to be in theatres?  I think, if the opportunity arises that we could put it in a theatre, we’ll do that.  But it’s not going to be the main way we’re getting this video out.  Because a theatre, as beautiful as it is, that experience is great but it’s kind of an old-fashioned way of doing things now.  I think going straight to streaming videos on demand is kind of the future and it fits with Wong Fu Productions.

Any last thoughts or comments?

Christine: Surreal.

Chris: So surreal.


Everything Before Us is now available for pre-order on Vimeo, and will be released on June 3rd.

Genesia Ting

About Genesia Ting

Genesia Ting is a product designer by day and concert photographer by evening. She enjoys discovering new eateries in the Los Angeles area, hiking by the coast, and exploring different parts of LA.
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