In this week’s video “Why & How Filmmakers Should Use YouTube”, Patrick and I interviewed Philip Wang and Wesley Chan of Wong Fu Productions. Last summer when we were just starting to figure out what the National Film Society was going to be, Patrick and I talked a lot about Wong Fu. We were impressed by the huge following they were able to build on YouTube (1.2 million subscribers) as filmmakers, not as vloggers, musicians or performers, which it seems like everyone else is on YouTube. Honestly, seeing their massive success was a real inspiration to go out and give YouTube our best shot.

When we met Phil and Wes a couple of weeks ago at their office (their office is really sweet BTW), I was really impressed by how sincere and smart they are. That’s actually one of the cool things that I’ve noticed whenever we’ve met big YouTubers. They’re really freakin’ smart. Anyway, Phil and Wes were super generous with their time, sharing wonderful pieces of advice. Even though our final video with them is only 3 minutes long, filming the interview actually lasted about an hour. There were so many useful ideas and tips that got cut out of the final video that we thought it would be cool to share their complete answers in this blog post. So here’s more great insights to making it on YouTube from Wong Fu…

How do you make a living?

Phil: A lot of people ask us, “Is YouTube / Wong Fu Productions your full time thing?” It’s more than full time. It’s our life. But financially speaking, one part of it is ad revenue from videos that we make. The merchandising of the t-shirts and the plush toys, that was a big part of how we have an income and how Wong Fu Productions brings in revenue. We also do sponsored projects. We just did a web series with AT&T. We try to have a wide range of different ways to bring in revenue.

Secret to your success?

Phil: Well success is defined differently by different people. Realistically we do feel like there is still much further that we do, want to go. But to get to this point… we started at a good time, when YouTube or new media was just starting. But not just that we started, but that we also kept it going with consistent content, quality content.

We’ve been doing this for years. So it wasn’t like this overnight thing. We’ve definitely been putting in our time. A lot of people don’t expect it to take that long, but it does. This business, it takes a long time, a lot of hard work.

Wes: The secret to Wong Fu Production’s success is not expecting that success. It’s going into it not knowing what would happen. And only then can you be so truly like, I don’t want to say “fearful”, but cautious and so grounded that you take everything as an opportunity to progress and to grow as artists as a company, as people. I think when people start expecting success, then there’s a problem because you’ll get discouraged, you’ll give up. But success is a privilege. It’s a product of your hard work.

Why should filmmakers use YouTube?

Phil: Because YouTube’s free! That’s what it really comes down to. And there’s an audience that’s ready and waiting for good content. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to use it as a platform.

Wes: Filmmakers should use YouTube because if they are truly dedicated to their craft, they’re going to want as many people to see it as they can. So just because you’re going on a festival route doesn’t mean “I’m better than YouTube. YouTube is a second rate option.” That’s not the case. If you want people to see your stuff, you’ll stand on the street with flyers, you know.

A lot of filmmakers might see YouTube as settling, but you should see it as a new option, a new opportunity to reach a whole community that you never knew existed. There shouldn’t be any kind of negative feelings about it. Things are working in both directions. People on YouTube are trying to get on the big screen, and it goes the other way around. So it’s a two way street that you need to travel both ends.

Too late to get on YouTube and find success?

Phil: Even for us, sometimes we feel like we’re the old fogies in the YouTube game. There’s all of these new people in the game getting more subscribers than us, even faster than us. It’s not too late.

Is it more difficult than before?

Wes: Now it’s hard for people because there’s so much on YouTube. There’s teenagers that are vlogging, you know talking about their stuff. There’s people talking about makeup and cars and soccer plays and Minecraft. And there’s just so much that to be outstanding on YouTube is the hardest part. To be discovered as a new talent is hard on YouTube.

Tips for success on YouTube?

Phil: There are strategies for sure. When there is something on pop culture going on, if you want to comment or do something about that. You kind of are jumping onto that bandwagon of what people are talking and searching for that stuff. You know, a lot of YouTubers will do that. Comedies are usually more popular online. Short. Keep it short. Even though Wong Fu is known for like 10-minute long dramas. Sometimes, we’re curious of how we even still exist in this world of YouTube that’s 30-second videos. What else? Consistency like we said. Making sure people know you have a schedule.

Biggest mistake for filmmakers to avoid when making YouTube videos?

“Your biggest enemy and your biggest challenge is yourself first. So just go make something and put it up there.”

– Philip Wang

Phil: People come out of film school and they say, “I want to make a short film, but I need $50,000 to do it.” And we hear that, and we’re like, “What?!” We can understand how you could spend $50,000 on a short film. But you could also just get two people that know how to read lines and act them out and sit on a sidewalk. That could be a short film. Filmmakers, maybe one thing maybe to avoid is thinking you’re too good for it. Just know that you can make good stuff on a budget. You know YouTube doesn’t have to be 4K quality. Although it wouldn’t hurt you, it would look great, but you can just use…DSLR’s are like a gift from the heavens for independent filmmakers in this era. Your biggest enemy and your biggest challenge is yourself first. So just go make something and put it up there.

Wes: I would actually say make a few mistakes and learn what works and what doesn’t work for your YouTube channel. But a few suggestions, I guess… Now that YouTube has become this huge media force, people expect things to come quickly. And they hear stories. Even Wong Fu Productions, people think, oh wow you guys 1.2 million subscribers. You guys are working with all of these huge brands and stuff. But that was not the case a few years back. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of so called mistakes for us to get where we are now. So don’t expect it to come the next day, or in a month or a year even. You have to stick with it for it to become something big. And you have to believe that it can become something big. Make more mistakes.

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