As I mentioned yesterday, this week I’m highlighting a few YouTube super stars I’ve been following whose stories I think are great inspiration for many of you in the DSLR filmmaking world. Sometimes I feel we’re all in our own little boxes, following all the same people and never expanding our horizons. My hope is that after this week, you will step outside that proverbial box, and pick at least three new filmmakers to follow you’ve never followed before. Today I offer up a trio of friends whose company I believe has the best overall business model of any small video production company I’ve seen. Wong Fu Productions.
Wong Fu was started only eight years ago by three college dorm-mates and friends in San Diego: Wesley Chan, Ted Fu, and Philip Wang. They started making videos for fun and are the classic success story of filmmakers following their passion for the love of it (as opposed to some predetermined plan) and having their hard work and dedication pay off. Big time. In just four short years since joining YouTube, they’ve created a YouTube following of over 700,000 channel subscribers and over 85 million video views.
I think there are two key reasons for their online success. First, the content they create caters largely to young Asian Americans. There are so few positive images of Asians in the media (that are not stereotypes of Kung-Fu fighting bad-assess, or F.O.B.’s with poor English skills). Wong Fu filled a gap. Second is consistency. Consistent content and consistent entertainment. (That is actually a common theme among all the YouTubers).
Here’s why I think Wong Fu’s business model is the perfect model for any sized production company. They generate revenue from three sources:
- Video Production. First and foremost, they make videos. And get paid to do it. Seems like most of their video work is music videos, but they do traditional commercial work as well. Because of their connections in the Asian American scene, they’ve hooked up to do a video for Harry Shum Jr., star on Glee and dancer in The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. (Click here to see a teaser for the video).
- Advertising. Because of the aforementioned YouTube following and viewership, my guess is WFP is easily making five, if not six-figure revenue from their combined social media advertising. It would be a dream job for me to make fun videos every week, post them on line, and then get paid enough money to live off that work. What filmmaker doesn’t long for that kind of life.
- Product Sales. Based on one of the short films they created back in 2007, they have created a clothing and stuffed animal line called “Nice Guy Designs.” They’ve also sold DVDs of their films. They are in essence, i mini movie studio.
The beauty of this business model is that it has passive income. Most of us hard working stiffs in the video production world only make money when we’re producing work for clients. We actually have to shoot and/or edit to make money. But to be able to make something once, they earn money from it in perpetuity is liberating and something I’d like to eventually work toward in my own business.
Creating Content that Suits Their Audience
I would fathom that a significant majority of their audience is comprised of young Asian-Americans who could care less what lenses these guys shoot with or whether or not their latest video was shot with an Alexa or the Sony F3. All they know and care about is they get to see funny videos with good storytelling. I’m sure many of my audience could get very film snobbery on WFP and point out that a lot of their DSLR work might show a lack of understanding of the limitations (e.g. lots of quick pans in some of their tour videos, hand-held work vs. using stabilizing rigs, etc.). However, my take on it is that to keep up with the content they put out every week, they do just what they need to entertain their core audience. However, if you take a look at the music video below, you’ll see that when necessary, they got the chops to put out exceptional DSLR work.
Lastly, I love the fact that these guys are creating content about their culture that is positive and uplifting. In a way, they are to Asian-Americans what Spike Lee is to African Americans. Also, they have a sense of humility and gratitude that keeps them grounded.
Why You Should Follow Them
I don’t think you should follow them so you too can learn how to be a YouTube sensation. My guess is many of you don’t necessarily want that kind of fame. But, I think their success story is inspiring. They weren’t trying to achieve this level of success. They just pursued their passion. Second, they do a pretty great job of producing behind the scenes videos. That’s always educational. Lastly, as they continue to grow and evolve, they are becoming considerably more connected to other amazing filmmakers (like Ted Hope). Following artists like these guys inevitably leads to other wonderful discoveries.
If you’re taking me up on my challenge to pick three new filmmakers to follow, I strongly suggest Wong Fu Productions as one of your three.
Music Video “That Girl” by David Choi
If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, click here.