By Mandy Day
Appearances by BuzzFeed sensation Eugene Lee Yang, comedic actor Ken Jeong and his co-star Suza Nakamura marked the opening weekend of the San Diego Asian Film Festival’s sweet sixteenth birthday. The festival which runs through Saturday brings incredible films and documentaries from around the world to the beautiful coastal city along the Pacific.
Digital Pioneers, Buzzfeed at UCSD
More than 200 fans of Buzzfeed packed into UC San Diego’s Calit2 Atkinson Hall to hear about how the company creates and produces content. The panel consisted of producer and director, Abe Forman-Greenwald; business analyst and occasional onscreen talent, Mallory Wang; and producer and actor, Eugene Lee Yang from Buzzfeed Motion Pictures. Moderated by YouTube sensation Anna Akana, the panel discussed a myriad of topics from their treatment of childhood bullying to tips on generating the most online traffic on more than thirty platforms across the internet. Buzzfeed’s first viral Asian American video, If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say premiered last year and has exceeded ten millions views. Since then, Asian Americans have found a prominent voice on the internet led by the rising popularity of one of Buzzfeed’s most famous faces, Yang.
Since its inception, Buzzfeed has maintained much of the successful business model that helped launch it to the top. With film budgets limited to $300, every video is crewed by Buzzfeed staff and company owned equipment. The company now employs more than 200 film producers around the world and attracts hundreds of millions of views each month. The If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say video was inspired from a Facebook conversation with Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Yang. Eugene Lee Yang (no relation) said during the panel that many of their videos are inspired by content they found and are transformed into something of their own.
Forman-Greenwald, now a member Buzzfeed Motion Pictures’ unscripted team, explained how the company plans to remain innovative and competitive in the online video market. Currently, he is directing the company’s first full length documentary. He also described the experimentation with cell phone video production at Buzzfeed. As a producer for Buzzfeed’s first flagship series, The Try Guys, Forman-Greenwald has been one of the driving forces behind the company’s ascent to YouTube dominance.
Wang, a UCSD alum, leads the analytics team for video and many of the initiatives for Buzzfeed Motion Pictures’ international business. Having participated in front of the camera, she has become one of many recognizable faces for the company’s more than eight million subscribers. Her role within Buzzfeed is to track traffic for Buzzfeed videos and make changes to increase viewership if needed.
Yang, along with his producing and acting credits, serves as a director and writer for many of Buzzfeed’s most popular videos. His popularity and influence have helped address racial issues that many Asian Americans have struggled with. From bullying to lack of representation in media, the company has been one of the major players in media confronting issues that have long plagued the Asian American community. The creative license afforded to staff has led to The Try Guys experimenting with everything from sushi modeling to Korean drama re-enactments and simulating motherhood. Yang talked at length about growing up in Texas as one of the few Asian American kids, and running over the play-doh figurines of his bullies with a lawn mower. His uncensored personality has made him a role model for Asian American children of immigrants struggling to find a balance between their Asian families and growing up in the United States.
On a video Yang produced, Asian Moms and Their Kids Imitate Each Other, he said:
“There isn’t necessarily a reference point for the majority of white people. This is just, look at these Asians talking to other Asians about being Asian. This is the most Asian you can get. What’s great about that is, you have non-Asians who watch this and say, ‘oh my mom is just like that’. And that’s what’s important because we all grew up thinking I’m just like Zack Morris in Saved By the Bell.”
He conceded that he is, in many ways, “very Asian” and people can’t deny the sides of them that fall into an ethnic stereotype. Fighting that, he says, is a poor representation of oneself. He points out that he looks great in a dress while being terrible at math. After listening to his candid talk about about being honest with himself, it is obvious that Yang is true to himself, and doesn’t care much about how others view him.
Wang, as one of the analysts monitoring which Buzzfeed video participants are being talked about, says such information can determine casting and how viewers connect with the onscreen talent. She says that onscreen employees never expected to touch audiences on the scale that they have. Their popularity was apparent, when the majority of attendees lined up for an unannounced meet and greet with Forman-Greenwald, Wang, and Yang after the panel concluded. The trio spent over an hour taking photos with every person who sought one and graciously talked with fans.
Dr. Ken Airs Preview Screening of Thanksgiving Episode
Saturday was declared Dr. Ken Jeong Day by the City of San Diego. Visibly moved, the proclamation was presented to Jeong by San Diego’s second elected council member of Asian Pacific Islander descent, Todd Gloria. After the ceremony, ticket holders were given a preview screening of the Thanksgiving episode of Dr. Ken. The show focused on Ken Jeong’s struggle with his identity as a Korean American and attempts to teach his kids about their heritage. He later said that the episode was somewhat reflective of his own struggle to pass on his culture to his daughters. Peppered with jokes about Asian stubbornness, the immigrant and American born generational gap, and the imbalance that can permeate bi-racial households, the episode was the sitcom’s best to date.
It is apparent that Jeong is very proud of the show. Sitting behind him at the screening, it was impossible to miss how much he laughed, and his enthusiasm for his craft. Co-star Suzy Nakamura talked about how hard he works to make the show a success because he feels responsible for providing jobs for the more than 200 cast and crew members. Moderated by comedian Jenny Yang, the interview after the screening’s conclusion delved into how Asian Americans make their own Thanksgiving traditions as a way to blend their cultural roots and their Americanized families.
Both actors described this time in entertainment as a moment for Asian Americans in media. Nakamura believes that sometimes culture is all we have. Jeong added if the show isn’t funny, it is different. He attributed the success of the show to Fresh Off the Boat. He announced that future episodes will feature a character swap with Ian Chen from FOTB coming to Dr. Ken, and Albert Tsai reprising his role from last season on FOTB.
The San Diego Asian Film Festival continues until Saturday. Find more information on the festival schedule and tickets here.