As more people turn off their TV’s in favor of smartphones, tablets and notebooks, those with a camera and few creative friends are finding a haven in the digital world of web series.
The same rules that apply to mainstream media don’t exist in the digital world. For Asian American moviemakers, this means an opportunity to combat stereotypes and to openly explore unconventional themes ranging from partying to homosexuality.
“KTown Cowboys,” the brainchild of Danny Cho and Daniel Dpd Park, began as a compilation of stories from their high school and college days in Koreatown, Los Angeles.
“We thought people would hate it. A lot of people are sensitive to drunken debauchery,” said writer and actor Cho.
As a result, they decided to format their show as a web series so a large, but specific, Asian American population could access the show for free online. Cho said he wanted viewers to watch it at their “own leisure instead of having to go to a theater.”
Financed with a mere $5,000, the online web series premiered in mid-2010 on its website. It quickly grew a steady following through social media.
“The only thing I did was post it on my Facebook wall and that’s how it grew,” said Cho.
For the team of friends, who play exaggerated caricatures of themselves partying one night in “Ktown,” the series was an opportunity to tell realistic stories that hadn’t been told before.
“We weren’t out to be preachy, but none of the [American media] related to our lives,” said Cho.
“We wanted something that reflected how we live and play.”
With over 1.2 million views, the show was popular with 18 to 32-year-old Asian Americans across the country. Because the webisodes are available online anywhere around the world, Ktown Cowboys and other web series have the capacity, unlike network cable, to draw a global market.
Another web series that takes place in Koreatown is the hype-generating Asian American answer to reality TV. “Ktown” is the first Asian American reality show, and co-creator Eugene Choi, believes it can serve as a vehicle to “breaking perceptions” in mainstream America, including the minority myth.
The unscripted show follows a segment of the lives of eight 20-something Korean Americans as they navigate Ktown’s nightlife. There is no end to the drinking, dancing and drama. Much like their raucous reality show “Jersey Shore” counterparts, the vivacious characters work hard but play even harder; however, there is also a sharp difference: Asians have never been depicted this way before.
“A lot of the stereotypes are one dimensional. Asians are nerds, doctors, or the IT guy,” said Eddie Kim, who along with Choi and Mike Le produce the series. “In our show, it’s great to see that first of all they speak English, they’re funny and they have a good time.”
Due to a number of factors, the show didn’t launch on network cable TV. Instead they chose to debut on LOUD, the YouTube channel of Electus, which aims to bring new models of entertainment, such as reality shows, to the internet.
The 12-minute webisodes are tailored to the YouTube viewer who has, typically, a low attention span.
“Within the next five years, we are going to see a lot of interplay between TV and online. We just happened to be at the beginning stages of that,” said Kim.
In 2011, Google invested $100 million to bring dozens of free channels with professional-grade content to YouTube.
The series began airing in July 2012 and has about 250,000 views on its first two episodes.
In a two-month span, the web series “Away We Happened” received nearly 10 million hits due in part to effective niche advertising by AT&T and Wong Fu Productions. The six-episode YouTube series is the tale of Jean and Daniel, whose fates collide when they mistakenly switch suitcases. To appeal to social media users, viewers vote and ultimately decide on the outcome of the plot.
Jen and Victor Kim, the actors for Jean and Daniel respectively had large followings on YouTube and twitter which was a factor in their selection as actors for the show.
Online moviemakers have found that they have greater freedom to tell the stories they want to tell on the internet.
“That’s What She Said” is the story of lesbian Asian Americans living in LA. With mainstream media overlooking queer Asian perspectives entirely, the Pearl Girls Productions intended to make something Asian Americans could relate to. The show follows the lives of five fictional characters—a Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipina, Korean and Chinese- American and their various struggles of coming out to their families, family pressure and dealing with immigrant parents.
“I definitely see that there is a shift; there are more Asian faces in American media,” said Cho. With the gradual but inevitable shift of TV to online, both Park and Cho agreed that Asian Americans need to become pioneers in bringing new models of entertainment to their viewers.