When I arrive on the set of Wong Fu Productions' first feature film in Pasadena, CA, they're in the middle of shooting one of the most emotional scenes in the movie.
Everyone, from the production crew to the hair and makeup artists, is speaking in hushed tones — even though the action is taking place in a separate room.
That's because we're actually shooting in the Wong Fu Productions office, where a corner of the space (which, on a normal day, looks like a typical workspace with desks and computers) has been transformed into a mock college dorm room, complete with actual walls, a microwave, a bed, and other furnishings. The door to the room has been propped open to leave room for the camera, and also to prevent the set from becoming too hot.
"The way we do things is pretty unconventional," says Philip Wang, who cofounded Wong Fu with college friends Wesley Chan and Ted Fu. "I like to say it's resourceful."
For Wong Fu, which got its start in 2003 and quickly gained a strong following with the growing popularity of its YouTube channel (which now has over 2 million subscribers), a long day of shooting is nothing new. What's different this time around is the length of time spent on one particular project.
"Now, we just kind of have this mentality of like, 'Hey, it's just like we're just making 20 shorts, all in a row,'" Wang says. "We do that anyways throughout a year. Now it's just condensing it all into one."
Wong Fu is in a unique position as an independent production company for a few reasons: The trio had already begun to make popular videos before YouTube came along — videos were passed around through download links on their website and fans' instant messenger profiles — and were able to take advantage of the viral potential afforded them by the new platform. Notably, they also feature a primarily Asian-American cast in their shorts; they attribute much of their success to a largely Asian-American viewership eager to see themselves represented in the media. Wong Fu produces character-based short films, which Wang believes is distinct from the typical viral videos that attract views through shock value or cuteness.
In March, Wong Fu raised $358,308 on Indiegogo for their movie, making their project currently the fourth-best funded film on the crowd-funding website.
The film's plot focuses on two couples at different stages of their relationships, set in a world where "all relationship activity is documented and monitored by the Department of Emotional Integrity (DEI)" and is assigned a number like a credit score.
The young couple featured in the video above is played by Victoria Park and Brandon Soo Hoo. (The rest of the principal cast includes a mix of familiar names and new faces: Randall Park, Ki Hong Lee, Chris Riedell, Aaron Yoo, Joanna Sotomura and Brittany Ishibashi.)
The scene I witness is a tense moment because, for the first time in their relationship, the two have to learn to deal with the challenges of a long distance relationship.
"No one was wrong in that argument," says Chan, who co-directed the movie with Wang. "We want you to side with both of the characters. That's one of the real life, relatable elements we wanted to include — that a lot of times, when we argue, there's no right or wrong."
Shooting officially wrapped last week, and the movie will be in post-production for the next three to four months. What happens from there isn't set in stone yet, but Wong Fu plans to submit the film to various festivals as they work out the details of a release plan.
In the meantime, it's also worth keeping an eye out for a possible upcoming engagement video — according to the movie's Indiegogo page, one lucky donor claimed a Wong Fu wedding video package for $8,000.