When Philip Wang of Wong Fu Productions pulled into the parking lot at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, Ca., at six in the morning to shoot the wedding sequence for their new eight-episode series “Single By 30” — which premieres exclusively on YouTube Red on Aug. 24 — he was taken aback by what he saw.
“I remember trucks and trucks and people and people and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is what our Wong Fu channel has turned into,’” Wang told VideoInk “I couldn’t believe it. I had an out of body experience. We had like 70 extras, plus the cast. It was nuts.”
It’s certainly a long way from their early days at UC San Diego, where Wang formed Wong Fu Productions with fellow students Wesley Chan and Ted Fu in 2003. Back then, YouTube didn’t even exist. They would post their videos on their web site and friends and fans would download them to watch.
“Single By 30” began as a pilot for New Form Digital’s second incubator series in 2015. It was shot like a typical video for their YouTube channel (2.72M subscribers, 427M views), on a three-day schedule with a small budget, with Wong Fu Productions’ core staff of five handling virtually all the production duties.
When YouTube greenlit “Single By 30” as a series, “it was like, okay, this is the next level,” said Wang. “We had a writers room, we got an entire production company to help us with department heads. We didn’t have helicopter shots or anything like that, but in the production design and the lighting, you can really see the difference. On our channel, which we are still creating content for every day, we go into a space and say, ‘Okay, we’ll make it work,’ because that’s just the YouTube way of doing things. This more legitimate and traditional way was really refreshing.”
Wong Fu got a fast start, then slowly built momentum over the past decade. They began by making unofficial music videos for songs by well-known artists and short comedic films like “Yellow Fever,” about interracial dating, and before long they had produced their first feature-length video, 2006’s ultra-low-budget,”A Moment with You.”
They didn’t begin regularly posting videos on their YouTube channel in 2008, but by 2011 they had already passed the million subscriber mark. Along the way, they’ve also mounted music/dance performance concerts under the International Secret Agents banner and produced the direct-to-digital feature “Everything Before Us,” which like “Single By 30” was co-directed by Chan and Wang.
“Single By 30” is a concept they’d been carrying around since those early days on YouTube.
“We put our video ideas down on a list, and we always kind of saved that one,” said Chan. “We said, ‘We could do a quick sketch about it or a funny little skit, but this one feels bigger.’”
The series tells the story of two high school best friends (Harry Shum Jr. and Kina Grannis) who promise to marry one another if they’re both still single at the age of 30. Twelve years later, they run into each other as adults and are forced to seriously consider whether they want to follow through with the pact.
“Like a lot of our stories, it was sparked by daily life, daily conversations,” said Chan. “I was visiting some friend of the family and we joked about him having this pact with a high school friend. And I was like, ‘Wait. That’s a great story.’ It can get very messy if two people make this pact based on their high school perspectives. There’s a lot of comedy and a lot of drama there.”
While YouTube gave them a bigger budget and more resources than they were used to, the schedule — which had them shooting more than 200 pages of script in just 23 days — was still exceedingly tight by Hollywood standards. And there was also the new challenge of telling a story across eight episodes.
“We’ve done web series before, but we never paid so much attention to the structure of things,” said Chan. “When we were in it, there were times where I was like, ‘How are we going to do this?’ But, afterwards, I’m looking back and seeing the final product with the cast and crew and I’m thinking, ‘We did an amazing job.’”
Throughout their career, Wong Fu has made a habit of casting its projects with Asian-American leads, and “Single By 30” is no exception. But Wang says it’s not born of any political agenda, it’s just the natural desire for an artist to see themselves in their work. At the same time, they realize what their work means to their Asian-American fans, who feel they’re underrepresented by Hollywood.
“We know that the community is watching us and wanting us to represent, and at the same time we also don’t want to wall off people and say, ‘This is only for us,’ because that’s never been what Wong Fu is about “ said Wang. “We feel like our characters very well-rounded and just people everyone can relate to.”