13 Dec DIGITAL PIONEER PANEL: BUZZFEED
I think we’re all here because of BuzzFeed so let’s get this show on the road. A couple years ago we started to recognize that people don’t watch films how they used to. We wanted to create a series called digital pioneers series. So every year we pick usually an individual, an artist, a creator who has really brought Asian American storytelling to new levels online or in new media. But this year we decided to highlight not an individual but an entire company.
BuzzFeed just a couple of years ago I think they were best known as a repository for top 10 list. But what I realize is these top ten list got more and more interesting. It became it was clear these top ten list became catered to groups that didn’t normally get spoken to by the media. Top 10 list only you would understand. I said there’s something really special about that.
As BuzzFeed grew to become one of the most important sites for news, commentary, and opinion on the internet; that happened at the same time they started to embrace Asian Americans in front of the camera, behind the camera and also in the audience.
BRIAN HU: Let me introduce to you our guest for tonight. We got, video producers Abe Forman-Greenwald and Eugene Lee Yang. As well, as Mallory Wang, Senior Business Analyst of BuzzFeed. And our moderator is comedian, director, actress, and last year’s recipient of the digital pioneer award, Anna Akana.
ANNA AKANA: THESE ARE OUR PANELISTS. GIVE IT UP FOR BUZZFEED. I’M PRETTY SURE EVERYONE IN THE WORLD KNOWS BUZZFEED. I’D LOVE TO JUST GO DOWN THE LINE AND EVERYONE JUST INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND TELL US WHAT YOUR ROLE IS AT BUZZFEED; ALONG WITH YOUR DEEPEST DARKEST SECRET.
ABE FORMAN-GREENWALD: I don’t know about that last one. But my name is Abe Forman-Greenwald I am a video producer at BuzzFeed and also on the unscripted team. Also, directing a documentary that will be the first kind of longer form BuzzFeed doc.
MALLORY WANG: Hi guys, I’m Mallory Wang, I’m a Senior Business Analyst; I work and lead the analytics team for video. I’m also leading a lot of incentives for BuzzFeed motion pictures internationally.
EUGENE YANG: Hi, I’m Eugene Yang , video producer. Which intels directing, producing, writing and a lot of on screen per Abe. My deepest darkest secret is when I was a kid I used to make little play-doh figurines of people that would bully me. Then I would run over them with a lawnmower.
AKANA: LIKE VOODOO?
YANG: Yeah it was really healthy.
AKANA: DID ANYTHING EVER HAPPEN FROM THAT?
YANG: Yeah, my parents got really worried.
AKANA: THAT’S GOOD TO KNOW. I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW HOW DID YOU GUYS COME TO WORK FOR THE COMPANY AND WHAT WAS YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND BEFORE THAT?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: So for me I’m probably the oldest person at BuzzFeed.
WANG: But he looks great.
FORMAN-GREENWALD: Thank you Mallory. I had a lot of jobs before BuzzFeed. A lot of documentary and stuff. I worked as an editor for awhile. I did a few of my own films and some T.V. non-fiction T.V. series. Prior to BuzzFeed I was down at the Huffington Post doing their live show called Huffpost Live. I always had my eye on it. I thought it was an exciting place to be I kind of knew that motion pictures was starting up. It was called BuzzFeed video back then. I just wanted to be apart of it and was lucky enough to make that happen.
WANG: I was a econ major at UCSD.
YANG: I was like are there Asian people and UCSD?
WANG: Yes, there are. Many of us. When I was an econ major I got into finance background and I really didn’t really like that. I decided to go into like digital stuff and started working with BuzzFeed about two and a half years ago. It’s been pretty awesome.
YANG: I was a film major at USC. I was like a very serious writer and director. A fun fact, when I cam into the company most of us as young producers we weren’t going in to actually be on camera. So, a lot of people that use to know me as a performer kind of came organically into the company over the past couple of years. Before that and still now I considered myself more of a director.
AKANA: EVERYTIME I THINK ABOUT BUZZFEED YO HAVE A VIDEO FOR LITERALLY EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING KIND OF RACE, EVERYTHING THAT COULD HAPPEN, EVERY KIND OF FOOD. WHAT IS THE IDEA GENERATING PROCESS FOR THIS? DO YOU GUYS WORK AS A WHOLE TEAM OR DO YOU HAVE DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS?
YANG: Like a bunch of corgis running around with balls and words? Like; Taylor Swift, filipino food and body image?
WANG: Cats try filipino food for the first time with Taylor Swift.
YANG: I’ll let FORMAN-GREENWALD seriously answer that question.
FORMAN-GREENWALD: My serious answer to that is I think the most unusual thing with BuzzFeed is there’s so many people doing their own videos. I think that’s really unique. Because i’ve done so many jobs before and where you’re kind of apart of a larger team. You’re just a editor or just a cinematographer. We really do everything from start to finish so I’m writing videos, editing, shooting them and having them done within a week. So part of it comes from volume from some many people doing videos on their own. So you’re gonna have a story that is organic to them and their experience. You’re gonna have something that hits with a lot of different types of identities.
AKANA: SO, IF I WORK AT BUZZFEED AND COME UP TO AND SAY I WANTED TO MAKE THIS VIDEO OF TAYLOR SWIFT WITH CORGIS, WOULD YOU HAVE TO APPROVE THAT? OR CAN I GO OFF AND MAKE IT AND BUZZFEED WILL JUST PUT IT UP?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: I might push back and say that Taylor Swift might be a little too expensive for us. We normally only have a $300 budget for our videos. But other than that, yes, go make that video.
YANG: Essentially the diversity in content is representative of the diversity behind screen. Everyone can just be themselves. So, you get producers that are just making what they love and what they want to do; that’s sort of a reflection of their experience. With that some people love corgis and some people love really serious race issues. Not really serious race issues but love to discuss race issues. I think that’s what’s really the testament of the work done at BuzzFeed.
AKANA: SO FORMAN-GREENWALD AND YANG YOU GUYS WORK TOGETHER AT BUZZFEED, ARE YOU GUYS CO-PRODUCERS?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: When YANG started he was on my team which is the blue team.
WANG: We switch teams every quarter.
YANG: Which keeps it exciting. It’s following what we think is most exciting online. Sometimes it’s dedicated to a particular idea, like if you’re working on something about identity. But currently
I’m on a team that’s more focused on branching out more on Facebook while he’s doing more encrypted content, WANG just runs the show.
WANG: No big deal, no big deal.
AKANA: SO, WHILE THEY MAKE VIDEOS YOU’RE THE ONE LOOKING AT THE ANALYTICS OF THOSE VIDEOS AN SEEING HOW THEY’RE PERFORMING?
WANG: I think a lot of the stuff we do, are team works as implants themselves and brainstorms to figure out what’s working and what’s not depending on different platforms. I think the best part is it’s like an open conversation where the producer is talking to one of my analyst. About what’s going on here and what’s going on there; it is working or is it not? Should we look at different metrics? What should we look at? So I think that tells a story and I think that’s what makes a producer thinks what’s working not only for us but also for the AUDIENCE .
AKANA: BASED ON THE ANALYTICS WHAT WOULD YOU SAY MAKES A SUCCESSFUL VIDEO AT BUZZFEED?
WANG: Depends on which platform. All we talk about is distribution and test and learn so it changes. What works now is so different than what worked a year ago. When we started it’s so different from what we did before. We used to do a lot of our old school stuff like facts and hacks, now it’s really transformed to people’s identities and figuring out what works. So it really just depends on the platform.
YANG: Also, no one watched videos on Facebook a year ago. No one wanted to watch videos on BuzzFeed two years ago. It’s constantly evolving.
WANG: We started with just Youtube now it’s like where should we go next? Facebook is a huge chuck of our views. Now snapchat is a big chunk of our views. Now there’s more eyes on our content in different places and globally.
AKANA: DO YOU GUYS WORK TOP DOWN? FOR, EXAMPLE DO YOU THINK OH, I WANT TO WORK ON SOMETHING ABOUT RACE? DO YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE OF THAT VIDEO FIRST, OR DO YOU BUILD UP THAT SCRIPT THEN COME UP WITH SOMETHING THAT’S REALLY CATCHY AND SELF-EXPLAINS EVERYTHING YOU’RE ABOUT TO SEE?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: The title is very important, I think that’s something that BuzzFeed taught me very well. There’s a lot of A&B testing on BuzzFeed.com where people will title their posts with a few different headlines and see which one performs best. There’s a lot of factors ut the title is a big part of it. That’s something that’s tricky with platforms too a lot titles will get cut off after the first four words so you have to make those four words count.
YANG: I think the content first and foremost so that’s really developed pretty much depending on the producer and how they like. Some people write scripts and some people write beats breakdowns. What’s great about what he’s discussing with titles is at BuzzFeed there’s a science behind it. An actual statistical science behind what people like to click on more than others. Like if you see number in a title versus if you see a thumbnail of a person’s face; whether it’s close up or a wide shot. We have science people behind it.
AKANA: WELL WHAT ARE THE SCIENCE FACTS? SO WE ALL CAN BECOME THE NEXT BUZZFEED.
YANG: Well I went to art school so I don’t know much about science
WANG: That’s what my team is for.
AKANA: YOU GUYS HAVE A VERY POPULAR VIDEO I’D LIKE TO PLAY WITH THE INTERESTING TITLE, IF ASIANS SAID THE STUFF WHITE PEOPLE SAY. THIS VIDEO IS ACTUALLY THE FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN VIRAL BUZZFEED VIDEO.
FORMAN-GREENWALD: I’ll give you just a little bit of background about how it came about. It basically started as a Facebook suggestion. I’m Facebook friends with Jeffrey Hangs, a writer for Wall Street Journal or more likely the father from Hudson YANG from Fresh Off the Boat. He had a thread where he was talking about another video. People were chiming in about what that would be. It basically was the grm of this and I said this is great we should do that at BuzzFeed. That was the start of it, I kind of emailed out that idea to an internal BuzzFeed alias. There’s enough diversity lot of people chimed in with their own individual experiences. Then when I casted YANG in it, he came up with some great beforehand and in the moment. I’m not going to take credit for launching YANG ’s on screen popularity but it did start there.
YANG: Awkward, but yeah what’s great is that really was the first arguably racially orientatened mega virual video. I know even on angry asian men it’s still the most shared posted they ever had. It was widely circulated at the time. It was great because it precedent for us to explore these types of issues through comedy but also in a way that’s very direct and uncompromising. The great thing about BuzzFeed is we have this giant global network so when e talked about emailing alias it could be someone in New York, Asia, Europe. We can bounce around these ideas. If you think about your Facebook thread and how you can talk to friends to bounce around ideas, that’s essentially like what a BuzzFeed brainstorm is.
WANG: It took awhile, you made it about ten minutes in.
YANG: But yeah it’s all about just representing yourself and letting others people’s idea like help prove that point. This is just a really great example of an idea that just worked really well. After that we got to do a lot of other different things that just represented different ethnicities. It just kind of opened a floodgate which was like begging to be bursted open.
AKANA: I SEE A LOT OF RACIALLY CHARGED VIDEOS FROM BUZZFEED GOING VIRAL NOW. IT’S LIKE PEOPLE THAT ARE UNREPRESENTED GET TO SEE THEMSELVES IN THESE VIDEOS AND RELATE TO THEM SO MUCH. THAT’S WHAT I THINK IS GREAT ABOUT BUZZFEED YOU GUYS MAKE THESE VIDEOS THAT ARE SO NICHE BUT ALSO VERY RELATABLE. DO YOU TRY TO TACKLE THINGS THAT ARE PASSIONATE CHOICE FOR YOU GUYS? OR TAKE ON SOMETHING THAT YOU DON’T KNOW BUT WOULD LIKE TO LEARN? WHAT TYPICALLY IS EXCITING FOR YOU AS A PRODUCER?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: Personally I like a mix of both. I’m a curious person soI like to learn as much as I can. If you haven’t noticed i’m not Asian American, but it’s a community that means a lot to me. I come to the San Diego Asian Film Festival almost every year. So I feel apart of the community so this definitely comes from that.
YANG: You’re more Asian than me and WANG.
FORMAN-GREENWALD: Now it’s awkward for me Eugen, no that’s fair. I do like a mix of somethings that reflect me and some things that are just explorations of other people. Just trying to tell other people’s story which is kind of what i’m doing now with unscripted. Just going around and trying to tell other peoples stories in a way that is authentic to them.
YANG: I think authenticity is very important. My colleague Dacia is very focused on racial issues which is great because she produces wonderful content. Some people kind of dipp around to different issues depending on what they’re dreaming about or feeling. Which is great because there isn’t many restrictions.
AKANA: MALLORY HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHICH VIDEOS TO ANALYZE OR DO THEY ALL GET THROWN ON TO YOUR DESK?
WANG: We’ll look about be like oh my gosh we have this viral video figure out what’s been working and what we can do with it. Then like YANG said we just try to reiterate that process and do it over to see if we can recreate that process. For example we have Kane, who is also an alumni from UCSD he produced I’m Asian but I’m not… right? So it’s like I’m Asian but I’m not good at math. I’m this but I’m not whatever. He produced that and were like wow that did really well. Now we have 15 reintegration of it. I’m Muslim but I’m not.., I’m Fat but I’m not.., I’m Female but I’m not.. That’s the kind of process we think like oh what other group can we reach based on the content that works or the frame.
AKANA: HOW MUCH COMMUNICATION DO YOU HAVE WITH THE PRODUCERS IN TERMS OF FEEDBACK ON WHAT’S WORKING AND WHAT’S NOT? OR CAN THEY TELL BY THE NUMBERS?
WANG: It’s typically depends because there’s like leaders on different teams and that typically filters to us. Sometimes a producer will be like I have a question and we have a stats email. Like vids this is what works and what doesn’t and that will kind of be our team. They’ll be like okay let’s talk and see what you think. Then We’ll figure out why things work.
YANG: It sounds kind of like mad scienist-y but when you think about entertainment at large we’re essentially just trunking that entire process into a dialogue between people who all act on the same level. As opposed to like these old white dudes that just take whatever is popular in black culture and just make a movie out of it. That’s what BuzzFeed does but in a really open manner so these types of reintegrations just taking something we found impacted the AUDIENCE and we try to own it.
AKANA: ARE YOU SCARED THAT YOU’LL EVER RUN OUT OF IDEAS?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: That’s what our commentators say. I don’t think so. Life is always changing it’s always interesting and we have so many colleagues now. At our old office it was like 35 of us but only 20 producers.
WANG: Now we have close to 200 producers and it’s crazy.
FORMAN-GREENWALD: You’re kind of representing so many different parts of life, I’m not worried about it.
AKANA: WE HAVE ANOTHER CLIP, WHAT INSPIRED THIS?
YANG: This is actually my video my mom was in town. I thought what could I do with mom? It was just kind of the most honest thing I could think of. I just bought in a couple of the producers parents, Ashley’s and Kane’s. That one really resonated with people we reiterated off of that one as well. This is a good example of how we try to show Asian American people and culture on camera in a way that is unfiltered. You can tell that an Asian American person produced this or at least someone who is sensitive to the culture. A lot of frames we had in the beginning with the stuff white people say but we’ve come to a point where this is about half a year later and we can evolve where there isn’t a reference point to the majority or to white people. It’s just like look at these Asians talking to other Asians. This is the most Asian you can get in the video. What’s great about that is you have non Asians who thinks oh my mom is just like that and that’s what’s important. We grew up thinking we were just like Zack Morris from Saved By the Bell, It thought he was great. You’re always training yourself to think like someone else. Now with this you think about a five year that’s watching and can relate immediately to an Asian face with an Asian mom. I’m not thinking about this in a subversive way but it really is the effects of these type of videos which is great.
AKANA: MOST OF TIME WHEN YOU’RE MAKING THESE TYPES OF VIDEOS ARE YOU ACTIVELY THINKING ABOUT RACIAL STEREOTYPES? HOW YOU CAN PLAY WITH IT, UNDERLINE IT, OR BRING IT TO A MORE RELATABLE LEVEL?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: I certainly was for if Asians said the stuff white people say. It was tricky to come up with the right game. A way that would be kind of clear with the stereotypes you’re talking about but also specific to the ones Eugen flipped in the scenes that you saw.
YANG: As young people we’re so hyper aware of stereotypes. Especially someone who has had to be on camera pretty frequently and sharing my personality. I realize people would point out things they feel like was anti-stereotypical and relate to that. But also, so much of who I am is very Asian in a lot of ways. Denying the sides of you that might fall into stereotypes is a poor way to represent yourself if you’re fighting against stereotypes. I mean I look pretty good in dresses, I look great in dresses. So it’s like he’s so masculine but he looks great in a dress. I’m like yeah whatever, everyone is kind of individual. It think that’s kind of the whole thing, that genuine approach. Constantly fighting against, I can not look like I’m good at math it nevers gets you anywhere. I’m actually terrible at math. But you’re pretty good at math, right?
WANG: I mean you know.
AKANA: UCSD ECONOMIC MAJOR AND THURGOOD MARSHALL. I’D LOVE TO KNOW HOW HAS THE REPRESENTATION AFFECTED THE AUDIENCE ’S PERCEPTION OF RACE OVER THE YEARS? I’M SURE YOU GUYS MONITOR THE COMMENTS ON YOUR OWN VIDEO AND NOTICED HOW YOUR AUDIENCE IS RESPECTIVE TO THINGS. HAVE YOU NOTICED A CHANGE IN THEIR ATTITUDE?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: I was definitely looking at comments when that video came out because it was the first video about race that really hit. It wasn’t all positive comments in there. My favorite thing about that was white people complaining about things saying, “oh you couldn’t do that if the roles were reversed.” I really loved seeing Asian Americans respond with the #white tears. That made me really happy. I liked that dialogue showing up in the comments. So, yeah I was looking and seeing what was being said.
WANG: There was a lady that was white tears for Halloween. It was so good.
FORMAN-GREENWALD: Yeah that’s pretty cool.
WANG: When I first started, I would pull up Youtube and be like okay what are the trolls going to say. I feel like Youtube is the harshest platform in terms of feedback and they’re very opinionated about our content. Which is good and hurtful in some ways. Now when we release very thought provoking content there’s definitely a more positive and welcoming attitude then there used to be. Before we used to moderate comments and be like “delete”, “report”, “this is terrible” but now I feel like a lot of them have accepted what we do and what we expose. I think that is awesome. I feel like we’ve grown our viewer base but we’ve also grown with them. To be like hey, this stuff is like a big deal we’re not just doing it for shits and giggles.
YANG: I would argue that our AUDIENCE is more divided because they are aware of the sort of content we are producing. So there are sides now you become more aware. They’re some people that automatically say, “why are you starting a race war” or “why do you have to talk about white people that way. I love that because 1. I know who not to be friends with. But 2. All of my white friends or a friend who is like the stereotype of butt hurt white man understand it is a stereotype we’re playing with but it’s also based in privilege. We always have to deal with stereotypes as minorities so all my friends are like “yeah whatever, that’s cool, it’s funny I get it.” But people who don’t get it, that’s what’s very revealing because we’re speaking to a very big AUDIENCE . We do want to affect change, especially with young kids who might feel alienated or intaginzied to a certain degree. Right now we are providing a response to a hundreds and hundreds of years one side story. It’s just happening over the past two years and people are like oh my God oppression or reverse racism. I’m like well great I hope you feel like your life is endangered right now. That’s kind of like the climate online because kids are young and impressionable. I think we are trying to be responsible for affecting change in like a positive manner. Sometimes you gotta start by slapping people in the face like here’s what Asians think, shut up.
AKANA: WHAT I FIND INTERESTING ABOUT BUZZFEED IS HOW IT’S TURNED PEOPLE INTO VERY RECOGNIZABLE FIXES. NOT NECESSARILY A YOUTUBE STAR IN THEIR OWN LIGHT. BUT LIKE THEY ARE BECAUSE YOU HAVE THIS GIANT VEHICLE TO USE. BUZZFEED ACTUALLY STOLE AWAY ONE OF MY ASSISTANTS.
AKANA: Claudia, she was my assistant.
YANG: Claudia is great.
AKANA: Yeah she was one of my assistant but left to make videos.
YANG: Oh, you were the boss she had that she couldn’t..no I’m kidding. She was like, “I so love it here, I’m not chained to my desk.”
AKANA: BUT WHAT IS THAT LIKE? ARE YOU BEING RECOGNIZED, ARE THERE PEOPLE THAT KNOW YOU NOW AS AN CELEBERITY?
YANG: I get recognized a lot. I’ll be walking around with the try guys and people tend to rush us. They’ll either hug us or point at us and say “hey did I go to high school with you?” It’s not a feeling of like oh my God Jennifer Lawrence and they like die. It’s more of “I know you from somewhere, we’re kind of like friends.” I think that really speaks to the kind of Content we produce, people feel like they already know us. You pretty much know everything about me; you probably know more about me then I know about me. But that’s the climate of our celebrity culture it’s more of like a best friend culture. I feel like when people start talking about themselves they don’t have to introduce themselves. They’ll be like “oh my God, pregnancy bellies.” I’ll be like yeah that was crazy. I did a video where I wore pregnancy bellies, I’ve was never pregnant. But also, we have lot of underrepresented communities. Young faces that are being recongized by ittle kids also. But that’s always worrisome when you have a four-year-old child that’s like, “Oh I seen you on Youtube.” I’m always like what did you see? Usually it’s something harmless not like “I seen your S&M video.”
AKANA: WHAT KIND OF CHILD IS THIS? WHY ARE THEY TALKING SO CREEPY?
YANG:It was in Ohio or something. Sorry, this is my child voice.
AKANA: Who’s the star vehicle on BuzzFeed?
WANG: One of the things we look at is who is being talked about on comments in terms of casting. There’s no hard science for it. Obviously we have like 20 producers that have over 50,000 followers on Instagram. It just happens when they pick an identity and reach to an AUDIENCE . All of a sudden they have this flux of like, “I love you” and “you’re my mom”. I’m too old for this, that is genetically impossible you don’t even look like that person.
YANG: It’s good to be someone’s mom.
WANG: It’s weird you know it’s like I didn’t birth you.
YANG: It’s more like, “MOM!”
WANG: No it’s just super weird. But you see a lot of these people and it’s like organically happened. These talented people that are producing and making content are like, “well we’re not going to hire anybody we’re just gonna be in it.” You just become this person people wanted to connect with and have conversations with. We have this email for BuzzFeed that’s about how to impact for BuzzFeed, specially, globally. We sent all these emails about how people are influenced by our content. A lot of them are about these characters, “I love YANG ” or “I love Ashley and Sara.” It’s because these characters have touched an AUDIENCE and none of them expected that.
They didn’t expect this stardom or fandom but we have such talented people that people really love.
YANG: Everyone follow WANG on Instagram. Just say “mom” under every picture.
WANG: I will lose it like I did not birth you.
AKANA: WE HAVE ONE MORE CLIP… LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS NOW. YANG WHAT HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE BEING THE LONE MINORITY IN BUZZFEED’S FLAGSHIP SERIES?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: BuzzFeed is constantly experimenting with things, even series. Try Guys just happened to be the first one that really landed with people. For those of you that don’t know it’s a group of four young gentlemen who are open minded and just go and try stuff. It’s myself, Keith, Zack and Ned. This is one of our first videos; one where we first started discussing who we were as characters in comparison to one another. It really was just four guys that got together and started doing stuff. We have other videos of guys trying stuff but the audience just really responded to our dynamic of four nerdy people. This became more of the popular series you may see on BuzzFeed video. Being the minority is interesting because what’s great is that I think sometimes when you work with people, same thing with friendships you’re aware of race. When you guys genuinely like each other it’s more about what makes you different and race is kind of part of that sometimes. They all know I’m the Asian non-white one. But I’m also like the crafts one, the one who drinks a lot, the one who gets into fights. Which all happened to be somehow anti-stereotype, which I think a lot of people have started paying attention to that type of characterization. It’s interesting because when you do things in a writing scenario you try to overwrite characters whether it should be too much into stereotypes or not into stereotypes. I was fortunate enough to be apart of this series with these four guys and my weirdness in comparison to them came out. Part of that is some Asianness, I forced them to do our cosplay and K-Pop series. Otherwise they never would have touched it. Sometimes I do push my own Asian agenda for it. But otherwise it’s just the four of us being goofy. I think people do appreciate that I’m not trying to shove anything political in their face but when it’s time to represent, I represent.
AKANA: MALLORY DO THE NUMBERS BACK THIS UP?
WANG: The best part about it is the numbers don’t lie about the fan base you guys have obviously. But the cool part is that you guys have sent off like other series like Test Friends. They’re even becoming people that are like, “oh you’re apart of Test Friends like this is awesome.” I feel like you guys are the flagship model but there’s a lot of great things that come out of that. Our Violet channel stemmed off from there. We’re releasing like Violet on iTunes. That’s going to be our first go to the market purchase. All of this stuff is test and learn to figure things out. There’s really been a stepping platform to a lot of that. From there we analyze who are people talking about, what’s going on, why are people attached to this person like YANG .
YANG: Asians can sell guys, Asians can sell in entertainment. I mean Ashley Perez is the star of Violet. People who tell you that Asians can’t sell just tell them to look at BuzzFeed.
AKANA: I’d love to open it up for questions. Raise your hands if you have any questions.
AUDIENCE: Can you guys tell us the difference between your BuzzFeed color videos?
AKANA: THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YELLOW, RED, BLUE AND ALL THE COLORS?
WANG: BuzzFeed video is our flagship channel and lot our content goes on there. BuzzFeed Yellow was an identity it was meant to be more female focused. Blue is our science channel and Violet is an all about you channel. It has the Violet girls and character driven. It’s about who you are and how can we relate to you
YANG: They’re kind of like evevoling as channels. We named things colors because you don’t want to differentiate too much. Instead of having to be like the sports channel or the race channel it can be different things. I think naturally things just for organizionation purposes just started funneling. You’re naturally more likely to click both these if you don’t know what’s in them, we call those a que.
AKANA: So, it’s just a marketing scam, next!
AUDIENCE: WHICH DIRECTORS OR SCREENWRITERS DO YOU SEE AS AN INSPIRATION?
FORMAN-GREENWALD : I’m going to work this back into the flood for the documentary I’m working on. There’s a filmmaker I know named Lucy Walker. All her docs are great definitely check out the work she has done. She recently came in to consult with me on this film I’m working on called Bother Orange. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this story but I got to go to China earlier this year. It was one of the most amazing experiences I had this year so google bother orange. I’m in the final stages of editing that doc, that might also be an iTunes things. We’re not exactly sure how you guys will be able to see it but it’s coming in the next few months. That was really exciting for me to get to work with this filmmaker of mines on a film I was doing, I don’t think that would have happened if I was just doing it on my own.
WANG: My job is primarily Youtube and what we make I feel like my inspiration just comes from talking to these guys. For me the producers are like my family I feel like a lot of the stuff we do is figuring out what works. Producers just pull me into videos and we just kind of hang out but I a lot of stuff these guys are working on is inspirational. I know it sounds corny and it’s like I’m a walking BuzzFeed product placement but not even kidding every single producer that works at BuzzFeed is just bomb.
YANG: I focus a lot on just like high concept music video style. I did music videos like Women’s
Ideal Body Type that went really viral. I come from a strict stereotypical film nerd background. As a 90s child I was like a very big Venture and Ghandry kid then Aaron Knoski popped up then I was like aaaahhhh. If any of you film school friends graduation in the last 10 years, I probably like that person.
AUDIENCE: HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THE NEGATIVITY TO YOUR VIDEOS? THERE WAS THIS ONE VIDEO ABOUT GIRLS PLAYING GRAND THEFT AUTO FOR THE FIRST TIME IT GOT REALLY HEAVY NEGATIVITY. DOES THAT INSPIRE YOU TO MAKE MORE VIDEOS LIKE THAT OR DOES IT DISCOURAGE YOU? DO YOU FEEL LIKE OH, THIS ISN’T WORKING? OR IS IT LIKE THIS IS THE DIALOGUE WE WERE SEEKING?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: I’m always interested in something that generates discussion for the most part we’re usually pushing the conversation forward. In ways that I’m proud of. That video you mentioned ties into the whole thing with the South by West conference. BuzzFeed came out with a statement that said our company would not be involved with it if they cancelled these panels that were related to online harassment of representation of women in video games. I was proud of our company for taking that stand. I think something that is provocative and generates that kind of discussion is a discussion that needs to be had. I say keep making things that do that.
YANG: We learn equally from controversial things and conversation we like to talk about video production like it’s a conversation and it’s an ongoing one because we release a ton of videos. It’s great because you get this immediate audience feedback. Regardless of the conversation you’re having you hope people will have it with a group of people and then with another group of people. Sometimes you’ll do something like fart in a conversation and everyone will be like that was funny or it was gross everyone remembers that. That was an example of an awkward political moment where everyone shut up in a group. But thinking about it now it’s necessary because we want to find more about what we want to talk about. It’s never talking down to someone it’s more of like let’s throw this in there and see how people react. In that instance there was a lot of controversy about people’s reactions. Think about it in real life, you don’t want to have happy conversations about corgis and Taylor Swift all the time. Even though you think that’s all BuzzFeed is but it’s not.
WANG: If we wouldn’t try those things then we wouldn’t know that the reaction and would understand our audience to be. We have to think what really drove this conversation which leads us to think man this really sparked something, how could we hit that again? Then see what the reaction would be?
AUDIENCE: WHEN MAKING A VIDEO WHAT’S USUALLY THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ON THAT PROJECT? WHEN EVERYONE IS LENDING A HELPING HAND HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE REALLY INVOLVED?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: It depends on the video. I say early on it was fewer people. So with if Asians Said the Stuff White People Say it was be acting and directing behind the camera with on sound person. It got completed very quickly it was like a week long process. Now that our team has just grown like crazy I would say we can do more video that require more production value like, a Youtube video for instance. To have more people is great because I have a more traditional background in filmmaking I think there’s definitely a value in having more than two people.
YANG: The average amount of people on crews day for production would be two. I’ve pretty much shot all of the videos that I produced. So I was behind camera and even then I would give the camera to someone else and jump on camera. The most support we have that people might not be aware of is that we have technical support. We have in house equipment so we don’t have to go through the process of picking up the equipment in like a truck. In terms of roles you’re playing every single role all the way up to the release because you’ll be doing the editing as well. It’s like film school honestly, it’s just your stuff to being shown to a lot of people; you just hope it goes well.
AUDIENCE: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU WANT TO GIVE TO A STUDENT THAT WANTS TO WORK FOR A COMPANY LIKE BUZZFEED THAT’S CHANGING THE INTERNET AND HOW WE VIEW THINGS?
FORMAN-GREENWALD: I would say just keep making videos. As many videos as you can and keep putting them out there and paying attention to feedback too. We’re starting to experiment with cell phone video. I’m apart of a incentive that’s sourcing BuzzFeed bureaus throughout the world. A lot of those offices don’t have any video capabilities. A writer in London is doing a cell phone video that we’ll then put into a larger package. That’s basically my advice is to just go shoot stuff, make it, then put it out there. That’s the best way to learn.
YANG: Really stand by your unique perspective. Our company culture prizes what you bring to the table that someone might not known in a room. But then you know there’s millions of people out there that can relate to it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be like racial, gender, or sexual orientation it can be a hobby that you like. Someone out there will be about to relate to it. Whether it’s writing, or film making, or being an actor try to find your voice and push it as hard as you can. That’s the best advice I can give.
AUDIENCE: HOW DOES TRY GUYS COME UP WITH STUFF TO TRY?
YANG: Our most recent video was prostate exams. I know there’s like and ugggh in the audience. Because we were like you know we can’t grow a beard so it was for a good cause. That was funnily enough one of our initial brainstorms from a year ago. A lot of the time it’s whatever inspires you in the moment or just something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. Like the mother’s day series we knew that would be the ultimate gender exploration but biologically we can’t experience pregnancy. That’s something we saved for mother’s day and we really wanted to build this like 10 pole piece around. The audit process is not as weird of complex as you think it is sometimes we just have really great ideas.. Right now we’re talking about Christmas videos and I was like wouldn’t it be great to try to be Santa in some ways. I said, “wouldn’t it be great to test breaking into someone’s house?” My show producer was like no that do that. I said, “what if it’s like Ned’s house and Ned doesn’t know? We could try to break through his window or chimney when he and his wife are sYANGing. Just to leave presents.” I thought it was a hilarious idea but it probably won’t be made based on this reaction I think we should make it. If it’s not Christmas related I think we should just break into Ned’s house that seems to be what the audience likes.
AUDIENCE: YOU GUYS SAID YOU HAVE OFFICES WORLDWIDE BUT THE VIDEOS USUALLY COME FROM THE U.S. SO ARE THERE ANY INITIATIVES TO GET MORE VIDEOS?
WANG: Currently we have three micro studios. We have London, Mumbai, and Sydney. Those are outside the U.S. but a lot of us here make videos that reach like the Philippines. Yeah, I’m half Filipino I got you! We have a lot of ideas for international expansion but a lot of it depends on what our audience looks like. We definitely have like an appetite out there for it, so it’s coming.
AKANA: Give it up for the Digital Pioneer Award winners Abe Forman-Greenwald , Eugene Lee Yang and Mallory Wang.
Pacific Arts Movement presents Asian American Pacific Islander and Asian international media arts for San Diego residents and visitors in order to inspire, entertain and support a more compassionate society.