Wishlist Update: #22 – A Night with Wong Fu Productions

Friday, April 15, 2011
12:30 PM  After a half day of work, I left the Harrisburg, PA area to make the 3-hour drive to Princeton, NJ. As part of the Asian Heritage Month celebration, the Asian Heritage Council of Princeton University was hosting an event that evening featuring Wong Fu Productions. The Facebook event page kept reiterating the event was “first come, first serve.” If you wanted to guarantee a seat, you had to arrive early. Since they were already expecting between 300 and 400 people – students, visiting “pre-frosh,” and general fans like me – for a room that only seats 360, I decided I should try to be among the “first come.” For several days, I put in extra hours so I could leave work as early as possible. At 12:30 I was out the door.

3:30 PM  In spite of New Jersey’s “All Turns From Right Lane” jughandles, I made it to Princeton’s campus without incident or wrong turns. The greatest navigational difficulty was finding McCosh 10, the lecture hall where Wong Fu would be speaking. I didn’t want to ask anyone for directions. I hate looking like a tourist, even when I am one (“I’m taking pictures because I’m a photographer”). Sudden stops and a few wrong turns later, I finally found McCosh 10 – 3.5 hours before the event was scheduled to begin.

4:30 PM  I was definitely the first person to show up for the event, but soon, other groups came looking for McCosh 10. I had to keep telling people, “I’m actually not a student here, so I really have no idea what’s going on.” I decided to move from the hallway into the auditorium and grab a seat at the back of the room. A line was supposed to form there before the doors opened at 7, so I figured I would easily be at the front of the line. I took out my computer and caught up on reading design blogs, Twitter, and Facebook status updates.

4:45 PM  I remembered I still hadn’t watched the newest episode of The Office – Will Ferrell’s first appearance as Deangelo Vickers. Within moments of heading over to Hulu, I heard voices and laughter in the stairwell heading up to the auditorium. The one I recognized as Phil Wang’s was talking about how heat rises. Hmm, the room was rather warm. I turned around, and there they were. Princeton students. AND Wong Fu Productions. They said a casual “hey” as they entered to check out the room and the set up for that evening. Phil caught a glimpse of Michael Scott on my computer screen and asked, “Was it a good episode last night?”
“I wasn’t able to watch it, so I’m doing it now.”
“I heard it was… underwhelming.”
“That’s what I heard, too, but we’ll see.”

They made their way to the front of the auditorium, where three chairs were set up behind a table and microphones. A bit formal, they thought. Phil walked up to the podium where, to my delight, the microphone was on. He joked about how Princeton is the last Ivy League school they had to visit. “Oh, you went to Princeton? I went to ALL of them. I hope my parents are proud now. I’m lecturing at Princeton.” He put on his best Dead Poets Society, telling the empty auditorium to rip pages from their textbooks and that he would now stand on the podium, stopping shy of whispering “carpe diem” into my ear.

6:15 PM  After dinner along Nassau Street (according to a fan sighting on Twitter), Wong Fu returned to McCosh 10 to set up and prepare. “How was the episode?” Phil asked as he walked by me.
“It was…”
“Underwhelming, right?”
“Yeah… but it wouldn’t be a waste of half an hour if you decided to watch it.”
“24 minutes!” :)

7:15 PM  The event got to a bit of a late start because of some technical difficulties. Apparently, there was no line to get in and no event beforehand preventing people from arriving before 7. Instead of being at the front of the line, I was in the very last row. I didn’t feel like moving, but since their suitcases of merchandise were also in the back of the room, I figured they would have to come by at some point when the event finished. The empty seat next to me was eventually filled by Katherine, a doctor from the Philadelphia area. It seemed like we were the only “adult” fans of Wong Fu who weren’t parent chaperones. Every time a fan girl screamed, we felt old.

Wes, Ted, and Phil didn’t assume that everyone in the room was a fan, so they started off the evening talking briefly about who they are, how they started, and what they do. They also showed three videos to give examples of not only their work but how they work. The first was Forever Endless Valentine of My Winter Heart, a hilarious spoof of a typical Korean drama. It’s a pretty standard Wong Fu comedy short, created with volunteering friends and no budget. They also showed When Five Fell, a beautiful dramatic short, which also happened to be the very first Wong Fu video I ever saw. Read more about Wes’ directorial process here. The third video was their music video for Alyssa Bernal’s song, “Cali Cali Cali.” Unlike the rest of their videos, they actually had a budget since they were working with Star Trak/Interscope records.

"Think back to a time before YouTube. No! I dont want to go there!"

They spoke about meeting in class at UC-San Diego, where they were visual arts majors. They didn’t study film, and UCSD was not known for their visual arts program. But they were fans of each others’ work – even jealous at times – and taught themselves what they needed to know about filmmaking. “I know this dates us, but we started making videos before there was YouTube. Think back to a time before YouTube – no! I don’t want to go there! Let’s see… We had Xanga. And ebaumsworld.”

In addition to talking about being “YouTubers” (they feel out of place among videos of cats and Miley Cyrus’ boob), their disdain for misleading thumbnails (“When I click on a thumbnail of cleavage, the video better have cleavage! Or you can just not click on it.”), and their future on YouTube (Ted spoke enthusiastically, and maybe not jokingly, about adopting a bunch of kittens and posting daily content of them. He had many plans for this new channel), they previewed videos that have not yet been released on YouTube. The first was a preview of “Strangers, Again” by Phil, which is about the nature of relationships and based on this blog post. The second was a preview of “Kung Fooled,” a comedic short starring Freddie W with an appearance by Ryan Higa. I’m excited for the completion and release of both projects!

Ted gave up on the contest and ate the M&Ms instead. Good choice.

The Asian Heritage Council had games planned, complete with prizes from YesStyle.com, the sponsors of Wong Fu’s Spring Tour. Contestants were picked by lottery, but because of other events on campus, some people whose numbers were chosen had already left. Wes took the rejection rather hard. Katherine suggested I just go up on stage, but I much prefer using a spoon and fork – or my hands. For the game, contestants raced to move the most M&Ms from one plate to another – using chopsticks, of course. There was some cheating involved, but eventually a winner was crowned and given a $200 gift card to YesStyle.com (“I like giving away other people’s money”). To make up for the cheating, they picked new people for a second round, which ended in a sudden death challenge.

9:15 PM  “We are now going to have a 15 minute meet-and-greet,” said the student leader. [Insert mass chaos] The guys ensured the crowd they would not leave without us and asked the audience to form a line by the stage. Katherine and I looked at the swarm of college kids and teens and decided we were better off in our seats to wait until the line died down. We then spent the next hour providing personal color commentary on the meet-and-greet in front of us. “Do you think they are front-huggers or side-huggers?” “I think Phil is a front-hugger, and Wes is a side hugger. Ted doesn’t seem like a hugger, but if he had to choose, I think side hug. Since he’s engaged.” “OH that girl just got 3 full-frontal hugs! Why are her friends just going for a handshake? Why would you go for a handshake when you can go for a hug?!” “He signed the shirt she was wearing and had to touch her hair. And maybe her neck. Does she get 5 points?” “Phil just gave a lingering hug. No, it was a guy. A guy hug.” “If we wait long enough, maybe they’ll have time to give us lingering hugs.” “Maybe we could cuddle.”

With Philip Wang

With Wesley Chan

10:30 PM  The line eventually evolved from a photo-only line to an autograph line, and the guys left their spots on stage to work down the line with Sharpies in hand. As Phil got closer to the end of the line, Katherine and I decided to get up and move a bit closer. “This is for all of you,” I said as I handed him a note I wrote earlier in the  day. “And this,” a personalized mix CD, “is for you… And I was wondering if I could get an autograph and picture with you… and maybe a hug.” He happily obliged before being whisked away for a brief chat with one of the student leaders. While Katherine waited for her turn with Phil, I headed over to Wes. I was able to get my photo, autograph, and hug from him, too. When I presented the mix CD to him, he took a look at the track listing and said, “I like these songs!” Phew! I wasn’t sure if he would, especially since his was more of an eclectic mix rather than a themed collection. Next in line was Ted. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him in person. Every February, I go to California on business and had hoped to see them around town the last time I was there. Though I didn’t see them during the week, I did see Ted in the airport on the way back home.

With Ted Fu

As Ted gave me his autograph, I said, “I’m glad this isn’t as awkward as the airport was!”
“The airport?”
“Yeah, in February. California.”
“That was YOU?! I feel like I know you! First the airport, and then twitter.”
“And now in real life!”

Another fan approached, and he paused to give his autograph. When the fan walked away, he turned back to ask me, “What was your name again?”
“Cindy.”
“I’m glad we’re finally able to connect,” he said with a handshake. “Yeah, you were the one with the cool glasses.”

I waited for Katherine to meet the rest of the guys and present them with shirts she had designed just for them. She had a friend teach her Illustrator so she could tweak their Nice Guy logo and create something special. They were impressed. You would be, too. Katherine and I were parked in the same lot, so we walked to our cars together. While we had been mocking the fan girls all night long, we couldn’t help but feel a bit giddy that we had just met Wes, Ted, and Phil – no, not met. Made physical contact with. And got individual photos with (too bad for everyone earlier in the evening who had to get group photos for the sake of time!). “If Phil really hopes to be married within the next 10 years, I am willing to help him out with that.” When we got to our cars, we wished each other safe travel and parted with a full-frontal hug. 10 points!

Click the image for more photos from Wong Fu at Princeton

As the recipient of 3 hugs, a handshake, conversation, autographs, photos, AND sneak peeks of upcoming work, I’ll be crossing “anything made by Wong Fu Productions” off the wishlist. I didn’t have cash on hand, so I can’t cross the “Technology Ruins Romance” shirt or other merchandise off the list just yet, and maybe when I return to California next February, the last Wong Fu wish on the list will be fulfilled :) That gives the guys plenty of time to plan something special.

Support Wong Fu Productions:
Twitter: @wongfupro, @tedfu, @philipwang, @thewesleychan
YouTube: youtube.com/wongfuproductions
Facebook fan page: facebook.com/wongfuproductions
Merchandise: areyouaniceguy.com
Website: wongfuproductions.com

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