With the advancement of technology and shifting of social norms, modern romance has transformed in the 21st century. What does dating look like today for millennials straight out of college? For an older generation learning the ways of the internet? How does technology affect our relationships and the way we communicate? The team at Wong Fu Productions (Benson Quach, Christopher Yang, and Taylor Chan) as well as actress and director Julie Zhan tackled some of these questions in their projects “Dating After College” and “Zoetic.” We sat down together at the 2019 Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFest where their works were being screened to investigate these topics and more.
In the first installment of our two-part interview series, APA spoke with Benson (Producer and 1st Assistant Director), Christopher (Director of Photography), and Taylor (Director) about their romantic comedy web series “Dating After College.” The 7-episode YouTube series follows two main characters, Cameron and Madison, as they explore the dating scene after graduating college, learning valuable life lessons of their own.
APA: “Dating After College” is structured around “five places to date” – Inebriation, Errands, Enrichment, Worship, and Work. How did you come up with the concept of these five places?
Taylor: Actually, “Dating After College” started off as a sketch that Phil [Wang] wrote years ago, and it actually had the five places outlined there. I came to him and was like “I think we can explore these through two central characters and through a series” because we really wanted to make more web series on our channel. It was a great opportunity to venture back into the rom-com genre on our channel. Last year we made “Yappie,” so we knew we wanted to take the gas off social commentary a little bit and experiment more with comedy again in a series.
It started with a lot of conversations about dating and troubles that a lot of us went through being single after college and not knowing how to meet people. It was easiest to quantify by places. We always assume there are certain destinations you would go to if you want to meet certain types of people, and we actually found a nice arc by ordering them in a specific way by starting with inebriation (bars) and then ultimately leading to deeper interests like classes, hobbies, and the workplace.
Benson: If anything, you guys were writing a dating guide and just added lines to it.
T: Yeah, that’s a good way of looking at it.
APA: Would you say a lot of it came from personal experience?
T: For sure, years of talking with friends who were going through that, struggling. Personal experience too, online dating and stuff. It was fun to play with those scenarios and also imagine extreme versions of worst-case scenarios.
APA: I wanted to touch on something that’s said in the first episode, which is that online dating isn’t considered an alternative anymore. It’s common practice now and so ingrained in popular culture as well. What are your thoughts on how apps like Tinder have become not just an option, but a go-to when it comes to dating?
T: A lot of us at the office have done online dating and met our SOs through online dating. Chris and I both met our SOs [through online dating].
Chris: LA’s very spread out, and it’s very hard to meet people. Not everyone has the traditional 9-to-5 jobs there, but it allows you to try to network or try to meet different people. It was beneficial for me. I tried different apps; I started it just to get to know different people because I came here with a clean slate. I think at the end of the day it’s a tool. I don’t think it necessarily replaces traditional [dating] like meeting a friend through a friend, happenstance or a meet-cute moment.
T: Totally agree, I definitely see it as a tool. I think it’s ultimately a good thing that it’s becoming more normalized.
C: There used to be a negative stigma, at least with Tinder because it’s considered shallow.
T: People see it as desperate, right? Like a last resort. And I think what Chris is mentioning is that for the young generation, life takes a priority, and it is hard to juggle a lot of that stuff with your personal or love life. It’s become super useful and convenient to make a connection quicker. There’s obviously shortcomings when it comes to it. That’s what we tried to touch on briefly, but there’s a lot more to unpack, and we knew we wanted to touch on a lot more places too so we didn’t get to touch on online dating fully. It would be nice to in the future, but hopefully it was enough to open the door and the conversation and move on.
APA: One of the things you mentioned is the meet-cute moment. In one of the episodes, Cameron is in the grocery store and he’s wondering if every encounter is going to be a meet-cute moment. Do you think that popular media has overly romanticized our view and raised our expectations of dating? What are your thoughts on that?
C: I don’t think it’s over-romanticized. I feel like sometimes it might happen, but I think a part of what media does is a heightened exaggeration. It has to create an environment where people have things to look up to or look forward to. It creates a kind of optimistic world for people who want to date or meet people. I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative thing.
T: It’s definitely fun to play with meet-cutes. You could say we’ve played with meet-cute scenarios a lot in our content. I guess you could see it as an ideal situation because it’s spontaneous and an instant connection, but what we try to touch on is that it’s not necessarily a realistic scenario, and I don’t think it’s something that you should hold to as your standard. I think what was fun was acknowledging those cliches and tropes and knowing that the audience is also very aware of it. It’s really important when dating, to be aware of the tropes and know where to set the bar.
APA: I definitely felt like it was very self-aware the way you portrayed it.
T: It was important for us to have it come early in their arcs. They’re romanticizing dating and they’re gonna find a middle ground later on.
APA: Speaking of that, one of the things I liked was how you guys jump forward in the timeline by two years. That’s not something we usually see in Wong Fu films, but I like that it shows the characters’ growth and what they experienced. I wanted to hear your thoughts on why you made that choice.
T: We acknowledged that when it comes to dating, they’re not gonna learn everything from just [one place]. Learning about modern dating actually does involve you committing to someone and going through a relationship and having some takeaway from that. We thought it’d be really interesting in the second to last episode to have them actually take that leap and just imply growth between episodes 6 and 7. It would inform their end message even further. It was something we talked about in the middle of the writing phase, but I’m really glad we did it. We originally weren’t going to have a jump and we kind of found it through the writing. It was something we needed for them to have closure and more reflection.
B: If you think about it, we have quite a bit of content that covers that timespan they were in. If you think about the time that they established their relationship to when they broke up, we have plenty of videos that cover that topic. If you think about it, those episodes exist – just at a different time, through a different voice, different characters.
T: I think we also wanted to acknowledge that just getting into a relationship isn’t necessarily the finish line. At the end of episode 6, they might’ve taken that leap and actually ended up dating these people, but that doesn’t mean that your journey of discovering love is over. It’s gonna be constantly evolving and I think that’s one of the takeaways they both have at the end. Through everything – all the experiences, all these places, and a relationship – I still don’t necessarily have a full grasp of what love is, but I have a better grasp of who we are as individuals, and I think that was the important takeaway.
APA: What lessons or messages did you want to convey through “Dating After College” and was there anything you learned that was new through working on this project?
C: I think you hit it at the end. It wasn’t as much about the dating aspect – it was more about people figuring out what their priorities are, discovering themselves. A lot of times there’s that confusing period of time right when you leave college, right when you’re thrown into the real world. I think that’s the takeaway from the actual series.
In terms of personal takeaways, I think it was nice to work on an episodic piece. I was going through a darker period in my life, and it was definitely nice to be part of a bigger project.
B: As far as story goes, this genre of romantic comedy, the central theme is how valuable communication really is. A lot of the mishaps are due to miscommunication, lack of communication, assumptions, so a lot of things could be solved with a conversation. It’s a reminder in real life, to bring that into our own relationships – friends, family, loved ones. It’s an extra reminder to make sure you’re communicating the best way you can and no assumptions are made.
T: A lot of it is a message to people who are freaking out after college and think that they need to find a partner as soon as possible. The takeaway is that they can enjoy the process and slow down and just approach these interactions knowing that they’re going to learn from each, day by day.
In terms of what I learned, a lot of the things was from filmmaking, taking on a project of this scale, and even writing a story of this length and condensing it into a relatively short web series. There are a lot of mini-lessons there, and it was really great learning from these guys and learning how to work together, collaborate, and communicate behind the camera. So there were a lot of communication lessons.
APA: How do you think technology has made it easier or more difficult to communicate?
C: Oh man, that’s a good question. The emojis help definitely.
T: GIFS are great.
B: But the typos and autocorrects don’t. The stuff that they make to help you does not help you. You forget a period, you put a period – it changes the whole sentence.
T: It’s definitely made people more geographically far apart feel a lot closer. Distance is not that difficult in this day and age because of technology. You have Skype, FaceTime.
C: Yeah, I feel like we were able to collaborate better, and technologies have definitely helped get more and more people on the same page and pretty much in real time.
B: So in some ways, yes. In a lot of ways, it does complicate things.
APA: Can you talk more about that, how it complicates things?
B: Even generationally, us growing up with it versus the older generation. My parents are barely getting the hang of texting, so if I were to bring in all these other messaging apps and emojis…
T: I think with new forms of communication, there are new forms of miscommunication too. Like text, obviously there’s a lot you don’t get. You don’t get any of the face-to-face communication, tone or facial expression. There’s also a new culture. I think because there are so many forms of communication, these days you’re in, like, ten conversations at the same time, and that complicates how we communicate too. Before technology, whoever’s here is who you’re talking to. It’s in the moment, this is who you’re talking to.
APA: Those are all really good points. I’d love to dive deeper into them, but I have a couple other questions as well. Justin and Kristen played the main characters, and I think they portrayed these struggles very convincingly. Did they ever provide feedback on the way certain scenes should be portrayed, based off of their personal experiences? How was it like working with them?
T: They’ve been great. Justin’s worked with us once for “How to Be An Adult,” and he’s been great to work with and trusts us a lot. This was our first time working with Kristen, and even though we were unsure what that relationship would be like, she was super down to earth and easy to talk to.
I would always leave it open to them like “Hey, if there’s anything that feels weird or inauthentic, definitely open to hearing your thoughts.” There were a few moments where someone would line alt or clarify the intention or motivation for what their lines would be. No major art changes because I think we all understood the tone we’re trying to go for and how ridiculous we wanted to play it.
B: It also helped that we had co-writer Sierra Katow to give the female side of things. As guys, we don’t know exactly what the ladies go through, so it was good to have that input and make Kristen more comfortable with the situation.
APA: Were there any important pieces of advice that Sierra gave?
T: Sierra was in the writing phase in the beginning, so she wrote the entire female side.
B: She’s also a stand-up comedian so that comedic timing came in really handy. Knowing what’s relevant, how to tell it and making sure that things were up to date. You can also say that the advice she gave is in the writing itself. It’s all kind of weaved in there.
APA: Because each of these episodes focuses on an individual location as a potential hotspot for finding a partner, the setting and how its shown is crucial to the storytelling. Chris, as the Director of Photography, what were some of the most important decisions you made and challenges you encountered when figuring out how to depict each of those settings?
C: There were definitely challenges because everything was location shooting, and you don’t always have control. I think going through tech scout, you definitely prepare yourself – what time of day you’re shooting, where the light’s going to come from. What really helped us in this project is working with Taylor and really trying to get a visual idea of what we want, color palette, mood, tone. Earlier on, he shared a playlist, and it was kind of like where his mind was heading story-wise. It was trying to weave that through [for example] having specific earthy tones for interiors. At the same time, it allowed a lot of creative freedom. From different spaces you can light things top-lit or light can come from the side.
T: He did a good job. We’re still a very small production, so we still have to be very resourceful with what we have. Chris was able to make our production look huge, so a lot of credit [goes to him]. With spaces, we even doubled up a bar for two separate places. We had a club in one scene and in the same exact location we were lighting and dressing it to be a high-end restaurant, and I don’t think people could tell. I hope not.
APA: Do you have any final thoughts on your film being screened here today?
B: A lot of us that have come into Wong Fu have come in through these indie festivals like San Diego Asian Film Festival, LA Asian Film Festival, so it’s cool to be part of the community like this and see it grow. We’re always looking out for the next Wong Fu. This was the first major project we did without Phil or Wes as a director, so it’s really an honor to represent the company here.
Read Part 2, a conversation with Julie Zhan and Benson Quach about “Zoetic,”, here.