DS: First of all, my dad is a pastor. Every Korean kid that has a pastor for a father knows how to play the guitar because we had to do it in church. Then I used the guitar to talk to women. From there, I tried to make it into career, but it wasn’t something that I really wanted to do in the long haul or try to make it in the market. Comedy was more natural to me anyways. When I would sing, I was so nervous that I would just talk and be doing stand up anyways. I remember people saying, “Oh, you’re that stand up comedian that sings, right?” “No, I’m a musician!” So I had more of an inclination toward comedy.
“That’s what cool about acting. Whatever skills you acquire during your life, it’s all useful because you end up using everything at one point or another.”
— Justin Chon
JC: That’s what cool about acting. Whatever skills you acquire during your life, it’s all useful because you end up using everything at one point or another. Nothing goes to waste.
DS: It’s weird, I see a lot of my friends who are actors who didn’t do a lot of things when they were younger, and they kind of make up for it now. They’re trying to do boxing classes so they can diversify their portfolio. Learn how to do stuff they never did before. It’s like watching a child learn how to walk. Like, “How do you shoot a basketball?” “What? You’re 30 years old!” But it’s like, “The role is for me to shoot a basketball. I want to make sure it looks good.” When I was younger I did Brazilian Jiu-jitsu because I wanted to try different things. All this stuff I never thought I would be able to use ended up actually useful when I became an actor.
JC: I was the same way. I was really mediocre at a lot of stuff, but ‘ve done a film where I’m a golfer. I’ve done a film where I’m a tennis player. I’ve done a film with martial arts. I’ve done a film playing music. Because I’d already done it a little bit, I was halfway there. It’s cool because whenever you get a part like that, you get to hyper-focus on that thing and actually get good at it. As far as Gook, what did you think about the script? And what did you think about the project when I approached you about it?
“Hanging with YouTubers, I realized, ‘All these guys are just making stuff and getting sponsors to pay for their video content.’ And it inspired me that it was never about the skill or preparation.”
— Justin Chon
DS: It was years before we started. You’d probably conceptualized it at that point, but we were talking back and forth about it. We talked about making it into a shoe story, which is already accessible, which is why we went that route. It was interesting for me being part of a film in general as it was just not something I thought at that point in my life I wanted to do. I was just doing stand up comedy, so film wasn’t a natural job for me. Natural for me would be to maybe chill off of YouTube, chill off of stand up, start taking acting classes and move forward from there. It was a bigger jump than I expected, but when you first brought it up to me a while back I was like, “Yo, this is something that’s within my realm anyways.” It has to do with growing up as an Asian-American in the early 90’s, so it was emotions that I already felt. The character was already catered towards me, so at that point it was very doable but still a challenge.
JC: I think that’s sort of the magic of the YouTube world. You get the sense anything is possible. Hanging with YouTubers, I realized, “All these guys are just making stuff and getting sponsors to pay for their video content.” And it inspired me that it was never about the skill or preparation. I had been on enough sets to know how to direct like at a basic level, but it was always like, “Where am I going to get the business aspect? Where am I going to get the money and stuff?” Watching you and all our YouTube friends showed me that, “Yeah, we can find a way to get the money somehow.” The difference when you’re a YouTuber is you brand yourself, and when you’re a filmmaker you have to sell the actual product rather than yourself.
DS: There’s a difference in caliber between YouTube filmmakers and traditional filmmaking. Three to four minute content is very short-sighted. You just need a few “ba dum-dum tss” and you’re done. For a lot of content creators on YouTube it’s impossible to push it to 15 minutes because they don’t know how to fill in A, B and C. All they see is A and a little bit of C, and the meat inside is just done. You don’t need character development or to emotionally invest in the characters. Scene work and all this other stuff doesn’t matter as long as they get a laugh, a chuckle or a frown.
JC: It’s instant. In film, you’re asking the watcher to be much more patient. But storytelling is storytelling, and I think whether it’s YouTube or short films or documentaries or features or television series, I think there’s rudimentary caveman principles of how to tell a story. The essence is still the same, so it becomes a matter of taste. Most YouTubers couldn’t care less about the film that won the Oscar. They’re more about “I’ve noticed a lot of social media people would rather see a blockbuster.”