Brian Yang // Ep 13 // Actor, Producer, Mover and Shaker
Welcome to Episode 13 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Brian Yang on this week's episode.
We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
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“Andy Nguyen is the mash-up king in the food industry.” – Food Network
Brian Yang is an actor and producer whose producing credits include LATE LIFE, the Golden Horse Best Documentary Award-nominated feature on former New York Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang; the Jeremy Lin documentary LINSANITY which premiered at Sundance Film Festival; Shanghai International Film Festival award-winning biopic ANOTHER SHOT, on former NBA player Stephon Marbury’s life in China; I CAN I WILL I DID starring Tony Award nominee Mike Faist; and the upcoming SNAKEHEAD by Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Emerging Filmmaker Award winner Evan Leong. Yang has also produced documentary specials for ESPN and Fox Sports.
The collective launched the inaugural issue of their annual anthology-meets-art book on Kickstarter in 2017 and has since been featured on TEDx, Talks at Google, CBS News, People, Colorlines, and more.
Beyond Slant’d, Katerina is also the Strategic Director at Spectacle, an inclusive content marketing agency. She is a 1st generation Filipina-Taiwanese-American activist, poet, and rabble-rouser. Katerina has a Bachelor of Arts in English & Music from Cornell University.
Beyond Slant’d, Krystie is also channeling her creativity for good as a social entrepreneur on a mission to make the world a more inclusive and equitable place. She conspires with awe-inspiring leaders of color on projects that shape culture, tackle social injustices, and build communities. Krystie has a dual degree in Business Administration & Public Health from UC Berkeley.
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Intro: [00:00:00] Hey guys! Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie.
And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians
to pursue their dreams and goals.
We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: [00:00:24] Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Maggie.
Bryan: [00:00:28] My name is Bryan.
Maggie: [00:00:29] And today we have a very special guest with us. His name is Brian Yang. He’s an actor and producer credits include the Late Life, Jeremy Lin, documented Linsanity, Shanghai international film festival award-winning biopic. Another shot. I can, I will, I did. And the upcoming snakehead, Brian has also produced documentary specials for ESPN and Fox Sports. As an actor, his film credits include Saving Face, The Jade Pendant, and Laundromat and TV credits include The Path, Westworld, Blacklist, and Hawaii 5-0, which he played the lab tech, Charlie Fong for five seasons on.
This past year, he joined the Andrew Yang 2020 campaign in a role as a regional fundraiser director, Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian: [00:01:16] It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. Thank you for reading something that sounds like I wrote.
Maggie: [00:01:22] It’s exactly what you wrote. Awesome. Well, yeah, very excited for you to be on the show today.
You know, we really want to get to know a little bit more about you and your background. Can you tell us a little bit about, you know, your background, how you grew up, you know, your relationship with your parents?
Brian: [00:01:38] Sure. So I, you know, I had a pretty typical, I guess, second-generation Asian American upbringing.
I was born in Columbus, Ohio. My parents immigrated to the Midwest from Taiwan in the seventies, or actually late sixties, I guess. And my father, eventually he’s an architect. He got a job on the West coast. So he moved us all out to California. Well the three of us, my mom and myself, and then my sisters were born there, here in California.
I have twin sisters, one of whom you’ve met Stephanie. And yeah, we, we grew up in the Bay area. I went all the way through college at UC Berkeley in the Bay. And then, after I graduated, I left, not immediately, but like a year after I graduated, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in my life.
And I wound up, kind of, you know, doing the conservative thing. I went off to grad school at the time. I was a bio major at UC Berkeley, but I really fell into the dramatic arts department, and started to do plays and really enjoyed acting, got bit by the acting bug. And then, but I, you know, did the good Asian thing and went back to school.
And that’s what got me up to the East coast, where I moved to Philadelphia, where I was pursuing a master’s in physical therapy. So I was, you know, using the bio degree to do like a health science thing. Apologies if you hear my daughter in the background and, yeah, I quickly found out I didn’t really like I was studying so, or that wasn’t so much what I was doing, but just the idea of becoming a physical therapist.
So, cause I, once I started to do some rotations and like intern work, I didn’t see myself in that field. So I always had that yearning to be in film and television. But I also had a very conservative sort of like, you know, conservative side of me that also was hammered home by my parents in that I had to like survive and live on my own and do something, you know, that provided.
So, pursuing film and TV was definitely not that. So I wound up, I want to move into New York City after Philly. I left school, I took a leave of absence. Then I, this is actually life comes full circle. I got a job. My first job in New York was at a dot com startup with a guy named Andrew Yang. This was in the late, to date myself, this was in the late nineties and that’s how I wound up getting to know Andrew, getting to know him quite well. And so, you know, many, many years later, sorry guys, Bodie, please. So many years later, he winds up calling his friends, myself included to say he was running for president and we can probably get back into this later, but that I wound up going to work for him for a duration, recently.
But my background was was that, and so, yeah, that’s what got me, I guess up til right after school.
Bryan: [00:04:47] Wow. That’s, that’s really awesome to hear how life comes on full circle. You know, one, one of my curious question is like, as you are moving towards, you know, your passion and moving to New York and pursuing film and working at a tech company, and Andrew Yang, what was your parents thought about this?
They’re like, wow. Like, but how do they feel about you doing leave of absence? Following your ambitions and dreams. How do you feel about that?
Brian: [00:05:12] They were not happy, to say the least, I worked so hard to get into grad school. And then for me to say, I think I’m not really happy here and I’m going to leave.
They were like, what? Like, you know, it was cause I kind of, I did work hard to get into grad school. Like the year after college, I had to go back to school and take some more pre-reqs that I didn’t finish. Yeah, I had to take the GRE, I got some work experience. My parents were like laded, I got accepted into a couple of programs and they’re like, yay. We can stop worrying about you. They assumed everything was good. I was on track. And then for me to just turn around and say, you know what, I don’t want this. I dropped it. They were like, why? Like, you know, so so we definitely had some battles. I remember vividly. But I think the thing, you know, it wasn’t so much that they were their dream of, it was their dream for me to go in that field.
It was just like, it was a respectable, stable, you know, sort of normal career that they would not have to worry about, you know, me putting food on the table over kind of thing. And so to say, I wanted to go into the wild wacky world of media. They just, they couldn’t wrap their heads around it. So.
So, yeah, we definitely had, there were many tears and arguments and, but the thing is when I landed on my feet and said, Hey, I’m moving to New York and I’m working a nine to five job, mom and dad, don’t worry. I’m going to have a paycheck that that kind of allayed their fears because that to them is the most, for my parents at least, that was the most important thing. Again, they didn’t care what I was necessarily doing. They just figured. Trying to act and be in that film and TV world did not mean a steady paycheck and they’re absolutely right. But, but yeah, so I was able to kind of double-dip and that I got myself, a steady job, but I was really there too, you know, moving to New York city to be around the world of like brah, I didn’t work on Broadway, but off-Broadway and like the independent film and television scene. Cause New York is a great city as well. You know, obviously, second to LA in terms of production and stuff, but it’s a great place to be as well. So I was able to have, in a weird way, I was able to have my cake and eat it too.
I mean, it was definitely challenging to have a side hustle with like trying to have a career. But I, I was at the time young and trying to figure it all out and, you know, it took a while. Eventually, I did, but yeah. You know, I was able to that, that’s just kinda how I dove into it and got going.
Bryan: [00:07:56] It’s really awesome to hear it, too. And your story about double-dipping.
I think that appeals to all of us, especially grown as Asian Americans or Asians around the world. The first concern for our parents is really knowing that our kids should provide for themselves, which is the reason why they push us to go to a traditional sense, really hard. You know, I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, engineer. In the medical field. That’s because they want us to be able to provide ourselves, but I really like double-dipping ideas because I feel like, and also network that idea pertains to everyone.
Brian: [00:08:25] Right.
Bryan: [00:08:26] The reason why the hustle, the word hustle is so important in our network because it means side hustle or working on other passion projects away from your nine to five job.
You know, everyone’s always talking about that in the community. In you. You’re a clear example of that working, you know, you want to hear your story more and see like, and learn from you. And that sends light, you know, falling a nine to five job. What was your first big break into your side hustle that you’re like, Oh, wow, this could be a real hustle now. This could be my full-time gig. What was that first realization?
Brian: [00:08:57] Well, it didn’t come quickly, I can tell you that. I would say I was sort of, you know, I literally, I had, I remember in New York I had a one, two, three, four. Four different desk jobs in my, almost about 12 years of living there.
And I would say the first eight or nine years of those 12 years was working at a desk job. And, I. Some of… one or two of those jobs, I actually had to wear a suit and, you know, it was very buttoned up. They didn’t even know I was like pursuing other things, cause that would be frowned upon.
Yeah. And I was always like ducking out during lunch or, you know, making up some excuse to be like, Oh, I got a meeting, et cetera, and going to auditions. And so whenever I would get something, I would actually, like, I landed a part. I could call out sick or use vacation days because it wasn’t like I was working like, you know, 200 days a year as an accurate, that’s just not, I’m not in that position. So it was very sporadic and so I was able to balance it. And I got, I don’t know that I ever had a moment in those eight years where I was like, Oh, I can just leave my job. And like, you know, rely on this side hustle now. I was involved with some fun gig, I dunno if recognizable is the word, like one movie that I was in got, went to Sundance, this film called Saving Face which was directed by the director of The Half of It.
I don’t know for those who are listening, who might be on the younger side, Alice Wu, who made a recent movie on Netflix called The Half of It, her first movie many, many years ago, it was called Saving Face. And I had the privilege of being in that. And so we went to Sundance and, you know, I remember like having to use, you know, a week of vacation for that. And so, but I didn’t, I certainly didn’t come back going I made it, I’m gonna quit my job. You know, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t until 2008, that there was this big economic crisis, and the global economy kind of came to a screeching halt. And I got laid off from my last corporate job.
And I was like, you know, there’s nothing, no one’s hiring right now. I was getting more and more like a, I’m just building up my confidence and just I guess like passion in this industry. And I was like, you know what? I got one life, I’ve got this momentum going. The universe took away my cushy day job, but I am just going to use this time to focus on what I really want to do. And pursue this all out.
So I did and, you know, I had, so I have to say like that that was obviously a silver lining for me. Cause I’ve been fortunate enough to have to look back. Cause I was like, look, if worst comes to worst, I’ll come back and look for a job. But I didn’t have to. And I, the shackles came off and I was able to dive in and, you know, it’s just, it’s crazy how the world works. You know, like I was obviously petrified. I had no idea what I was getting into, but the fact that I didn’t have to look over my shoulder or worry about, Oh, I gotta, I gotta deceptively live this double life. I was able to just like free my mind up and focus on just this one, you know, an industry I wanted to be in.
And that’s when, you know, that’s when things started to happen. And obviously it was a struggle and it’s still a struggle. Like there’s no question. It’s not like I’ve made it by any means, like as a freelance actor and film producer, like, you know, you’re always like leaning for the next job, you know, I have liked it to walk down this path, so I’m not complaining, but, it’s, you know, I’m always having to reinvent the wheel, but at the same time, like I’m at a point now where I’ve, you know, I built myself up to like, I know how it works. I have great partners all over the place. I’ve done a couple of things, you know? So luckily you build up your resume and you just like to get the privilege of working over and over again on different projects. So so I would say like, I totally like backed into it because I wasn’t bold enough to just cut those cords. But since the universe provided that for me, I was like, yeah. Okay. Thanks. Thank you. Like, I don’t know. I mean, I’d like to think at some point I would have quit and just totally went all in. When it was taken from me, I had no choice and I was like, okay, so here we are. So so that was like once the cords were cut. Like I said, it wasn’t like right away. Oops. It wasn’t like right away my career started to flourish, but little by little, I built myself up, you know, on projects. I actually went out to Asia to explore the industry out there and I got really involved. I wound up booking this show as a, as a host of a reality show called Shanghai Rush.
I just, your network builds up, you know, you’re just, the hustle just, you know, proliferates. And, after a couple of years of doing that, I was like, you know, I think, I dunno, this feels right. You know? And so there wasn’t like a moment per se or a process, but it was just the aggregate of all of these things, you know, after I was like, I had got myself in the position, even if it wasn’t necessarily the plan to be able to just focus and dedicate myself to this.
Maggie: [00:14:57] Yeah. That’s awesome. I think it’s really interesting because you know, a lot of people, they have their side hustle. Right. But they don’t have the 100% confidence to actually like leave their nine to five to fulfill their side hustle full time. Right. And they always have their nine to five to fall back on their cushy day job.
But it seems like you, along the process, you gain that momentum and you gain that confidence, and you were given that opportunity to focus 100% on your side hustle. So you were like, okay, let’s just do it. Right. I think that’s really interesting.
Bryan: [00:15:28] Your story is a great inspiration for me to hear as well. Cause that’s kind of, it’s very relatable to my life like a year ago. Where I was working a software engineering job. I mean, I was trying to start like real estate business, I was trying to start like origins of Asian Hustle Network. And your story is really relatable to me because my boss needed me to do something. I’m like, ah, I’m you got to a doctor’s appointment right now. Okay. So that’s really relatable. And I fully believe that everything happens for a reason, and I fully believe that I think there’s a lot of fear going to a new venture that you can see the outcome of, but the way the universe works like you said before, it’s funny how it works, because if you really want to do something like automatically like the opportunities and the doors kind of open up for you to kind of continue connecting the dots, you know, by all means not an easy task at all, because you’re always constantly fear is that you can’t, whatever you can connect the dots in the future.
But the funny thing is there’s always a way out. There’s always a new opportunity to move forward. And as you keep waiting for your network grows, your confidence grows, and everything just makes sense, you know? But a lot of people have trouble getting to that realm. You know, it’s not easy to round to get into because it’s a huge opportunity trade-off. Like what if you have a huge mortgage, we just have a new family. These are things you can’t trade-off. You know, so props to you for making that jump, that your story is super inspirational for me to hear. Cause it’s so relatable. Cause sometimes I think, wait, I’m the only one that goes through this crap, you know?
Brian: [00:17:15] Yeah, no, absolutely. I definitely think that you know, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And sometimes, you know, you can’t write a playbook on your life and follow it to a T. So, it’s when you’re putting in an environment with the circumstances presented themselves, you know, you have to improve, but
definitely saying that, And, the determination, the intelligence, and the hustle, you know, there’s that word? It will work out because.
Your will, as you know, is greater than the opposition, you know, pushing back against you. So definitely. So, yeah.
Bryan: [00:18:09] Hey, Brian, can you hear us? Your internet’s kind of lagging a bit?
Maggie: [00:18:17] Yeah, we’re here. It’s just the sound is a little bit lacking. Yeah.
Brian: [00:18:21] Yeah. Oh, strange. Sorry. I had to move around. A little bit okay. To get away from my kid who is following me. Okay. Is it, is it better?
Bryan: [00:18:37] Yeah, it’s a lot better. We can just kind of restart that part. You kind of cut off a little bit before Asian hustle.
Maggie: [00:18:47] Your response. we can start off from your response that you were going to say in response to Bryan’s comment.
Brian: [00:18:54] Yeah. Yeah, I’ll try to distill and say what I was trying to say. yeah, I feel like, I think that as long as there’s the will and a determination to make something happen, you know like you’re, you can’t really draw up how your life’s going to play out. You can’t really blueprint it.
And it’ll work out perfectly and follow the, you know, this straight path. I think it’s the circumstances that present themselves, the environment you’re in and just the determination and the hustle, that someone has well more often than not, you know, open doors, present opportunities, and lead to results, you know? So it’s really just about being there and applying yourself and, you know, anyone who’s got the wits and the wherewithal also, you know, I think just putting out good energy, being a good person, making smart decisions, like all those things. The biggest obstacle is always your own fear and your own, you know, like just sort of, doubt.
So So, yeah, I don’t, I think it’s, the Asian Hustle is real and, and like everyone has it within them to accomplish what they really want to do. And it’s just about doing.
Bryan: [00:20:18] Yeah, just on a top of the Asian Hustle, too, you know, we understand your involvement with the Asian community. And want to hear more about the organizations that you helped start and help run.
Cause it’s so interesting. It’s so parallel to our mission Asian Hustle Network, so you want to hear more about it?
Brian: [00:20:34] Yeah. So I’ve always been, involved with, you know, pretty steeped in the Asian American community. Growing up in the Bay area around a large, you know, a population going to obviously UC Berkeley and even Cupertino where I’m from, is a town that’s full of, Asian Americans, obviously.
So, so I would say it’s been instilled in me, you know, to always advocate for Asian Americans and being part of the affinity groups on so many levels. Like I played a lot of sports growing up. I particularly love basketball. So I was really involved in Asian American basketball leagues. I’ve found it in Asian American basketball league in New York when I lived there and ran it for like, I was like the commissioner for almost eight or nine years.
And I was, you know, always volunteering or being a part of different nonprofits, community-focused organizations. And I guess more recently, I mean, you know, being involved in different professional associations, you know, having worked for Andrew Yang is also like, has also given me a lot of, I guess, entree into the community and sort of Pitching in helping out getting, getting really actively involved.
I’m sorry guys. My daughters, they just try to, I need to move again.
Maggie: [00:21:58] Okay. No problem.
Bryan: [00:22:05] No worries. We understand how it is.
Brian: [00:22:09] Are you guys recording this?
Maggie: [00:22:13] Well, we’ll edit it. No worries.
Brian: [00:22:15] Okay. Gosh, I’m trying to get my wife to sit on her, but she won’t. Okay. Well, let me, let me, let me take that back. Are we good? so I’ve always been steeped in the Asian American community, you know, growing up in the Bay area, in Cupertino, a large Asian American population, UC Berkeley, obviously.
And I’ve always been involved in different affinity groups and organizations. You know, everything from sports-related, Asian American basketball leagues, which is a large thing in the state of California, Asian-American nonprofits. And then more recently, having worked for Andrew Yang, the Asian American presidential candidate, he founded something called the All of Us campaign, which I’m involved in along with a couple of other, organizations, nonprofits, and individuals, we formed a coalition to come together to help combat xenophobia and racism as well as raise money for COVID relief. And this was all done. The coalition is comprised of different Asian American. You know people or organizations and we are using our resources or professional resources.
And experience to, produce PSA videos too. We just hosted a screening of Be Water. The Bruce Lee documentary directed by my friend Bao Nguyen. We had a conversation that followed it, which was about black and Asian allyship. We have a bunch of T-shirts that are for sale, which the money proceeds go towards different COVID relief and social justice organizations.
So. That’s something very near and dear to me, you know, so both professionally and sort of on a, on a personal level, like volunteering, very active in the community and things around our community, you know, uplifting our voices, being an advocate. So yeah, that’s really defined my life. I would have to say, you know, from growing up from the Bay to living in New York, being involved in different organizations and different pockets of people in our community. So I’m very, I’m very strong on that. And honestly, like a good deal of my life on personal, my own professional endeavors, like producing namely is championing Asian-American stories, you know, stories that, that put the camera on, characters or themes that, you know, come from our community, you know, or are told by Asian American storytellers because of representation matters. Diversity matters. And in our business right now, like, fortunately, it took a long time and it’s still not anywhere near like perfect or ideal, but like, Hollywood is becoming more open-minded to stories from the Asian American, you know, the storytellers, just, you know, because as there’ve been chatting examples of last two, three years, they’re marketable and profitable. And at the end of the day, you know, that’s the thing that they determine they use to determine where the Greenlight things, the market things.
And so we’re seeing a rise of that happening and that’s encouraging too. And so. So, yeah, so, that’s, it drives me every day and they always will. So so it’s great to, yeah, it’s great. Great time right now for, Asian Americans in, in, you know, I think facing out in terms of like different industries and you know, having our voices be heard.
Bryan: [00:26:07] Yeah. Shout out to Bao Nguyen. He was our episode one of the Asian Hustle Network podcast.
Maggie: [00:26:13] We recently interviewed him and his story was amazing as well.
Brian: [00:26:17] Yeah. Bao is, Oh, I joke with him. I think he’s been on he’s doing a run through so many podcasts right now. And yeah, he’s a great guy. Great story. An amazing storyteller, mad respect to him.
Glad you guys got him. That’s that’s awesome. I’ll have to go back and take a listen to that one.
Maggie: [00:26:39] Yeah, he was on episode one.
Bryan: [00:26:41] Yeah. Just hearing more about your story and your involvement with the entertainment industry. What kind of initial barriers did you face? Like you face a lot of racism, setback? What was it like entering into the entertainment industry and also, so you talk a little bit more about, you know, you highlighting the Asian American story. We seem to publish a lot of documentaries. Like how’d you got involved with that as well? And what kind of mission and purpose did you want to highlight these types of documentaries?
Maggie: [00:27:12] Yeah. And I like to add on top of that too, you know, I love that you explained all of your initiatives and your passion for, you know, Amplifying Asian voices and all the world.
And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do in the Asian hustle network as well. And you know, a lot of people, especially in Asian culture, are very reluctant on sharing their stories or sharing their voices because you know, our parents always told us to stay quiet. Right. And to not share too much of ourselves to anyone else.
But you know, an Asian, a network, that’s what we try to encourage people to do is to share their stories. And if we are all able to share our stories together, you know, we can connect with each other on a deeper level. And I’m also curious, you know, to bounce back of Bryan’s question, we’d love to know your perspective on like the progress of, in America starring Asian actors and actresses in leading roles.
Bryan: [00:28:00] What’s it like when you’re first starting industry, and what was it like now?
Maggie: [00:28:03] You might have a different perspective than us because you’re in the industry, but we might see it differently, you know?
Brian: [00:28:09] Sure. well, yeah, it’s drastically different today than when I started, you know, and, and I’m mindful of the fact that I’m like my place in time or my entry point is very different than even those for me. So like, it has gotten better and better over the years. But when I started, you know, I have to say like racism, I don’t know that it was like outwardly racist attitude against Asian Americans or anything from the industry. I think it’s more of a sort of systemic racism, which is the term that has been used a lot this year.
and people are finally kind of waking up to the mainstream and because, you know, yeah. When I started out all the roles that were, that I was being set up for a good deal of them anyways, you know, delivery boy, martial art, immigrant. You know, I can remember my first few television credits for Chinese soldier on a TV show called VIP, again, to date myself, I appear on the Jay Leno show a few times in these really bad sketch videos that we’re always poking fun of Asians. And you ask like, why would you let yourself do that? And looking back, yeah, I cringe and I think a lot of Asian American actors will tell you the same thing because we just, you know, at that age, you’re just like, Oh my gosh, I want to, I just need to get experience.
I need to get reps, you know, and it also, you know, quite honestly it paid pretty well. And then it also allowed you, entry into the union, which is everyone, you know, when you start out and you’re like, I’ve just got to get my sag card and, you know, be able to, to kinda click that, check that checkbox.
Right. So, I would say I was, in a way, I was fortunate that I wasn’t like stereotyped or pigeonholed too badly as far as like, only doing roles like this, because, A. Like, I don’t do martial arts. B. Anytime it was like a foreigner accented part like I usually would either not go o,. You know, the few times that I did go to the audition room and I was asked to do it, it was clear that I wasn’t very good, or like I would maybe have a conversation with the casting person about it.
And they would, you know, they would be openminded to try and get a different way. So like, you know, sort of case by case, but like, it was you just, the point is like, you just would see a rash of really bad rules being written. Right. Usually, always concocted by a non-Asian screenwriter who thought of an Asian character as a prop, essentially.
Right. So forget about being the center of a story. Forget about having, you know, the being a lead much less like a fully formed character. You know, obviously there were a couple of examples, like in my time, well actually this is, I didn’t even start. I started after the all American girl came out.
joy luck club would be the movie that I think was the one that when I was coming up was the big Asian American film. Fun fact. I actually was an extra in that movie. It was my first time ever on a big Hollywood set. And, just being a fly on the wall was interesting. but you know, so look fast forward 25 years later, like, Obviously we have all these great examples of big films and TV shows that are happening.
You know, I like to say, you know, I don’t, I try not to be bitter and sound like the old curmudgeon and be like, Oh man, like you kids have it so easy. Like I everyone’s like you can be, you could be like as Marvel superhero today. Which is happening, right. Obviously with Shane cheek. but I’m just like glad that I’m alive to be able to see this and to perhaps reap some of the benefits.
You know, like I said, I produce as well. So putting on that hat has been, that’s been really empowering because I’m able to create and develop stories and pitch stories into the industry with. You know, with with the Asian American voice, you know, either front and center or a significant part of the story and they’re being met with, you know, it’s, it’s tough getting any show sold, or set up or finance, but at least they’re listening and they’re seeing that they’re viable products and that’s really that’s a 180 from when I first started.
And so what you see is probably what I see and feel like right now like it’s, we’re thriving in a way like it’s never enough. Like, and you still see, you still see some stereotypes out there every once in a while. And you’re like, Oh, how did that one get through the police? Right.
Who missed that one? Like, why are we still seeing that? But I think the big picture is like we’re moving in a positive place, a direction. I think it’ll only get better. I think it’s, what’s, what’s been really great to see is like the, honestly, like the social media and the digital age, right? That came about the YouTube creators, you know, the social media influencers, hashtag movements, all of these things have just broken the doors down. They just like literally kicked the doors down and were bomb rushing in because back in our day, if we tried to raise a ruckus, we had to write letters. We had to go stand in front of like a studio in Pickett, right. Or something. Right. And no one cares about that. The only people that see that are the people that are trying to go in and out of their front door, or maybe like in the mailroom, they’re like, Oh, here’s a letter about offensive stereotypes. And now you put it online. You get a few thousand people behind it and you, you know, you keep resharing it and it becomes a movement.
And the studio exacts is, are listening like, Oh wow. Didn’t realize we were offending Asian Americans all these years. Okay. You know, so so I think like it’s, it’s cool. It’s great. It’s great. It’s, it’s helping all of us and we gotta keep on precedent. So, you know, Twitter, Facebook, you, you came 40 years too late, but that’s okay.
We’re here today. We’re going to reap the benefits and move forward and, just keep telling some great stories, you know? So I’m excited and optimistic about what’s happening. And I forget some of the other parts of your questions if you want to.
Bryan: [00:35:02] We kinda ask you a little more about your involvement documentary how’d that kind of started?
Brian: [00:35:07] Yeah. So I was, you know, I came up in a very narrative world, like, you know, just trained to read feature scripts. And, you know, television scripts and so, acting and producing, you know, scripted work was always like, that was it. That’s all I cared about. And then in 2010, a group of friends of mine and I, we were tracking this relatively unknown basketball player from Harvard University named Jeremy Lin, who was you know, blown up the courts and the Ivy leagues. And we decided, Hey, you know, at that time, YouTube was starting to pop. They had, you know, all these experiments and the creating, like the first sort of wave of web series and just digital content. Right? And, and so this group, we decided, Hey, why don’t we try to, why don’t we do like a little mini-documentary series on Jeremy?
And so we approached him and you know, he was at Harvard at the time and he was totally like just, there were no gatekeepers around him. It was super easy to get in touch with him. You go to a game and you can talk to him kind of thing. Cause it’s the Ivy leagues. It’s not like some big arena with security and like, you know, thousands of thousands of people around.
So So we just asked him, Hey, would you, would you be interested in having a documentary made on you? And he was like, I don’t know what that means. So so we explained it and the idea was to just make like a very simple, like three episodes, docu-series about him and put it on YouTube and call it a day.
That was it. And, it took him a while. He didn’t say yes initially he was really resistant to the whole thing. He finally came around when he became a professional on the golden state warriors, his first year in the NBA. He’s like, I think his mindset shifted because once you become a pro player, you realize, you know, all the, you have to, you become like your, your, You have to market yourself.
You have to like, you know, you’re now a brand, so to speak. So so we got together very quickly and we jumped in and started filming. And, we tracked him for a year, you know, basically kind of through his first year in NBA, into the offseason. And you know, if you guys from the Bay area, I don’t know how well, you know, the story, you remember the story, but not a whole lot was happening. And we were thinking, okay, well, we’ll just put this online and that’s fine. Like he made the NBA, that’s an amazing feat for an Asian American. And then he of course likes winds up, going to New York. And then our story was like, Oh, where do we end it now? Or do we just keep following him and see what happens? So we elected to keep following. He graciously, let us keep following. Cause we had to find sort of a natural ending point because, you know, by the time you wrap the documentary and put it out, if in real life, his story is very different. People are going to be like, well, you know, we already know what happened.
So it just, you just don’t really know until you hit something. Right. And so we went to film with him and you know, lo and behold, February 2012 goes on this incredible tear becomes the phenomenon known as Linsanity, which then took our little YouTube web series project into a whole another dimension.
We wound up pivoting to become a full-length feature documentary that, you know, we had phone calls and meetings up the wazoo from interested. You know, parties, studios, a-list, you know, filmmakers, all kinds of craziness at the time. Like his own life was crazy. Our lives were crazy, kind of behind the scenes.
And then, we wound up premiering a Sundance and we sold the film and got theatrical and worldwide distribution and had the whole run of it. And so you know, thank you, thank you Jeremy Lin for creating this story, which helped us obviously sell the movie much much easier and B, to answer your question.
After I made that and that experience, I was like man, documentary, that was kind of fun. And maybe that’s something I will keep doing. And as fate would have it, like, it becomes one of the, it’s one of those things that becomes a calling card, right? Like if you, any business,any walk of life you pursue, like you make something and people know you as that person that was associated with that.
They’re like, Oh, so, and so, you know, this person did that. And then I started getting connected to or pitched other sports-related documentaries or just documentaries in general. And then I think after I did that one, I, I forget exactly which one I did next, but I’d probably done a string of like, four or five different, documentary, you know, type stories.
A lot of them are rooted in sports because, you know, again, I really like sports. And so I did something around baseball. I did something around auto sports. I’ve done several more basketball things. And currently, I’m looking at about doing a bunch of, other sport-related stories and in addition to a bunch of other non-sport-related things too, but that’s how I got hooked into the documentary genre.
And, and, and then when you know, it. As time went on here, we are 20, 20 documentaries are like the hottest form of storytelling and content, you know? out there like Netflix, Hulu, I mean, short-form, like even Instagram or Snapchat, like those little things, anything that’s not basically anything that’s not scripted.
And that stars actors is is like a nonfiction, unscripted documentary. Right. And so documentaries now are like, cool. There’s they’re marketable. You could sell them. They’re relatively inexpensive to produce compared to. You know, PR scripted content that requires hiring actors and like all these different moving parts.
And so so I’m really like rooted in the doc world now. I just think like docs have evolved in such a way that they are great forms of entertainment or infotainment as a lot of people, like, use work. Cause usually it’s like a, it’s teachable, like a story that you learn something from.
Right. but it’s also entertaining. And so so I’ve got a bunch of different doc projects in development and, but it all started from, from the Linsanity experience. So. Again, you know, hats off to Jeremy for pulling me in a direction I didn’t know I wanted to go.
Bryan: [00:42:17] That’s awesome. That’s really good to hear. Congratulations on that success as well.
Brian: [00:42:23] Thank you. Thank you very much.
Bryan: [00:42:26] I guess… want to hear a little more about your involvement with Andrew Yang and his campaign. And that’s how we first heard of you. And we’re curious to hear more about, like, what was the process like, and was it super stressful for you as for a lot of work involved or, yeah, I heard some other snippets on your other interviews before how, you know, last new decision you have to like drive to Indiana. I get some signatures you want to hear more about like, what was that being a part of NGS. Yeah.
Maggie: [00:42:53] And I guess what, what was the hardest part of being on that campaign that you guys faced as, as Asians, as a team, as Asians, whatever it may be.
Brian: [00:43:03] Yeah, well, Andrew called me, August of the end of 2017 and he said, Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’m running for president and, I always, I say, I always say when he called me and said that I, my first instinct was like of what? Right? Yeah. Andrew is not a career politician.
He’s never demonstrated an interest in politics. I knew him as a businessman entrepreneur. I worked for him, as I said before. Remained good friends with him over the years, but totally out of nowhere. And so initially the biggest challenge was obviously getting anyone to like take him seriously. And so after I hung up the phone with them, I, as soon thereafter read his book, The war on normal people.
He had this big announcement in the New York Times. I read this really long article that introduced his candidacy and I started to, you know, just sort of, I let it marinate. Cause I was like, it’s really interesting that someone I know is running for president, but like, yeah. Is this like, should I throw my weight into this?
Like, is this going to be a waste of my time? Like, you know, you want to, you have a natural inclination to want to support your friends. But sometimes when your friends are like a little misguided, you know, you don’t necessarily want to like put your good name and reputation out there and, and, and just like, you know, burn all the bridges and cards you have.
Right? Yeah. So, so I thought about it and I was like, okay, well, you know what he’s saying makes a lot of sense, you know, his, all his proposals, there’s 180 some, I dunno, you know, different policy points he had on his website, obviously the flagship one being universal, a basic income. And as, as it all sort of synthesized in my mind, I was like, man, Andrew was right about so many of these things.
So, it didn’t take long before I was like, you know what, sign me up. This is going to be a challenge, but I’m I am, I’m into it. So, so I wound up like, you know, starting out just as a friend, helping him get the word out. I changed my Facebook banner to like Yang 2020. A lot of folks were like, are you running for president?
Okay. My friend, my brother from another mother, you know, no relation. I always got like, are you his brother, obviously for, you know, we have the same last name, but I threw, like, I co-hosted this LA meet and greet with Andrew and in 2018, that the only way we got our friends to show up to was, we said there was free alcohol.
So it was like, it was just, again, the struggle was just getting anyone to take them seriously. They’re like, whatever, this is, this is a stunt. It’s cute. Like, you know, yada yada like even his own friends, a lot of his own friends were not taking it seriously. And, and so it wasn’t until, so if you guys were following closely, he went on the Joe Rogan podcast in 2019 in early 2019.
And I happened to be at that podcast cause it was taped in LA. And anytime you came to LA like I pretty much linked up with him and, I remember, I actually, so they were being the good frugal Asians, right? Like his campaign early on was not flushed with cash.
And so I was like, I’ll drive you around LA man.
You would think like you know, like a presidential candidate was like humming around in an SUV, like, you know, caravan, have a driver, that kind of thing, whatever. No. I was like, it looked for the great Prius. So I drove Andrew out to the Valley, to Joe’s studios, and got to just sit there, like a fly on the wall.
We weren’t inside where he takes across the table, but out in the waiting room, but it’s on the monitor. So I was watching it and, you know, it was about an hour and change. I was like, you walked it out. I was like, man, that was really good. Admittedly was not a Joe Rogan listener, like avidly.
I had heard a couple of big, bigger podcasts, but I didn’t realize I didn’t even, you know, so I couldn’t really appreciate his reach and popularity, I guess. I more just listened like it was some guests I was interested in, but I, I was like, Joe Rogan, the MMA guy, like, okay, that’s cool. But if you, again, if you followed, you knew like, from that day forward, I like to say there was before Joe and after Joe and for Andrew after Joe. Man. Like immediately his popularity, he just started to ascend, right?
Like millions of people listen to that, reshared it like this guy, Andrew Yang is like onto something. He started getting more requests to join other podcasts. You know, it was, it was a meteoric rise, you know? And so no question, Joe Rogan put them on the map.
And after that you saw like social media numbers climbed, his donations climbed, he qualified for the first day. Like all these things just started to click. It was like, Holy crap. Like, and then his little ragtag team started to grow. Like you have money, you’re able to start hiring people will get more resources.
His office grew. The headcount on the staff grew. I was just a volunteer friend who then. The wound up getting invited to join officially part of the campaign. I was like, you know, I’m so in already, I might as well just make an official, get myself an email address and myself on the hook to produce stuff for them.
Right. Before I could just be like, Oh, I’m a friend. I’ll just, I’ll do this in my spare time. Now I was like, you know what? I’m shutting aside my whole life. And I’m just gonna, I’m just going to be on the yang gang train. And so I flew around to a bunch of the debates, held a bunch of fundraisers all around.
I was regional men, like mostly West coast, but I, I did stuff in New York where I have a lot of, you know, network and friends, also a couple of others, smaller cities. And so. I got, I fully got steeped into it. And then I wound up going to Iowa in January of this year to where the, you know, the initial caucus was, was starting off.
And so I would say after, you know, so again, pre-Joe, it was obviously the challenge was like convincing anyone to take him seriously. Post-Joe, I mean, there was still a degree of that because I think a lot of folks were still like, get outta here, right? Like there’s no way this guy can win the presidency. It’s too far fetched, but then, and he kept like making every debate. He kept getting onto some big night talk show. And more media, more coverage, more breakout moments. And suddenly everyone was like, is this, can he? No. Like, so, so then the challenge shifted, a little bit more to like, I guess I guess the biggest challenge at that point because people we’ll start taking them seriously. Right. So that that challenge was sort of addressed, was about just getting over that hurdle of like, can an Asian guy who is outside of the system, really take this thing, like like a narcissistic reality show.
Who had zero political experience did in 2016. Right. So, so yeah, we’re taking his policies seriously. We love what he says, but man can, is my, like, can we really vote someone like that in? And so it was just constantly, you know, trying to respond with, you know, evidence and persuading them to believe that yes, yes we can.
We can have someone like that, you know, uniting the left and the right and leading us forward. And obviously we fell short. We fell far short. I mean, I remember calling both in Iowa and New Hampshire, which were the first two states in the system, you know, either phone banking or showing up in Iowa to different events and meeting people.
And everyone at that point knew Andrew Yang. Like he’s a household name now. But just still being met with resistance around how realistic we could have. Not people wouldn’t necessarily see, we can’t have an Asian guy be the president, but I think there was like, That that was always sort of like something that’s in the back of your mind is like, I wonder what these Midwestern, you know, good old fashion, you know, valued people like, feel about this.
Like, you know, it’s it’s sort of, it’s not programmed in their heads. So there’s just like, I don’t know what to think of this guy. Right. So like, and it very much reminded me of the Jeremy Lin story to be honest, which is crazy. Since I had, I guess the privilege of seeing that up close too, but just like this outsider who no one had ever heard of before, like getting into some big arena and performing way above expectations and reprogramming everyone’s minds.
Wow. I didn’t know anything. Asian guy could do this and even Asian Americans. Thinking this, because we so seldom we see people in that these these these platforms, you know, or have the spotlight on them, like shining bright as can be. So so it even takes us a second to recalibrate and accept this that this is happening in front of our eyes.
And so so yeah, so, unfortunately, you know, things fell short in New Hampshire and suspended the campaign. But it was obviously a great ride. And I say today that I think it was a, no, it was all meant to be, you know, it’s easy to say this now, but I do think that. You know, it was obviously a stretch to have him win in his first go as a complete outsider.
But now, as you, as you know, Andrew is like cemented himself in the public’s eye. He has all kinds of things going for him. He started a nonprofit, the pandemic is obviously underscored how right he was on so many levels and more and more people like his popularity has grown. Right. Post-campaign. He signed with CAA, he’s got a podcast.
He’s, he’s a media maker. He’s writing another book. He’s, you know, Andrew Yang did not go under, you know, under a rock and disappeared. Like he is going to be very much a part of our conversation of helping America heal itself and move forward. Hopefully, things go the right way this fall.
And you know, he’ll have a big say in things. But look, don’t, don’t count them out. Like who knows what will happen for eight years from now? He’s still a young guy, relatively speaking. I think he, this first go at it, just put them on the map in a solid, legitimate way. And now he can kind of, sort of figure out, you know, next steps as we go, but he’s not a complete outsider anymore. Now there’s this like experience and this confidence he’s instilled in people and they’ll take them more seriously the next time or whatever, the next thing he puts his mind to. So, so I think it’s, you know, it was obviously, it was a great thing.
And, on so many levels and most importantly, being that. He’s helping America wake up to a lot of the elements that we had just kind of been ignoring, you know? So, so yeah, so it wasn’t, it was really a, it was a fun ride, obviously again, just grateful and lucky to have known the guy and been apart of this and seeing him seeing him grow into this role never would have predicted it.
But you know, that just goes to show you what the Asian hustle can do.
Maggie: [00:55:36] It’s amazing. Yeah. I was really inspiring her you share that story and I definitely think that you know, as a society as a whole, it’s very hard for people to experience change. And I think that’s what, you know, that was a whole, you know, an issue with, you know, people believe in like, can we have someone like this as a president, but like you say, you know, Andrew Yang has been put on the map and now we’d have people start thinking like, okay, maybe we can see someone like that as a president. So I think this is like a really good stepping stone and we’re headed in the right direction.
You know, we just need to keep at it. We just need to keep reminding people like no Asians are, you know, we are trying to put ourselves on the map and we are going in the right direction. And this was our opportunity to amplify our voices. And now more than ever, people are more proud to be Asian, right. Especially due to like COVID and all the racism and xenophobia.
Asians who were embarrassed to be Asian back then, like when they were younger, they’re coming out and saying like, I’m actually proud to be Asian, you know? And I think that’s, our generation has changed a lot in the last year, couple years. Even a couple of months.
Brian: [00:56:44] Yeah, no, I mean, definitely 2020 is a sped along a lot of things, you know, for better or worse, you know, taking.
10 years of things and, you know, I think condensing it into 10 weeks. So, I guess if there’s a silver lining to all this, you know, here we are experiencing this and, and people kind of being forced to, it’s like a reckoning, you know, in terms of like, Hey, wake up and smell the coffee. Like you’re, you can’t shed the skin.
You can’t shed your culture, your history, your family, you know, if we don’t step up and be proud and do something, you know, I think also underscored by the fact that there’s been this rise of Asian Americans in media, in politics led by folks like Jeremy and Andrew, like it’s our community is, you know, is the fastest-growing minority group. Right. and I think it’s only gonna continue to grow. And so, this awakening, you know, is it’s been very transformative and 2020, you know, again, this, like, it’s unfortunate the way it’s played out with the pandemic, but I think we’re going to come out of this stronger than before.
And, so it’s been encouraging to see a lot of the people in our community organizations, individuals galvanize, and, you know, put together a response and call to action, both for like within our community. also in support of the black lives matter movement. And you know, and then even in our own, in my bubble of media and entertainment, see, you know, Things continue to proliferate and grow.
You know, I know a lot of shows and movies are being set up and, I think once things get back to normal, we’re just going to continue to like, run with this momentum and demand, you know, and grow into sort of our seat at the table that we’ve finally taken, you know, this proverbial seat.
So, yeah, it’s a great time.
Maggie: [00:58:57] Love it
Bryan: [00:58:58] Love it.
Maggie: [00:58:59] Well, it was amazing hearing from you, Brian, for our listeners. How can they hear and learn more about you and the type of projects that you have going on right now?
Brian: [00:59:09] Yeah. I guess these ways it’s following me on social media. My Twitter and Instagram handles are both @briflys. And yeah, I post pretty frequently on both, especially Twitter, Twitter, I don’t know, millennial or gen Z people are a little less active on Twitter. I feel like, but, but I’ve gotten pretty, I fall into the Twitter-sphere because there’s, I think it’s, I mean, Hey, it’s. I think Twitter is like the thing that is changing society for better or worse.
I like to focus on the better, honestly, it’s what got Andrew, you know, as close as he did to the white house. But yeah, I’ll post about my projects and you know, other random thoughts. So that’s the easiest way.
Bryan: [01:00:01] Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much for being on the show. We really appreciate your time and your story.
It’s just, it’s so inspirational to hear a lot of commonalities and different paths that happened in your life. And this is just the very beginning too. Can’t wait to check-in in the next couple of years.
Brian: [01:00:17] Yeah, yeah, no, I appreciate you guys. Thanks for hosting this and doing this. It’s so necessary to keep helping our stories get heard.
So yeah. You know, and I know you guys are doing, you know, great service and we’ll, I’m gonna, like I said, I’m gonna go back once in the Bao’s interview and I keep track of you guys, so, so good luck and stay safe in this time. And, hope to run into you guys down the road. Awesome.
Bryan: [01:00:43] Thank you. You too.
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