IndieWire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.
The URL for Yulin Kuang’s YouTube channel is “yulinisworking,” a very fitting handle for this plucky young filmmaker, who hit the ground running out of college and shows no signs of slowing down.
Her series, “I Ship It,” based on her short film of the same name, premiered on the CW Seed this summer. New Form Digital produced the musical web series and helped Kuang shop it to the CW’s digital streaming service. With its musical aspect, “I Ship It” follows in the vein of shows like “Glee” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Though the series bears some evidence of network tampering (it lacks some of the quirky originality that makes Kuang’s work stand out), the series stays true to Kuang’s values with a diverse cast and a nerdy girl protagonist.
After a quick browse through her YouTube channel, it’s not hard to see why New Form jumped on this fresh talent. Even her earliest films have an aesthetic that far surpasses their likely budgets, and the concepts behind them are smart while remaining accessible. Take, for instance, “Tiny Feminists,” about three young girls who start a feminist club at school. Kuang contrasts their cuteness with the girls’ steadfast dedication to politics. IndieWire chatted with Kuang at VidCon last month, where she spoke on topics ranging from YouTube’s diversity to finding funding.
You pretty much see my filmmaking background when you look at YouTube. I didn’t go to film school. I went to Carnegie Mellon, which is a great school for theatre and for computer science. I figured out while I was there that I wanted to be making movies, because I was writing all these screenplays and handing them off to other people to direct, and they kept fucking them up.
I started putting my content on YouTube because I realized that’s where all the people I wanted watching my work were hanging out. Like, basically, my seventeen year old self. That’s where I would have been if I were seventeen today. I really like that coming of age demographic. It’s that period when you don’t really know who you are, and everything’s just kind of confusing, and like you feel certain about some things and not so certain about other things.
The idea of coming of age really intrigues me thematically. I’m not a hundred percent sure why. I probably have some issues that I should talk to a therapist about that I’ve never done, so I work it out in my work instead.
I write aspirationally. All of my characters are versions of my former selves that are way better than I ever was. So, with “Tiny Feminists,” I just wanted to play in that world a little bit and write about these young women who are challenging the patriarchy and challenging the world. Maybe they don’t know better, because they haven’t seen the ways the world may be pitted against them. They’re going to try harder and they’re going to work faster and they’re going to actually change the world, I hope.
On these panels, there tends to be this fixation on how awful it is for female creators. I think part of that is because as women we don’t find a lot of spaces where we can get together as a group and talk about these things. So, the first time a lot of us are getting a chance to do that is on these panels, where it’s like, “Oh my god, things are terrible. Let’s all like, gripe about it.”
That isn’t what I, as a young female content creator sitting in on a panel, would want to hear. I had this surreal moment of, “What am I doing? What am I talking about? I’m so sad right now that we’re even talking about this.” I know the talking points. I know the things I’m supposed to say to sound inspiring and I know the things I’m supposed to say to urge people to do better. But is there more we can do? Is there more we can be offering?
I’m tired of saying the same things over and over again and not seeing things change. Also, to say that things aren’t changing is not a hundred percent true, because they are changing.
It’s not as easy as I thought it was when I started. I thought it was like, “Oh, okay, I have a camera, I’ve got a computer, I can do some basic editing and I’ll upload it and then that will be it.” YouTube is definitely better for visibility. Because it started as a place where creators were cutting out the middle man. There’s a lot of power in that.
Privilege creeps in everywhere. When you see who succeeds on the platform, you can start to see certain trends there. People who have higher production values because they have access to more money, those are people who will succeed faster. That’s just business. There’s been a lot of talk over this weekend about how YouTubers are entrepreneurs, and that’s true. In business there’s that idea of the unfair advantage, like “what’s your unfair advantage?” A lot of the people who succeed are successful because of unfair advantages that do already exist in traditional media. Because the patriarchy is deeply entrenched.
We use different voices professionally. I think with women it may actually be a little bit more deliberate. It may be more practiced. I think a lot of us, our professional voice is deeper. You lower the register, you slow down your speech so that people lean in and listen to you. It’s a thing I didn’t realize I was doing it until someone called attention to it in college.
When I was in college, I tried to suck up all of the grants that were available to me. It was: Stealing money from my university, then stealing money from my parents, then other people giving me money. It’s a ladder process. Steal all the money in the most legal way you can.