YouTuber Spotlight: Freddie Wong

One of my favourite experiences on YouTube is finding people I call “YouTube Triple Threats”. I define a YouTube Triple Threat as a YouTuber with three important traits: an engaging onscreen personality, filmmaking talent, and an understanding of the “business” of YouTube. For me, Los Angeles-based Freddie Wong is an excellent example of this sort of content creator. Wong has built an audience of 2 million subscribers based on the action-heavy videos he makes with creative partner Brandon Laatsch, videos that showcase Wong and Laatsch’s impressive skills with visual effects.

Over the past five years, Freddie Wong’s two channels, freddiew and freddiew2,  have become reliable destinations for viewers looking for explosive stunts, inventive gunplay and a celebration of all things nerdy. Read on for more on Freddie Wong, including some embedded videos of his material!

Freddie Wong is originally from Seattle, Washington, but he moved to L.A. in 2004 to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. There, he became friends with Minnesota native Brandon Laatsch, and the two began making direct-to-DVD movies together. Their work moved onto YouTube in 2006, and since then the freddiew channel has amassed over 350 million video views, and become the 10th most-subscribed channel on the site.

The videos Wong and Laatsch post usually feature effects-heavy action scenes, often with Freddie Wong appearing as an action hero version of himself, mowing through a number of masked enemies with firearms and other weapons. These videos almost always poke fun at action movie clichés, with implausible stunts and other jokes. One of the first Freddie Wong videos I found in this vein was “Chrono Trigger”, a short scene that combines inventive fight choreography with a fun imagining of a "time-out":

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nQzs48Tt9U]

Wong also has a history as a competitive Guitar Hero player, having won first prize in the Guitar Hero 2 category at the 2007 World Series of Video Games. His experience as a competitive video game player has popped up in a number of his videos, usually in the form of visual-effects-laden tributes to first-person shooters, Mario games and music simulators. This sometimes involves envisioning the “future” or “real-life” version of popular franchises, or exploring mash-up concepts like a “First-Person Mario”. Of these types of Freddie Wong videos, my favourite was his “Real Life Mario Kart!” video, seen below:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h4zTEwgCpQ]

Alongside his regular channel, Wong maintains a secondary channel, freddiew2. Unlike most high-profile YouTubers, Wong does not use this channel for one-take daily vlogs, but instead posts behind-the-scenes featurettes for the videos on “freddiew”. Many of these show how Wong shot that week’s video, including some of the difficulties they encountered in achieving a particular effect, or talking to some of the people Wong and Laatsch collaborated with in the video. He has also posted tutorial videos on the second channel, covering topics like sound editing and chroma-keying (greenscreen artistry) or how to create muzzle flashes on effects software.

As I hinted at the beginning of the article, Freddie Wong has a knack for the “business” side of being a YouTube personality. Wong and Laatsch are YouTube Partners, meaning they receive a portion of the ad revenue that YouTube brings in on their videos. As a result, the two filmmakers have learned how to promote their channel on YouTube and how to maintain connections with fans and other YouTubers.

They occasionally invite fans to meet up with them at movie screenings and theme parks, and are currently holding a contest where a fan can win an all-expenses-paid trip to L.A. to hang out with them. They have collaborated with a number of other YouTubers, including Ray William Johnson, Harley Morenstein from Epic Meal Time, makeup guru Michelle Phan and others. Wong also works with artists from outside the YouTube community, including actors Eliza Dushku, Andy Whitfield, and most recently, Iron Man director Jon Favreau:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71YsRO6G7Ks]

On the surface, it might seem that Freddie Wong has almost reached the threshold of what he can accomplish with YouTube. In other words, Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch could certainly abandon their channel now in favour of jobs with a major studio or effects house, given the praise they have received from big-name directors like Favreau.  Fortunately, Wong has stated that as long as people keep watching his videos, he and Laatsch will continue making them, because Wong believes that the YouTube model is strong enough to support a lengthy career.

One of the things that really impresses me about Freddie Wong is his interest in sharing what he’s learned with aspiring filmmakers. He does this through his secondary channel much of the time, but has also posted a few collections of written tips. He uses a straightforward approach for these pieces, seemingly to dispel common myths about “making it” on the site. An example is an article Wong posted on his blog, offering his "secrets of YouTube success": how to build audiences and make channels profitable. In the article, Wong demonstrates how much he has learned about the YouTube medium, and it makes for interesting reading, whether you’re planning on starting a channel or not.

I strongly recommend you check out more of Freddie Wong’s videos, and maybe even subscribe to his channels. Like all the people I talk about in the YouTuber Spotlight column, Wong’s work is consistent, high-quality, and even educational. I’d also like to know that you think about him – do you find his videos fun, or does he get on your nerves? Post a comment below, or browse through the archive of YouTuber Spotlights:

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YouTuber Spotlights: Toby Turner | Julian Smith | MysteryGuitarMan | Philip DeFranco

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