25-year-old Freddie Wong lives in LA. For the last few months he's been making phenomenal short films for his YouTube channel, featuring him as the star of his own shoot 'em up video games. They're funny, the effects are great, and they've been getting millions of hits and a lot of attention. A recent one, his take on the Time Crisis game, featured saucy bloodbath Spartacus: Blood And Sand's lead actor Andy Whitfield.
Freddie first achieved internet notoriety in 2006 after he filmed himself expertly playing Rush's “YYZ” on Guitar Hero with obnoxious flair - the video got over seven million hits, and led to him being taken to The Worlds Series Of Video Games for the Guitar Hero 2 competition, which he won. Now he's making money from pretending to kill people. I spoke to him.
VICE: Hi Freddie. Where are you, what are you doing?
FREDDIE: Well Brandon and I, Brandon's the other guy that works on my channel with me, we're getting lunch.
A place called California Chicken Cafe. They have good chicken. As the name would imply.
You sound hungry.
Yeah a little bit, we've been up all night. We just finished a Kanye West video parody; we just put it up on our channel.
I saw it, it's funny. Have you slept?
We've gone an hour of sleep between us.
Have you heard from Kanye yet?
No. We're not sure how he might take it.
It was your shoot 'em up films that caught my eye. I'm completely ignorant when it comes to Guitar Hero, I've played it once for five minutes.
That was a brief and hilarious stint in my life. I was at home for Thanksgiving and I went out and bought it and started playing it. At the time there wasn't really anything online, you couldn't tell how good you were, but I was the best of all my friends, and we made a video for some video contest, we thought we'd dress up and go nuts. And the video built and built, and as the game got more popular the video got more popular, and I had this reputation of being the Guitar Hero guy. And I foolishly cemented that reputation one summer when I went to the World Series Of Video Games in Dallas and won it. And after I won the competition folded because they didn't have enough money to keep it going. So as far as I'm concerned the title still stands.
Undisputed king of Guitar Hero.
Not really. I'm not the best in the world at it, obviously, but I act like an idiot and jump around and rock out, and I'm pretty good at doing that.
It's funny that you're really good at something you don't take seriously, in a world where everyone else takes it seriously.
I could tell you some pretty entertaining pro-gamer stories. At the height of Guitar Hero popularity there was a family in the US that pulled their kid out of school so that he could practice and become a professional Guitar Hero player. There were professional teams trying to sign me up and get me to sign contracts, and I was like, "Guys, this is a video game, I don't take it that seriously."
So how did all the shoot 'em up films come about?
Well the first one Brandon and I did was Aces Gunfight. That was in our dorm room. One day we were bored and everybody else was out partying, so we said, "Let's just make a stupid little action movie," we dived over a couch, that was it. I'm much thinner in that.
And already you've got the lead actor from Spartacus starring in them.
We get a lot of random emails from all sorts of people. Andy had a little bit of time and wanted to try something different before going back to gladiator training camp for nine months. And he liked it because we go a lot faster than conventional crews, we keep things small, and we don't do a lot of takes, we know how to fix things afterwards.
What are the most memorable comments you've had on the channel?
One of the best ones I ever got, I got a message from somebody who said, "I would subscribe to you, except you're too fat." We responded; I wanted to dig deeper, and I said, "How many pounds would I have to lose before you subscribe to me?" And I was disappointed, because we were all set for me to make a Rocky montage training video, but she said, "No no no, I was only kidding, I didn't mean it!" We thought, come on... if you're going to be so audacious and call someone out like that you should follow through with it. I also get a lot of comparisons to the main character from Heroes, Hiro Nakamura. My mom doesn't think we look alike and I take her word for it.
I will too. So do you think you'd be making these films if YouTube wasn't around?
Well the idea of making short entertaining movies and interacting with people who like them is fundamentally something that we'll stick with. If it wasn't YouTube it would be somewhere else, it's a lot of fun. Every week it's fun to come up with something new. I can't tell you what we'll be doing a week from now. Things happen so fast, overnight. I'll get an email from a guy who's a professional skydiver, and the next day we're driving out and two hours later I'm falling from an airplane. You never know what's gonna hit.
And are you starting to make a living out of this?
We have been making a living out of it. YouTube has a thing called a Partner Program, and you can share the ad revenue from the videos you put up. And luckily for us we have insanely cheap rent and we don't really buy things, so we're able to make a living from it.
Have you had any offers from Hollywood on the back of your work?
We've definitely gotten some phone calls and meetings, but everybody's still trying to figure out what this internet thing means and what to do with it. It's one thing to get an audience, but everyone's still trying to figure out how to make money from it. Even in the few months since we've been doing these videos the way online content is being treated has changed, a lot. So yeah we've had some interest, but there's nothing concrete. With music, people are starting to find ways of supporting themselves with online options, but that isn't happening yet for movies. We'd love to make a feature, but for now YouTube is what it is and we have a lot of fun doing it.