Wong Fu Productions, Far East Movement, and International Secret Agents (ISA) announced the winners of the first ISA Digital Film Shootout last week. The contest, which recognizes up-and-coming online talent, awarded prizes in five categories. Each category was judged by industry professionals, including prominent Asian Americans in the entertainment industry such as Randall Park of "Fresh Off The Boat" and MTV filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas.
ISA, which was founded by Wong Fu Productions — who made their name as content creators on YouTube — and musical group Far East Movement, describes itself as "the premiere platform for celebrating Asian Youth Culture, which aims to showcase the brightest and most talented rising artists of this Internet Generation to a diverse, international audience."
Dan Matthews, ISA director of productions and content development, told NBC News that the contest received “a little over three hundred” entries, despite little promotion.
“We were really happy with the amount of submissions,” he said. “All of them were really high quality, so it was difficult to determine who should move on to the finals.”
Winners were flown out to see their films screened at the ISA Digital Film Showcase, held at the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles. Matthews also said that the groups behind the Shootout also hope to work with the filmmakers in the future.
“Something Wong Fu, ISA TV, and Far East Movement is going to do is, one, identify opportunities to get them more involved in upcoming projects,” he said. “Two, we’re going to set up some meetings in the future for Wong Fu, Far East, and myself to talk to the creators more directly and figure out how to best support them.”
Long Tran won the “Best Documentary” category for “Trapped,” ashort film about a transgender classmate. Tran, who is a college student at the University of Washington, told NBC News over e-mail that winning his category “meant the world” to him.
“I still haven’t been able to process this whole experience yet,” he said. “Maybe I’m still dreaming, but it was the best possible thing that had happened to me in my short filmmaking career.”
“The lack of Asian American character in films really motivated me to be one of the few,” he added. “The under-representation and misrepresentation of Asian Americans in mass media has influenced my life negatively, and I wanted to use that to my advantage, to make personal films that could give others a voice.”
Rachel Leyco, who won the “Best Vlogger” category with her sketch comedy short "Worst Asian Stereotypes,” said that digital platforms allowed her to express herself creatively when she grew frustrated by more traditional paths to an acting career.
“As a young Filipino-American woman trying to break through in the industry with an acting career, I found it to be a harsher struggle than I expected,” she said. “I quickly realized that I wasn't getting the leading roles I wanted to play because of the color of my skin.”
Kimberly Hwang, winner of "Best Short Comedy," expressed similar sentiments.
"I love that YouTube and other digital platforms are allowing voices that aren't usually in mainstream media to populate their sites," said Hwang. "Here is an open platform that you can post freely on. Your success depends on you. The audiences are there, you just have to constantly create and work hard to find them."
Other winners included Joseph Le for "Best Music Video" and An Rong Xu for "Best Short Drama."
Leyco, Hwang, and Tran all said they left Los Angeles feeling encouraged and motivated.
“Winning the ISA shootout as a vlogger personality really gave me the confidence and affirmation that what I am doing can impact the world,” said Leyco. “It also encouraged me to see the Asian-American community come together to support each other, which is especially important and needed in this cut-throat industry.”
Tran, the documentary filmmaker, said that he hopes to “produce projects that combat racism, and empower Asian Americans.”
"I love everything that ISA stands for — giving Asian Americans a voice and celebrating it." Huang said. "I'd definitely love to collaborate with ISA in the future and continue to share Asian American stories — the ones we live and breathe, but have trouble finding and relating to in mainstream media."