In the bustling world of Hollywood, where dreams are forged and narratives come to life, Korean American screenwriter William Yu has emerged as a rising force.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Hong Kong, Boston, and New York, and now based in Los Angeles, William has taken the leap from having a successful advertising career into the world of screenwriting, fueled by a desire to create ambitious stories with vibrant and nuanced characters and to challenge the boundaries of Asian American representation.
William writes sharp, biting stories about witty underdogs who rise to upend the systems that they’ve been held back by.
Projects like “Good Boy,” a dramedy exploring the clash between personal dreams and familial expectations, and his feature romantic comedy “It Was You,” recognized by the esteemed Black List, showcase William’s talent and ambition. As an alum of the prestigious Sundance Episodic Labs and the NBCU Launch TV Writers Program, his work not only contributes to the larger conversation on Asian American representation in the entertainment industry but also pushes the boundaries of storytelling.
In an interview with Asian Hustle Network, William gives us a front seat on his journey as a screenwriter. Join us as we delve into his inspiring story.
TRANSITIONING FROM HIS ADVERTISING CAREER TO BECOMING A SCREENWRITER
Before becoming a screenwriter, I worked in advertising as a Creative Strategist for some years. Having this professional background not only gave me the structure and discipline that I’ve carried over to writing but also instilled a self-starter mindset that gets excited by creative ideas that go against the grain.
Two things happened. The first: I hit a quarter-life crisis after finding a list of goals I had written down after I graduated college. I realized that I had accomplished most of these milestones, but was finding my mental health was quickly deteriorating to the point where I had to make a change.
The second: I had recently created a project called #StarringJohnCho that sparked a viral, global conversation about Asian representation in media. Seeing so many communities engage in this movement demonstrated to me that a profound cultural shift was happening. I could either sit on the sidelines in advertising and continue to critique Hollywood from the outside, or I could dive into this world, participate in the craft, and write the stories I wish I knew. So, I took the leap.
CHALLENGES OF BEING A SCREENWRITER FROM AN UNDERREPRESENTED BACKGROUND
I entered Hollywood because I wanted to expand the definition and labels that have traditionally been assigned to the Asian American community, to go from “good” and “bad” to “awkward” and “messy” and “joyful” and “gut-wrenching.” But as much as I want to create characters and narratives that are rooted in my experience, I need to write stories that are first and foremost–entertaining.
As a screenwriter from an underrepresented group, there is always a well-intentioned instinct to cast our people in a soft, non-offensive glow. But who wants to watch that film or TV series? Part of the representation that I want to add to is demonstrating that as much as we are brave and tenacious, we are also flawed and dangerous, whether that’s in a small indie project or a massive studio tentpole. I believe that the faster we can jump into that conversation, exciting stories are destined to follow.
ABOUT THE DRAMEDY “GOOD BOY”
The short film is a proof of concept for a TV series I’m developing that’s been workshopped through the Sundance Episodic Labs. It’s a personal story that’s loosely based on my time working at Bodega – the world-famous sneaker shop started in Boston – and various conversations and feelings that I’ve had with exes, best friends, my family, and other people that I love.
Streetwear is a world where the clash of cultures is the point. There is no “right answer” – It’s funny and ugly and inspiring. Isn’t that the case for life as well?
‘Good Boy’ was my way of reflecting on moments in my life when I’ve felt cared for, hurt, joyous, and lost. I tried to not just depict what I was feeling, but also reflect on why I felt those feelings. When I first started writing the original pilot script in the Fall of 2019, I was simultaneously embracing my own agency in my life. My hope is that this story might nudge others to also own their journeys moving forward.
MORE OF WILLIAM’S PROJECTS
I’m extremely proud of ‘It Was You,’ my feature romantic comedy that’s like if Nora Ephron’s ‘You’ve Got Mail’ was set in Manhattan Chinatown. The script was voted to the annual Black List – a compilation of the most well-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood – and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ director Jon M. Chu is attached as a producer. I’m such a massive fan of those ‘90s-era rom-coms and this story was such a light to write during the pandemic.
My latest TV project is a political scandal drama called ‘Koreagate’ which is based on the true story set in the 1970s of a charming swindler in Washington D.C. known as “The Asian Gatsby” who was found to be bribing U.S. Congressmen in the name of South Korean interests. It’s a wild, pulpy, fast-paced tale in the vein of The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Post that showcases America at its best and its worst. And it all really happened!
WILLIAM’S CONTRIBUTION TO ASIAN AMERICAN REPRESENTATION IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
My main goal as a storyteller is to create ambitious stories with vibrant and nuanced characters. If I can hold up my end of the equation, I believe the representation conversation will only expand and grow in complexity.
What’s so exciting is that this is a LARGE conversation, there are so many voices and stories from our community that have yet to come to the forefront. And when we all overlap and intersect and discuss, that’s when the magic happens.
WILLIAM’S ASPIRATIONS LOOKING FORWARD AS A SCREENWRITER
First off, my biggest hope right now is that the WGA strike ends soon and that the studios pay us writers what we deserve.
What excites me is continuing to push my ideas to new heights in terms of scale and wonder. Stories that push the boundaries of the imagination. That wink at you while flipping you off. I’ve been working on a family adventure blockbuster and romance crime drama lately, and have a romantic comedy feature script that takes a surprise turn into a thriller in the works next. Right now, I feel drawn to stories that feel twisted and that showcase characters brushing up against the extremities of who they are.
ADVICE TO THOSE WHO WANT TO START A CAREER IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
I can only really speak for the screenwriting side of things. This industry may seem like it’s an image-driven business, but it’s actually a product-driven one.
Everyone has an idea for a story, so make sure you’re the one that has a script (or scripts!) ready to go when someone asks. Know that there are lots of stories of those who follow the “rules” or those who are “exceptions”, but know that there is no “right way” of making it in this industry. Lastly: Be kind.
CONNECT WITH WILLIAM
Stream Good Boy
Good Boy Instagram: @goodboyteevee
Good Boy Twitter: @goodboyteevee
Good Boy Website: goodboytv.com