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Among 2,100 applicants for its NBC TV Writers Program’s 2022-23 cohort, NBCU LAUNCH selected William Yu, a Korean American writer raised in Hong Kong for seven years and educated in Boston. He seems more than likely to bring dynamic Asian American leading men onto the screen. After NBC announced the cohort, Yu talked with Mochi Mag about his background and path to screenwriting. As the creator of the viral campaign #StarringJohnCho, Yu says that the online movement, featuring the actor photoshopped onto the posters of Hollywood blockbusters, “was to demonstrate that Asian Americans possess all the qualities — bravery, romanticism, idealism, imperfection — that a Hollywood lead might require.” 

Beyond John Cho, Yu’s social media shows a particular fondness for the leading men Keanu Reeves and Park Seo-Joon. (This Mochi writer gives her approval.) ICYMI, the well-researched campaign came after a crest of Hollywood whitewashing from Emma Stone in “Aloha” to Tilda Swinton as the MCU’s Ancient One. The campaign began on Twitter in 2016 and culminated in an interactive exhibit at New York City’s Pearl River Mart three years later. 

However, Yu bears in mind characters of all genders, telling Mochi over email, “I’ve never seen #StarringJohnCho as a movement that is exclusive to how we define Asian American men. To me, the success of the project stems from the discussion of how we can subvert the ways that Asian Americans have been portrayed in the media.” #StarringJohnCho may not stop there. Reportedly, Yu is currently working on a “time loop” idea based on the campaign.

Yu’s awareness of social topics extends to his rom-com, “It Was You,” which was featured on the Black List, an annual list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year. The screenplay deals with issues of gentrification and cultural pressures through witty Chinese American New Yorkers. The rom-com is currently in development with “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu’s production company, Electric Somewhere.

From Advertising to Screenwriting

Yu’s previous role as an advertising strategist has granted him the tools to work on deadlines, make pitch decks, and receive client feedback. Yu notes the difference between that career and his entry into screenwriting: “[Writing] alone, there’s so much opportunity to doubt yourself, question your choices, and feel like the path ahead is riddled with uncertainty. All you can do is keep believing and keep writing.” With the NBC TV Writers Program’s acceptance rate of less than one percent, Yu’s self-belief seems to have done the trick.

His optimism imbues his taste in romantic comedies as he lives for the Nancy Meyers, Nora Ephron, and Richard Curtis era. “It Was You” comes across as a grandchild of “You’ve Got Mail” and “Two Weeks Notice,” buttressed by dating apps and Manhattan’s Chinatown. Yu’s passion brightens my hope for the oft-dismissed genre as a fellow rom-com fan (and defender).

Yu does not appear to favor one genre, as evidenced by his screenplay win at the 41st Asian American International Film Festival for his New England-set high school thriller, “Love You, Charlie.” More broadly, he told Mochi that his writing “usually features witty underdogs learning to buck the systems that they’ve been raised in.” Yu cites HBO’s historical drama “The Gilded Age” as the one show he would like to write on.

Speaking of history, NBCU LAUNCH accepted Yu into the program for his script “KOREAGATE,” an hour-long drama focusing on the late ’70s political scandal of businessman Tongsun Park. Known as “The Asian Gatsby” among the D.C. elite, Park led an illegal influence campaign on Congress. Being a different breed of campaign maker, Yu has a background suggesting he is perfect for putting the sensational true story to the written page.

In addition to NBCU LAUNCH, the Philly-born writer has undergone mentorship with the Sundance Institute’s Episodic Lab, creating a dramedy called “Good Boy.” Inspired by the awkward, personal conversations Yu has had or wishes to have, “Good Boy” takes place in the world of streetwear. The original script follows the character of Joon Kim, “a rising designer, as he tries to make a name for himself in the billion dollar streetwear industry,” according to the treatment. It draws directly from Yu’s time working in a Boston establishment, Bodega, a renowned streetwear store hidden behind a convenience storefront. The short film premiered at the Portland Film Festival in October and continues to make festival rounds in the States.

How NBCU LAUNCH Helps

Aided by NBCU LAUNCH, Yu says he aims to “introduce characters who may be flawed, but there is a thoughtfulness to their experience that we all might be able to relate to, regardless of your cultural upbringing or your place of birth.” 

The competitive program not only enhances the cohort’s writing skills but makes the entertainment industry more navigable “for the long haul,” according to Yu. Outside of his growing accomplishments, Yu seems to have his finger on the pulse of Hollywood’s blooming Asian American community. The L.A. transplant can be found retweeting creatives of color, such as rising documentarian So Yun Um or established producer Gloria Calderón Kellett.

With professional pillars of support like Sundance or Chu accounted for, Yu’s references to whimsy, empathy, and hope in this interview underlie his writing choices. He said, “It’s my hope that when viewers engage with these stories … we can all feel that much closer to each other and that much less alone.” 

Nearly half of NBC TV Writers Program cohort are AAPI, including Yu, Emman Sadorra, and Hernán Barangan. Over a period of eight months, the cohort will participate in personal branding sessions, weekly workshops that hone their writing skills, and mock showrunner meetings. Through the program, they will develop an original pilot with the direction of NBCUniversal executives. They will develop an original pilot with the direction of NBCUniversal executives. Follow NBCUniversal LAUNCH on Instagram @nbculaunch for more updates on their diverse pool of talent.

NBCU LAUNCH contains the DEI efforts for NBCUniversal’s television portfolio, aiming to “produce authentic and compelling content with a focus on giving talented diverse content creators, at any place in their career, access to meaningful opportunities in television.” Follow NBCUniversal LAUNCH on Instagram @nbculaunch for more updates on their diverse pool of talent.

Cover credit: Oscar Hernandez

Author

  • Ingrid Allen aids the entertainment section at Mochi Magazine and works in film production and marketing, traversing between Vancouver B.C. and California. As a purveyor of all things media related, Ingrid will analyze celebrity gossip to sociological levels. When she's not dissecting pop culture in her writing, she also enjoys painting, tennis and finding great taco spots.

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