the two percent project: rebooting the asian american brand, building the asian american audience

Jeff Yang's latest "Asian Pop" for SFGate is a reaction to The Hangover Part II. But rather than join in with the hoarse-voiced chorus and excoriate the movie for reinforcing a multitude of ugly Asian stereotypes (because really, any fool can do that), Jeff uses his column to propose an alternative to allowing Hollywood to continually define Asian images: Looking for a 'Hangover' cure.

Independent cinema is not an easy game. But Asian American indie cinema is damn near crazy. With few exceptions, the simple economics of it have proven it's a losing game, in no small part because our community traditionally seems to have a hard time supporting its own media. The solution? A modest proposal for rebooting and building the Asian American brand and audience: The Two Percent Project.
Let's begin with some industry-standard numbers. A typical hardcover book sells well under 10,000 copies; a book can be quite profitable -- certainly making it worthy to continue to develop the author -- if it sells 20,000 copies. (If it sells 200,000, that's an out and out bestseller.)

The economics of traditional filmmaking, meanwhile, are terrible. For an indie filmmaker, you simply can't make money with theatrical distribution. But if you're talking a target not of theatrical distribution but direct-to-DVD, a film with a guerrilla $250,000 budget can make back its costs and return a healthy profit if it sells 20,000 units at $20 a pop.

It's a similar situation with music -- though of course, these days, the only way performers are selling CDs is when they hawk them at actual live performances. But selling 20,000 CDs at $15 each is beyond what most indie musicians can imagine.

Now, there are currently more than a million Asian Americans enrolled in college -- two-thirds of whom are concentrated in eight states. It would only take two percent of them collectively purchasing a book or DVD or CD to make it solidly profitable -- supporting the work of a creative artist, and enabling that creator to continue doing what he or she does, with full freedom to make art that's appealing and authentic and true to an Asian American experience.

This is the gist of something that, in our conversations, cultural critic and academic Oliver Wang has dubbed The Two Percent Project. Here's how it might work: Get together a group of smart, influential tastemakers -- journalists, critics, student leaders, bloggers. Have them select five indie Asian American creators -- writers, filmmakers, musicians -- from an open call that includes anyone with a brand-new, brashly different and commercially viable product.

Send these creators on a collective national barnstorming tour of the college campuses with the biggest Asian American student representation -- reading, performing, speaking, and showing their work and their potential. The costs of the tour would be covered by student organization funds and corporate sponsors.

Here's the kicker: Although attendance at these events would be free, every attendee would have to purchase one of the five products these artists are promoting on the spot, while enrolling in an online community that gives the artists long-term engagement with their consumers.

The goal? Constructing an independent audience. Reinventing the Asian American brand. And creating recorded proof that Asian American artists are marketable and that a market exists to sustain them.
There's only so much complaining one can do. At some point, you have to put your ass on the line and do something about it. This is an idea I can get behind. Sure, it's sounds a bit pipe-dream-y, and this is not an altogether brand new notion, but I can certainly appreciate that it's a down-and-dirty, number-crunching, market-based idea that could have real-world impact.

With the right combination of people product, it could be the start of the kind of grassroots, box office-busting movements that leave studio execs scratching their heads. Here's a Facebook page. Maybe this is where it starts. Hell, at least it's something.

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