BuzzFeed producer Steven Lim spoke at the Asian Pacific American Coalition’s Level Up Leadership Conference on March 26 at the University of Central Florida. Lim shared his creative process at BuzzFeed and his thoughts on creating content that resonates with Asian Americans.
The 25-year-old video producer began his journey with YouTube videos during a lonely moment on a business trip for his previous job. After seeing his college friends making and sharing videos, Lim asked for help so he could join in on the fun. He picked up an iPhone and although Lim called his first try a “really stupid video,” he instantly fell in love with the process of producing a video.
“I loved shooting it, directing it, acting in it and editing it. The whole process of it was this joy that I never had in my life,” he said.
From then on, he decided to quit his job as a chemical engineer and fully commit to creating videos. It was a difficult journey, but Lim found his big break when his personal YouTube video “Asian Parents React to I Love You” experienced a surge of popularity on Reddit. As of today, the video has amassed over 800,000 views and his “Things Bilingual People Do” video has reached over one million views.
But Lim said it wasn’t those videos that made his mother realize the significance of his work. It was his video “Labels – the Asian | American Divide” with its relatively humble 35,000 views. His mother saw herself and her son in the story and the impact it had on people.
“[It’s] a video about the divide between Asian Americans and international Asians and how both cultures are physically very similar and come from the same people, but we’re so different,” Lim said.
Videos like these are what drew BuzzFeed to reach out and offer him a position with the company. BuzzFeed’s videos “Women Photoshop Themselves With An Asian Beauty App,” “Filipino Food Or Not?” and the series “Feast Mode Hunger Squad” are all Lim’s work.
According to Lim, when it comes to creating content, creative freedom and brainstorm sessions are what BuzzFeed thrives on. During brainstorm sessions, ideas are thrown left and right. People feed off the energy and encourage others to pursue any idea they throw out.
“It’s that people are going to make stuff that they are passionate about and when they’re passionate about it, they will put their effort and make it great. That’s what we do,” he said.
Although every video he produces for BuzzFeed doesn’t deal with Asian American topics, Lim certainly feels a responsibility to create them. He just wants to never offend anyone.
“If I make a video about people trying Chinese food, I could do that a million different ways, but I don’t want to do it the wrong way. I want do it in a way that will make people have a better understanding of our culture,” he said.
In the future, he hopes that with the “Feast Mode Hunger Squad” series he can feature his own culture’s cuisine: Malaysian. The only thing standing in his way is the lack of substantial Malaysian restaurants in Los Angeles.
“If American Airlines is listening, sponsor us. Send us to Malaysia and we’ll go do that,” he joked. “I want to represent my culture some way.”
But Lim understands that he’s one of the many Asian Americans at BuzzFeed who offer representation for those watching. He says that even though he always has the chance to create Asian content, sometimes it’s more powerful to be on camera and do things that aren’t inherently Asian. His goal for his time at BuzzFeed is to be an inspiration for anyone and everyone.
“For Asians especially, they see me and say ‘Oh, I thought it was impossible to join the entertainment industry as an Asian. But if he can, I can probably do it,’” he said.
Although BuzzFeed is noted for its diversity in their video content, Lim says it can always improve. He looks forward to seeing how BuzzFeed faces like Quinta Brunson, Eugene Yang and Ashly Perez continue to prove that minorities make “just as good, or even better, characters than white people.”
He attributes BuzzFeed’s success to the fact that there is no executive producer who demands a white lead. Lim calls for other companies to repeat BuzzFeed’s work and put diversity in front of the camera. It’s the only way for people to resonate with that content.
For those interested in working for BuzzFeed, Lim advises anyone looking into the company to examine their motives.
He challenges BuzzFeed hopefuls to ask themselves, “Is it because you want Asians to be represented more, is it because you like the people at BuzzFeed or is it because you want to be famous?”
If the focus is on representing Asian Americans, Lim says that even though BuzzFeed is leading in that aspect, there are other places that would benefit from representation. But if it’s all about fame, BuzzFeed isn’t the right place for that.
“At the end of the day, if you want to work there and you have good motives, just make good content and let that speak for you.”
Photo by Katherine Ragamat