We had a long chat with everyone’s favorite movie reviewer, Jaby Koay. Besides, being an American reviewing Indian movie without understanding the language, he is also a gem of a person and a great filmmaker himself. He gives insight into his process and love for the art in this interview with DigiKarma.
Q. Millions of views and so many subscribers how does it feel?
While subscribers and views feel great, I believe people are genuinely interested to hear what we have to say. We are very honest with our audience and I feel that’s key. We do our best to keep it real. A lot of people are jumping on the reaction video bandwagon simply to get views and I think most of the YouTube audience, at least with regards to this genre of videos, is savvy enough to see through that.
When I see those numbers, honestly, I might celebrate momentarily, but I am constantly focused on what is coming next. That being said, if I was older and could give advice to my younger (current) self, it would be to slow down and learn to celebrate more.
Q. You started with short movies. You’re inclined towards filmmaking and editing. So why Bollywood? Was this a choice to create a shock value as you don’t understand the language OR was this because you were really interested in Bollywood?
It was an evolution. I started with short films and used YouTube as a means to showcase my material. Gradually I started doing film reviews in an attempt to share my love for cinema and simultaneously grow interest in my short films. It’s hard to simply put out short films and hope someone will see it. I figured sharing opinions on movies was the most sensible way to bring curiosity towards my projects.
Well before my YouTube channel became what it is now, my brother had been successfully building his channel which was focused on film reviews and trailer reactions. While it was easy to distinguish between our film reviews since our styles were quite discernible, I avoided trailer reactions as it felt like I would be encroaching on his territory. I wasn’t sure how to avoid it feeling like I was directly copying him if i did reactions.
But in late 2014, the teaser for Star Wars The Force Awakens dropped and it felt like that was something that couldn’t be ignored. It was a conversation I had to be part of. After doing that, my channel got bombarded with the encouragement to do more reactions. That’s how I got into doing trailer reactions.
There was a lot of experimental stuff on my channel, as I tried to figure out my style. I published three short films, some sketches, a multitude of reviews, film discussions, a lot of trailer reactions, and we even had a talk show for a while called “Good Thing Bad Thing.” But nothing was consistent on my channel, not even how frequently I published videos.
In December of 2015, I decided it was time to narrow my focus. I went through a rough time in the final quarter of that year and needed something I could do consistently without pause. Reaction videos were something that lent itself to that as well as the possibility of frequently having new guests, something that greatly interested me. But I felt I needed something to set myself apart from other people doing reactions, including my brother. The market had become quite saturated. My brother was part of the cream of the crop. I was not lost, but I was also no where near my brother’s status. So I began looking for videos that might help set me apart, perhaps things my U.S./Western audience was not familiar with. I began looking up videos each week to create a setlist of reactions for each guest. When it came time to search for videos for my second guest, I stumbled upon two Bollywood film trailers and thought, “Well no one is doing that.” With American content creators, this was true. I did it as an experiment and effort to share something different with my western audience. And while this did happen, Indian audiences also found me and began sending requests.
Being the kind of guy that aims to honor as many requests from his audience as possible, especially when it comes to trailer reactions, I simply did my best to keep up with the requests of the new incoming Indian subscribers. That’s how I started doing more and more Bollywood trailers.
Gradually, I developed an affinity for it and started watching more and more Bollywood films.
Q. Let’s go back to your Journey.Who is Jaby? How did you start? What made you interested in movies?
My Dad. He was big into films. His dream was to become an actor and a director. He went to film school and was a cinephile. My Dad amassed a library of movies so large he could have probably opened his own video store. At some point, he became a producer and did a lot of networking and pitching and came close multiple times, but ultimately spent most of his life suffering the woes of a struggling artist. But it wasn’t all in vain as his children inherited that love for film and it brought him a lot of joy to see his sons acting in television and commercials as well as producing independent short films.
Everything I love comes from my Dad. He introduced me to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Martin Scorsese & Quentin Tarantino. He also introduced me to a wide range of genres and ideas with regards to movies & often gave me advice on my short films. I have been shooting since I was 12 years old and used to edit VCR to VCR at that time. That’s how I got into short films & Youtube was just an extension of that.
Q. Whats your approach for the trailers when you don’t understand the language or content. For example biopics like Neerja which is an Indian story.
Some things are just universal. Love, hate, passion, frustration, trying to improve relationships. All these are human themes, irrespective of race, nation, age or religion. These themes can be easily understood and can be communicated without words or in my case, without the understanding of those words. I am a very visual person being a director and I feed off that when I’m watching a trailer. That is what hooked me initially to Indian cinema – the beauty & cinematography of Indian films.
For me, it is fun to figure out what’s going on without knowing a language and just trying to understand the content from visual, physical nuances that people portray – how they are interacting with each other & what is being shown. It is obvious there are things I am going to miss out on like cultural references, but I don’t think that makes my opinion any less valuable.
What’s interesting for me is to have that outsider opinion without the cultural references, without the pre-conceived notions that are usually innate for any Indian viewer. I do my best to approach it with a positive interest and try to interpret what’s going on. If there are no subtitles to help me out, if I can’t get it for the life of me or if I am completely lost then I do some reading on that to piece it together. It’s like a puzzle.
Q. Other people are doing the same thing like you. What you think about Copy Cats. Do you think it’s a competition or you don’t care about them?
A lot of people don’t know this about me but I pay attention to everything. I look at trends and what other people are doing and I look at how authentic they are being. It depends on their subscriber count. If someone has less than 1000 subscribers, it’s very unlikely that I’m going to notice them due to YouTube algorithms unless they are overtly trying to get my attention.
Every now and then I am able to spot what smaller YouTube channels are doing and I pay attention to them to see how genuine they are. If they are truly trying to convey an authentic opinion, like really considering the content they are making a comment on, I try to do my part and help them out. I once made a joke video about myself trying to marry Priyanka Chopra and there was another YouTuber that helped me take it further by making her own video about trying to marry me.Based on this another Indian YouTuber did a whole funny news segment on this joke.Because I thought the news segment was great, I responded by promoting his video on my channel.
But what gets to me is when I see people(& there are a lot of them) that are just trying to get famous and that’s all they care about. They care about the numbers and that’s it. In my opinion, there is more to success than that – it’s being a person. If you’re not being real, then what are you doing?
Q. Do the numbers on your channel matter to you in terms of monetization/career as a Youtuber?
On some level, of course. I don’t look at it as much as I used to before reaching 100,000 subscribers, but I still consciously appreciate it. What’s crazy for me is that before December 2015, I was getting about 1,000 subscribers a month. The first year of doing Indian content on my channel, it jumped up to 1,000 subscribers a day. For me, that’s just mind-boggling. And I’m not looking at the numbers saying, “Ohh yeah, I’m gonna make a bunch of money,” but it’s more like, “This is freaking crazy, I can’t even fathom this many people are watching us.” The number of people hanging out with us hits me more than anything else.
That being said, I’d be lying if I said money played no part in this whatsoever. YouTube after all is my full-time job. And I want to with time, offer people more variety, more content and have guest hosts on the channel. For example, I did a test with Achara as a guest host and that was pretty successful. This plan to expand is still in its infancy and the obvious limitation of that is funding. That is where the numbers matter, where money matters. When your channel has a higher minimum earning each month, you have the capital to take chances and invest in something new, different and may be even better for your audience. So we are still working towards that goal.
Q. Talking about guest hosts. Are they your friends or other Youtubers? How do you choose your guest hosts?
When I say guest host, just to be clear, what I mean is someone who is hosting in my place. The only person who has done this so far is Achara.
In addition to acting in commercials, I used to work in casting and those professions afforded me the opportunity to chat with dozens of people each week who were obviously comfortable in front of the camera. In the beginning, I would ask anyone and everyone I spoke with that seemed remotely interesting and interested if they would be a guest. Hope Jaymes was one of the first people that not only said yes but actually followed through on that yes. It was hard to get people to commit. My channel used to be relatively small. Now, I am more selective. It’s all based on a person’s ability to be open minded and communicate their feelings about a movie or tv show. I’m surrounded by people like this, hence, I often bring on my friends. I’ve had videos with guests I found through dating apps, Instagram or met in person at casting, that I’ve completely scrapped because I didn’t feel the guest delivered what I initially thought was there. Hence, you’ll often see my friends as returning guests.
Now regarding guest host, the only other person besides Achara that I feel like I could trust to perfectly mimic the Jaby Koay style, from hosting to managing the equipment and editing, is Ski-ter. We did a Dangal trailer reaction together and people really enjoyed him as a guest. But I haven’t approached Ski-ter about trying his hand at guest host yet because I’m not quite in that position just yet. As I said before, the capital. But as we move forward, anyone else I am interested in possibly adding to the roster of guest hosts would need to shadow me closely, like Achara, to understand every aspect of either hosting or editing. Both are much bigger responsibilities than people might think. And Achara is the only person right now who understands both.
Q. What’s your first love, Acting, Direction or Youtube?
Storytelling. That’s kind of all encompassing. I am an actor & director at heart – I use that to tell and interpret stories. I like to write stories and doing the trailer reactions and movie reviews is keeping my tools sharp. To be able to tell great stories, you have to be able to understand other people’s stories & learn from them. So I borrow a lot of inspiration from what I watch and I use that to fuel creativity on my part when I make my own stuff.
Q. What would you like to tell the upcoming Youtubers or young folks who look up to you and get inspired by you?
That’s a loaded question. If you want to get into YouTube, number one – you are going to have to make sure that you are not simply copying someone else. Almost like comedians – great comedians have their own unique voice, their own perspective on the world and when you get into YouTube, you gotta kinda figure out your perspective on things, what you’re offering that it isn’t being offered by someone else. Like If you want to do let’s say video game reviews, you will have to figure out what you would do that Angry Joe isn’t doing. What is unique about you or what you are offering. It can take time to learn this, requiring a lot of trial and error, experimentation, but with enough persistence, you’ll find that voice.
So, number two – you are going to need a thick skin. I did a review on ‘Kahaani’ and I accidentally used the wrong map which had territories that didn’t belong to India anymore and a lot of people got upset. And that’s the double-edged sword withYoutube. When you fuck up, everybody is going to let you know. Everyone is prepared to tell you how shitty you are and how much you fucked up when you do. But on the plus side, when you do something amazing, a lot of people will praise you as well. The bigger you get, the more people there are trying to cut you down. Not everyone has the thick skin for that. If you don’t learn to roll with the punches when it comes to negative feedback – it can kill your aspirations.
And finally number three – you are going to have to live, breathe and eat this shit. Like it’s with you all day long. You cannot put a video every month and expect it to attract attention. You have to put videos out all the time unless you’re doing a huge video with high production value. If you’re not doing that, it’s going to have to be a video every day or at least as frequently as 3 days a week.
There are a lot of people that are big on youtube, but it’s a struggle. There are very few people who are able to do Youtube full-time. It’s not easy and the numbers are constantly varying which can be scary. You can end up being addicted to the subscriber count, view count and comments and it can eat you alive depending on the kind of person you are.
Q. How many team members do you have?
Four or five – but most of the work, like 75% falls on me. I have a couple of friends named Pooja, Moumita, and Dhara who live in India. Moumita and Pooja used to organize the Indian requests for me.
Locally, Achara is frequently on camera with me and helps with the editing.
Q. What’s the struggle of this job and how you cope with it?
The biggest struggle I face is that there are some companies out there that don’t understand the full scope of what I do and it’s potential. Like I did a reaction to ‘Mohenjo Daro’ and it got shut down. That can be really frustrating. What a lot of people don’t realize is that doing trailer reactions is legal. I have talked to two Indian copyright attorneys and a couple of American attorneys and it’s legal. When you do these trailer reactions, you’re creating discussions and that discussion is the most important tool for marketing. When someone is talking about your movie, that’s great, THAT is what you want. Whatever it takes to get there, whether they are talking good or bad, they are talking about your movie and that increases the odds that people are going to be curious about your movie. It’s word of mouth.
So the struggle truly is to communicate with some companies that I’m on their side. Letting them know that I am not against them or stealing from them, but that this is helping them in some way. All I am doing is having a conversation about their movies. Some companies don’t appreciate that. I got a copyright strike from one particular company that has recently done a new movie. A lot of my fans were asking me to do a review of the trailer to that movie but I had to ignore those requests as I don’t want another copyright strike. Even though I didn’t deserve the copyright strike in the first place. That’s the struggle.
Q. What’s your process flow?
My process is generally that I talk to Pooja or Achara and ask them to give me a list of videos I can work on with a guest. I try my best to always have a guest. I generally shoot 4 to 6 Indian movie trailers, 4 to 6 western items and edit them as fast as I can. My objective is to put out 2-3 videos a day, every single day. So that consumes a considerable amount of my time.
If there is a brand new trailer that’s dropped and I don’t have access to anybody, I just do it by myself. For example, I did FORCE 2 by myself because I saw it dropped and I wanted to do it right away. So I do it on my own out of necessity if I have to, but I prefer to have a guest because I like having someone to bounce conversation off of.
Most of my videos you’ll see there is always a guest with me because when I do it by myself I end up overthinking it sometimes or repeating it to cultivate my thoughts better kinda like I am doing with you right now (Laughs).
So I like to have dynamic conversations with somebody better than doing it by myself.
Q. Apart from social media, what’s your marketing strategy. Do you have any?
No. It is purely by word of mouth and YouTube trends – my viewers talk about me with their friends. It goes something like – “Hey have you seen this guy? He is cool.” and they show my stuff. Or so I’ve heard (laughs).
Q. What about collaboration with TVF?
A lot of my fans had asked me to react to TVF videos. I was reluctant for a while because their profits seemed to be strictly internet based. It’s different from trailers which by design, are marketing tools. Film companies don’t rely on profits from trailers. Their profits are based on ticket sales, DVD sales, video on demand sales/rentals, music sales etc. So a reaction to a trailer helps to further facilitate the goal of a trailer: marketing. When I am doing a trailer reaction video, I am starting or adding to the conversation.
But people kept asking me about TVF – I saw that the request wasn’t going away. It was clearly important to people, so I looked into the possibility of making it happen. I contacted TVF and asked them for permission. And they responded with “We love you. Yes, that would be awesome. We would be honored if you reacted to our videos.” I was floored and grateful.
I started with Episode 1 of Permanent Roommates and stated in my reaction that if TVF wanted me to do the rest of the series I would totally do so. TVF then reached out to me and gave me their permission to do the rest of the series as well as their other content. I was thrilled and went with it and people loved it.
As a result of this, I have ended up falling in love with the characters, the actors in the series and there were some tweets about it. My first attention went to the writer and I reached out to him on Twitter. He happened to respond and that’s how we got the conversation going. Twitter conversations were also how Nidhi got involved. When I asked them if it’s ok for us to have a conversation on camera – they agreed. It blew my mind that actors of ‘Permanent Roommates’ knew who I was.
Youtube Handle for Jaby Koay (@jabykoay)
Q. What would you say to an aspiring filmmaker?
Ohh Jesus! Get a camera, get a computer and start doing it. If you can’t afford all that, use your smartphone. There are no excuses for not doing it anymore. The only thing standing in your way in this day and age is you.
Q. Books you would recommend to budding filmmakers? Any other tips?
Read The Alchemist and Rebel without a crew.
The thing about filmmaking is this – film school is for making contacts. But that’s, not the only way you’ll make film friends. You might also make contacts when you meet people or if one of your friends is extremely successful. Achara has a friend from drama school who has her own Netflix show. A friend of mine is the first female to complete the American Ninja Warrior course. The key to filmmaking or the film industry, in general, is to make friends. Network.
The thing is, particularly in LA, people make friends with a purpose, they take a “Whats in it for me (WIIFM)” approach. I think that’s a bullshit approach & your first thought should be what can I offer to people.
For me, I go to people or actors I like and request them to come to my YouTube channel as it will help them get exposure to a new audience. I also offer to help them with their shoots and stuff – so I offer them something before I ask them for something.
Q. Where Jaby is going? What’s the target?
The next stage is the more narrative content and sketches for the channel. I want to slowly bring on more people that my fans and I trust to do reactions regularly on my channel. Like Achara has an established relationship with my audience. And so whoever I bring on to be a guest host should also have an established relationship with my audience. They have to have been there for a while. They have to have a genuine interest in Indian cinema on some level. They have to have passion.
Q. Tell us about your favorite movie, director and Actor/ Actress
Favorite Movies – Whiplash, The Matrix, Kung Fu Panda.
Favorite Director – Martin Scorsese
Favorite Actor & Actress – Daniel Day-Lewis and Ellen Burstyn
Q. Any final message for your fans and subscribers.
For me, the three most important life lessons are – Sacrifice, Let Go and BE PRESENT.
My examples are often lame, but I’ll try anyway.
We tend to want everything but can’t have it all. We often are presented with two choices and can only pick one. If you are at an game store and you have enough money for one console, you can’t have both an XBOX and a Playstation. You have to pick one. No matter how badly you want both, you can only have one and you have to learn how to make that sacrifice and be happy with it. Don’t dwell on the question, “What if I had the other one?” Be happy with your choice. This is applicable to almost every single decision we contemplate in life.
Instagram Handle for Jaby Koay (@jabykoay)
If you made a mistake, if you are no longer talking to someone, if there is someone you need to stop talking to, if there are ill feelings you are harboring against a person, race, religion or YouTube channel (laughs), learn to let go. Letting go is one of the hardest lessons I’ve faced in life. There are people I’ve had to cut off because they were poison to my long term goals. Sometimes we hold onto feelings because of legacy. We don’t actually feel those feelings anymore, they are habit either inherited or learned. Some friends we keep because we’ve known them for so long, we would feel guilty ending that friendship, but sometimes, this is necessary to grow in life. No matter how close they are, no matter how much you think they care about you – you must be willing to let go of those who are standing in the way of your dream or big objectives.
I find that as soon as I finish one video, my brain is onto the next one. I am constantly concerned about what’s coming next. And being present, enjoying now, this moment right in front of us, allowing ourselves to be a momentarily myopic to our benefit, can actually be quite difficult. Actors are often worried about when they are getting their next audition or having the best agent, then suddenly 10 to 15 years are gone and you realize the good years are already over. So learn to appreciate the present. You are only guaranteed right now.
Note: This Interview was taken by Ash from DigiKarma.
Facebook Page for Ash (@officiallyAsh)