#edGY: The simple art behind Dan Khoo’s Youtube videos

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DAN KHOO, one of Malaysia’s hottest YouTube stars, believes the recipe for a compelling online video is to simply know what audiences want. That logic has brought him success: His YouTube videos consistently get over 100,000 views; in some cases, even millions.

Khoo’s I Give You Chance topped YouTube’s list of the most viewed videos of 2014 in Malaysia. It shows clips of ordinary Malaysians doing everyday things while trying not to get their egos bruised.

The six-minute video has garnered more than 2,143,000 views since it was uploaded last September.

“The recipe is… I have to put myself in the audience’s shoes. If they like something like that, maybe I [should] just work on it and see how it goes,” says Khoo, who did economics at the London School of Economics, but found a more interesting career path online.

His YouTube account, DanKhooProductions, currently has about 260,000 subscribers. To date, Khoo has uploaded over 110 videos, ranging from simple romance stories to comedy. Total views have hit 28 million over the last three years.

Khoo’s comedy videos seem to have the most appeal. What he has found is that viewers like simple videos that are hilarious because these reflect aspects of life in Malaysia that resonate with them.

Popular titles include How Not to Save Money; Kantoi; Banana and You Speak Cantonese ah?

Off camera, Khoo is a man of few words. His reserved demeanour is a stark contrast to the chirpy, energetic and comical characters he often plays in his videos. But this versatile young man does not just act; he often writes, produces and directs them as well.

“Most YouTube channels are like that — the main person will call the shots. I do everything from start to finish. You can say the videos are my babies.

“Every channel is a personification of the YouTuber. I roughly know what my style is. I don’t have a team generating the script for me. I have to do it myself,” he says.

A short video takes a couple of days to produce, while a short film can take two weeks or more. On average, Khoo creates at least two videos a month.

His videos may garner thousands of views and a lot of buzz online, but he does not get paid for what he puts up unless it is a project commissioned by corporate clients. I Give You Chance, for example, was paid for by Dutch Lady Malaysia.

Khoo has done about 20 videos for clients and these paid projects help sustain his business.

Inspiration comes from life

Inspiration, for Khoo, is everywhere, even in the most mundane of places or conversations.

“Ideas are everywhere. They can be based on my personal experience, things I find funny, people sharing their problems with me. Sometimes, they just throw [me] a bunch of different ideas,” he says.

When an interesting observation strikes him, Khoo quickly heads home to expand on it. He then decides what he needs to put together a video using the idea. Then he starts shooting.

His main tool is his camera and a few simple props. After he began making YouTube videos three years ago, he saved up over RM10,000 to invest in a camera.

Initially, there was a lot of trial and error because he had no formal training in filmmaking or video production.

Khoo recalls that the first video he ever made was of himself and a bunch of friends shooting each other using toy guns.  He was too embarrassed to tell anyone he had filmed and uploaded the video on YouTube. That video has been deleted and it is not traceable online, he quips.

In the first year, Khoo’s parents were unaware that he had been making YouTube videos and posting them online. Then they saw him in a short work.

“I was like, ‘Shit, they found out!’ I didn’t tell them what I was doing. It’s a bit weird to have my parents watching the videos. Even now, I still find it awkward. I’d say, ‘Please don’t watch’. But with friends, we just have a good laugh together,” Khoo says.

Collaborations and colloquialism

Malaysia’s YouTube video scene is relatively small compared with that of the US. But it is certainly growing.

Apart from Khoo, popular YouTube stars such as Jinny Boy and Ming Thing also command large audiences. JinnyboyTV has over 484,000 subscribers, with more than 57 million views. Ming Thing has 196,000 subscribers and registered 17.53 million views.

Although most of these channels feature videos centred on similar themes and use the same talents, Khoo maintains that each channel has its own style and character.

“It’s very distinct. Everyone has his own followers, who are able to tell which video belongs to whom. Our followers keep coming back to watch our stuff because they like our style.”

His videos tend to use more colloquialism and Manglish because, he notes, many Malaysians speak this way.

JinnyBoyTV’s videos, meanwhile, frequently employ famous local celebrities and international YouTube sensations. Viewers might notice that some of the YouTubers make special guest appearances: Khoo has had cameo roles in Jinny Boy’s and Ming Thing videos.

He points out that the local YouTube community is quite close-knit. “It’s great that there is more content to watch now. If there are new YouTubers, I would love to watch their stuff.

“If they ask to collaborate, why not help them? We look out for each other. The pie is quite big; you can’t possibly eat everything yourself. I don’t think you should be greedy lah,” Khoo says.


This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 5 - 11, 2015.