The BL Xpress had the opportunity to interview Mr. Jay Lin, LGBTQ+ activist,CEO of Portico Media and streaming portal GagaOOLala as well as co-founder of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF).
He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Let’s get to know him as he talks about his ambitions and lifestyle!
1) In a world dominated by streaming portals like Netflix, Viki and Viu which are favored due to regional availability, GagaOOLala is slowly gaining popularity. What kind of hurdles you had to bypass to achieve this kind of streaming ability?
We took a measured approach to rolling out our service, which meant starting first in Taiwan and Southeast Asia to get feedback from our audience and community, before rolling out in South Asia, and finally we launched globally in May 2020, one year after the passage of Marriage Equality in Taiwan. We are currently four years old, and we definitely know that we need to get the long approach with limited funding and resources, compared to the streaming services you mentioned above, and appeal through word of mouth and the uniqueness of our content and platform.
2) Starting from Taiwan and then moving to Southeast Asia, it has been a formidable journey. You were even able to break through the difficult Japanese BL market. How is this expansion plan going?
I wouldn’t say break through but rather breaking in, and making in roads into different markets and deciding how much further we need to acquire local content to appeal to the local audience, or how we can fulfil their viewing appetite currently unfulfilled by other services or platforms. Japan BL content is definitely one of the most popular genres on our platform, and it is not servicing the Japanese market only, but the BL market globally. The BL market is one that we started focusing on in 2020, as we experienced greater interest and demand from the BL audience, especially in North America.
3) The thought-provoking movie “5 Lessons in Happiness” won the “Best LBGTQ+ Programme Made in Asia” at the Content Asia Awards 2020. How do you feel about this global recognition?
“5 Lessons in Happiness” was our exploration with short-form anthologies and also with open-endings. We created 5 different shorts, and worked with 5 different directors to create stories based on the broad LGBTQ+ spectrum: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gay family. We wanted to test what type of audiences would watch the shorts, and whether they would binge watch from this collection.
We also had a campaign to allow audiences to vote for the ending that they wanted to watch, and, in some of the shorts, we actually had the director shoot an ending. One of the main goals of “5 Lessons of Happiness) is to get big data from the audience to help us better understand audience interest and also to also help us determine if a script should be greenlit to the next phase.
4) GagaOOLala has variant collection of BL, GL, Yaoi, Queer dramas and films from all over the South Asian Continent. Which one is your personal favorite? Which genre do you enjoy watching the most?
South Asian has not been an easy territory to acquire content, and so we are grateful for the partnerships with organizations such as the KASHISH MUMBAI QUEER FILM FESTIVAL which recommend films to us. We also rely our various festival partners in the Asian Pacific Queer Film Festival Alliance (APQFFA), an organization which I co-founded back in 2015, to help Asian-based LGBTQ+ film festivals with film recommendations from this region. We anticipate that there will be a steep rise in the quantity and quality of content from the South Asian Continent, and look forward to more partnerships and collaborations in this region.
5) “Queer Up the Volume” is your ambitious 10-story project that will showcase different aspects of Asian queer life. Two of the shows (Thai & Taiwan) have already premiered and are making waves. Talk to us about this project?
I wanted to create an anthology that would bring together talented directors from around the region and roll out stories that showcase and highlight some of the issues experienced by the LGBTQ community, such as gay parenting, sexual harassment, aging gays, etc. I wanted to amplify these voices so that the audience would also expand beyond the LGBT community so that our stories could be stories that the general audience could relate to as well. Eventually, we came up with the theme of “Queer Up the Volume” to incorporate the concept of amplification. Our key art is that of a juicer being turned on and shooting out balls of different colours. We want to connote a sense of not taking our selves too seriously and allowing all types of different voices to be heard.
6) “Call It What You Want” is the first ever collaboration between Thai and Taiwan BL industry. This show highlights major controversial issues related to the BL industry. How was the experience of working on this miniseries?
The mastermind behind this series is Director Aam. We had worked together previously on several projects, including “Present Still Perfect” and “BL Fantasy,” a documentary about Thai’s BL industry. He later pitched a few ideas to us, and we particularly took to this idea because it is based partly on his own experience of working as a director on a BL series. I think he knew full well the story that he wanted to share with the world, and we supported him throughout the process. Therefore, to your question, we felt comfortable for Aam to take the creative control and take the narrative in a way that he feels would be appealing to the audience, yet, at the same time, address real issues. I think this trust comes with having worked with each other on several projects already.
We were lucky that Aam was able to find Daniel Chang, a Taiwanese actor based in Thailand, to be part of the main cast. In fact, the full cast has been amazing, as the characters are very nuanced and faced challenges not featured in typical BL series.
We were amazed by Aam’s ability to tell this complicated story that is a story within a story, and to show a different side of the BL industry that most fans don’t know about.
7) “Papa and Daddy” premiered to high expectations. This show chronicles your life journey. How much of the storyline is inspired from your personal experiences?
It is only loosely based. I think the key is always to find the right director/screenwriter that one trusts and then to give that talent the full ability to create his/her storyworld. This was the case with the director Nancy Chen of “Papa & Daddy” as well. She is a mom of a high school boy, and is very familiar with LGBTQ issues. We had also worked together before on “5 Lessons of Happiness, and got along very well with each other. When I thought about doing a gay parenting series, she was the first person I reached out to, and she was immediately interested and had wanted to do something similar as well. We were both inspired by “Modern Family” and felt it was time to introduce a comedic sitcom that can show’s Asia’s first gay parents to audiences globally.
8) Your son Kai Lin made his debut with “Papa and Daddy”. He has a strong screen presence and has made quite an impression. As a parent, what do you feel about the same?
Yes, he did, and I thought he did an amazing job. Initially, I thought it would be easier to cast one’s son since I would be able to work with him months before the shoot to prepare the task of being an actor. With Nancy’s recommendation, I took him to acting classes and also got him familiar with the cast so that they start to develop a bond. It is weird at first to hear him call other adults Papa and Daddy, and thought he might be confused or reject playing this part, but he took well to acting and enjoyed the process.
I am not intending for Kai to be a child star. Actually, both of my boys were in “Papa & Daddy” and it was something that I felt would be a fun memory for us to have, and something that they can look back on. Kai was also part of the press conference rolling out “Papa & Daddy” and he seems to be enjoying seeing the director and the cast again.
But yes, he is only a four year old boy. I want him to have his childhood and enjoy his friends, his school, and his free time. I am immensely proud of him and glad this happened but life is quite normal for me. We don’t mention the show at home, nor did I plan any shows or promotions for him to go on.
9) As a gay activist, what kind of projects are actively involved in? Do you think that LGBTQ films and BL dramas are making any kind of difference to the societal perspective?
As mentioned, we are rolling out our “Queer Up the Volume” anthology, and that already is the most ambitious project that we have ever done, as it includes a few series as well as shorts, and each includes a unique song as well as music video (MV). We delayed the production by a year due to the uncertainty brought by Covid, and it has proven to be a challenging project as we are dealing with 10 different directors, scripts, cast, budgets and schedules. It has indeed been a very stressful time for everyone at the office, as, while we are doing productions, we are running a global OTT streaming service.
I think my role as an LGBT activist would be to do my best to increase the distribution and reach of GagaOOlala, to create appealing and thought-provoking Originals, and to spend as much quality time with my partner and my two twin boys.
I of course believe that LGBTQ films and BL dramas are making a huge difference in people’s perspective of LGBTQ people. In Taiwan, in spite of the pandemic, we had 5 LGBTQ films that were theatrically released in Taiwan. We see that more directors and production companies and streaming platforms are investing in LGBTQ and BL dramas, from Korea to Japan, Thailand to the Philippines, and Hong Kong to Vietnam. I hope that the increase in quantity also result in a gradual increase in the quality and the range of stories that are told. I believe that there will be more intersections of LGBTQ and BL dramas, such as “Papa & Daddy” as well as “Call It What You Want” This is certainly a direction that we will continue to work on as we expand the reach and interest of GagaOOLala and GagaOOLala Originals
10) What is your personal opinion about the physical and psychological growth of children growing in LGBTQ+ households? Do you find the radical views of the majority as diffident?
I think this is something that I will need to deal with my entire life, now that I am a father. I can’t constantly be fearful of what others might say or think about us, and also worry that we might be discriminated against. It really quite exhausting to feel that way on a daily basis. Discrimination is out there, and people bully and stereotype others for all types of reasons, and I need to be a strong dad to not internalize those homophobia and just live our lives to the fullest.
What I can do now provide the utmost love and shelter to my children, and let them know that they are cherished and protected. I want them to be friends with children who are from the traditional husband-wife households, as well as single parents and gay parents. I hope at an early age that everyone can be different and be respected and get along.
So I will work hard to provide a ring of friendly, loving people in our network who can take part in the physical and psychological growth of my children. “It takes a village to raise a child,” and that rings more true to me than ever.
The BL Xpress would like to thank Mr. Jay Lin for this opportunity!