Greetings and welcome to another edition of Black Sheep Meets, where we interview people from around the Magic community who support Magic and making it a more positive and accessible game. These interviews try to highlight the good people out there in the community, whether it be at the local game store or online.
Today I am excited to have a two-for-one interview as both hosts of the very popular Command Zone Podcast and Youtube Channel have agreed to answer a few questions. Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai focus on all aspects of Commander including strategy, politics, and technology.
Despite their popularity and busy schedules, these two were incredibly friendly and responded quickly to communication. Every interaction with both Josh and Jimmy has brought a smile to my face and hopefully they have the same effect on all of you.
Sean: Hi Jimmy and Josh, thank you so much for being willing to do this interview. I am a more recent subscriber to your podcast, and I must say I was floored by the production value on your YouTube channel. The first time I saw it I had to rewind after the first five minutes of watching, so that I could listen to your cast and not just stare. The “Kitchen Table Fables” are both hilarious and impressively done. My favorite is the flicker short. Who does your production and what is the secret to getting such polished content posted online?
Josh: Jimmy and I both have years of experience working professionally in film, television and on YouTube. That has given us both a lot of knowledge on how to create high quality content. I’d say most of what you call “polish” is simply expecting and even demanding that outcome. Not settling for anything less.
One of the most important things we do is to make sure there’s always something about The Command Zone that we’re improving on. For a while it was improving the look of the cards when we showed them on screen. Then it was improving and animating the backgrounds for those cards. Then it was updating the graphics, working on the flow of the show, adding segments, taking the temperature of our listeners and responding to that, adding full video of us, etc. Complacency is an enemy we’re always trying to fight. Much like our Magic game, the show will always be a work in progress.
I should also mention that there are actually three episodes of Kitchen Table Fables (we call it KTF for short). There are two on our channel (“The Flicker” and “Basilisk Collar”) and one on the Tolarian Community College channel (that one is called “Permission”). This was a collaboration with Prof that we hope to someday have an opportunity to encore.
Jimmy: Josh and I have been able to combine our experiences in film, television, and the Internet to simply achieve the level of quality that we expect out of ourselves as creators. Being able to have a good “bs” indicator in our business is a very important skill – you have to always be ready to look at your own content and others and make an impartial judgment as to whether it’s objectively good or not. You have to also be happy to accept that it isn’t, and ready to do whatever it takes to make it better. I’ve always viewed content creation as something that I will be doing for the remainder of my life – there’s no shame at all in making some duds and videos that aren’t amazing, as long as the takeaway is how to improve yourself and your content.
Sean: You two both seem incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. Between the high production value and the ease with which you present yourself, it seems like you must have prior film experience of some sort. Jimmy also looks an awful lot like that guy Fred from John Dies at the End. What prior experience do the two of you have either in front of the camera or behind the scenes?
Josh: We both have a lot of film experience. I’ve been an editor in Hollywood doing movie trailers for more than 15 years. I’ve worked on everything from Pixar films to the Fast and the Furious franchise to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve also directed and produced my own short films and done work with the YouTube channel RocketJump (where Jimmy and I met).
In addition, I have a bit of theater improv experience from high school and college. This has been the biggest thing I’ve drawn on when being in front of the mic/camera. I would highly recommend that anyone who wants to get serious about making this kind of content should look into taking at least a few improv courses
Jimmy: I AM that guy from John Dies at the End. I came to Los Angeles originally as an actor and began to broaden my horizons into YouTube by making music videos shortly after. I’ve been on more productions than I can count and am pretty familiar with the entire filmmaking process from beginning to end. My brother, Freddie Wong, is the owner and creator of RocketJump (where Josh and I met). We were always messing around with cameras and filming stuff as kids growing up, and continue that tradition today. I also was one of the main characters in Video Game High School.
I’m also a pretty avid host. My work across the Internet spans a lot of different categories. I created my own cooking show four years ago, called “Feast of Fiction,” which now has over 700,000 subscribers. I host the community show for Riot and League of Legends called AllChat. I also wrote music and posted music videos on my original channel, most memorably a retort to a racist incident at UCLA.
Sean: The videos I have been watching from the two of you regularly mention Card Kingdom. I think a lot of content producers hope to be sponsored someday. Do you have any recommendations for other Commander-related podcast hosts and article authors on how they can get to the point where a store would consider sponsoring them?
Josh: I think going in with the idea of “we need to get a sponsor” is inherently backward. It’s a cart-before-horse type of thought process. The goal needs to be to create content that is of such a high quality level that people are drawn to it. If you do that, the sponsor thing will take care of itself. Every second you spend trying to pursue a sponsor is a second you’re not spending making your podcast or article series or YouTube channel as interesting and unique and polished as it can be. Once you’re to the point where your content is really ready for a sponsor, it will be very easy to get one.
Jimmy: Agreeing with Josh here – sponsors will come if the content is right. That being said, there requires a little bit of back and forth that you will have to potentially do some reaching out of your own. Events like Grands Prix are great places to meet local vendors, shops from out of town, and other businesses related to Magic: the Gathering and collectible card games. Meet people, get their business cards, and take it from there if you think your content merits a sponsorship.
Sean: These shows clearly take a lot of time and effort. You could be using that time and effort to be creating content outside of MTG with universal appeal or even within the Magic realm that targets a more competitive audience. Why did you decide to do a Commander podcast and what keeps you inspired to regularly post more episodes?
Josh: One thing people often say when writing to us is how much they enjoy our passion and energy. This comes from the fact that we love Commander as a format. I don’t think we could make strategic decisions and choose to do a show about a format that has more appeal but we don’t personally enjoy. We would lose our mojo; we wouldn’t still be going after 100+ episodes.
Jimmy: Even though we play less Commander these days than when we first started, Josh and I are gamers at heart and have played Magic for a large part of our lives. I think the game itself speaks a lot to us, and we’ve decided to stick with the Commander route because the focus on a specific format is good for our listeners, as well as keeping our show cohesive.
Sean: There are a lot of really passionate people who like to use social media to discuss Commander. Most of the interactions are positive ones, but occasionally the passions clash. One of the things I admire about the Command Zone is that you have stayed essentially untouched by these flare ups. You have been open to collaborations and made a lot of friends online as well as some fantastic content through those collaborations. During our short conversation leading up to the interview you said something that rang true to me about the Commander community. You said, “The Command Zone is firmly of the opinion that a rising tide lifts all boats.” Could you explain what you mean by that, and why you think working with other figures in the Commander community is so important?
Josh: The Commander Community is such a small piece of a huge pie that it’s pointless to be competitive with one another. Our goal should not be to grab the largest percentage of people that already enjoy Commander, it should be to increase the total number of people interested in the format as a whole. Right now, if someone wants to consume all the quality Commander content being created each week or month, they probably can. And that’s great for everybody. If someone find’s the Commanderin’ podcast or the Commander’s Brew show or Commander Versus or Jason Alt’s 75% articles or whatever (sorry to everyone I left out!), then there’s a really good chance they’re going to find us as well. This is obviously great for us and I’ll never understand when people feel competitive about such things because it’s just obviously much much better to be inclusive. When the Commander Community is strong, then we’re all strong.
Jimmy: I’ve been making YouTube content for the past six years and am heavily involved with that community as well, and the thought process is pretty much the same. You’re in a relatively new field with very few other people ultimately creating content for it. There’s no reason to be cut throat and competitive because as a whole you are a much stronger representative than any one podcast or show by itself. We’ve found that the other contributing members of the community often share the same ideals and views, and so it’s easy to ask each other the collaborate and plan out ideas together. The more you can have an open discussion and relationship with your fellow colleagues, the better everyone’s chances are for sustaining their business in the long run. The longer we sustain our podcast and shows, the larger we can make Magic as a whole, and so on.
Sean: With the schedule of everyday life and producing content, how do you balance your time between playing Commander, making the podcasts, and the everyday grind?
Josh: It’s honestly tough. I don’t know a single Magic content creator that hasn’t uttered the phrase “Well now that I make these videos/articles/podcasts/etc about Magic, I never actually get to play magic.” I usually explain it to people by saying, how many nights a week do you get to play Magic? Ok now take away one of them to make a podcast. Having said that, we still love the game and we make a concentrated effort to get out there and play as much as possible. Life gets busy with our jobs and such but we started doing this because we enjoyed it and that hasn’t changed.
Jimmy: It’s pretty tough. I run so many other channels and work so many other jobs every day that sometimes I find myself bleary eyed in the early morning hammering out an outline for a show, or exporting the audio for our editor. It’s been great having Josh as a cohost since we share a lot of the same tough love methods of getting the job done – hard work perseveres at the end of the day, so having each other to fall back on has been supremely helpful and necessary throughout.
Sean: This is one just for Josh. I saw on your Twitter that you describe yourself as a “flyer of drones”. On your YouTube channel you have some stunning videos taken like this one of Oregon. How did you get into the hobby of being a drone pilot and what advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of starting?
Josh: My girlfriend bought me a drone for my birthday earlier this year. I had talked about wanting one but never got around to doing it. As soon as I had it, it was pure joy. It gets me out and hiking around and I’m just a pure content creator at heart. I’m always editing something together whether I’m at home on my laptop or at the office.
Advice for new drone flyers is to just get out there and do it. Spend the first few sessions working on your flying but it’s not super hard!
Sean: Jimmy, you are involved in a project called Feast of Fiction that does some very interesting videos on YouTube and has about three-quarters of a million subscribers. This seems like just the kind of cooking show our readers would love. Could you tell us a little more about it?
Jimmy: Feast of Fiction is dedicated to take your favorite fictional foods from books, TV, movies, cartoons, and more and recreating them in real life. Does that wacky insane recipe really work? What’s the historical context behind a specific creation? We aim to answer these questions, have a fun time doing so, and make some delicious recipes for our viewers to enjoy at home.
I created Feast of Fiction four years ago after having an impromptu discussion with my brother about shows that should exist, but didn’t. We grew up reading books like Redwall, Harry Potter, and the like and always loved reading the deep descriptions of food that the authors used. Being able to take these recipes and turn them into real life has been a joy for the past four years, and we’re deeply indebted to our fan base that always gives us great ideas for future recipes and requests.
Sean: Thank you both for participating in this interview today. I know you have a lot going on, too much to try and get covered hear today. Is there anything coming up from you two that our readers should know about. Also, what is the best way for them to keep up on all the interesting things you two are up to?
Both: It’s been our pleasure!
We have a ton of plans on the horizon. Something we did recently was a Commander 2016 gameplay video called “Out of the Box”. We’ve been asked by our listeners for years to show footage of us actually playing EDH and this is our take on the gameplay video format. The reception has been great so far and it’s definitely something we may do more of in the future.
The best way to stay up-to-date with all The Command Zone happenings is to follow us on twitter @CommandCast @jfwong @JoshLeeKwai and to subscribe to our YouTube/iTunes/Stitcher feeds etc. We’d love it if you checked out our Patreon Campaign too. We also have been working on a new website (still a work in progress) which you can find here: collected.company
P.S. Josh and Jimmy also have this sweet new website, Collected Company. You should check that out too. Thanks Ralph Vroomer aka @Nemorov on twitter for pointing this out.