Alamby Leung may not be a household name, but among the photographic community, she has become somewhat of a celebrity. Working with Kai Wong and Lok Cheung, she was known as one of the three individuals that made DigitalRev TV one of the most popular YouTube channels in the world for camera reviews. Over 12 months ago, she made a sudden departure from DigitalRev TV and the internet has not stopped asking about her absence. I got a chance to chat with her and she graciously agreed to do a quick photo shoot for this article (It was Christmas Eve after all!). In this interview, she shares why she left, thoughts on working with some of the photography greats, and that “bloody producer."
How did you get involved with DRTV?
I was a fresh music/arts graduate three years ago and had an ambition to enter the Hong Kong film/TV industry. At that same time, DRTV was expanding and needed a production coordinator to join the team. Back then I knew nothing about the channel and I had no idea it was so popular on YouTube. I just thought, “Wow! It’s media productions and photography, two things I love combined together!” So I applied for the job, showed my charm in the interviews (of course), and luckily I got the job.
So what did the job involve and how did you end up being in the videos?
I started off assisting the team and coordinating shoots. My main responsibility was to take care of all the pre-production tasks for the team — anything from hiring models, getting venue sponsors, sourcing props and costumes, scheduling, budgeting, facilitating the social media channels (I replied to many of your Facebook comments and tweets!) — to researching and creating ideas. How I started appearing in the videos was totally unintentional and was something I never thought I’d be doing. The first video I appeared in was a Nikon camera review. I owned a Nikon D90 at the time, so the team thought it might be interesting to have my opinion in the video. The feedback was quite positive after my first appearance and viewers didn’t mind seeing another clumsy person (apart from Kai) appearing in the videos, so that’s how I began co-presenting as well as doing my usual behind-the-scenes duties.
How do you guys come up with all the crazy ideas for your videos? Take us through a day in DRTV.
We have alcohol stored in every corner of the office; we're never sober when we're at work (jokes). We have lots of creative sessions, weekly meetings to plan each video, lots of research to find out what's trending and what's popular. Ideas don't pop out of nowhere, there's immense hard work put into the channel. Kai is the creative brain behind the videos and he would write up the script, Lok takes care of the shooting as well as editing, and all the other stuff that you see in the video would be organized by me.
What were your reasons for leaving DRTV?
It was a very tough decision for me to be honest. It’s considered one of “the sexiest jobs” to a lot of people after all. My decision to leave was purely a personal one. I wanted to learn more in different areas, to gain more experience in production management, and to see the world a little bit more. I thought after 3 years it was a good time for me to take a step out, to take time off to reflect and refocus on what I wanted to do with my life and career.
One year on, what are your strongest memories from your time with DigitalRev TV?
There’s lots of fond memories from my time at DRTV - the collaborations with internationally renowned photographers, the travel episodes, the camera destruction tests, the early morning shoots… There’s simply too much good stuff that happened over those few years in the team.
Who were your favorite photographers you’ve worked with on the DRTV challenges?
All the pro togs I’ve worked with were great people and honestly they’re all my favorites. Seeing them at work was truly inspiring especially knowing they had no idea what they were facing by agreeing to come onto the show.
If I have to pick then the most memorable shoot would be the one with Chase Jarvis. He was the first internationally well-known pro tog DRTV invited to the show and I was the one to initiate the whole conversation with the Chase team. So when they accepted the invite I was really over the moon. The shoot with Chase was so inspirational and entertaining of course, but it kind of had a personal meaning to me as it was my very first big project in my DR days.
Tell us about some of these lessons you've learned from them.
There are heaps I learned from every one of them. They're exceptionally talented and passionate about what they do, but I can group them into three main points. First, they all have a good eye to see the unseen and to capture the beautiful things that most people don't notice. Second, they're truly passionate about what they do, their enthusiasm and energy can really affect people around them. Third, they have really good people skills. As a professional photographer you're always working with people, and a lot of the time these people are randoms, so being able to communicate well with them and make them feel at ease in front of you is important.
With Zack Arias, the team took him to a local fresh food market in Hong Kong and had him shoot some portraits with the locals there. He only had two hours to complete the shoot in a highly uncontrollable environment, and what added to the challenge was that he did not speak the language at all. Watching him communicate with the butchers and fishmongers was hilarious but also mind-blowing. These locals weren’t the nicest people to deal with (even for local Hongkongers) but Zack managed to break the barriers and made them feel really comfortable and confident in front of his camera.
There’s lots more examples from these photographers, like taking David Hobby (The Strobist) to shoot portraits inside a snake shop, surprising Eric Kim with a pole dancing shoot (video unreleased for obvious reasons!)… But the thing in common is that all of these pro-togs managed to bring the best out of anyone through their lens and most importantly, people LOVED working with them.
So, out of Kai, Lok and yourself, who really calls the shots?
None of us. It’s the Bloody Producer. He makes sure the crazy ideas are actually executable and that the productions won't be breaking his bank account.
What is it like to work with Kai and Lok? What do you think it is about your combination that works so well?
They are one of the nicest people to work with, always supportive and very creative. They were teammates, mentors and good friends to me. Kai is nothing like the restless, cocky guy in the videos (although the clumsiness is real), and Lok is… well still very geeky. I guess I was very lucky to have the years to work with them closely and to know them personally. You know sometimes when you work with someone for so long you can interpret their thinking? It was a bit like that within the team, so when the three of us appear in the video together, like the Amsterdam travel episode, we had no script because we simply didn’t need one. All the jokes, pranks, and the come backs were made up on the spot and those were the best parts! So I guess one reason why people liked the combination of us was because they’re not watching three people presenting in a show, but three friends having fun while we work.
What advice can you give someone wanting to start their own video review channel?
If you don’t think you can be as clever and witty as Kai, or talk like Jared Polin from "Fro Knows Photos" (he’s got over 1500 videos uploaded!?), or have bizarre photo shoot ideas like Ben Von Wong’s, perhaps don’t do it.
I think it’s getting a lot harder to start your own camera review program these days because there are a lot of people in the same field doing the same thing. Head to YouTube and you’ll find out the number of videos uploaded everyday. So I guess if someone is serious about wanting to do their own channel, they’ll have to think about how they position the channel, what they can offer viewers that other channels can’t, and how to engage their audience. I believe this applies to any video channel, but camera reviews are certainly a competitive field.
This question has been asked on almost every post I’ve seen with you in it... Do you ever plan on going back to DRTV?
Haha! I guess it’s not up to me. It depends on the company, the team, and all the viewers. I’d love to go back one day, or even just to guest appear in a video or two. Making videos with the guys is always fun and inspiring.
What do you want to achieve next?
I have an exciting plan for year 2015: I’m moving back to Hong Kong (again) to join Hypebeast’s video team. With a new work environment and new team, I’m looking to continue building experience in production management, and possibly looking into producing videos too.
All photographs taken by Jason Lau.