A Vietnamese-Australian story about a refugee mother’s love for her daughter and just how far she will go.

Phi and Me (AUS) co-creator, executive producer and actor Diana Nguyen spoke to Melbourne Webfest, explaining what played a catalyst to inspire the creation of the web series, how social media was integral to its promotion and how viewers around the world have reacted.

How much of your experience growing up influenced the web series?

Holy Moly – a good 80% of the web series has influenced both Fiona’s (co-creator) and my childhood. I’ve known Fiona since grade 4, and to be able to write a show that celebrated our community, our upbringing in Springvale, and have the world laugh with us has been liberating.

The 20% has been artistic license to blow things up and additional characters to play against the two leading characters. I really do believe blowing things up is a metaphor for the actual feeling of the characters.

What was your greatest challenge creating the series?

The greatest challenge was process. Fiona and I had never written a web series before. We googled in 2015, “how to write a web series.” We are trained in theatre, so we thought we could apply the same notion to a web series script….which is why it took 2 years. The other process that I had to learn on the run was pre-production, production and post-production. I had to learn on the spot, and wing it with the guidance of an amazing team. I credit Serena Hunt (Producer), Mel Killingsworth (Director) and String Nguyen (Marketing) for being the awesome foursome to getting Phi and Me completed. We all pitched in, in the last 8 months to get Phi and Me completed to what it is!

What were the advantages of using comedy to convey the story of Phi and Me?

The original theatre show performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2011, was a comedy. I had grown up watching Vietnamese comedy sketches and mainstream shows, and I think it was time to celebrate a different variation of our culture. Our parents came to Australia after the war, and most entertainment about Vietnam was war-torn, helicopter, struggle and boat people. We want to acknowledge our past, but also move forward. Comedy is a social commentary of what is happening now, and we wanted to show the great humour our Vietnamese community have. This is the first-ever Vietnamese Australian family comedy web series in the world. It was about time to laugh through the pain.

Phi and Me Trailer

If they only took one thing, one message, what would you like the audience to take away from the series?

It is hard to see a parent’s love in the present, especially when you are a teenager. Fiona is now a mum, and I have just become an aunty. Twenty or so years later we wanted to celebrate the love of a mother for her daughter, and the daughter’s thank you to their parents for making all the right sacrifices to better our lives. A chance to live. That is love.

What was your release strategy?

After crowdfunding for 5 years, since 2014, singing karaoke songs for 4 hours straight and raising $28k I knew we needed to have a party. The party release was to celebrate the tremendous work of the cast and crew who dedicated their time to our story, to the crowd funders who donated money to say yes we see you, and to show the Screen Australia community behind our web series. They funded $52k to finish Phi and Me. Thank you Screen Australia!

We had marketed the process of Phi and Me on the traditional social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and our website, but from 2017 to presently I was sharing behind the scenes of Phi and Me on Linkedin.

We worked with String Nguyen with the marketing plan, which was a mass release on Sunday 16th of June, launching on Refugee week at 4 pm which allowed the whole globe to access the web series. Because of my Linkedin work, my audience was around the globe, so when Phi and Me released, we had a community buying our shirts and sharing our videos.

On Linkedin, we’ve had 500k views, on TikTok during the pandemic we had 2.1million views and on Youtube, our webseries has been viewed 45k views. On Facebook and Instagram combined, our marketing has amassed one million views.

What have been the reactions for Phi and Me by the Vietnamese-Australian community?

Sitting in the cinema on June 16th 2019 was everything we had hoped for. 240 people who had supported our work, followed the journey since 2011, cast and crew who worked on the project, it was simply magical to hear the laughter and the sadness drop-in (Episode 4).

Since marketing on TikTok during the pandemic, and reaching a new audience, the telling reviews have been comments saying, “We want more”, “When are more episodes coming out?”, “Omg, that’s Springvale!”.

I’ve been teaching drama at my old local primary school, and the kids come up to me saying “Ms. I saw all the episodes, when is there more?”

I am excited not because they see me perform, but they see their story. What we’ve been fighting for is visibility, and the web series allowed us to be seen, accessed with a click of a button so that families around the world can see this story.

What is the future for your series?

We are working behind the scenes to fulfil our audience wishes – “We want more.”

When Fiona and I wrote the script in 2017, our perspectives were different from now. We want to integrate that, celebrate and share our human story of love, with no boundaries.