Sam Song Li is an actor and comedy creator with over 1M followers across Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. He was recently cast for a leading role in Netflix’s upcoming show, The Brothers Sun, a drama series set to release in 2023. The Brothers Sun features all-Asian writers and an all-Asian cast, starring Michelle Yeoh. Sam will play the role of Bruce Sun, the younger brother of a Taipei gangster. Sam used to be part of Smile Squad, a comedy group on YouTube with over 2M subscribers. He graduated from Berkeley in 2019 with a BA in Photographic and Film/Video Technology.
In today's issue, Sam shares his journey of becoming a content creator, life in Hollywood, and how to achieve success:
🏠 Growing up: From a young age, I gravitated towards making people laugh. I began making funny skits in high school, then got interested in becoming a director. I picked up some acting books to understand what goes into directing, and that's how I caught the acting bug.
👪 Asian parents on acting: I wanted to apply to film school, but my parents were against it. My mom would say, “You’ll be miserable. Your whole life, you're going to be a starving artist. How many Asians do you see on TV?” My parents didn’t want to crush my hopes and dreams; they just wanted me to be happy and stable.
I still ended up declaring as a film and theater major in my freshman year of college. The same year, Fresh Off The Boat came out. It was the first TV show with an all-Asian cast in over 20 years. I was like, “Hey, it's changing.”
📸 Breaking into content creation: I was looking for a job when I moved to LA, which led me to Markian, the founder of Smile Squad. It was a natural fit. I realized I was making a living doing what I love, and that was when I started to take content creation more seriously.
🎞 Transitioning from social media to acting: When I first started on social media, my friends were doubtful. They were worried that casting directors would see my content and go, “He's not it. He's a social media creator. He doesn't really know how to act.”
Making content appears more surface level because it's so quick, where you're like highlighting fun, relatable moments. You don't get to be as deep as you do with acting. I thought content creation would hold me back, but it actually did the opposite. The humor I brought on social media fit really well with what they wanted with The Brothers Sun. It probably played a part in helping me land the role.
🗣 Do you need a certain type of personality to be a creator? I used to think so, but not anymore. If everybody is fun, lovable, and exciting, that gets boring to watch. People also like content that's really dry. What matters most is relatability - showing things that are universally true. If you're trying to be too big or too energetic, it comes off inauthentic. Maybe even annoying. Make content that you gravitate towards, and keep it authentic.
📱 The unsexy side of social media: I have a love-hate relationship with social media. You're always chasing that next high. I worked at a social media company for three years. The business model was contingent upon hitting a certain number of views to be able to pay everybody. When a video doesn’t perform well, you might lose sight of the purpose of making that video.
Producing videos is where art meets commerce. That's how it's sustainable, unless you’re rich enough to only care about the art, which most people aren't. The meaning behind your content might be more important than the views or likes, but you can’t neglect the numbers. You need to capitalize off the momentum because that's how the algorithm works. Algorithms are going to push what people signed up for. When you hit that one video that pops off, you want to figure out what made it work. It’s really a balance.
🌴 Life as a creator in LA: The culture of influencers is kind of weird to me. I don't love it. Clout-chasing culture is very rampant, where you’re judged on your follower count. I think it's outdated, but unfortunately, people still buy into that. There's more to life than your audience.
The unique thing that I've noticed is that the Asian-American creator community is very close. It’s so connected. Everybody knows everybody. I haven't really seen that with other communities.
🤝 Networking advice: The most powerful way to network is to just focus on your own content. I know it's not the answer that most people would expect, but that’s how people are going to know you. The success will speak for itself.
Here’s an example - I've always been trying to get into the acting world. When my social media content started doing well, creators I followed suddenly wanted to follow me back and started reaching out. After I was announced as a leading role in The Brothers Sun, the number of people who I really look up to who followed me back was shocking to me.
People want to get value off of each other. It's a lot easier to network with someone when it’s a win-win situation. When you're just any other person, you can be so forgettable. If you have a great resume or some credibility, then they’re much more open to talking and working together.
☀️ Day in the life: I wake up super early, go to the studio, come back late, then do it all over again. The days are 12-14 hours long. The first scene of the entire shoot was just me and Michelle Yeoh. It didn’t feel real.
🎬 The audition process: When it's early in the process, you can't get your hopes up. Getting a lead role is close to winning the lottery. When only a single person gets the job, any producer will do everything they can to find that best person; they’re going to give everybody a chance. They need it to succeed just as badly as anyone else. Millions of dollars are on the line.When you're an actor starting out, you're not going to be able to do those crazy cool roles. You're going to get cast based on almost exactly who you are. I relate to the entire character of Bruce and got extremely lucky that somebody wrote a role so fitting. When practicing, I focused on asking myself, What would I do? Luckily, I think what I did was exactly what the casting crew thought the character would do. The casting process was long and difficult. I would do an audition and get called back months later to do it again. Then months later and do it again.
🚫 Handling rejection: For all the people who got close or got a callback, it probably doesn't feel good to have been passed over for such a big opportunity. It’s happened to me. There were a couple of times when I got close to some really huge things, and I was on the losing side. These “no’s” aren’t just about a job; these opportunities would literally be life-changing. Sometimes, you’ve just got to pay your dues.
🎥 Being on Netflix: The biggest difference between a Netflix series and any other TV series is that it was straight greenlit. Usually, people have to audition for the pilot, for one episode. Then, the studio decides if it's good enough to have a whole series. Getting cast for The Brothers Sun is as good as it gets because it was straight to series. It’s guaranteed work.
🕑 Balancing priorities: With The Brothers Sun, I made a very conscious decision that everything else comes after this project. There are going to be times when focusing on the thing in front of you is obvious, like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In general, it's always going to be on a case-by-case basis. At my previous job, I got burnt out. I wanted to create my own content, had a girlfriend, and had many other things to juggle. I needed to go part-time. If they couldn’t do that for me, then I would leave. Internal conversations about what you're willing to sacrifice and what's valuable to you are really important. That's going to be different for everybody.
One of the richest people I know doubled down for three years in day trading. At this point, he literally makes $4 million dollars a day. But he sacrificed a lot. That’s because every day that you don't trade is hundreds, if not millions of dollars you're potentially missing out on.
Just remember this: if you’re going to make sacrifices, do it for something you love and believe in. Don't just do it to say you're doing it. Be honest with yourself. That’s the only way sacrifice will be worth it.
⭐ Best piece of advice: I used to shoot every single day. I would wake up, write content, film content, edit content, post content, and consume content. That was my entire life. I would recommend this for people who want to be content creators. Spend all your time excelling at content creation, and it will happen. You will make a career out of it. You will be able to grow your Tiktok page. If there's something you want to dedicate your life to, double down and just focus on that. Don't even double down on it. Quadruple down on it.
tl;dr 1) Make content that you gravitate towards. Relatability and authenticity are more important than fitting the fun, outgoing content creator stereotype, 2) The best way to network is to focus on your own work and build your own value. Success speaks for itself, it’s better for people to know you that way. 3) If there’s something you want to make a career out of, don’t half-ass it. Double, quadruple down, and be willing to sacrifice for it. 4) Make sure you truly love and believe in something before you make sacrifices. Don’t just do it to say you’re doing it.
Keep up with Sam!
Learn more about The Brothers Sun : variety.com/2022/tv/news/michelle-yeoh-brothers-sun-netflix-1235292728/