To most people, mochi is a chewy, sweet Japanese rice cake. But to Tisch senior Kayla Wong and the team at Mochi Productions, mochi takes on a whole new meaning.
“[The name Mochi] represents who we are because we want to release small things that you can enjoy, like desserts that you can eat whenever,” Wong said.
Mochi Productions, professionally known as 8-Player Pictures, LLC, started when Wong was a freshman studying film and television. She befriended a group of sophomores who were working together to enter film competitions like NYU’s Tisch 48 and discovered that many of them had similar goals and filming styles.
“We learned that we work very well together, so from there we started to work on each other’s school projects,” Wong said. “We finally decided that if we were going to be working together anyway, we might as well try to make a company of it.”
For Wong, who currently serves as Mochi’s brand manager, the production company is more than just a way to hang out with friends — she sees it as a way to positively change the media landscape.
“Something that’s really important to me is representation of minorities,” Wong said, citing recent research from the Geena Davis Institute that found audiences will most likely assume characters are white males if gender and ethnicity go unspecified in the script.
“That is something that’s ingrained in our culture that slowly has to change,” she said. “The more that people are conscious of this when they’re creating work, [the more] it will help slowly change the landscape of media and representation of people as people and not caricatures.”
With the Mochi team at her side, Wong plans to effect change within film and also across all media platforms by producing films that cultivate more minority representation — something that aligns with her East Asian studies minor. The company also undertakes other types of video projects such as its “Sun and the Art of Dating,” a comedic web series that showcases an ethnically diverse cast.
Wong plays an instrumental role in everything Mochi does and she takes special pride in the company’s message and relationship to the community around it.
“Kayla is the spirit of Mochi,” Mochi member Paolo Bitanga said. “It’s no surprise how much she gets done in a day, considering how passionate she is about her field.”
Even after the Mochi cameras stop rolling, Wong continues to work toward ameliorating minority representation. The daughter of an Asian-American father and an immigrant mother, she is involved with NYU’s Asian American Women’s Alliance and the New York City Asian American Student Conference, and she also helps organize NYU’s Asian Heritage Month in May.
Samantha Seid, Kayla’s co-worker at the NYCAASC, said Wong’s commitment to making change inspires those around her.
“Kayla is one of the best collaborators I’ve worked with,” Seid said. “She is really the person everyone looks up to. Without Kayla, we wouldn’t be able to make so many of the changes to NYCAASC for this and the coming years.”
Whether she is coordinating an event or working on her latest thesis film, “For the Love of Mangoes,” Wong does everything to the best of her ability — a quality she obtained from her family.
“My parents taught me to give back to my community and be a part of it,” Wong said. “And my mom pushes me to do the unexpected and to always do more than you think you can.”
From just one conversation with Wong, it is easy to see that her mind is in different places at once, often thinking about her many projects.
“My friends all think I’m really weird,” she said. “They think I’m crazy, but hopefully they understand there’s a reason behind the chaos.”
Indeed, Wong’s constant work overload never goes unnoticed, but many of her friends consider it admirable. Shefali Lohia, Wong’s collaborator and roommate, said she continues to be in awe of her friend’s dedication and drive.
“I’ve always known Kayla to be something of an enigma — she always seems on the verge of working herself to death, but somehow she never does,” Lohia said. “Kayla Wong is a force.”
— Ife Olujobi