From creator Yulin Kuang and based on the 2014 digital short of the same name, the musical comedy series I Ship It (which started out on CW Seed and is now airing its second season on The CW) follows Ella (Helen Highfield), a fangirl and aspiring writer who writes fan-fiction for her favorite TV show, Superstition, while dreaming of doing the real thing. After delivering a flower order to the showrunner of the series, Ella jumps at the chance to get herself a job as a writer’s assistant, quickly quitting her job at a boutique shipping agency to live out her fantasies.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, executive producer/writer/director Yulin Kuang talked about wanting to make a series that could provide escapism and happiness, what inspired the original idea for I Ship It, completely changing things up for Season 2, going from fangirl to fan fiction writer to creator of her own material, navigating network notes from The CW, dealing with the opinions of fans, how much her own life inspired her main character, why she created a show bible for the show within her show, how the musical element came about, developing Jade Palace for New Line, and where she’d like to take her career next.
Collider: This show is so delightful and so much fun!
YULIN KUANG: My general philosophy is that there’s two types of media in the world. There’s the version where everything is awful, so watch this, in order to be ready for fights to come. And then, there’s the version that’s escapism and happiness. I think you definitely need both, but I definitely feel I’m more the second one.
How did I Ship It originally come about? What was it that sparked the initial idea? Was it something that you’d been thinking about for awhile?
KUANG: This project started in 2014, as a short film. At that point, I was like pretty actively involved in YouTube, and that kind of world, and I knew that I wanted to do something with the world of shipping, where people are rooting for people to get together. At that point, I was more interested in it from the YouTube angle, so it was about two YouTubers that get together. And then, when we sold the project to CW Seed, which was for a web series version, they were mostly gravitating towards the musical aspect of it. So, we did a nerd rock musical, and that was definitely a different take on it, but it was still fandom and fangirls. I had the chance to tell a more complete, shippy romantic story. I was in my, “I wanna deconstruct a love story phase,” but then, after watching that season, I was like, “Oh, I don’t like deconstructing the things I love. I like building them.” So, when they asked me to do it again, this time with the hope that it would become a limited series for The CW, I was like, “Yeah, I would love to do it, but let me change the whole thing.” Then, I looked at the name and the germ of the thing that first attracted me to the idea, and I was like, “Okay, I wanna tell a love story, and not a deconstruction of a love story. I want it to have shipping,” which is rooting for fictional characters to get together. Every version has been this fangirl fantasy, and has been the story about a fangirl, but it’s never really been my story as a fangirl. I wanted to step away from the wizard rock and the nerd rock of it all, and lean into fan fiction. When I was a kid, I wrote all of this fan fiction for stories that weren’t finished, like the Harry Potter series. It was like creating on training wheels, and I wanted to explore that a little bit.
When The CW tells you that there’s this potential for your show to air on the network, and then you tell them,”Okay, but I want to change the whole thing,” were you ever worried how they would react to that?
KUANG: Honestly, I think I was just young and plucky and dumb enough to not even think about it. Now, I’d give them exactly what they wanted. When we were first pitching the limited series version, I was 26, going on 27, and I was just like, “The other version was not what I wanted to do. I think this version is better. Why wouldn’t they think it’s better?” So, I think I was just young and dumb enough to do it.
Having previously been a fan fiction writer, yourself, how, how did you come to find out about fan fiction, as a thing?
KUANG: Oh, god, you’re really taking me back now, probably to fifth grade. There was a girl in my Chinese school class who was like, “Have you heard of this thing called fan fiction?” And I was like, “No.” And then, she introduced me to a website called fanfiction.net. You had to be 13 to register for an account, and I was 12, so I was like, “Well, in China, they believe that the first nine months you’re in the womb count,” so I was like, “Okay, I’m 13,” and signed up for an account, illegally.