Last week, optometry students at Illinois College of Optometry posted a music video parody on YouTube called “ Thrift Opt”—a take on “Thrift Shop,” by rappers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Since the video’s debut on March 31, optometrists the world over have watched and cheered along. It’s received nearly 35,000 views as of this writing.

We tracked down Jonathan Dong, the ICO student and director of the video, to get his take on it.

Review: So, in addition to being an optometry student, you’re a photographer and videographer?

Jonathan Dong: Yes! I’m in the home stretch of my first year in optometry school at ICO, Class of 2016! I started doing photography in high school. And then the hobby turned into a side career of photography work while I went through my pre-optometry prerequisites during my undergrad.

I started making videos with many of my good friends out in the Seattle scene last year. I was playing guitar in a popular local band throughout my undergrad as well, so I had some musical connections. I made a few music videos, which received a positive response on local media, for the singer Tess Henley, who I also played guitar for.

Review: What inspired you to make this video? Where did the idea come from?

JD: As a videographer, I just knew that I was going to make some sort of video while I was here in optometry school. As I talked to my classmates, I found there is an amazing culture of collaboration that we’re fostering here at ICO. It was only a matter of finding the right project for everyone to really get involved in. I was also lucky that a couple of my classmates, Ranju Ganesh and Caitlyn McHugh, are experienced dancers who I knew could break out some great choreography for me.

Plus, Rich Miller [another first-year student who plays the lead rapper in the video] spent a lot of time in stage acting before he came to optometry school. It was really a matter of harnessing all the amazing talent we have here already!

The idea to parody Macklemore’s “ Thrift Shop” was obvious for me. Macklemore is a fellow Seattleite whose career I’ve been following for quite some time. Jon Jon Augustavo, who directed the video for “Thrift Shop” is also a fellow Seattle-area videographer whose work I’m quite familiar with. So, when “Thrift Shop” started getting a lot of radio play and attention from the media, I was inspired to make my own version of the track.

At the same time, we were learning about things like presbyopia in our ICO coursework. One day I just wrote down the line, “I’m gonna pop some adds/Only got 20/40 with correction,” and the rest came right out of there!

Review: For the audio track, who is the singer who’s “poppin’ adds”?

JD: That lead singer would be me!

Review: How did you get all the busy students to find time to shoot it? How long did the shoot take?

JD: Getting all the students together to film was merely a feat of good organization. Thankfully, I had a ton of support from my classmates. As you can see in the credits, about 60 students all gave a bit of time to help out or appear in the video. That way, no one had to take too much out of their study time. 

From my previous experience in shooting music videos, I knew to make shot lists and a shooting schedule way ahead of time. We scheduled with ICO to film in a student lab for one night, to film in the clinic for one night, and we took one morning trip out to an urban location in Chicago to shoot the rest of it. All in all, it was three locations and every shot was finished in less than a week.

Review: The video has been on YouTube for only a week and, at this point, it has almost 35,000 views already and is gaining fast. Did you expect the video to take off like this?

JD: 35,000 views is nuts! I did not expect such a huge response, and I'm incredibly appreciative to the whole optometric community!

Review: What’s your next project, and will you do any more optometric videos?

JD: The next thing on my to-do list is probably to snap back to reality for a bit and study up on my ophthalmic optics notes. But my classmates and I are certainly stewing up some more optometric entertainment for everyone!