“An Artist Never Stops Learning.” – Alan Wong

Reel Career Profile Series – Alan Wong

Alan Wong is a producer, writer-director, actor, vocalist, and the manager of the Gimli Film Festival. As a filmmaker, Alan has made several award-winning short films and worn many different crew hats on numerous productions. Alan holds a degree in Music from Brandon University, and a certificate in Arts & Cultural Management from the University of Winnipeg. For three years, he was on staff at Buffalo Gal Pictures, where he was fortunate to be mentored by industry veteran, Phyllis Laing. Alan is the Vice-President of ACTRA Manitoba and is a strong advocate for diverse and accurate representation in media.

When and how did you start in the media production industry?
I started in 2004 as a Background Performer. I had come from the world of classical music, performing in choirs, Fringe plays, musical theatre (Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Rainbow Stage), and in the Manitoba Opera Chorus. And I was eager, so basically took every opportunity I could. I remember my introduction to the set was so surreal. All the moving parts, it was a little overwhelming at first. But I loved it, and promptly started auditioning for roles.

What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
I was just recently hired on as the Festival Manager of the Gimli Film Festival, which is great. I’ve been a fan of the festival for some time now. I wanted to do it because I believe in the importance of building a strong arts and cultural community, and I quite like Gimli as well! It’s a charming town.

On the side, I do some writing and have some projects incubating. I do those because I have lots of stories I want to tell.

What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started
Two things: One, the volume of work in Manitoba. When I started, there was never more than one production shooting at a time. We’d maybe see 4 or 5 a year in Winnipeg. Now, there are multiple productions shooting all year long, it’s fantastic! And two, the emphasis on diversity and accuracy in storytelling is inspiring as we create more opportunities for marginalized segments of society. I can finally see myself on screen in a role that isn’t a stereotype or some kind of token throwaway character. There is still work to be done, but it’s definitely headed in the right direction.

If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?
I would have told myself to start writing sooner. I was way too comfortable with just being a performer and not growing as a creator. I would also have said not to be so hard on myself. I remember struggling with self-doubt, when in hindsight, I really didn’t have to. I wish I could have embraced my confidence more.

What is advice you would give to someone starting off in the media production industry?
When you are starting off, you want to take every opportunity to learn. You get back as much as you give, so do it all. Be selfless. Get rid of ego. Volunteer. Take classes and workshops. Go to screenings and film festivals (knudge knudge wink wink). It really is a small community, so the more you support everyone else, the more they will support you. This is good advice for people who aren’t just starting off too!

Why is learning and training important?
“The War of Art” (Steven Pressfield) talks about how an artist never stops learning. We struggle to climb a mountain and once we reach the top, sweaty and out of breath, but with a sense of achievement, we look over the peak, only to see another, taller mountain. This is how many successful people, regardless of their field, live their lives. Continual improvement. Consistent and gradual, always moving onward and upward.

What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
(See above). I read a lot of books by people who are at the top of their game. I think that kind of wisdom and experience are invaluable. But you eventually learn they all say the same things.  I always tell people about Milan Kundera, who wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It’s just amazing writing. He goes so deep into thought processes… like, he will describe something, and you will think, “I’ve felt that exact same way, but have never put it into words”. It’s heavy, but highly rewarding.

I watched a lot of TV this past year. And of course, I love all the ones that are universally loved, like Queen’s Gambit, The Mandalorian, and The Good Place, but I would also recommend Watchmen (HBO) and Afterlife (Netflix). Ugh, too many good shows to list them all.

I have to give a shout out to local shows, Burden of Truth and Tales from the Loop. Binged both during this pandemic and they were both solid. BoT had great performances, and Tales was beautiful and captivating.

Films, I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson and superheroes. I grew up on comics and fantasy novels, so its great. Of course, I’ve seen a lot of festival movies, and that’s always great, to get that unique perspective or story. I look forward to the films that we’ll be featuring at the GFF this year.