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Playback’s 5 to Watch: Jeff Chan

Fast-rising director Jeff Chan turned a talent for online video into a career in feature film.

The timeframe says it all: in just four short years, Jeff Chan went from making fan videos for video games to being attached to a Lionsgate feature as director.

Say what?

Chan jumped onto Playback’s radar in 2013, when he and business/writing partner Chris Pare sold their film Grace: The Possession (produced by L.A.’s Automatik, Vancouver’s Oddfellows Entertainment and Pare and Chan’s prodco Colony Pictures) to Sony Pictures. Shortly after that, Pare let us know Chan had been tapped by Lionsgate for a still-unnamed feature about Detroit firefighters.

Chan’s evolution from fan-filmmaker to feature director may have been unusual a few years ago, but is now a perfect example of the explosive impact success in the online video world can have on a creative’s career.

The Ryerson Radio and Television Arts grad first gained prominence after creating a “fan video” based on Activision’s Call of Duty mega-video-game franchise. The video went viral, catching Activision’s attention and, surprisingly to all, earning Chan an invitation from them to make more – only this time legit.

“They could have either sued us, or work with us, and they decided to work with us,” recalls Chan.

Activision commissioned him do a short film on Call of Duty III, a gig that helped Chan land L.A. representation.

Since then, he and Pare landed the Grace sale, completed work on the film and are preparing for its late-2014 release. And the Lionsgate project beckons, although Chan is hesitant to speak to specifics: “In this business, you never know if it’s real until you’re on set,” he notes.

Sascha Penn is attached to the project as a writer, with Greg Shapiro (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) on board to produce and Chan says he plans to start scouting locations in Detroit in the coming months.

Other projects Chan is on board to direct include the still-in-development feature 19 for Bill Block’s (Elysium, District 9) company QED. The 19 script is currently in development with producers Management 360 and McG’s Wonderland Sound and Vision attached. He also has TV projects in development, one of which has Steven DeKnight (Spartacus, Netflix’s Daredevil) on board to executive produce.

What makes Chan stand out, Pare says, is his ability to work outside the traditional system.

“Jeff always finds creative ways around roadblocks without compromising the creative integrity of a project. And I think that’s due to his understanding of both the business and audience expectations. Very few people have that level of insight,” Pare tells Playback.

Chan says his ultimate goal is for him and Pare is to make their way back to Canada. “My plan is to not work exclusively within the studio system…we wouldn’t be where we are without Canadian crew we worked with,” Chan says.

There is ample opportunity in the domestic market, he says.

“Working with the right partners in Canada, there is the opportunity to make films that are accessible and compelling in scale and scope without being overly broad and homogenized,” Chan says. “I believe a market for those films currently exists and is underserviced.”

Chan is represented by ICM Partners, Guymon Casady and Dean Schnider at Management 360, and Karl Austen and Ryan LeVine at Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein.

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