“Bet on yourself.”
Director Winnifred Jong is fond of using the catchphrase of her favourite Toronto Raptor, Fred VanVleet, as a personal mantra. It’s something she had to do when, after more than 20 years as a sought-after script supervisor, she decided to make the jump to director.
Now, it looks like Jong bet well, with two short films and a digital series to her directorial credit and her first hour of primetime TV ahead.
With credits like The Virgin Suicides, Born to Be Blue and Slings and Arrows to her name, transitioning from a script supervisor to director was a risky move and Jong admits there were those who wanted her to stay put. But directing has always been her passion. So she started pursuing opportunities that fit with her “day job.”
In 2012, she was hired as second unit director and script supervisor for one episode of Flashpoint and in 2013, Back Alley Film Production’s Adrienne Mitchell hired Jong as script supervisor and second unit director for Played. That she was trusted to take on the role, says Jong, meant a lot, given the industry isn’t often too keen to take risks on inexperienced directors.
Back Alley’s Mitchell says that after hiring Jong as a script supervisor on Bomb Girls, she noticed her talent behind the scenes. “She and I just really jibed in terms of cinematic approach, how to work with actors, working with their emotional lines from a continuity perspective,” says Mitchell.
In 2015, Jong enlisted actor Hugh Dillon, who she’d worked with on Flashpoint and X Company, to star in her short film directorial debut, The Offer, which was nominated for a DGC Award for best short. Since then, she directed the short Milk, which she also produced and wrote, and which screened at festivals across North America. In 2017, she offered her script supervisor skills to Shaftesbury for six-part digital series, Frankie Drake Mysteries: A Cold Case, but in exchange, she asked to direct the project.
“Working your way up is tough, and you have to be tenacious. Winnie’s got that. She knows exactly what she wants to do, and she’s prepared to work damn hard for it,” says Shaftesbury chair and CEO Christina Jennings.
“She was able to work on the script right from the get go, right from the earliest ideas, working with the writer, giving us her own thoughts,” she says. With its tiny budget, and the requirement to shoot a ton of pages in one weekend, Jennings adds that Jong “rose to the occasion” and shaped it into the clever web series that it is.
Jong is now getting ready to go into production on her web series, Tokens. The series follows the actors who work for an “On Call” casting agency that helps productions satisfy diversity mandates. Jong wrote the script while script supervising X Company in Budapest.
“I sequestered myself in a hotel room and just wrote it. I don’t have formal training but I talked to a lot of the writers that I was working with on X Company and got feedback and assistance,” she says.
Tokens was awarded Telefilm Micro-Budget Production financing in 2017 and was one of 23 projects selected this year in the inaugural round of the Bell Fund’s Short-Form Digital Series (Fiction) Pilot Program.
And as she prepares to take full creative control of Tokens, Jong has also landed another director-for-hire gig, stepping behind the camera on episode 105 of CBC’s upcoming drama Coroner. Created by Morwyn Brebner, the series is produced by Jonas Prupas of Muse Entertainment and Back Alley’s Mitchell, who Jong calls one of her earliest supporters.
Now that she’s rebranding herself as a director, Jong says she’s getting to the point where she’s refusing script supervising work, which used to be her “bread and butter.” It’s a scary thing, but she’s ready for this next act. “If you’re not the one to believe in yourself,” she says, “who else is going to?”
Photo: Christos Kalohoridis
This story was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Playback.