by Onicia Muller (@OniciaMuller)
Winnifred Jong is a Toronto-based filmmaker. Her debut short film The Offer won the Deluxe Canada First Award and was nominated for the Directors Guild of Canada’s Best Short Award (2016). She was elected to participate in the 2016/2017 Women In the Director’s Chair to develop her web series, Tokens. Her second short, Milk, recently premiered at the Canadian Film Fest.
To close out Women’s History Month, Winnifred and I discussed writing compelling female characters, producing authentic stories that audience can relate to, and her new web series project, Tokens.
Onicia Muller (OM): Your project Tokens is about challenging the roles Asian actors are often limited to. How do you feel about not seeing yourself in modern visual stories?
Winnifred Jong (WJ): Initially, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t see myself in visual stories, but rather when I did see myself, it was always a one-dimensional caricature of an Asian woman. I hated that. It was embarrassing to think that that’s how I was viewed or compared. People make assumptions about Asian women based on what they see in visual stories; we’re so much more than what is portrayed.
I have to admit, my first script didn’t pass the Bechtel test because I came at the story and characters from a visual point of view. I came quite late to writing, mainly because it’s such hard work. It’s the one skill I resisted even in film school. I am a visual person. However, realizing that good scripts are hard to find, I slowly made a move to write more. I’m lucky because I have so many mentors who are professional screenwriters. The awareness of the need to move away from stereotypes forces me to write from an authentic place.
OM: What’s the story behind creating Tokens?
WJ: Tokens was conceived through a series of text message exchanges I had with an actor friend. I was inviting her to a party celebrating female directors and my friend responded that she was “on call.” I responded tongue-in-cheek, “On call actor? That’s new. That should be a new business.” At the time, I was part of a program called Women In the Director’s Chair CAM (WIDC). Carol Whiteman, who runs WIDC encouraged me to apply for their Story and Leadership program. It’s an intense workshop to develop female-led projects. I wrote the Tokens pilot and was accepted. I got to work with an acting ensemble, an amazing story editor, and other mentors to bring more depth to the series.
Tokens is a comedic web series about actors who work for an “on call” casting agency which blindly sends them to shows needing to satisfy a diversity mandate. The company motto is “We check your boxes.”
OM: What is your main goal as a female-identified content creator?
WJ: My main goal is to tell authentic stories. I feel that I will attract the best talent and creative team with stories they can relate to. I would love to find more partners who will give me a chance to explore and push envelopes. As a female, person of color, and content creator, there is a pressure to succeed because you’re responsible for more than yourself. Therefore a goal for success and visibility is not so much self-centered, but for all of the women or POC who strive to create content. It wouldn’t hurt if I finally got paid to be a content creator. I know everyone is in the same boat.
OM: Now that you’ve completed that program and have a polished pilot, what’s the next step for Tokens?
WJ: Tokens was nominated by the Women In the Director’s Chair for Telefilm Canada MicroBudget Program funding. It’s also one of 184 projects in phase one of the Independent Production Fund (IPF). I’m hoping to get to phase two and eventually get selected for financing. IPF judges are selecting projects with engaged audiences. I’m working towards garnering as many views, shares, comments, and ‘likes’ on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. We have until March 31st to make a good impression on the judges.
Created on St Maarten. Based in Chicago. Onicia writes, says funny things, and enjoys hanging with creative minds. You can read her weekly column, Just Be Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender or on her blog. She pays her bills as a creative project manager. Find her online at OniciaMuller.com or @OniciaMuller