Chris Chan (VC'98)
Chris Chan (VC’98) is a screenwriter credited for several TV and film projects including the groundbreaking trilingual crime drama series Blood and Water, and On Wings of Eagles, the 2016 epic drama based on the true story of gold medal runner Eric Liddell and his time as a POW during World War II. Chris recently received the award for Best Screenwriting in a Dramatic Series for his work on Blood and Water at the 2019 BC Leo Awards. Chris is a storyteller, and his own life story is also quite a tale to tell.
What did you do after VC to get to where you are today?
After I graduated from VC, I attended UBC Sauder where I studied commerce, more specifically, accounting. After graduating with a BComm, I went on to article at an accounting firm to obtain my Chartered Accountant designation. I worked in the corporate sector for a decade, and during this time, creative work was always just a hobby, writing ideas and short stories in notebooks, on loose pages and countless post-it notes. At the 10 year mark, I realized I would never find fulfillment if I didn't make a change.
My mother had been courageously battling terminal illness for many years. A week before she passed away, she told me she was proud of me but knew I was unhappy in my work. She encouraged me to pursue my dream of writing... as long as my wife, Yanta, was on board with it. I spoke to Yanta, and before I could finish, she emphatically told me to go for it. I left my job as a controller at a merchant bank in 2014 and went to Vancouver Film School for a one year writing program. I graduated and re-entered the world as a screenwriter.
The first thing I encountered as I left film school was silence. No producers or agents were calling to scoop up this new writer, nor did I expect them to pick up my calls. There is no prescribed path for most creative careers. Not like accounting. The only thing I could do was keep writing, networking, and saying 'yes' to every opportunity that came up, including those that didn't pay. Eventually, I met some amazing and generous people willing to take a chance on this nobody and I started to build up my writing credits.
It isn't about what I've done to get up to this point, but the amount of love and support given to me from my family and friends. I'm so grateful for them.
Most of your films seem to feature Asian Americans/Asian Canadians. Could you expand on what representation means to you?
Representation in media is important and necessary but it's also what makes for interesting stories. As a Chinese Canadian, growing up between two cultures wasn't always easy but it did offer perspective. Seeing the world through different lenses and interacting in different cultural contexts has made me who I am. I think it’s great that we are getting more stories out there to showcase our rich cultural diversity.
At the same time, there's much violence and hate in the world. I believe a lot of it stems from people seeing each other as separate. Representation in media, at the very least, offers a simple truth that we are all essentially the same in our pursuit of life, love and happiness, wanting the best for our families, etc. Representation in media and storytelling is a small step toward greater empathy.
When you think of VC, what comes to mind?
Community. When I think of VC, I feel the sense of community and belonging. I think of my friends and the great teachers I've had along the way.
Also, Religion 12 was where I first encountered the monomyth or Hero's Journey. Studying Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces gave me my first glimpse of the power of storytelling and how stories transcend cultures and time.
What are you the most passionate about?
I am passionate about storytelling, of course. I'm also passionate (or obsessed, according to my wife) about my martial arts training. Needless to say, my greatest passion is my family and friends, and making them laugh (hopefully on purpose).
What would you like to say to our students and alumni?
Try everything, work hard, don’t be afraid to mess it all up.
As Jim Carey once said, "You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love."
Also maybe don't take 10 years to pursue your dreams. Yes, that'll be my quote. "Don't take 10 years to do that thing. Please." - Chris Chan (VC'98)