Joyce Wong On Stories From The Suburbs, Directing Comedy, And Run The ‘Burbs

DGC Ontario Production Run the ‘Burbs recently premiered on CBC and CBC Gem. We spoke to one of the DGC Ontario Directors on the series, Joyce Wong, about stories from the suburbs, directing comedic television, and how she first became involved with the production.

Created by comedian, writer and actor Andrew Phung (Kim’s Convenience) and filmmaker Scott Townend (The Secret Marathon), Run the ‘Burbs follows the Phams, a Vietnamese-South Asian-Canadian family taking a different approach to living life to the fullest in the burbs. Phung Executive Produces, Writes and stars in the series as a stay-at-home dad, and DGC Ontario’s Aleysa Young Executive Produces and helmed the pilot episode. Other DGC Ontario Directors on the series include Melanie Orr, Peter Wellington, Justin Wu, and Joyce Wong.

Joyce is a Director and Writer who was named one of CBC’s 17 for 17′ great Canadian filmmakers of the future as well as described by the LA Times as ‘a major talent to watch’. Her debut narrative feature Wexford Plaza, as well as her work Directing comedic television, including episodes of Strays, Baroness von Sketch Show, Overlord and the Underwoods, and Workin’ Moms, have received numerous awards and nominations.

How did you get involved with Run the ‘Burbs?

Joyce Wong: The producers reached out to me and it sounded like a fun project to be part of. I liked how the show reflected a contemporary portrayal of second-generation families and had a whimsical tone and look (set by the brilliant Aleysa Young).

How did you collaborate with other key creatives on the show, including pilot Director/Co-Executive Producer Aleysa Young?

JW: As the pilot Director and producing Director, Aleysa set the look and worked with all of the directors to keep the visual style and tone consistent. This was especially helpful since RTB is a first-season show without prior episodes to reference. She had a fantastic deck she circulated that explained the look and feel she had developed.

I find visual references are really important when collaborating on set. Screengrabs to show the lighting and lensing I’m going for, mood boards to explain the feeling and palette, images often have the ability to explain things when words fall short.

What’s it like directing on a show representing a demographic that doesn’t often get to see themselves onscreen as the centre of a network sitcom?

JW: The Pham family in the show is Vietnamese-Indian and many of the episodes included cultural references from those communities. In order to make sure both cultures were reflected properly, the show brought in cultural consultants to lend their expertise and we worked together with them to shape and inform our creative choices.

Your debut narrative feature, Wexford Plaza, was a slice-of-life comedic drama about a lonely security guard in Scarborough suburbia. What draws you to telling stories about the suburbs?

JW: Run the ‘Burbs is about a family who embraces the suburbs and celebrates the adventure of the everyday. Wexford Plaza is about a group of lonely characters who feel left behind and want to be seen. In terms of tone and approach, they’re quite different because not everyone’s experience of suburbia is the same. WP is set in Scarborough (the place I’m originally from), while RTB has references to the suburbs of Calgary (where Co-Creator, Executive Producer, Writer and Lead Actor Andrew Phung is from). People who grew up in the suburbs are brimming with stories and there are so many angles and perspectives to approach this topic from.

Joyce on the set of Baroness von Sketch Show.
Joyce on the set of Baroness von Sketch Show.

You’ve directed multiple episodes of Workin’ Moms, Baroness von Sketch Show, Strays, and now Run the ‘Burbs. What can you tell us about directing for comedic television, and what have you learned from your years of working on these shows?

JW: The more you plan, the more you can improvise on the day. Developing a very clear vision of the scene in prep will give you the freedom to try things on set and live in the moment. I’ve had the privilege of working with incredibly funny performers on all these shows and it’s important to set the stage for them to play, because that’s how the comedy comes alive.

Watch Run the ‘Burbs on CBC and CBC Gem Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET (9:00 p.m. NT). The episodes directed by Joyce, ‘Phamily Matters’ and ‘Li Xi’, will air in March 2022.

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