An Interview with Christopher Leong ("Poker")
Updated: Sep 22
Christopher Leong was born in raised in Redwood City, CA; located in The San Francisco Bay Area. Graduating from San Francisco State University with a Bachelors Degree in Cinema, Leong partakes as an amateur actor, director, writer, and producer.
He has appeared as a background actor in Marvel's "Ant-Man and the Wasp", Netflix's hit drama, "Thirteen Reasons Why" as well as The Netflix Original Film, "Always Be My Maybe" starring Ali Wong.
Christopher's short film "Poker" was recently selected as a Quarter Finalist at Top Shorts. His next project, "Come On, Harleen", won Best Trailer in August 2020. We invited Christopher to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
A California native, you grew up in Redwood City and graduated from SFSU with a BA in Cinema. How did you first become interested in visual storytelling?
Since I was a toddler. I’ve been in awe of a lot of TV shows and movies growing up and the passion just evolved from there and still does from time to time.
Which films/shows are you influenced by?
Theres ALOT. To name only a few from the list, I’d say the entire Star Wars saga, Rear Window, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Scarface, Forrest Gump, Die-Hard 1-4, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dirty Harry, Gran Torino, The Departed, Joker, Baby Driver, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Rush Hour trilogy, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Spongebob Squarepants, The Clone Wars, Indiana Jones, The Office and so so much more.
Tell us about your experience working as a background actor in Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Netflix's Thirteen Reasons Why - how did you get involved with these projects, and what was the most memorable thing about being on set?
Collectively, every experience I’ve had on set was unforgettable thus far.
Doing four episodes in total from the second to the final season, I’d say Thirteen Reasons Why had more to write home about. The first episode I ever worked on was the Season 2 finale that opened with a scene taking place at a football game. It was freezing cold to the point where one extra got pneumonia.
However, seeing Katherine Langford (Hannah Baker), Ross Butler (Zach Dempsey), and Justin Prentice (Bryce Walker) up close that night was definitely cool. To top it off, I even even got to speak with Butler for a few seconds after he nearly slipped and fell on the icy metal bleachers; wearing football cleats. As he playfully started doing “the charleston” after regaining his balance, I muttered under my breath “Dude…you’re going to fall”. Apparently hearing me, Ross then turned to me with a smirk and said “I like to live dangerously, bro”. A handful of female background extras were noticeably envious.
For Season 3, I sat directly behind stars Dylan Minnette (Clay Jensen), Christian Navarro (Tony), and Grace Saif (Ani) where Alisha Boe (Jessica) was telling off Timothy Granaderos (Monty) during the student elections. I recall the collective exhales from fellow background actors after Alisha walked past everyone in the holding area with her coffee cup and entered the set soon as the doors closed behind her.
During my final two episodes, with scenes shot back to back, I played a regular at the boxing gym where Christian Navarro’s character Tony trains. In between takes, I got to nod and say hello.
Throughout my days on set, I always remember seeing how much the cast truly love and treat each other like family in complete contrast to some of their characters.
As for features, crossing paths with Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, and Walton Goggins during Ant-Man were certainly takeaways. I remember reporting to the Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot before 5am on both of the two days I worked. While I recall Michael Pena being as playful and funny as his character Luis, I remember sitting on the curb and watching Hannah John Kamen (Ghost) practicing her stunts.
I found out through connections I had and still have through word of mouth. From there, they told me to use Backstage, SF Casting, and MyCastingFile.
Christopher Leong and BB-9E
It’s very ambitious to shoot a film via iPhone and the FilmicPro app. Can you talk about this experience, and why did you choose to go this route?
It was an impromptu decision after people I hired months in advance backed out literally days before principal photography. I had to use who and what I had available for me to continue. Thankfully, I took a class that covered mobile filmmaking during my final semester of undergrad.
What was the most enjoyable part of the production, and what was the most challenging part for you?
I’d say the most challenging part were people flaking before the shoot dates and trying to find people to fill in for them. Yet, the most enjoyable was when I finally got to meet them and become friends whom I still keep in touch with.
Can you talk about the interesting color choices in your film, and why you chose to go on that path? (Color v.s Black and White scenes).
The color scheme was based on the actual colors of the poker chips used in the actual game. The black and white scenes were set up for the more colorful scenes where the more key moments of the film were taking place.
Christopher Leong with his mother Lesli and fellow contest winners- brothers; Jeremy and Josh Riffle with Dave Filoni
What message were you hoping to convey with this film?
I was honestly just trying to showcase my capabilities and what I learned from school with the aesthetics. Aside from the experimental aspect, the story was just a reminder of being wary of how we treat people particularly the ones we underestimate and assume are weak.
What do you wish people knew about your work as a director?
I go for originality even if I were to work on an adaptation or remake. Everything I do is with purpose and from the heart for I am trying to display an alternate perspective on life; hopefully resonating with an audience when words can’t.
If you could have lunch with one industry person, who would you choose, and why?
I’d say Kevin Feige or Jon Favreau since I definitely have a few of my own ideas for future Marvel and Star Wars projects. Sitting with either one of them would certainly be the highest of honors for me personally.
PROMO ART FOR DC FAN FILM
Where do you see yourself in a few years (in terms of career goals), and what can you tell us about your next projects?
Hopefully, I’d be finished shooting my DC Fan Film once the pandemic subsides and make another festival run as I did with Poker. After getting a feel for the competition, I believe this next piece could definitely contend to say the least. I also have a few other ideas up my sleeve; one of them being for a web series and a few features.
While certainly still a long shot, I hope to land a more permanent place in the industry; making films for wider audiences.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Please feel free to donate towards the production of my DC Fan Film on our GoFundMe Page (https://gf.me/u/ypkmqw)! I also submitted the trailer to various festivals; taking home two awards for Best Trailer thus far. Once the COVID-19 vaccine arrives, I hope to bring my fellow freelance filmmakers back in action without the risk.
*I attended the World Premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi after winning the contest on Omaze back in 2017. It's funny how I crossed paths with Rian Johnson after seeing Katherine Langford on the set of 13 Reasons. Months later, he’d cast her in his next film, “Knives Out”.
While it would normally bother me back home, Jon Favreau’s “fro” would slightly obstruct my view during the movie but it didn’t bother me at all! I was just in the moment; being at the World Premiere. To top it off, apparently a member or a few members of the band Radiohead were sitting behind me with their families/family (I can’t fully recall). I remember Josh telling me and my mom about it after the movie ended.
Sadly, I didn’t get to meet anyone else that night despite being in the same room and vicinity as the people I regularly see on the screens back home. It was only a taste of where I want to be later in my career let alone life. Hopefully, I get another opportunity like that soon!*