In the Spotlight: Tyler Ham Pong
No one will make you succeed but you. This is something Tyler knows all too well. A truly dedicated screenwriter and filmmaker, he has pushed himself toward success through his own determination and sheer grit. Not even a pandemic can stop him as he carved out his own path in the industry by founding a production company and creating opportunity. He is a force onto himself and is one of the many reasons I am excited to introduce you to him.
This is Tyler Ham Pong...
I started writing theatre as a way to get on stage as a young actor in New York. Living in the East Village, my neighborhood was the center of new and experimental performance art and theatre. Inspired by my surroundings, I wrote and produced my first play, “Moony Mercury,” a philosophical science-fiction about ethics, religion, and time travel. It premiered at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in 2007, and would also later run at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in Times Square. My second play, “Two Days ’til Dawn,” would premiere at the Gene Frankel Theatre in 2011.
Soon after, I founded my production company and moved to Los Angeles, picking up jobs as assistant/associate producer on TV shows like, “Toddler & Tiaras,” and “Texas Cakehouse.” Kill the Pig Productions is where I would write and produce my own unique films, some of which have been recognized by LA Shorts Fest, Chelsea Film Festival, and Amazon All Voices Film Festival. I was hooked on the whole new storytelling vocabulary that came with the perspective of filmmaking.
In 2019, I won Best Actor and Grand Prize for my short film, “The Real McCoy,” at the Asian American International Film Festival’s 72 Hour Film Shootout, winning mentorship opportunities with top executives at NBC and ABC. From this experience, I started developing a pilot adaptation of, “The Real McCoy.” The following year, I returned to the competition as the Shootout Coordinator and Sponsor, facilitating those same opportunities for future diverse filmmakers.
These days, I’m developing my own projects and running my production company with my wife in Los Angeles.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I fell into screenwriting the same way I fell into filmmaking. There wasn’t a lot of representation for mixed Asian characters in film and TV, and I wanted to create those opportunities for myself. The early days were a lot of trial and error, using a flip cam and iMovie. I also signed up for a bunch of filmmaking races and competitions, learning from (what I like to call) my film school pressure cooker. Each year, I challenged myself to learn new film techniques so I could accomplish my vision. Over time, I accumulated tips and tricks from hundreds of collaborations. Eventually, my experience opened doors as a TV producer, and an on-camera host and blogger for, “Visit the USA.”
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
My high school theatre program really kickstarted my love for storytelling. I grew up in Ottawa, a government city nestled on the border of English and French Canada. Growing up, I performed in class, after school, after-after school, and over the summer. I was eating, sleeping, and breathing theatre. At the foundation, my high school theatre company’s motto resonated with me the most, urging “Theatre as Education.” Because of that, all my work has had the purpose of provoking thought and conversation.
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Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
I’m fortunate enough to say that my family has always been supportive of me, a luxury that many creatives aren’t afforded. As the third child of a family of over-achievers, we all believe in hard work and perseverance. My parents exposed me to art and culture, and encouraged my creative interests, even when it manifested itself as hours of video games. As a result, my mom always imagined that I would do something creative with computers, which isn’t far off from the world of digital filmmaking.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
Some of my earliest heroes were 90s filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Tim Burton, and Kevin Smith. I may be partial to the decade, but the 90s were also a renaissance for innovative film. At this point, CGI was still in its infancy, so movies had the tactile nostalgia of practical effects. And filmmakers were pushing back against the bubblegum product of the 80s, resulting in so many cool and dark films. These movies felt theatrical, almost Brechtian in their awareness. Thinking about it, all these filmmakers made movies that THEY would want to see. I too wanted to make my childhood dreams come to life on the big screen. A special mention goes to Tarantino and Smith, who not only wrote but also directed and acted in their own movies. Seeing creatives wear multiple hats has inspired me to do the same.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Well, first of all, I’m super critical of myself, so my definition of success is always just out of reach. In that way, I’d like to learn to appreciate my achievements instead of rushing to the next ones. But ultimately, I want to make movies that resonate with people. I want to pique the audience’s interest in the same way movies piqued mine and sealed my fate.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Both, but favoring Night Owl. When I’m on a job, I have no problem adjusting to early call times. Unchecked I’ll easily stay up until 2am.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? Coffee is my morning ritual. I’m particularly happy when I have my favorite beans, like MUD Coffee from New York, or Death Wish Coffee, so-called for its unusually high caffeine content.
What do you do during the day? Now that we’re in the pandemic, the landscape of my day is limited to my apartment. Luckily, my apartment also houses my production company! On any given day, you might find me shooting headshots or filming a scene for an actor’s demo reel. If I’m not scheduled for work, I’m writing scripts or editing in my studio.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual? “Forensic Files” plays on the TV as I get ready for bed. I’ve seen almost every episode, so despite the murder, it’s basically white noise.
How do you define a successful day? If I’ve worked on set, written a couple of pages, or edited a few minutes of film. If I haven’t made a mess of it, then we’re good.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
I think it’s important to tell a diverse story with a diverse cast of characters. As much as it’s comfortable to write through my perspective, I also want characters with whom everybody can identify, so I hold myself accountable to represent female and other diverse characters. This also relates to marketability, which can be a deciding factor in a talent pool as competitive as Los Angeles.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Writer’s block has been a challenge. Some people write pages every day as if words flow out of them. For me, I’ll stare at a blank page, or rewrite a sentence over and over again. It’s because I’m a perfectionist, or mild OCD, that I can’t move forward until each page is the best version of itself. Sometimes I see it as a puzzle that needs tweaking until it all fits. One day, I’d like to write an entire script without editing anything, but I’ve also accepted… that’s probably not who I am.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Being the owner of my own production company has been rewarding. I enjoy working with new and returning clients and broadening my list of collaborators. I also get to be creative on a daily basis, which gives me the most purpose.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I like to keep up with fellow creatives and learn from their journeys. I also like hearing about the business side of the industry. Everybody has different experiences, and different sets of industry standards, so it’s good to keep an open mind! What works for one screenwriter won’t work for another. But I’ve also found that the writing community can be incredibly helpful in spreading the word about opportunities like fellowships and job opportunities. I’m always learning a new hustle!