Jordan Walker knows first-hand what it’s like to experience an unexpected creative awakening.
As the son of two doctors, the newly appointed director of Toronto Film School’s Film Production program spent his childhood sitting in on surgeries, following his father around on medical rounds, and dreaming of a future in medicine.
In fact, it wasn’t until he landed himself a tennis scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he initially studied Pre-Med, the idea of not following in his parents’ footsteps even occurred to him.
“I always thought I’d be a doctor, too, but I took just one acting class in my second year, and I was, like, ‘Woah, this is so much fun!’” said the Toronto-born writer, producer and actor, whose resume includes numerous award-winning film, television and new media projects that have screened at prestigious festivals including TIFF, Cannes and Slamdance.
“Before that, I didn’t have an expression for my creativity and, to be honest, I never really thought of myself that way. But that acting class was amazing – and it changed everything for me.”
And he never looked back.
In the 10 years since he joined Toronto Film School as an instructor, Walker has been inspiring his students – many of whom took similarly winding paths in their creative journeys – with his unique brand of mentorship.
A champion of hands-on experience in addition to in-class theory, he enjoys helping students gain on-set work experience – whether that be on his own projects, including his 2015 cult hit, How to Plan An Orgy in a Small Town, and 2019’s four-time Canadian Screen Award-nominated feature, James vs. His Future Self – or recommending them to his network of industry contacts.
It’s that experiential approach to teaching that Toronto Film School’s Emmy-winning President, Andrew Barnsley, said made Walker’s appointment to the directorship of Film Production program a “no-brainer.”
“Jordan is a proven industry leader on set, in the boardroom and in the classroom. During his time as an instructor at Toronto Film School, he has inspired and supported hundreds of students as they began their careers in the creative industries,” Barnsley said.
“Jordan now has a bigger platform to continue to shape the next generation of industry professional. We are delighted to welcome him into his new role.”
Walker’s own post-film school career path has been likewise inspiring for its many twists and turns.
While still studying acting at USC, Walker managed to get himself represented by a manager who worked at William Morris Agency, and his momentum as an actor grew. He started going out for lots of auditions, and was almost cast in the late-‘90s teen drama, Dawson’s Creek.
Just as his acting career was beginning to take off, however, Walker was called home for a family emergency.
It was upon his return to Toronto that Walker had the opportunity to creatively connect with his aspiring director sister, fellow Toronto Film School instructor Leah Walker, for the first time. The end result of their initial collaboration was The Acrobatic Sex Cult – a black-and-white short film that follows 20-somethings Karyn and Simon as they struggle with the repercussions of bringing sex into their friendship.
“She directed it and I starred in it and produced it, and it was really a lot of fun,” Walker said of working on the film, which was selected to the Montreal World, Raindance, and Paris film festivals.
“It ended up getting us both hooked.”
From there, Walker turned his attention to filmmaking full time – writing, producing and acting in his and Leah’s own projects. The sibling duo made two feature thrillers together – first 2007’s The Third Eye, starring Corner Gas’ Tara Spencer-Nairn, then The Privileged, starring True Blood’s Sam Trammell, in 2013 – as well as a number of shorts.
Around 2012, Walker found another filmmaking partner in then up-and-coming director, Jeremy Lalonde. Impressed by his work, he agreed to team up with him on his short film, Bastards – an experience that ultimately led to the pair’s long-term partnership.
For the past 10 years, Lalonde and Walker have collaborated on a number of high-profile projects, including: How to Plan An Orgy in a Small Town, which won a dozen awards, screened at 30 international film festivals and was released in more than 100 theatres in 15 countries; the Canadian Comedy Award-nominated The Go-Getters; and James vs. His Future Self, which won four awards at the 2019 Toronto After Dark Film Festival including Best Canadian Feature.
It was also around the same time that Walker was approached by Adam Till, whom he’d met playing tennis with the pair’s shared mentor, Michael Levine – to join the Toronto Film School’s then newly launched Writing for Film & Television program as an instructor.
“My first class was Finance, and I loved it. Then, when they were looking for a Career Development instructor, a group of students from my Finance who went into (then Film Production Program Director Rick Bennett’s) office and recommended me for the job,” Walker laughed.
“I’m the only one to teach that class and I love it! I would not have taken the job (as Program Director) until they guaranteed I’d be able to keep teaching the Career Development class. It means that much to me.”
For Walker, one of the most rewarding aspects of the job has been the opportunities he’s had to involve the most talented among his students in his own projects – and watching their careers take off thereafter.
“Having students on my sets is my favourite part,” he said, noting that much of the crew on the How to Plan An Orgy in a Small Town set consisted of his TFS students at the time – many of whom have since gone on to ‘big, big things.’
“I brought Heather Young, who was in my very first class teaching, on as our production manager for that film. She had never production managed before, but I had faith in her and absolutely could not have made the film without her,” Walker said of Young, whose production coordinator credits now boast hit shows such as Shadowhunters, Designated Survivor, Grand Army, Clarice, and Sex/Life.
Consuelo Solar’s career has been likewise fruitful following her stint as a script supervisor on How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town– she’s now worked on Star Trek: Discovery, Cardinal, See, Grand Army, Baroness Von Sketch, and Titans.
“It feels so good to have this family of TFS students that can jump in on projects. To be honest, I’ve been rescued by my students on all of my films. They make my films possible,” he said. “And, in turn, I think having a Jeremy Lalonde film on their resume seems to have really given them a launchpad.”
Now that Walker has taken over the helm of the Film Production program, he’s looking forward to mentoring even more future stars amongst this next generation of upcoming filmmakers.
“It wasn’t something I was expecting, but I’m really excited about this new challenge and getting to sink my teeth into it,” he said of his new leadership role at Toronto Film School.
“I really want to be part of this new momentum and this new push to really make TFS competitive on the world stage, and I feel like this is a nice opportunity to contribute to that as much as I can.”