Alistair Leyland: Today’s Notable Young Professional

Today’s Notable Young Professional is Alistair Leyland of Toronto-based design agency Array of Stars. We caught up with him to find out what inspires his work and what advice he would share with other young professionals…



1. Describe what you do in less than 140 characters. Go.
I win business for a Toronto design agency called Array of Stars and I produce feature films. I am a storyteller at my core. I also play tennis.

2. What was the inspiration for your career route?
After finishing school in Montreal, I moved back to Toronto to work on movie sets, because I knew that I wanted to work in film.  The film business seemed to glamourous. My uncle is a cinematographer and has spent most of his life travelling the world, filming things for Discovery Channel. After my first week on set, I realized it was hardly glamourous. Nevertheless, I was hooked.

Movie making, producing, storytelling, whatever you want to call it, has changed immensely over the past 10 years. The industry continues to evolve and now both feature films and documentary overlap with advertising (or branded content) more and more every day. I have always been a closet tech-geek – now I get to stay on top of digital trends and figure out how to integrate them with traditional narrative storytelling. It’s pretty great. 

3. What is the most memorable milestone in your career so far?
Winning an Audience Choice award for Best Documentary at the United Nations Film Festival a few years back for a documentary I made called THE MAKING OF A MARTYR was pretty special. I was surrounded by some fabulous minds and it was all very surreal. That was a labour of love and took years to produce, so that was quite memorable. A few years later I was on  another film set… well, actually I was next door to set in a big trailer we had rented for the talent.  It was nearing the end my first big feature film production and my good friend Liam Card, who actually wrote and starred in the film, and I sat in the trailer, in downtown Toronto, and it finally sank in: we had produced a real movie, with real stars, and real locations. I think it’s important to enjoy those moments and we still laugh about it today.

4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
I always have so much respect and admiration for guys like Steve Jobs, Ray Kurzweil or Nicholas Negroponte (Founder of MIT’s Media Lab), because these guys had an uncanny ability to predict the future. I’m not putting myself in their company, but I do often wonder what life will be like in 2035. I was 10 years old in 1992. If I was asked to predict the future then, I would have said the Blue Jays would win eight World Series Titles, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin would lead the Leafs to numerous cups, well, you see where I’m going. I hope to be running a well-oiled agency in five years, raising a family in 10 years, and building a creative commune/agricultural business in the Thousand Islands in 20 years.

5. Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Planning and reconnaissance is rarely time wasted. With the internet at our fingertips, being prepared should be standard. Learn about what successful people do. Identify weaknesses and turn them into a strength. Be nice, get your rest, and always stay true to yourself. I certainly sound like Ned Flanders, but seriously, the world doesn’t owe you anything. You need to earn it.

6. Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is it (or they) important to you?
I have actively supported CAMH Engage’s initiatives to end the stigma of mental health illness in the past and will continue to do so forever. It’s so important that that help is available to those who need it and we put any stigma to bed. I also support the Power Plant Art Gallery and the AGO. Toronto is blessed with such an electric art community – it’s incredibly important to support the arts.

7. What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
When we first launched our digital agency, we were using a different model and had some different partners. In my gut, I knew we were not on the right track. It was obvious the company was in financial strain and that tension was impacting our creative output. We had to dig down deep and face our shortcomings, and in the end we made some difficult choices, had to fire some friends and partners. I don’t like firing people; I would rather everyone liked me, but I have learned that’s not the attitude a business owner-operator must have.

8. What does the word notable mean to you?
To me, Notable means interesting, intriguing, successful, and cool. Four decent pillars of being notable, I suppose.



1. Where is your favourite place to wine/ dine in your city and why?
Bar Raval, because it’s an incredible room that our pals at Partisans created for one of the cities most talented chefs – Grant van Gameren. (Full Disclosure:  They are also one of my favourite clients).

2. What’s the most visited website on your Internet browser? The most played song on your phone?
Array of Stars OR  Grantland  OR  Twisted Sifter OR TED.

I’m wearing out the new Tame Impala album.  My pal Jay Malinowski’s new band, the Deadcoast, is pretty great, too. 

3. Who’s one person you think everyone should be following on social media?
Right now? Norm Kelly (@norm) is a riot. Max Valiquette (@maxvaliquette) is both a close friend and a brilliant mind. I’m a big fan of  Bill Maher (@billmaher) but I can always count on Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki) to regularly enlighten a dreary day.

4. What’s your favourite country to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
China was a special place to visit as it was the site of my first documentary.  We followed 14 Canadian families as they travelled to China to adopt a baby girl. That’s where we met my  incredibly talented little sister, Charlotte. That was 12 years ago.

Next on the list? I’d like to check out Turkey. 

5. What gives you the greatest FOMO?
Having any commitments during TIFF.

6. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Tennis with my girlfriend, Mary.

7.  What’s something you wish you didn’t spend so much money on? What’s something you wish you spent more on?
I wish I didn’t have to spend so much money on data. Canada is so far behind on a global scale, it is ridiculous. I wish I spent more money on sports equipment. It might sound strange, but my lifelong pal Tyrone continues to cite an Ivy league study that says people are happy if they spend more on experiences, rather than stuff. In my case, I’d love a waterski boat and a tennis court.  I could be pretty happy waterskiing in the morning and playing tennis in the afternoon.

8. And finally, what does success look like to you? Work, play, or otherwise…
Success looks like a weekend full of food, friends, family, tennis and waterskiing. Long conversations about music, film, politics, and love.