By Katie Chambers
Welcome to NYWIFT, Susan Chau! Chau is a New York-based director, production designer, and art director working in film and branded content. She received her MFA in film production at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Her film Josephine, developed while at NYU, has traveled the festival circuit and was supported by Panavision, which awarded the project The New Filmmaker Grant.
Most recently, Chau worked with Vox Media and Apartment Therapy. She also art directs for editorial print and digital. Her latest concept Contempt / Le Mempris, based on Jean Luc Godard’s stunning film on love and cinema was published in The Impression magazine’s annual film issue.
Susan Chau spoke to us about her inspirations, favorite projects, and her new digital zine for women who love film!
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a production designer/art director working mostly in branded content and narrative when possible.
What is your favorite project to date and why?
Josephine, a short I wrote and directed. I had a wonderful actress named Elise Luthman. The crew was great too. It was a co-production with AFI and NYU students. It was difficult shooting in the desert, but such a stunning landscape it was worth it.
One of your latest concepts, Contempt / Le Mepris, based on Jean-Luc Godard’s stunning film on love and cinema, was published in The Impression magazine’s annual film issue. His loss this year was devastating to the film community. In what ways has he influenced you as an artist?
That was devastating. Not to be sentimental, but I feel like Godard films opened and closed so many chapters in my life. Most of all as a young filmmaker beginning to discover new directors. Oftentimes when you first start out you’re trying to find your voice and in my case I was kind of rigid. I had to storyboard every shot, but after watching Godard, especially his early films, I thought – oh this is also a way to make films to tell a story.
Like in Breathless, there was this energy to it with all the running through the streets in Paris, jump cuts, playful dialogue and performances. Godard gave me permission to play to improvise to be more free with the camera. I love his later films more though when he sympathized with the female characters more. But it didn’t matter if it was Anna Karina or Bridget Bardot they would always listlessly say, “I don’t know…” “I don’t know Pierre…I don’t know Paul…” You could read it different ways, it could be patronizing, but I’d like to think that was his tender side.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your work?
Hmm…a love for cinema, beauty, and compelling female characters.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? And the worst?
I always remember one of my professors Rob Schmidt telling us: the most important time for a director is his/her time alone at their desk in front of the computer and script before they arrive on set and get hit with a billion questions.
Worst advice – hard to say, but whatever advice comes your way you still have to check in with yourself and trust your own instinct.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT? How do you hope to participate in the organization?
I learned about NYWIFT through my friend Kiran Chitanvis and thought it would be great to be part of a community of women who are working on interesting projects. I always wanted to be part of a team that hosts screenings. It’d be fun to select some of the films, but I’d be happy to pitch in any way I can. I’ll carry sand bags so long as I can stand in the back and watch the film after!
And what is next for you?
Recently I founded Girls Cinema Club, which is a digital zine for girls and cinema lovers. It’s a space where we share our favorite films and discuss the craft of filmmaking. There’s also fun original soundtracks that accompany the articles and reviews, curated/produced by @missy_aggro.
It’s basically something I wish existed when I was younger and interested in art and filmmaking. We support girls who aspire to be filmmakers, or are working in film/video production. Hopefully we can also help girls avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way.
P.S. We’re looking for new teen writers!
Connect with Susan Chau at email@example.com at girlscinemaclub.com, and on Instagram at @girlscinemaclub.
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