By Ozzi Ramirez
Welcome to NYWIFT, Shiqin Gao! Shiqin is an award-winning NYC-based filmmaker whose versatile range includes but is not limited to directing, editing, sound recording, and producing.
Learn more about Shiqin as we chat about her distinct style, the genesis of some of her most intimate projects, and her collaborations with some rockstars and other remarkable artists.
Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a director and editor specializing in documentary filmmaking that focuses on personal and intimate stories in local communities.
You’ve been working as an Assistant Editor at Saville Productions. What have been the most exciting and challenging aspects of this job?
Actually, I moved on to another project during the second half of last year. But it was exciting because the Saville team is small and very efficient, and I sometimes had the opportunity to do some work assistant producing and directing. I was also able to review rough cuts with the director and meet with the colorist. It was a great experience for me!
The challenging part came with mastering software. I realized Avid is great in a lot of ways, but other programs have strengths that Avid doesn’t, so learning other applications will be one of my next steps to help enhance my filmmaking skills.
Your documentary Middle of Nothingness provides viewers with some compelling insights into the lives of The Either, a NYC-based electronic band known to experiment with traditional Chinese instruments. How did you first learn about their music and what inspired you to make them the subjects of your documentary?
I met The Either at a film screening. The lead singer, Zong Li, was the composer of one of my friend’s films. We chatted for a bit and he introduced me to his band. When I got back home, I looked up their music and was struck by their work which has a vibrant and creative energy. At that time, I was seeking the topic for my thesis project and met up with the group over coffee at Starbucks. While chatting, I learned that we all shared a similar background as international students who were trying hard to express our thoughts through a foreign language and hoping to be seen and heard. So, we decided to collaborate on Middle of Nothingness.
Whether it’s through capturing the essence of NYC nightlife in your documentary A Night in Time Square or celebrating a visual artist’s distinct style in The Visualist: An Exploration of the Work of Visual Artist Jim Tuite, your films are remarkably atmospheric and personal. What aspects of filmmaking (editing, directing, sound, etc.) do you feel contribute most to the overall tone and mood of both films?
I think directing and camera work were my focus back then. I was new to using a serious camera, so I got excited and wanted to capture everything while conveying my intimate feelings through visuals! I also filmed Times Square in daylight and was trying not to film tourists too much. Actually, one of my teachers thought the Times Square I filmed was “unhealthy.” It’s interesting to see how other filmmakers feel about my work.
And for Visual Artist Jim Tuite, my focus directing was on his own experience while working with VFX. Since the film is about a visual artist, I tried to capture his work at a live concert, where the music and audience would present his work more vividly.
Can you tell us a little bit about the sci-fi short film Ballerina? What was your experience editing this project?
I was very happy to work with my friend Shan Li on Ballerina. He came to me with a new script that was in pre-production. Because he was still ironing out the ending at the time, we decided to edit organically and feel out the direction of the story as we went.
Eventually, we started to hone in on two endings: one where the operation was successful and another where the ballerina was able to override the operation. There was a lot of brainstorming as we worked.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
There are a lot of reasons! I’m originally from China and entering a female-led organization is a privilege for me, since it’s hard to experience that in China.
Also, both of the editors I worked with are NYWIFT members. One of them, who taught me a lot when I worked as an assistant editor under her guidance, had started as an intern at NYWIFT. This solidified my decision to apply!
What is the best and worst advice that you’ve received?
Best advice: Tell a story that you are at the age to tell. There is no shame if it’s not deep since it’s your age’s voice.
Worst advice: The fine arts are not about people and people are boring.
How did the pandemic influence your work life?
Wow, it influenced my life a lot! I didn’t have a stay-at-home personality and loved wandering everywhere. During the pandemic, I had to learn how to keep a healthy mindset in quarantine and stay productive. It didn’t go well in the beginning because I had kind of lost my motivation. A lot of people I knew went back home to China, including my film subjects, The Either.
I had just graduated, and then all of a sudden, the whole industry was on freeze. My film subjects were gone and I felt trapped at home for months. It drove me a little crazy but working on Ballerina helped me get centered and I got moving again. After that, I felt like I could finally get back into my flow and everything started to open back up when I found more work!
What’s next for Shiqin Gao? Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
After a long break, I’m finally back to working on Middle of Nothingness. I was surprised to find that I actually felt more confident coming back to it after so long! I suppose the long break gave me time to let the project breathe, and now I’m returning with a fresh mindset.
I’m also producing a local documentary about a watch repairman in New York’s Chinatown with my friend Lillian Li that is still in its early stages. We have done some location scouting and have a couple of days of footage. Hopefully, we can have access to a watch repairman [soon].
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jaya Mahajan! Originally from Mumbai, India, Jaya is a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel. She spent the initial part of her career as a business reporter and producer with CNBC and Bloomberg. More recently, she has been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore. Jaya recently moved to New York and is looking forward to focusing on projects that highlight and amplify traditionally underrepresented, diverse, and marginalized voices.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jasmine Yeshan Zhang! Jasmine Yeshan Zhang was born and raised in Xinjiang, China and is now based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at School of Visual Arts in 2021. During her studies at SVA, she expanded her interests on making documentary films. She has been working as an Assistant Editor for documentaries since graduation and is currently working on an archival-heavy doc-series. She is always looking for more opportunities for documentary/film editing. Jasmine spoke to us about how her upbringing influenced her interest in other cultures, her transition from still photography to video, and what she hopes to achieve next.READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2. She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year. Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally on Apple TV. Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Myra Velasquez! Myra Velasquez is an indie filmmaker and playwright whose films have been screened across the country and abroad. Some of her awards include the Lawrence Kasdan Narrative Film Award, the Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, the BIFF Golden Honu Audience Choice for Best Short, the HIFF Gold Kahuna, and the BIFF Family Favorites. She has also been a finalist for the Sundance Lab, the BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award, the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Big Apple Screenplay Competition, and a Cinequest Short Screenplay semi-finalist, among other notable mentions. Myra spoke to us about her latest audio drama, the best (and worst) advice she’s received, and what she hopes audiences will take away from her work.READ MORE