By Ozzi Ramirez
Let’s say hello to new NYWIFT Member Hannah Xie! After spending her earlier years in China, Hannah now lives in New York City where she dedicates much of her time to cinematography and photography. Her talent for blending and accentuating colors and lighting on film is reflected in projects such as Brief Encounter, Sleepwalker, Epic, and The End of the Affair.
To learn more about Hannah’s creative process, check out our interview as we discuss her collaboration style with directors, her approach to cinematography, and the influential role that her childhood viewing experiences contributed towards her future career.
Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a filmmaker exploring authentic girlhood and womanhood narratives. I’m passionate about cinematography and dedicated to excelling as a Director of Photography.
For those of us who have a general idea about cinematography but would like to learn more, can you describe the basics of this role and the work dynamics between cinematographers and directors? To what extent is your job a collaborative and/or solitary process?
Borrowed from one of my mentors, the cinematographer is a cameraperson and a resource manager at the same time. You are given the script and communicate with the director about the looks and styles. Sometimes, the client already has a very clear vision, and your role is to execute and achieve it. Other times, you figure it out with the director during pre-production and make the shot list and storyboard while looking at the references for specific scenes.
On set, you work closely with the director and your G&E team. It’s important to make each other happy so there is no suffering. I can be clumsy with my English, so I’m always jealous of DPs who can smooth the air on set through humor. To not go over time, sometimes you need to find a balance between the craftsmanship and efficiency. For the most part, it’s a highly collaborative experience.
What came first, your affinity for photography or a passion for cinema? When did you know that cinematography was the path for you?
Both photography and cinematography started growing within me simultaneously when I was a nerd secretly drawn to a world where I could be anything except a nerd. I was in middle school and got my first DSLR camera. I also spent nights and weekends watching pirated movies in my room. Just to clarify, while growing up in China, this was pretty common and sometimes the only way to access foreign movies.
I became determined and dedicated when I started learning how to shoot on film. I just loved it! When I got back my footage from the lab for my mise-en-scene practice, and it looked good, I knew this was something I would want to do over and over again.
As a cinematographer, what factors most attract you to a project? Is it a great story that you can envision enjoying as a spectator? Maybe it is the individual scenes within the script that you sense you would be able to enhance visually through your craft?
Of course, a great story you can envision or relate with is a pleasure to work on. But without that, I would still enjoy working on many projects because I always get to learn, explore, and meet people. Deep down inside, I hope and care there’s a deeper drive to tell a story.
Your website contains reels from some of your previous projects. From Brief Encounter to Sleepwalker and Easy to The End of the Affair, your talent for capturing the essence of a frame through color and texture is impressive. Is it important for you to have access to various types of cameras on set to achieve these results, or have technological advancements made it possible to modify these details during post-production?
In general, I try to get what I want during the production unless post-production is a more efficient or economical way. I like shooting on film, and the film texture can’t be replaced by glass filters or through post-production. Besides that, I am not a gear head and since I’m still building up my skillsets, when shooting on digital, I’m open to whatever gears the production budget could support.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I’d like to meet more passionate independent filmmakers and hopefully work on something together in the future.
What is some great advice you’ve received and would happily pass on to others? What is the worst advice you’ve been given?
Great advice regarding cinematography specifically: “Backlight and stay on the dark side.” If you’re new, and I regard myself as pretty new, put a lens in front of your camera, sit in your yard, observe, and remember how the lighting appears on the camera during different moments.
More generally about filmmaking: “Something is always going to go wrong on set. How you deal with it is just a part of the filmmaking.”
Worst advice: I may have already forgotten.
How did the pandemic affect your professional life?
I was a new professional taking online college classes during the pandemic. This gave me time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
What’s next for Hannah Xie? Where do you see yourself in the coming years?
I’m excited to spend this year focusing on working on more production sets and building more connections. If accepted, I see myself in grad school later this year. If not, I see myself still working on the set of some passion projects as a 1st AC, gaffer, and DP.
Check out Hannah Xie’s website www.hannahcine.com, where you’ll be able to access some incredible stills and behind-the-scenes photos from some of her works. And connect with her on Instagram at @hannah.cine.
In this edition of our Meet the New NYWIFT member segment, we have the pleasure of introducing Hyon Jung Lee, affectionately known as Helen. Helen is not only the executive producer but also the talented writer behind the thought-provoking short film, Bible Camp. This captivating film delves into the lives of young immigrants at a backwater camp who face daily microaggressions from the locals. Through her writing, she sheds light on the challenges faced by young immigrants and encourages dialogue surrounding issues of discrimination and prejudice. We are thrilled to have Helen as a member of our beloved NYWIFT community. Her unique perspective and creative talent contribute greatly to our mission of supporting and empowering women in the entertainment industry. Here is our exclusive interview with Helen, where she shares insights into her creative process, challenges faced during production, and her hopes for the impact Bible Camp will have on its viewers.READ MORE
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