Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Ise White

By Guneet K. Singh

Places everyone. Roll camera. Action…Time to welcome our new NYWIFT member, Ise White!

Ise is a New York based director and writer who has directed commercials and narrative work spanning action and drama for film and TV. She grew up traveling the world and is trained in the indigenous martial arts of Silat, Wing Chun and Kali. Ise worked for FLOTUS Michelle Obama, became one of the top luxury fashion editors in the world, and has choreographed fight scenes. 

Read our full interview with Ise below to learn more about her career pivots, guiding principles, and inspiring volunteer work.

NYWIFT Member Ise White


Tell us about yourself! Give us some insight into your creative journey, your career aspirations and what drives you.

I grew up traveling, went to 15 different schools, and lived in over 30 countries and states. 

I grew up being part of such global cultural diversity from royalty, to leaders of the industry, to artists, and the most humble of families. I never wanted to know only one side of anything, I wanted to live in a world of open doors, to hear everyone’s story, to sit at the table as equals. Some of the greatest individuals I have met accomplished so much through adversity from humble beginnings. I wake up every morning seeking to be inspired and to inspire. Even when I fail, I know I will get up and start again. 

Ise White behind the camera

What brought you to NYWIFT?

Joining NYWIFT to me is to be part of building a stronger film community here in NYC, which is so unique and special. We will make the world better for the women that will follow us and every generation builds a stronger community. 


You’ve been trained in your family’s indigenous martial arts of Silat, Wing Chun and Kali. What are some lessons you learned in your martial arts training that you carry with you in your directing career today?

One of my teachers would always say, “Get knocked down ten, get up eleven.” You don’t get beat if you get back up. I was one of only two girls in a room full of big tall men training. Six hours a day, six days a week. At times as a young girl, I experienced men unwittingly and perhaps unconsciously trying to use strength or size to intimidate. This same teacher would quietly come up behind me and tell me that size doesn’t matter. Everyone has their assets. Maybe I was faster, maybe I was more flexible. Think. Make the way. 


Your directing work spans the luxury sector, action, and drama. How does your approach as a director differ with each genre?

Directing luxury is aspirational. We ask questions like: Who is the buyer? What is the DNA of the brand? We create images either of who people are (more traditional advertising like a laundry detergent or soda) or who people want to be (the face of a perfume, a celebrity).

Since commercials are tied into wants (which equal buys) and metrics play a huge factor into direction, the end audience is key in creating concepts. Except for some celebrities (like Rihanna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and K Pop), metrics are showing a growing trend that the end buyer wants to see themselves in the product. The market is evolving but we now have the ability to finely measure the data.

Conversely, what makes a great commercial does not serve the filmmaker – that must be the director’s/showrunner’s internal compass alone, ideally. In film, it starts with the story for me, and good writing is very emotional. I love writers and the unique way they see the world. I get lost in it. The words build the picture, but I also know my flaw is to get lost in the images that exist only in my head and be puzzled why those around me don’t hear and see it when it’s so clear to me. After a thorough immersion, I have to take a step back  and tackle the project analytically. We establish a visual vocabulary for the project and then that has to carry through in movements, lens choices, camera, and lighting.

I’m lucky, [in that] I work a lot presently with a DP for whom words mean nothing and do not translate into images in his head. I had to really learn how to speak with him only visually. It was incredibly challenging and at times we were both very frustrated, but it was exactly what I needed to grow into a more technical director. 


Ise White on set


What was it like working for FLOTUS Michelle Obama?

I still get big soft-hearted feelings thinking back about the Obamas. Michelle is strong, funny, practical, inclusive, sharply intelligent, plus so warm and down to earth. I, like every woman in the room, was overwhelmed to finally meet someone that represented us as women as we want to be, not as others would make us. She leads by example.

Also – fun fact – she has 37inch legs. Her hip goes to the middle of my rib cage.


Ise White with Michelle Obama


What has been the most fulfilling project of your career so far?

It’s always the one I’m working on right now. You get into a flow state with ideas and realization of ideas when you have a great team.

We’re currently in post for a feature that I wrote and directed to raise awareness for the Cancer Research Institute and are in pre-production for a WW2 proof-of-concept shooting this summer. To quote Marc Cohn, “It’s like a baby being milk drunk, only it’s this magic.”


Ise White on set


You are the founder of Hollywood Lighthouse, a volunteer organization focused on bringing arts education, training and job opportunities to otherwise underrepresented groups. Tell us more about the organization and what motivated you to start it.

I work with LGBTQIA advocacy, at risk communities, and also ran a decade-long internship program with various universities focusing on candidates from these communities. I started seeing a need for more representation and also saw that film/fashion was a great place for apprenticeships. These jobs required problem solving abilities and grit more than a formal traditional education. I pulled together the top people in various departments like costume, makeup, hair, and production to teach how to intern, what skills were needed, and how to learn. We support with counseling and for those that succeed we also help with job placement.

I wanted to create something that could use community centers, cost nothing to maintain, and to work with volunteers – so many people in our business want to give back. Real change I find is when it is easily sustainable. COVID was tough as we lost all our community centers at that time, and then the strike [happened]. But all the program requires is one person to care enough to reach out and make a difference, and I care very much about seeing lives improved in tangible ways. 


You’ve worn many hats in your career, from being a fashion editor to a director to choreographing fight scenes. What advice do you have for those looking to pivot into different areas of the industry?

Be diligent. Treat every task – whether it’s fetching coffee, leading a team, or interning – as the most important task of your moment. Focus on it completely with no distractions. And be willing to put the work in and start over at the beginning and be a student again. Maybe you’re the boss in one industry, but you’re an intern in another. It doesn’t matter. Do every task with complete focus without ego. Be open minded to learn from everyone. You’ve got to be flexible if you want to grow and shift, especially with the demands of an ever-changing market.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Take accountability. Don’t be afraid not to know. If you can honestly admit what you don’t know, you have a foundation to learn something new. 


For more information on Ise, check out her film website and luxury website. Connect with her on Instagram @isewhite and @isewhitecreative.


Guneet Singh

Guneet Singh Guneet K. Singh is a NY-based writer and producer. Her first job in the entertainment industry was as an NBC Page and she has since worked in development on multiple projects for NBC from game shows to half-hour comedies. Guneet graduated from Stony Brook University in 2019 with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Business Management. She's incredibly passionate about diverse storytelling and creating a more equitable industry. She is so excited to be a part of the NYWIFT community!

View all posts by Guneet Singh

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