Mackenzie Hilton

Semester at Sea’s “Learning to Swim

Mackenzie Hilton

Thinking Machine

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?

My first professional work was an ad I did for the CycleBar in my hometown at the end of 2017. I had done videography before then, mainly personal travel videos and a few ads for family friends’ companies, but the CycleBar gig was my first job in branding with complete strangers and it kicked me into gear big time and made me fall in love with filmmaking in a new way.

2) How did you get into directing?

I’ve always loved capturing life as it happens. I’ve had the opportunity to travel my whole life, especially in recent years, and I have at least 2 cameras with me at all times. Honestly, I used to hate movies – I thought they were a waste of precious hours of my life (since then I’ve grown to love them – more for the cinematography than anything else). I don’t do much studio work – I focus on documenting processes, life, real time events more than anything else, so I’m constantly seeing “the shot” all the time – it’s second nature to me now to walk through life that way. I’ve been lucky enough to see and experience so much in my short 20 years and I’ve learned that sharing information, experiences, and such is easiest and most powerful (for me at least) via film.

3) What is your most recent project?

I’m putting together a short documentary from my recent travels. It’s still in the beginning stages, but I’m really excited to share what I experienced and learned abroad. I’m also working on a few music videos with my brother who is a super talented musician.

4) What is the best part of being a director?

I’m a student, a traveler, an environmentalist, a visual storyteller, and not until recently would I have even considered myself a director (it still sounds kind of weird calling myself that). As for filmmaking in general, I absolutely LOVE working with clients to bring their vision to life – there’s so much creative freedom in promotional work, especially if it’s with a company that I’m are truly passionate about. I get to do what I love and it doesn’t often feel like tedious work.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?

Currently, I’m a student at UC Santa Barbara getting a degree in Environmental Studies. I do promotional brand work for local businesses, wedding films, interviews, travel work and such. My dream goal is to do environmental and humanitarian documentary work.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?

I have always admired the cinematography of Brad and Hailey Devine (now influencers). I also love Chris Burkard’s outlook on life and passion for what he does (though his work is more photography based). I look up to them greatly. And, Jason Docter, who I’ve recently begun to have the pleasure to work with, has been such an amazing mentor for me. The first time I met him I had a few informal interviews that day and was a little deflated from the previous, but when we started talking – with the conversation ranging from directing and work to backpacking through India – I knew we were very similar, and am so grateful to have him and his brother to look up to!

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?

My favorite movies: Mamma Mia (one and two), The Longest Ride, and The Greatest Showman. I don’t necessarily have a favorite commercial, but my favorite company’s film work is Charity:Water. They have such a purpose behind what they do and use their growing digital platform to spread awareness and raise money for such an amazing cause.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)

I grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, where my parents moved after growing up in the Bay Area. I’ve played sports all of my life, and am very grateful that I didn’t need to have a job in high school. I worked at a sandwich shop for three months senior year, but that was around the time graduation was happening and my photo/video work started picking up, so I focused all my energy on that.


Contact Jason Docter, Co-founder/director, Thinking Machine, regarding Mackenzie Hilton via email
Thinking Machine