Rachel Han Xu & Joshua Reis
1) How did you get into directing?
Xu: I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do when in film school so I took classes on almost everything (producing, special VFX, sound, etc.) and eventually graduated with a cinematography emphasis. It wasn’t until I entered the “real world” for a bit that I realized directing is what I liked and wanted to do the most.
Reis: My first directing gigs were a handful of spec spots. I enjoy the creative process beginning with an idea, filming, to editorial. I have a background in motion design and editing, so shooting specs was really a great way to utilize my diversified skill set and challenge myself. My primary focus has been building a career as a Cinematographer, so being able to shoot and direct my own ideas has really been a rewarding experience.
Eventually, a handful of agencies approached me to shoot and direct and that’s how my directing career jump started. I really enjoy the creative collaboration. I enjoy having that creative dialog with an agency and then being able to problem solve and execute using my own experiences as a DP. I am able to work efficiently because I am right there, hands on the camera, giving direction to the talent. I’m not a director who likes to work from video village sitting behind a monitor
2) What is your most recent project?
Xu: Currently in pre-production of a beauty product commercial and we are shooting a week from now.
Reis: I co-directed and a food pasta commercial. It was fun to develop the idea, cast, shoot, edit, and deliver the final cut. I gained more experience working with children and really trying to be creative and generate cinematic images on a spec budget. I’m pretty pleased with the final cut.
3) What is the best part of being a director?
Xu: To have the opportunity to get to know and work closely with people from every department, and to influence the production process creatively.
Reis: The best part of being a director is having that creative dialog with the agency and client. I enjoy working will people in both a creative and technical capacity. So in a way, directing allows me to combine my two passions, storytelling and cinematography. I also enjoy traveling and working with crews and talent from different countries and cultures.
4) What is the worst part of being a director?
Reis: I would say, if you are having a poor experience as a director, then you chose the wrong project. Every job has its challenges. However, a good director is there to provide leadership to a crew and give direction to talent under budget, time, and creative constraints. A director is the go between the production and the agencies or clients creative vision. However, if a director’s job is too easy, then they are not pushing and generating the best work possible.
5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
Xu: I’ve been directing commercials since I graduated. I loved it very much and will definitely keep doing that. Meanwhile I’ve already started developing a couple narrative projects (features and shows) which will also be my focus for the next few years.
Reis: I think it’s important for a professional to develop a diversified skill set. This industry is very competitive, so I feel that for myself, being a successful cinematographer who has shot over 100 music videos, dozens of commercials, and even a 30 mil budget feature film makes me very marketable and unique. As a commercial director, I generally like to focus on pieces that tell stories about humanity in visual and cinematic ways. These spots always employ a narrative at the core, but they involve cinematic lighting, transparent VFX, or stylized motion graphics. I’d like to think that all of my work employs a point of view.
6) 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?
Reis: Being a DP, I would consider that every director that I have worked with has been a “mentor.” My directing classroom has been on set, working with other directors and interfacing directly with agencies.
7) Who is your favorite director and why?
Reis: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite director, but if a director becomes a name, essentially a “brand” in their own right then I’m a fan. Fischer has his style. Lance Acord has his mark. The list goes on, but if a director can consistently produce a body of work to their taste, then I applaud them
8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Reis: My favorite movies include: Man On Fire, Domino, Medicine Man, Hurt Locker, Training Day, and the list goes on. I enjoy films that entertain, but more importantly, they make you walk away with a different perspective of the world.
9) Tell us about your background
Xu: I was born and grew up in Beijing, China and came to the US in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree at the USC film school. I started my career directing commercials and within a few years after graduation I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of working with notable brands like Kotex, Alibaba, Western Union, Häagen-Dazs and etc. I have grown a lot professionally and very much look forward expand my experience and capacity and collaborate with more people on all different kind of projects.
Reis: I grew up in a small town about 45 minutes away from lake Tahoe in Northern California. In the summer I would hike, run, and bike, In the winters we would ski and sled. I love the outdoors but in high school I was hooked on Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere. I knew at a young age that I wanted to be creative. I have been fortunate to have parents whom have encouraged me to pursue my creative ambitions.