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Conversations with Paige Hochstatter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paige Hochstatter.

Hi Paige, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in a very conservative suburb in the Midwest, playing sports. I didn’t see myself as much of a creative but found an intense passion for filmmaking in middle school when my friends and I began making music videos to various pop songs on YouTube. It was hardly a success of an endeavor, but I realized that I actually did have an eye for creating images and storytelling. I started honing in on this hunch by taking photography and film classes and continuing to shoot little film projects on my own. This led me to Columbia College Chicago where I majored in film and concentrated in cinematography. Here, my world completely opened. Finally, I was surrounded by like-minded creatives, a diverse and queer community, and a place to fully express myself. I dove deep into film classes, getting on sets as soon as I could, finding mentors, and working my way up. Cinematography clicked with me, and I found myself holding back corny smiles every time I was given the opportunity to shoot something.

At Columbia, I found a beautiful network of people that have helped get me to where I am today. With so many collaborations, and so many people believing in me, it provided me the confidence for the real world. After graduating, I felt like I had really found my voice and was ready to work on projects that encouraged my specific style. I shot music videos, a web series about drag queens, queer fashion films, lesbian parties, and wacky short films, creating a breadth of work that I was becoming very proud of. The urge to keep working on cool content and expand my network led me to moving to Los Angeles– right before the pandemic. Unfortunate timing, but I’ve still been able to slowly adjust to the lifestyle here and continue making a name for myself. I’m hopeful for what LA has to offer and am looking forward to the beautiful collaborations I know I’ll have out here.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I hate to say it, but I think coming straight out of college being young and a woman has been a struggle. It’s hard to convince a stranger who, as soon as they look at you, is assuming you don’t know what you’re talking about just because your resume isn’t as stacked with experience, and you’re not a man. I always felt I had to “boy” up my look–not wear makeup, only wear black t-shirts and baseball caps, etc. I felt that that would make me appear more trustworthy as a good crew member. However, I’ve learned to embrace my femininity and I know the right people will hire me. Staying positive and patient has also been a struggle. As a freelancer, it’s difficult to not be anxious about the future. I rarely know what opportunities each month will bring, and it’s a constant battle of figuring out what projects to prioritize. Some decisions involve weighing between a project that is going to be more fulfilling creatively but way less money, or something paying super well but has a generic, corporate style. Nine times out of ten, I go for the creatively fulfilling project, but that was something I had to learn. I always remind myself that there is more value in the experience rather than the actual amount of money you make.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I’m a cinematographer; I specialize in camera composition, movement, color, and lighting. As for my specific style, I would say I’m known for getting weird with my cinematography- I love finding new and unique ways to capture a story. I find a lot of inspiration in the script of the project and use that to figure out what ways I can creatively emphasize the way a character is feeling. I love experimenting with funky camera movement, colored lighting, distorted lenses, anything that pushes the boundaries of normal filmmaking–it’s just more fun! I love adding a girly edge to projects as well, whether that be adding colorful or weirdly-shaped lamps, putting prisms in front of the lens to create a rainbow effect, whatever! If the project calls to be femme-ified I’ll do it. I’m proud of my confidence in trying new styles and going outside my comfort zone– it has made me a more well-rounded shooter and gives the project a stylized touch that I constantly encourage. I will always approach a project with full attentive care and rack my brain in any way to try out something weird. Collaboration is everything, and it always means the world when a director meshes with my style and takes my ideas into full consideration. There’s nothing like that “a-ha!” moment of finding the perfect way to convey a scene.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
Moving to Los Angeles was definitely, and still is, a risk. I had a decent amount of connections, but a lot of them fell through or became less reliable in the pandemic. I’ve never felt more disheveled and uncertain in my life! Chicago provided me a beautiful comfort zone. Most of my friends and network of creatives stayed there, and it was pretty easy to get work, let alone not even needing to be interviewed most of the time. But as beautiful as it is, I still felt that I needed more. I knew Chicago would always be there, and it would only mean a bigger network and bigger opportunities if I tried out a new city. Being in LA, I’ve felt the most vulnerable I ever have, needing to sell myself constantly, work 10x harder to find work and start building a creative posse. I’ve never experienced so much self-doubt and, especially amidst a pandemic, I came close to moving back so many times. However, I think risk is crucial. It’s amazing and relaxing to stay in an environment that’s comfortable and supportive, and there’s nothing wrong with embracing that. But risk is only going to make you stronger. I know deep down I needed this challenge. I’m grateful I embraced the unknown. It’s provided me an opportunity to learn more about myself and form life-changing connections with new people.

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Image Credits:

Angel Andrews

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