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Daily Inspiration: Meet Ziwei Li

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ziwei Li.

Hi Ziwei, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I fell in love with all kinds of feminism movies when I was a teenager. I read a lot of novels from China and Japan and write short stories or notes everyday. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Shanghai, China. I’ve been staying in Tokyo, Japan for half a year learning Japanese.

I was impressed with a different Asian vision of style in life and art. After that, I come to travel in San Francisco and I found out that the Academy of Art University can make my dream come true sooner. Spending three years studying for a motion picture and television master’s degree, I learnt what movie is, how to deliver right and passional messages to audiences with cinematography, sound, acting, editing and so on. I participate a lot at school, and I learnt how to become a producer, a first AD, sometimes even an actor despite only being a director. Gradually I define who I really am. I love broken souls who struggle to search little happiness in overwhelming sadness, which inspired me creating similar characters a lot. I’m pretty good at playing with colorful lighting and Asian girl’s outfit/facial expressions. I believe that Dutch angles and colorful lighting sometimes make the emotion even more deep and sad than black and white. I don’t have enough money to shoot long movies but I made narrative scenes, music videos and fashion films.

By now, I’ve got three awards and five selected from different film festivals around the world, such as London Independent Film Awards, European Cinema Festival, New York Istanbul Short Film Festival and so on. Later I started to do photography independently. I got many ideas from my three years of training. I take photos with a background story and make them extremely dreamy and surreal visually. Soon I’ve got a small group of clients, who are young Asian girls. They want to collect their appearance and memory and I feel happy to work for them. I’m also working a lot with Asian Fashion designers, most of them are female. I create stories for their fashion and I can explain what’s good about their designs by my camera. I want to be a freelancer in visual arts field including feature films, short films, commercial videos, music videos, fashion films and photography. I’m now living in San Francisco. I plan to move to LA in a year. My website: betsyli.com.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The biggest struggle as a director is to make all the people believe in my story, especially the producer. Because there is no right answer in how a film should be created, people don’t always agree with each other. I’m pretty sensitive about lighting, compositions, acting, music and producing. However, I had a problem to explain my story in the beginning. A director doesn’t need to organize every single detail in a script, but he or she has to have the ability to answer the most important question: ” Why?” At first, I think if the character makes some particular decision, he or she makes it naturally without a why, which is not true at all. A believable character should have a background story from the day he or she is born until the beginning of the movie, which means a lot of work and it almost drives me crazy. However, after three years of training, I get used to it a lot.

And as a producer, I have learnt to be really familiar with the process of how a film is being made in a most efficient way. The skills to talk to studios/ location owners/ the governments to get everything rolls legally and as cheap as possible. Also, I learnt to be kind and friendly to everyone because the crew don’t suddenly gather together from nowhere and everyone is ready and willing to serve for you. I respect everyone’s time and requirements. I take care and solve problems when it happens while shooting. I feel a lot of pressure when I was responsible for a 20-min short film for the first time, but the more jobs I do, the more confident I become. Cos at last I have an idea about what is going to happen. Although they look overwhelming, there is a logic behind them and sometimes they are super similar.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I do all kinds of jobs to earn money, such as editing, photography, sometimes even be a production designer to dress the shooting set. However, I still want to become a director or a producer in the future. I know they are totally different skills but I can switch from them well and I really love these two positions. Because I made a lot of music videos and fashion films in low-budget, I’m known for a director and a producer at the same time. I’m proud of having special taste and efficient working style at the same time. Most of my teacher says that they see both a fabulous director and a smart producer in me from the very beginning. And now I proved that it is right. I think my vision of an Asian female sets me apart from others. I love complex things. In Asia, everyone is like: “I’m living in my own way.” but they are not. Japanese girls have more problems about this. Even some western girls secretly worry too much if they are different from other people. I’ve seen too many females living in anxiety but pretend to be happy and confident. A lot of beautiful women believe that they are not beautiful or they are beautiful but they are not as successful as other girls. They view themselves too low. So what I want to do is to tell them that there is no right answer of how to be a woman. Firstly I want to build a perfect looking female character with some cyberpunk fashion (still trying to do it), after that I want to show how she is beautiful in another way, in scars, in garbage, or even becoming an insect (These are just fragments of my notes, metaphors). I believe I can deliver the beauty from the ugly to people in a super special way. I want to encourage all the female to truly be themselves.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
I am a very introvert person which looks harder to survive in this industry. However, I found out that this type of personality is like a filter. It takes away all of the useless communications and allows me to focus on studying and creating. Also, when I talk to people, I always try to go directly to the theme in a friendly way cos actually I don’t like to social much.

Contact Info:

  • Email: betty.liziwei@gmail.com
  • Website: betsyli.com
  • Instagram: bettyziwei

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