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Rising Stars: Meet Jimmy Xie

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jimmy Xie.

Jimmy, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I went to Chapman University, and have acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, double minored in Leadership Studies and Studio Art, as well as a Master’s degree in Leadership Development. All of my educational backgrounds taught me how to see the world, how to communicate thoughts, as well as what to look for when diving into specific topics.

My story is the story of a kid desperately trying to understand the world in order to better understand himself. I grew up in the midwest, in small towns within South Dakota and Wisconsin. I later moved to Washington state to finish high school and eventually came down to California for college. From all my travels, I was able to see how people from all walks of life lived and how I fit into their perceived realities.

Growing up, I have always felt weird. It felt like I was on a different wavelength from everybody else — of course, that includes the fact that I was one of the only Asian-American kids in the rural towns I was brought up in. But as time went by, I realized how being an “outsider” gave me the advantage of observing others from a third-person perspective, leading all the way to the moment I decided to major in Sociology.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The road is never smooth, and it is not supposed to be. But that is part of the fun.

When hearing “commercial,” most people nowadays think of the “hype videos” that are basically compilations of fancy clips with trendy music in the background. Amongst the typical “offenders,” we have got the slow-motion espresso pull and the close-up shot of pepperoni landing onto a pizza dough. I call these videos the junk food of social media because none of them tell a story and the viewers often walk away without any recollection of what they just watched — let alone learning anything about the businesses nor their owners. To me, marketing means targeted advertising that sends the right message/story to the relevant audience and provokes specific emotions. Many people misunderstand marketing as merely posting beautiful photos of their products online when they are in fact just cataloging their merchandise.

On the contrary, my approach to commercials is not to make them fancy. I aim to tell genuine stories that highlight what makes the businesses or individuals unique. From the initial interview with my clients to the actual production, my goal has always been to reflect their businesses’ core values and traits. All the shots that end up in the final video and all of our social media posts were curated to hit on those unique characteristics over and over, leaving a last impression on the viewers’ minds.

That being said, my biggest struggle so far is just how misinformed most business owners are when it comes to marketing. Since “hype videos” or pretty photos are perceived as the go-to option for marketing, many of my clients did not even know that what I do, candid storytelling in the form of a mini-documentary, is an option until I approached them and spent a lot of time explaining.

I am an artist, not a businessman, so I cannot say that I enjoy talking about money or hustling all day. When I have an effective and artistic vision for marketing, I want to spend 100% of my time crafting it rather than having to spend all day explaining why my storytelling approach works.

However, as I said in the beginning, going over bumps on the road is actually the fun part. I do take pride in offering people another perspective and seeing their smiles when the projects are beautifully delivered.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a video artist & filmmaker based in Orange County, or as I prefer to call myself, an “uncommon storyteller.” I am unique in my professional circle in the sense that my videos combine social science research with art-making to discover the various facets of hidden gems and invisible populations of this world. I am specialized in narrative storytelling, uncovering the stories beneath the surface and empowering small businesses and individuals alike by giving them a platform to speak their truth.

When it comes to art-making, I consider technical specifications or skills secondary. The most important thing for me is cultivating the ability to experience the world in cinematic ways that would allow me to see more of the present moment. Imagine seeing a guy getting out of his car in the morning to buy a burrito — that is not a very exciting image if that is all you see. To truly see something is to understand the nuances beneath the surface. What car is the guy driving? What about his outfit and demeanor? Does he look like he is from here? Race and ethnicity? Socio-economic status? Did he come here just for breakfast, or is he on his way to work? Based on how early or late he is up, what line of work does he do? Or maybe he is just making a food delivery. These questions bring up so many possibilities and all of the sudden make a mundane scene so much more intriguing.

This is how I combine social science research and art to make mini-documentary films for small businesses. For me, filmmaking is simply detective work with my camera, depicting what I see with motion pictures. I have no interest in making anybody look like supermodels, but rather to show people in their natural elements. I like imperfections more than perfections. I like looking into what is in front of me more than creating a fairy tale.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Growing up, we have all been told this at some point: “You will learn your lessons from each fall.” I know that when I was a kid, this really scared me. The notion of “you will learn your lessons” sounds like I did something wrong or that the way I am is somehow not compatible with the society. After all my years of hustling and self-discovery, I finally understood two things which I would consider advice for those who are just starting out:

a) Evaluate the people giving you those “warnings” or “advice” during your career pursuit — that includes the folks telling you that running a YouTube channel is not a real job. Are those people successful themselves? Are they happy with where they are in life, despite feeling so comfortable and confident giving you life advice? Are they the kind of people you would describe as wise, open-minded, or well-versed? If Warren Buffett tells you that a certain stock is not good, then it might really worth pausing for a minute. But on the flip side, is someone who has never truly invested capable of giving you any worthy opinions on stocks? Knowing this, you will find less and less noise during the pursuit of your goal.

b) “Learning your lesson” does not mean you did anything wrong or that you ought to change who you are at some point to fit into the mainstream culture (which is the thought that many highly creative people battle with each day). Instead, it just means that, through interacting with all kinds of people in life, you will get better and better at translating your thoughts into a language that your viewers can better understand and digest, given their different personality and communication styles. Many artists are abstract thinkers, while the majority of the population are concrete thinkers. Back then, the 22-year-old me made many mistakes when approaching potential clients or employers with my “big ideas” when all they really cared about was “could this Jimmy guy really bring me profit with his talent.” Instead of only telling your potential clients or employers how passionate you are about the position or how much social change your work can create, you can blend in some concrete numbers/facts to translate your message into something more tangible. An example of this conversation would be: “By making a video that shows how you open up the shop in the morning while having your voiceover explaining the history of this place in the background, your sincerity and vulnerability will be seen as approachable and empowering for the people in the surrounding communities (abstract), giving them even more reasons to want to come check out your store (concrete). Not to mention that the younger generations, who are the movers of social media, also pay much more attention to the cause of businesses than the older generations — all this would result in you getting more customers and more word-of-mouth (concrete).”

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Image Credits:

Garret Hill

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