Some people in this world are go-getters. Justin Zhou (Shanghai American School Pudong ‘21) is no doubt one of them. Since freshman year, he has gradually taken his talents for filmmaking into the entrepreneurial world. As he describes himself “I’m constantly out exploring the city and looking for my next adventure.” This is an unfiltered, insightful look into his journey, his experiences, and his advice.
I get inspiration from a lot of different areas: the places I go to, the people I meet, and the videos I watch. YouTube was a huge source of inspiration for me starting out, and a lot of the creators on there such as Casey Neistat, Sam Kolder, and Peter McKinnon helped shape my passion and inspiration. I think in this current era of filmmaking it’s really hard to be original as a lot of people tend to copy what they see; I often struggle with that too, but the secret is to take a little bit of inspiration from each filmmaker that you look up to and morph them all together to develop your own unique style.
I love how filmmaking is a unique blend of technicality and creativity. There are endless techniques to learn, but at the end of the day, it’s how you use these tools creatively to convey the story you want to tell. Though many of my films are quite freeform and do not follow a specific narrative structure, I aim to deliver a feeling—to capture the moments of wonder when you truly come alive. In my day to day life, I’m constantly surrounded by interesting experiences and unique stories, and filmmaking has become my outlet to share what I see.
Favorite Films and Memorable Experiences:
One of my favorite films I’ve made was for an orphanage called the Shanghai Healing Home. I didn’t use any crazy effects or insane transitions in the video, yet I felt like the simplicity helped convey the warm atmosphere at the orphanage and allowed the viewer to focus on the story that was being told. Showing the video to the kids at the orphanage was a really heart-warming experience for me, and seeing their sentiments reminded me of my true purpose as a filmmaker.
I also really enjoyed making a short promotional video for an electric skateboard company called Exway. We had a lot of fun going around the streets of Shanghai and capturing some insane footage along the way. I’ve always been an avid skateboarder, so working with Exway has been a dream come true. As superficial as this sounds, this partnership to me really felt like a validation for my efforts in pursuing filmmaking. It felt like a sign that I was doing something right.
Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers:
You could pretty much learn anything on the internet nowadays, and Youtube is just filled with tons of valuable tutorials. It’s definitely a great place to start, and even to this day, I’m constantly watching new videos to expand my technical skillset. However, I really do believe that the best way to learn is through experience. Pick up your camera (even if it’s just an iPhone), and just get out there and shoot. Don’t be bogged down by all the tutorials out there, as a lot of things you can only learn through trial and error. You’ll see that you’ll improve from each video that you make, and over time that is how you get to where you want to be.
I think the biggest mistake people make is to expect opportunities to just come to them. I think the best way to find opportunities, and as cliché as this sounds, is to just put yourself out there. I got my partnership with Exway by just contacting the owner of the company. I got a bunch of other partnerships with restaurants by literally walking in with my camera, asking for the manager, and pitching my services to them. Do I get rejected? Yes, all the time. But once you get comfortable with interacting with others, your fear of rejection goes away. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of rejection, that’s the secret to finding opportunities.
This article was written as part of the Student Alliance’s ‘Student Stories’. You may find more information about the various articles on our website www.thestudentalliance.org and Instagram page @thestudentalliance. If you would like to contact Justin, please do so via his Instagram account, @justin.zhouu. As always, thanks for reading!