Abby Davis is a production assistant for Intertwine and an aspiring filmmaker. She interviewed KiKi Lam, a young cinematographer and filmmaker about her experiences and journey into filmmaking.
Abby: So I just wanted to talk a little bit about you today. I have some questions that are specific, and whatever you want to talk about is cool. I guess initially I just want to ask …. What’s your story? How did you get into filmmaking? What inspired you to do that?
Kiki: I first went to school at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester NY. I was majoring in 3D digital design which is like 3D artwork for video games, and 3D modeling. I realized within a semester that I didn’t quite enjoy doing that. I went home and visited my old film teachers from high school. I showed him some of the work, and he asked me, “Why aren’t you in film?” And it kind of hit me, and I was like, “I don’t know! I didn’t think of it as an option”. I was so focused on tryna do video game art because I was an illustrator before, I drew a lot all my life, and then video games were always something that me and my brother really loved. So I enrolled in Columbia College, Chicago.
Abby: Do you really like Chicago? Have you found that it’s a good community for filmmaking?
Kiki: Chicago is really good for TV shows and commercial work. There’s a good amount of documentary work in Chicago as well. I’m into wildlife and food doc-related things. I really like music videos as well. Chicago’s a really good network of people. It’s just there’s a lot of stuff going on in Chicago right now, even like, I think it’s a better place to start off than LA. In Chicago, I feel like no one is trying to be the next big thing. It’s not Hollywood, so people are just more focused on what they want to do and not becoming famous or anything like that.
Abby: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, I know that you did a little bit of illustration and video game design, but when you’re doing video, is there a specific thing that’s your favorite part? What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
Kiki: For documentary, I enjoy connecting with whoever I’m doing the documentary on, or traveling for it, or just getting the shots in general. I really enjoy working hands-on with the camera. So as long as I get to touch the camera I’m for the most part happy. For music video stuff I enjoy working with directors to achieve what they want. And then I enjoy seeing it come to life with all the visuals and stuff when it does happen.
Abby: Yeah I think learning is a huge part of it. I know that because I’m still in school. I interned with intertwine and that’s how I got connected here. I was in engineering before, and I found I was often the only female in the room. How has it been for you as a female filmmaker of color?
Kiki: I for the most part have had really good experiences. So definitely a lot of guys. I don’t think it ever really bothered me as much because I grew up with a bunch of brothers. One time when I was on a shoot, this black girl came up to me and she said that it was so good to see people like her there. It made me really happy. I kind of assumed that film crews were going to be mostly male, mostly white, but when I got on with Intertwine, the shoots are a mix of all people. I was surprised by the diversity on Intertwine’s sets. There were a lot of black people, like more than I thought would be on a crew. I was really surprised by that. Because I was like “Wow, I didn’t know we were out here!” and yeah I mean I haven’t really had any negative experiences with like somebody thinking that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman or because I was black.
Abby: You mentioned that you worked for a camera rental place. Do you think that is a good route to take if you want to end up working with cameras and being a cinematographer?
Kiki: I absolutely think so. One of the reasons I applied there and then ended up getting the job is that I really wanted to be around the cameras as much as possible and the gear because the more you’re around it, the more you learn. You learn how to fix things. And we get to see all the new equipment come in. We get to troubleshoot everything and mess around with the builds and stuff. If you want to be a camera operator or a camera assistant it’s really important to know that stuff because you need to know the camera builds and the ins and outs of the cameras and just all the parts and sometimes how to fix things on the fly.
Abby: Thank you so much. This has been great!