A word with Jackson Tisi

As a young filmmaker, Jackson Tisi stands out by his relentless pursuit of the story. Continuously chasing after a deeper narrative has elevated his work and landed him clients such as Spotify, Facebook, and Uber. We got the chance to sit down with him and discuss his rapid rise in the industry.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Could you give us a brief rundown of who you are and what you do?

Of course, thanks for reaching out. My name is Jackson Tisi. I am a director living in New York.

You were the media team captain at your college. How did your college experience shape your career and what advice would you give to those who are on the fence about higher education?

This is a throwback. I initially pursued this job because NYU was offering free housing for the summer and it was the only way for me to stay in the city instead of going home to Wyoming. This opportunity turned out to be much more than that. I was in charge of hiring a team of 30 other students to create and manage all of the media and coverage for NYU’s Welcome Week. This taught me a lot about leading a team that translated really well into me being on larger film sets. Overall, the greatest thing NYU did for me was bring me from Wyoming to New York City. The location and the collaborators I met through school were invaluable to my progression. That being said, I also didn’t wait for school to hand me anything. I still feel like I am where I am because I would always pursue my own projects outside of school.

I think higher education is a very personal choice, especially when it comes to film. I gained a lot from it but it isn’t always worth spending the money that these schools charge. I have friends who just lived in New York and took advantage of the network and collaboration through becoming friends with people in the school. This always seemed like a cheat code. In the end of the day, I will never win a job based on my degree or GPA. In film, it all boils down to your work.

Great personal relationships often make way for opportunities. Who gave you your first major project and how did it go?

The first major commercial I did was when I was 21 and still in college. I had a personal relationship with a client over at MasterCard. I had been working as a music manager for them since freshman year, basically finding musicians to score their commercials and handling the paperwork. The client knew my end goal was film and after a few years working in the music capacity for him, he let me pitch him some commercial ideas. It was terrifying. The largest set I had been on was a small music video and this commercial was a large TV ad shooting across the country with a celebrity. It was a scary leap. I didn’t sleep much and it took months putting this job together and basically taking a small crash course through the industry of commercial filmmaking but I am proud of the final product and the client was stoked too. A lot of this was not only seeing a huge opportunity but being able to rise to the occasion and fight to get it done.

With the democratization of creating content, the flow of emerging creatives has grown exponentially. How do you stay top of mind to those who are making hiring decisions?

I don’t know. It’s hard to be a mindreader. I really try to just make the type of work I want to be seeing.

After reading your Director’s Notes it looks like Spotify came to you with a specific brief for Meek Mill’s album release of Championships. However, you went back to them with concept that infused more of a documentary feel. Can you walk us through how you successfully counter pitched a more elaborate storyline?

I always pitch what I would want to make. The initial brief for the Meek Mill spot was literally just an interview with Meek and live event coverage of the event Spotify was throwing. I saw this as a big opportunity to add to it. Shooting in Philly was important to me. We needed to tell the story of what Meek has overcome in order for the celebration Spotify threw for him to mean something in the film. I think I just added context. Often times I feel like I stray too far from the initial boards a client will send through. This approach of always pitching the film I want to make sometimes doesn’t always work in my favor when I am competing for jobs but the ones I end up getting I tend to have a lot of creative freedom.

We notice you mix film and digital in your work. How do you make the decision to go between each medium? Creatively, what additional elements does that bring to the final piece?

I really like both formats and think you can make extremely beautiful images with both. There are so many factors involved in making an image. I just really try to asses each project for its needs and what would best serve the film. Mixing is fun too but again, I only try to do it with purpose. The Meek spot was supposed to feel full of energy and chaotic. Not staying in one place too long was vital for the cut. The Alexa footage mixed with 16mm and all the archival added a lot of different textures and momentum to the piece.

What do you consider to be the most important aspect of your job, both creatively and professionally? 

I feel like my answer today might be different than if you asked me a week ago or a week from now. I feel like this is something that is always changing as we evolve with what we do. Currently though I am just trying to be able to have reasoning behind everything I do. This applies to the relationships you build and the project you take on. I just want to be acting with intention. The other important aspect is always reminding myself to have fun with it. I started making films because it was fun and it should always stay that way.

In the social media-driven age of creatives, many often believe they need to have a huge following in order to grow their careers. What was your approach in getting the attention of brands when you first started?

I don’t know. A lot of the directors I look up to hardly have an instagram presence. For me, I just try to make cool things and I share it online when it’s done. There isn’t too much of a science to it for me.

Every great project has a team of people working. Do you have go-to people for every project or do you switch up the people you work with?

I’ve been really lucky to work with some amazing people. I am always excited to develop new relationships and find myself meeting new people all the time, but I find it really important to constantly be working on the relationships I already have. I have a few DP’s I work with consistently and every time I do a job with one of them, that relationship and understanding of eachother’s work always grows stronger. I also just find myself surrounded by friends on set. A lot of good friendships have started off from simply working with someone.

Obviously your work speaks for itself. You’re incredible at telling stories in a captivating manner. What actionable advice would you give to a young filmmaker who wants to break into the industry?

Thank you. Just make the stuff that you want to make and invest in yourself. I used to save up my money from internships in college and dump it all into one lens, an easyrig, and an Alexa. I would shoot two projects over a weekend and see what happened. A lot of these little projects weren’t good and aren’t on my website today, but I liked them at the time and learned from creating. It doesn’t matter what gear you have access too either. I just saw a music video shot on iPhone and it was beautiful. You just have to go make stuff. I did so many projects all by myself before I had crews. This helped me learn a lot fast but also has me really appreciating the crews I am lucky to have now. 

Any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?

I’ve got a few things in post right now, but I am really excited to have finished a new short doc on Leon Ford. I don’t know when it will be out because we are trying to submit to some festivals right now, but I am excited for that to be out in the world in the next few months.

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