Meet Alexxiss, Director of Photography
Alexxiss Jackson grew up in Detroit, Michigan and graduated with a duel Bachelor of Arts in Film/Video Studies and English from the University of Michigan. As a Director of Photography, she heads the camera, lighting and grip departments on a variety of productions, including films, commercials and music videos — which she also directs. Among her responsibilities are aspects of production like camera movement, camera angles, lighting, setting up shots and working with the Director to tell a story visually.
Her work has been recognized at least 20 times from a number of international bodies, including a Best Music Video award from the SharpCuts International Film and Music Festival in Toronto, Canada in 2011, an Award of Merit from the Accolade Global Film Competition in San Diego, California in 2014 and an Official Selection in the 2018 Da Bounce Urban Film Festival in Amsterdam.
How did you get started in this line of work? Did you have any connections, or how did you get that first foot in the door?
I decided I wanted to be a Music Video Director when I was about 11 years old. I used to watch music videos all day on MTV, VH1 and BET. I loved the expression of the medium, how the visuals interacted with the music and how there was so much narrative freedom to tell a story in different ways.
I started directing, filming and editing music videos while I was still in film school. Over time, I also started working as a Camera Operator on other productions, which ultimately led to me becoming a Director of Photography. I still love creating music videos, it's one of my favorite forms of expression. However, I've grown to really value my work as a DP and it is my primary source of income.
I very much enjoy constructing the visual aesthetic of different pieces, whether it be a music video, film or commercial.
What is a typical day in your line of work?
There isn't really a typical day, which is part of what I love about it. If a project is in pre-production, I may be reading a script, selecting which camera and lens package we're going to use or even watching a movie that serves as a visual reference for the look the director wants to go for.
If the project is in production, I'm on set. But that doesn't always look the same.
I could be on a documentary shoot where we're running around getting different interviews, or I could be on a film set with a full crew setting up overhead diffusion material, building the camera rig and talking to the director about scene blocking (where the actors are going to stand and move). The variety of the work, and figuring out how to tackle different productions, is one of the things that makes it fun!
What do you love the most about your job?
Creating, and being a part of a creative process. When I'm directing a music video, I'm usually largely responsible for every aspect of production: From conceptualizing the story, selecting wardrobe or costumes, constructing the look, camera work, etc.
When the entire thing is finished, there is a new piece of art that exists in the world that did not exist before; something that I just imagined is now real. I love that feeling.
As a Director of Photography, I'm a part of that creative process, but with a specific (and very important) focus. At the end of the day I'm paid to be a storyteller, and to create visual art that makes people laugh, cry or learn something. I absolutely love that, it's indescribable.
What kind of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
I'm a huge gamer, and I also love to read. I read a lot of material related to work about new camera technology, new lighting technology and more. In this career, it's really important to stay up-to-date.
One piece of advice
One of the most important things that you can do is build a strong network. Having the appropriate skill set is a necessity, of course. But after that, how many people know you and how they feel about you is imperative. Don't treat someone badly because you think they're beneath you; that Production Assistant might be a Producer in a few years, and they won't want to hire you if you were rude to them.
Working in an artistic field can be immensely fulfilling, but it can also be hard. That's across the board, whether you're an aspiring writer, filmmaker, musician, painter, or whatever it might be.
It may not be a straight road, and it may not be easy, but if you can find a way to do it, keep creating. Some of our most celebrated artists didn't see the success that they wanted to during their lifetime, but they left something beautiful in the world.
If you do find that success, you can make really good money doing something you love.