Written by Malin Evita
Director Roxy Shih is this week’s guest on the Making It: Women in Film podcast. She sat down to share all of her incredible and honest insight into the industry; from hitting bumps in the road, to realistic budgeting and funding advice, this is an interview every new and aspiring filmmaker should give a listen. “The Dirty Laundry of Filmmaking” is available now on Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts.)
Roxy Shih didn’t know that she was going to be a director from birth. In fact, it wasn’t until she took a Film 101 class as part of her Humanities requirements for her Sociology studies at university that the idea of working in the film industry appeared to her.
It was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a musical romance from 1964, directed by French filmmaker Jacques Demy, that awakened something within her. Roxy was nineteen, sitting in a lecture room, and then they started playing the film. “I was in tears. I was completely overwhelmed,” she says, “the story just wrecked me.” It was a movie made forty years ago, in a language she didn’t know, about a life so separate from hers. And yet, it resonated with her profoundly. She says, “it somehow reached out to me and created a connective tissue,”—and that magic was what she wanted to be a part of preserving. She didn’t know how, in what role, or in what capacity. But she felt it calling her; she couldn’t shake it.
So she took on Film Studies as a double major. “I always fell asleep in class because I couldn’t watch black and white films, silent films, for three hours!” she laughs, “But I somehow managed to graduate, and they now consider me one of their most esteemed alumni—which is really funny because I was never good in class!” Roxy had a lot of doubt, a lot of questions on ‘who am I? Who will I be?’ rummaging through her head in those years. But she also had drive. And after graduating, she moved to L.A. with her roommate and decided to give herself six months to see how far they could get and what they could get done. And it has been a roller coaster. But through all the ups and downs, the one thing she says has become abundantly clear is that she is a director. She didn’t know this immediately – it took some searching and a lot of learning. She hadn’t taken any directing classes and didn’t really know the distinct features of production roles. She had studied films — not filmmaking. “I learned all of that by actually getting into the game,” she says, “by getting my hands dirty.”
Like many, this for Roxy meant post-production. But the graveyard shifts editing short network promos made her miserable, “There was no one in the office, you’re by yourself, cutting this thirty-second thing…” So she asked herself, ‘what is it I really want?’ – but this was also at a point in time where women were invisible as film directors. “Less than 2% of directors were women, even less so minorities. And by successful, I mean just working,” she says, thinking back to how that desire just felt like a pipe dream—an unobtainable fantasy. So with an urging passion for getting projects made and knowing how unlikely it was that she would ever be a working director, she went into producing.
And for a while, that was working out. Roxy made a name for herself in the microbudget communities and showed that she was willing to give it all. But after producing the very successful movie Seahorses (2014, dir. Jason Katalian), she was told by the director that the industry would never properly take her seriously until she directed a feature film. “I produced for all these directors. And I saw what I liked — saw what I hated,” she says. Roxy didn’t have film school credentials, didn’t have the gear, but she had observed and been in the thick of it. She knew what she would never do on her own set, and she knew what worked and what she could become even better at.
The seed had been planted, and after Katalian told her she could use his gear, a script fell into her lap from above (/her editor she was working with on a music video.) She read the script, “and then all of it made sense. My editing background, my producing background—all of it led to this moment,” she says. It was a feature she could make in thirteen days, at one location, with five actors and a low budget. “Everything you thought was a diversion is actually part of your tool belt.” She had the knowledge, she had the drive, and when she first stepped on set, she felt that same magic again. She describes it as if a sleeper muscle within her had been awakened, “nothing felt more natural,” she adds, “when it is meant to be, it is so natural. You don’t even question it.” This. This was it. “You are going to battle every single freaking day,” she says, “but no matter how hard it is, I love it.” And that is how you know you have truly found your calling.
It is now five years after the release of The Tribe, and things have changed quite a lot of Roxy. She directed the drama/thriller feature film Painkillers (2018), was the lead director on the sci-fi anthology series Dark/Web (2019 — now available on Amazon Prime Video subscription) and most recently directed all the episodes of another horror show, Mira Mira (2021 — watch here). But it’s not all horror and terror — Roxy also co-founded the Taiwanese American Film Festival in L.A., and is the co-host of the podcast Two Horny Goats; a show that definitely shows her true, bubbly, and energetic self.
Do you want to hear the truth about getting into the industry (if your parents aren’t Oscar-nominated), the most important aspects of your portfolio when you are just starting out, and how to gain confidence and take care of your well being as a creative in a constantly-running industry? Listen to #37 | The Dirty Laundry of Filmmaking with Roxy Shih, now available wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow Roxy on Instagram @RoxyShih | roxyshih.com
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.