It’s 12:20 p.m. when a woman sporting a casual topknot and black winged eyeliner walks right up to my outdoor table at UTC, gives me a hug and a kiss and says “Sorry I’m late, girl, traffic from L.A. to here was gnarly!”
I’m about to respond when a girl at a nearby table yells out, “Roxy? Is that you?”
The woman’s eyes widen and she yells back “Hey, girl!” before running over to greet her friend. Roxy Shih graduated from UC Irvine in 2010, a time she describes as feeling “like it was 10 years ago instead of three,” yet she’s still recognized on campus…during the summer. Though she’s now a freelance producer and director that has produced three full-length features, not to mention a number of short films, music videos and commercials, Shih’s UCI journey didn’t start off on the road to show biz.
Shih entered UCI as a sociology major because her mother wanted her to become a lawyer, but “inside, I always knew I was an artist,” she says.
“I’ve always thought of filmmakers as magicians because they can create magic through storytelling.”
Shih had always loved movies growing up –– some of her favorites include the 1964 French musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” and Ron Howard’s “Willow” –– but it wasn’t until after taking film classes for fun that she decided to pursue her passion and declare film and media studies as a double major, as well as picking up a minor in digital arts.
The class that influenced her film style the most, as well as inspired her to become a filmmaker, was her film course on Alfred Hitchcock, taught by Lauren Steimer.
“Hitchcock is absolutely my inspiration because now I’m all about making dark, suspenseful, psychological thrillers,” Shih says. “I love ‘Birds.” No! ‘Psycho.’ No! Everything!” she laughs, clapping her hands. “Everything that man made is amazing.”
On top of keeping up with her two majors and minor, Shih also added extracurriculars into the mix. She was a member of Alpha Phi Omega and MCIA Dance Team (through which she was a captain and coordinator) for all four years, a SPOP staffer for a summer and she held various off-campus jobs in retail. Going into her third year, Shih landed an internship at Film Independent, the non-profit organization that hosts the annual Independent Spirit Awards. Through her first experience with the entertainment industry, Shih would play a role in developing the awards show by looking for sponsors to help fund young filmmakers.
However, Shih didn’t know how much of a challenge her career would be until she graduated in 2010.
“I was unemployed for six months, I moved to L.A. spontaneously and from there held a lot of temp jobs,” Shih says, shaking her head slowly as she recalls her first struggles as a college graduate. “It was a tough time, but I think we all need to go through those tough times to learn, and grow. If opportunity doesn’t come knocking, build your own door, girl.”
Soon enough, Shih discovered how essential networking is in the entertainment industry, and after a few collaborations with filmmakers, word of mouth got out and Shih was offered countless opportunities to where she could finally call herself a freelance producer and director.
“I actually just wrapped up a short film that we shot this weekend,” Shih says excitedly. “Want to see pictures?” She whips out her iPhone and begins searching the “ambrosiathemovie” hashtag on Instagram. There are a few photos of Shih and her collaborators having fun on set –– “don’t look at that one, that’s just me acting stupid,” she says –– but most of them depict a strangely beautiful unearthly creature.
Shih’s latest project that she produced, “Ambrosia,” is a collaboration between her and her longtime friend and fellow UCI graduate, cinematographer Sheldon Chau. It’s a social commentary on the meaning of drugs, a pscyhological sci-fi thriller about an alien that takes ambrosia in order to be transported into the body of a suffering heroin addict. So what’s her role as producer?
“Being a producer requires a lot of planning, and very clear communication,” Shih says. “When you’re making movies, you have to work with so many people, so you better be sure your vision is concise and you talk to everyone.”
But that’s why she does it.
“I feel incredibly blessed to be able to be a producer because I love people and pleasing people,” she says. “Yeah, meeting celebrities is a fun perk of my job, but my favorite part is bringing a group of people together that eventually forms a family.” Becoming a part of a bigger team by working on a Hollywood blockbuster is something that she would consider, but for now, Shih is passionate about independent filmmaking because of the familial aspect, and the amount of freedom she’s allowed in her choices, particularly her freedom to cast minorities and openly gay actors that seem to be lacking on silver screen.
Does she see a tall golden man in her future?
“I don’t know many filmmakers who don’t dream of taking home an Oscar,” Shih laughs, “but that’s not why I’m doing this. I feel like people in the film industry get so tied up with winning awards that they fail to remember why they’re doing what they do. It sounds kind of corny, but I am living my wildest dreams right now. If I don’t ever win an Oscar, that’s okay. I’m the only one who can define my success. I just have to stay humble.”
And after another big hug and a kiss, another former classmate screams “Roxy!” and whisks Shih away as if she were a movie star herself.