We first introduced Phoenix Liu in our June article, “Five Female Directors You Should Know.” We recently met up in person to go more in-depth with one of China’s rare female directors, and learn more about how she is discovering a path to “conscious directing” in today’s world of advertising.
Liu started her career in Sydney more than 10 years ago, when she opened her own multimedia design studio, taking on project-based graphic design, printing, 3D animation and video production. She also began writing her own scripts, then producing and directing short films and web series. But she always knew she’d move back to China.
“It’s a quiet industry in Australia. There aren’t as many opportunities. But in China, the market is so good. When I was in Sydney in 2015, I got a call about an opportunity to work in production on the film THE GREAT WALL directed by Zhang Yimou. I had a Skype interview and they wanted me to fly back the next day, but I was tied up with some administrative issues at the time, and wouldn’t get there for another week. They couldn’t wait for me. I knew then I was going to move back to China so I wouldn’t miss another opportunity like that,” said Liu.
A TVC for Tencent directed by Pheonix Liu
Liu moved to Shanghai later in 2015, and her first project coming back was a streaming-only film with minimal production. “I wanted to work in bigger, better production,” she said simply. So she researched large production companies, which landed her at one of China’s largest and well known, Gwantsi.
“When I was doing in-house directing at Gwantsi, I was working across many other tasks, and often working closely with clients. I practiced a lot of other skills, like coming up with the creative, and working on pitching, storyboarding and directing. But I felt like it was time to grow on my own, and focus more solely on directing.”
Last year’s holiday spot for Infiniti
Liu left Gwantsi one year ago to be a freelance director, and it’s proven to be the right move for her. “Now, I just get creative boards and start to direct. In one year with Gwantsi, I worked in many roles on eight projects. This year, I’ve directed more than 20. So I’ve grown a lot in terms of production skills, and grown my network.”
Liu represents a young, internationally-minded Chinese generation that absorbs more content than ever before. “Clients like me because my visual style is international, but I’m still local,” Liu explains. This style can be seen in some of her recent work, like this spot for fashion retailer Urban Revivo.
Visuals transition from organic to AI inspired
Recently, Phoenix Liu has been grappling with her place in the modern world of advertising. As she finds continued success and no longer worries about career stability, her goals have turned towards contributing to meaningful advertising.
“Now that I’m more established, I can choose to work with brands that share the same values as me. I remember early in my career, I did an ad for a soft drink. I was really happy with the finished product and showed it to my dad, expecting him to say, ‘This is so cool!’ But the first thing he said was, ‘You should never drink this, the ingredients are so bad for you.’ So I’m trying to be more aware, more conscious of what I work on.”
Stills from Liu’s next spot for new yogurt brand Yo Keep
Liu finds comfort that advertising can contribute good to the world – because people and companies who “do good” need advertising too. She is also dedicating more time to working for these brands that she aligns with. “I’m currently creating a spot for a startup company that doesn’t have the funds to go through a production company or creative agency. They’re collaborating with Harvard professors to develop high-tech support for the healthcare industry. It’s great to see them get recognized by the world and get funding and investment through my videos.”
Finding balance in a results-driven world is a difficult line to walk, but we’ll continue to follow Liu’s work and journey towards “conscious directing.” We hope this piece serves as a first look as we start a deep-dive on learning what industry insiders are doing to bring about good through advertising – what we call “Conscious Advertising”. Last year, we met with agency RICElebrate, a creative agency that provides “social design” to brands, companies and NGOs that seek to enhance their CSR. But we hope to learn more about what everyday advertising creatives do to build a portfolio that contributes more Good to the world than Greed.
If you or someone you know is on the path to Conscious Advertising, reach out to us for a conversation on how to spread Good through the industry.