Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University’s School of Film and TV Arts (SoFTA) alumna Peiyao (Alice) Xiao is finally ready for a break. After a degree programme filled with internships and a post-graduation gap year crammed with freelance producing, tutoring and an internship at the XJTLU Learning Mall, Xiao plans to take a breather before the next step in her career.
SoFTA alumna Peiyao (Alice) Xiao
“My father always tells me, ‘You’re going to be working for 40 years; you don’t have to rush into it. Give yourself time to figure out what you really want,’” she says.
Xiao graduated from the BA Filmmaking programme in 2022, but she began her XJTLU career as a student in financial mathematics. When the filmmaking programme opened and began recruiting, Xiao transferred.
Peiyao (Alice) Xiao’s portfolio
If she could do it over, would she change anything?
“No. I believe that when you’re young, you have time to change your mind and the right to change your mind. I still love maths – I feel like my time doing maths taught me a logical, analytical way of thinking that has helped with my producing,” she says.
The one thing she would reconsider, however, is to make more friends outside of her programme and School. “Something like a film benefits from having different types of people involved, bringing different perspectives,” she says.
She has seen the advantages of combining people with different interests to make a film first-hand. For her directorial debut, “Yu Zhen Tang”, she brought together students from two Schools – SoFTA and Design School.
‘Yu Zhen Tang’ cast and crew reviewing the footage
The short film represents many firsts for her and her School.
While she had produced before, it was her first time directing a project. It was also the first time students built a set entirely from scratch for a studio shoot, and the first time marketing and distribution were entirely student-managed.
She says she had difficulty switching off the “producer” part of her brain. She would frequently ask “Yu Zhen Tang”’s producer about things like location and finance, but the film’s producer would calmly tell Xiao that she would handle the production and that Xiao’s job was the story and the characters.
The two-day shoot was preceded by three days of rehearsal. Xiao had plans for two versions. One would be a traditional shooting style, where each scene would be edited into a longer narrative. But she also wanted to try filming it in a single long take, which meant the performances had to be as practised as possible.
A still from ‘Yu Zhen Tang’ featuring Jingwei He (left) and Nanxi (Nancy) Song (right)
The film, a psychological thriller, takes place in one spot and becomes increasingly tense and claustrophobic.
“We experimented with a single take because we wanted to try to control the viewers’ eyes, so they could only focus on what the director wants to show them,” she says. The experiment paid off, and the single-take version was the one she chose.
The film was part of the official selections of several monthly film festivals and received recognition for the cinematography, poster and performances.
‘Yu Zhen Tang’ poster
The film is now serving a new purpose as part of her portfolio for master’s programme applications. After hearing back from several institutions, Xiao ultimately chose the MS Integrated Marketing at New York University.
“But until then, I might do some travelling. I plan to spend more time with my family – I want to see my younger sister grow up a bit more.”
She says whatever her future studies and career hold, she isn’t afraid of following her heart, even if it means making mistakes: “Don’t waste your time on things you don’t like. You won’t find yourself there.”
By Patricia Pieterse
Edited by Tamara Kaup and Xinmin Han