Jacki Trinh’s Cellmates wins Audience Award at January 2019 HollyShorts Screening

Nikita Raja

We are excited to announce that Women In Media member, Producer/Editor/Writer, Jacki Trinh won the Audience Award at the HollyShorts January screening! We got the down low on her process for making  CELLMATES, as well as the mathy nerdom that propelled her toward making films.

What is your process when preparing for a film? 

It all starts with an inspiration, a spark that gets the creative process going. Once it does, a tone is established that guides me from the genesis of the idea to the finishing touches.

Though I strive for the end result to feel organic and free-flowing, loads of preparation and hard work go into making that happen. Taking walks and practicing yoga often helps bring clarity – and getting a good night’s sleep whenever possible keeps my head clear and allows for ideas to flow naturally.

Please elaborate on what inspires you before starting a project.

For a project to take hold, I need an idea/inspiration that resonates either on an emotional, spiritual or intellectual level. If it makes me think, gets the gears spinning, and would not go away, I know I have something that’s worth pursuing. Then, it’s a matter of meeting that other ‘key’ person. I’m a believer of “It takes two to tango.”

For Cellmates, it was not until I met Dante Skartoni, the DP, that I saw the possibility of turning my idea into a film. He has previously shot a feature on the iPhone. After we discussed all the possibilities of using a cellphone to tell the story, he agreed to come on board. So essentially, my inspiration for starting a project is a combination of having an idea that resonates and meeting another like-minded person who supports the idea and believes in me.

I would also add that due to the collaborative nature of filmmaking, the creative process varies from project to project.

Tell us about your award winning film, CELLMATES:

Cellmates Cast & Crew at HollyShorts

Cellmates is about Jim, a young writer from out of town, who gets invited to LA for winning a writing contest. He then finds a lost cell phone. In his gallant effort to return the phone to its rightful owner, he gets a taste of LA that changes the course of his life.

I was inspired by something that happened to a friend when I was living in New York City, so I decided to write a story around it. Though the idea originated from the Big Apple, it was the unique environment of Los Angeles that made the rendition – with all the quirky characters and “Everyone in a bubble” mentality that is so endemic to LA.

It was shot entirely on the iPhone 8, which is also indicative of the mobile phone being advanced enough to be considered as a platform for filmmakers to test their vision at a low startup cost. More importantly, it now has the creative editing controls necessary to produce artistic content.

Who or what got you into film?

When I first saw Citizen Kane my senior year in high school, I knew I had to figure out how to go from being a math and science nerd to being a film geek. The emotions I first experienced with this masterful film touched me on so many levels that made me want to learn how to use this medium to communicate, create, and inspire, just like Welles did for me.

As a self proclaimed math geek, what was your nerdiest math or science moment?   

When I was exempt from having to complete 6th grade Math because I kept being the first one to finish the test within 15 minutes and score 100%. Instead, I was sent by my Math teacher to the TAG (Talented and Gifted) Program where I could do anything I wanted during that time. From that freedom, I remember sitting there and reading books about The Titanic and The Poseidon Adventure while my classmates were back in the classroom having fun learning Math.

It was during these immersive experiences that sparked my interest in becoming a storyteller. I wanted to learn to create for others to enjoy and to have the same experiences that I had. It took some soul searching, as well as more learning, to put the 2 and 2 together, and that led me to what I’m doing today.

In what way did your love of math and science influence your path toward film?

It has to do with the left and right brains competing with each other. One side is more logical, and the other is more creative. So I was seeking ways to balance them out while trying to maintain my inner peace. Most creative individuals have the struggle between the desire to create and the need for public acceptance of the finished work. Keeping the logical brain in play during the creative process helps keep me grounded, as well as my willingness to put my work out there for the world to enjoy and appreciate. 

On set of Cellmates 2What are your preferred technicals (camera/editing software/etc)?

I first dabbled with screenwriting when a friend gave me a full license of Final Draft as a gift. It made it easy for me to just start writing.

Before I became an Editor, I learned Premiere, FCP, and Avid. Now, even though I tend to gravitate toward Avid, I also use Premiere and DaVinci Resolve for Editing and Color Grading, depending on the project. In 3-5 years from now, the landscape will inevitably change again.

Who have you been inspired by in your career?

I am inspired by an eclectic group of filmmakers, actors and directors, starting from Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola, Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet to Ron Howard, Clint Eastwood, and Jason Bateman…to name a few.

Most filmmakers I know have somebody that they look up to. For me, I am especially drawn to Ron Howard as a role model. He’s a creative person who has successfully moved through his career transitions as a filmmaker (Acting-Directing-Producing). He is also known to be a genuinely nice and humble person. I am truly inspired by all those qualities.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? (Something unique or unusual)

Before I discovered my passion for film, I wanted to be a professional tennis player. I picked up a tennis racket for the first time my freshman year in high school during gym class, and I was hooked. There was a time during the following four years that I was even considering joining the tournament circuit instead of going to college.

When graduation rolled around, I signed up for an elective course called “Communications Media.” I was told that it was only offered during your senior year because you get to watch movies in class. It was then and there that I saw Citizen Kane for the first time, as a teenager.

Back then, the filmmaking career path seemed nearly impossible to me. Now, I’m grateful to be living the dream.

Crystal Kelley_On Set