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Editor Xiaodan Yang tells compelling story in 'Sixteen'

Xiaodan “Christy” Yang has always loved film. As a child, growing up in China, her father would rent movies every weekend and they would watch them together for countless hours. Yang grew up enchanted by what she saw on the screen and it was no surprise to anyone that knew her that she found herself wanting to be a filmmaker as she grew. However, despite wanting to be involved with making her favorite form of art, she did not know exactly what she wanted to do. At the beginning of her career, she experimented with many different roles, but one changed her life, and that was the editor.

“I first experienced the magic of editing on a documentary I shot by myself. Without much experience or skills at that time, I shot too much footage, almost everything I saw. Editing became vital to express my idea of telling a smart, short story, instead of a long boring diary. I spent a long time on the post production, trying different ways to edit. That was actually a significant process. After that, I became determined to be a professional editor,” said Yang.

Now, Yang has an esteemed career as an editor having worked on many celebrated films. Her talents were recognized on the world stage for her film It’s Not Just About a Film when she won Best Editing at the Top Shorts Film Festival and the Award of Merit, Editing at the Accolade Global Film Competition. She also impressed critics with her work on films such as Witness, and audiences can expect triumph again this year with her upcoming projects Kayla and Summer Orange, which will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Last year, Yang had another outstanding success with her contributions to the impactful film Sixteen. It tells the story of a 16-year old girl who has a perfect life until she suddenly discovers her early pregnancy. She can’t let her adoptive parents know since it will shatter her image of a good girl. After a long struggle, she decides to look for her true self and begins by finding her biological mother. She discovers their experiences are not very different.

“The most important part of this story is the changes the audiences see happening to the main character. I think most people have been through those kinds of changes in a way. That was our intention when telling this story. As long as there are people that can feel for the character, that means we made something special,” said Yang.

Sixteen premiered on Sept. 20th, 2017 at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. From there, it continued to have enormous success at many international film festivals, including the Los Angeles Film Awards where it was an Honorable Mention: Student Film, the California International Shorts Festival where it won Best Student Short, the North American Film Awards where it took home the Silver Award, and the Five Continents International Film Festival.

“It feels very exciting that the film has been so successful. The accomplishments of Sixteen mean people like the story and they can feel the filmmaker’s sincerity. In a way, the value of this project has been realized. Also, it’s nice to know that my editing was enjoyed by audiences around the world,” said Yang.

When the producer of the film was looking for an editor that could help bring her film to success, she reached out to Yang. Celine Qian, the producer, goes to Yang with almost every script she plans on making into a movie, knowing the talent the editor possesses. Upon reading the script, Yang had a clear idea of the story and knew that she could help tell it in a poignant way through editing. After meeting with Iris Zhang, the Director of the film, and going through the footage, Yang was confident that it was going to be a touching and authentic story in her hands.

“Xiaodan is definitely a professional editor. She is detail-oriented, highly efficient and is experienced with various technologies. When she edited my short film Sixteen, her Avid project was always well organized, which made us able to easily locate whatever footage we wanted. Besides editing, she is also proficient in post-production workflow, so she played an indispensable role on our team. Working with Xiaodan is more like a creative process. I enjoyed it a lot,” said Iris Zhang, Director.

Whenever Yang begins a project, she makes a first cut that she uses as a guide throughout the rest of the editing process; Sixteen was no different. She spent one week completing the first cut, and Zhang was extremely impressed with even her rough work, especially regarding the tempo and music. She then started to work on the smaller details. Meeting once or twice a week with the Director, she made sure they were always on the same page. During meeting times, they would talk about each other’s thoughts and try different ways to solve problems. When there was a different opinion, Yang always tried both to see which one worked better. Before locking the picture, Zhang brought notes from the Producer and her mentor to ask for Yang’s opinion, knowing that the editor’s distinct eye allowed her to execute the film to perfection.

“I liked the way Iris worked with me. She is straightforward, and always let me know her ideas and concerns immediately, which made us work highly efficiently. We trusted each other completely and came up with lots of great ideas together,” Yang described.

With Yang’s editing, Sixteen achieved its goal at being a coherent and sweet film. She carefully controlled the rhythm of the film while editing and paid close attention to sound and color, making sure everything went the right way. Her commitment to her team and the story was evident, and what makes her such a great editor.

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