The Evolution of Filmmaker Sophie Shi

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Changhui Shi, or Sophie, as she prefers to be called in everyday life, is a talented short-film
producer who loves creating plotlines that focus on unconditional love and relationships.

Born in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province of China, Shi is an intelligent and spirited woman who brings life to those around her. Her Chinese name, ‘Shi,’ means sunshine, and her English name, ‘Sophie,’ comes from the notable Saint Sophia Cathedral in her hometown.

At only 13 years old, she watched a 90-minute film, titled “Warm Spring,” at school that inspired her to one day become a film producer to showcase other girls’ stories. The movie was about a young, poor orphan who was adopted by an old man despite his family’s disapproval. Although the old man’s family members treat the orphan with disrespect, she was always cordial toward them.

Upon the film’s ending, Shi recalls her classmates clapping, laughing and crying; they were all touched by the story. It even reminded Shi of a disagreement she had with her mother earlier that day; and when she arrived home, she quickly apologized. That was the day Shi realized just how powerful films could be. Later on, in high school, she began to write and direct various different plays.

Shi received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, graduating with first-class honors. Shi overcame enormous obstacles while completing her undergraduate degree, as she did not speak Cantonese and had never taken a class in English before. She was even the President and Director of the University’s English Drama Club.

In 2015, Shi chose to pursue accounting and finance. Not only did she complete 12 courses in only three months, but she also passed the tests needed to become a Certified Public Accountant on the first try. For the next four years, she worked at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in Hong Kong as a Senior Associate.

At this point, Shi had had no formal training in film, but decided to follow her dreams of
becoming a film producer. Thus, in 2019, she applied to the renowned Master of Fine Arts
(MFA) Producers Program offered at UCLA. Despite the program being around since 1984, Shi was the fifth Chinese student admitted in its history, and the first Chinese woman accepted during the 2010s.

During her time as a graduate student, she produced various short films with other UCLA
students in the program. Some examples of her work include “Dream Lollipops” and “Kingdom of Strangers.” She soon realized that “before box office and awards come passion.”

Throughout the lockdown, Shi was able to adapt to her new circumstances and came out with “Talk,” a film centered around the reunion of a daughter and mother during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around this time, Shi noticed how much misinformation President Trump was spreading
throughout the country – particularly due to him referring to the virus as a “Chinese virus.” Shi explains that she began to feel so unsafe that she was afraid to walk around her neighborhood, for fear of ridicule just for being Chinese. As a result, she was inspired to buy the rights for a Chinese mini-series in order to remake it as an American version. In doing so, she hopes to spread awareness about Chinese immigrants and also those who currently live in China.

Proper representation of her culture is important to her. “I am so annoyed when film and TV creators think all Asians are interchangeable. I want to be part of the solution to this
representation problem,” Shi expresses. Also an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, Shi has featured numerous transgender actors in her short films. For example, she cast someone who identifies as transgender and non-binary as the lead role in one of her films. Due to this, Shi was awarded with the UCLA Promise Social Impact Producing Scholarship in recognition of her commitment to the community. Another film she created about a Chinese transgender dancer won The Sean Slattery Memorial LGBTQ+ Voices Award 2021.

Shi has plenty of goals for herself, especially in the next five years: “I want to be an executive overseeing development and production of international original film and TV content at an established production company such as Imagine Entertainment, Color Force, Plan B, Temple Hill, Mandeville, etc.” In the next decade, she hopes to be a senior executive at a leading studio or streaming company, and to supervise the development of international film and TV. Within the next two decades, Shi plans to open her own production company.

Next on the agenda for Shi are her two upcoming films that she plans to release soon, titled “Never Say Cry” and “How to Cure Insomnia.”

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