Young Guns 18: Jackson Tisi

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie on Nov 18, 2020

Highlighting the creative superstars that make up the class of Young Guns 18

2020 has been one rollercoaster of a year, but fortunately, the spirit of creativity can't be dampened. Want proof? Check out the winners of Young Guns 18!

Beginning with our largest and most diverse jury in history, acclaimed creatives from across the globe spent three months reviewing hundreds of submissions from insanely talented young professionals seeking validation for all of their hard work. After narrowing down the field to 83 top-notch finalists, the jury engaged in virtual discussion and debate, deciding who will win one of the most career-impacting honors in our industry.

In the end, we are honored to present the 31 incredible winners of Young Guns 18, a diverse collection of artists, filmmakers, animators, designers, illustrators, and others, all of them representing some of the very best that their fields have to offer.

We invite you to learn about all 31 Young Guns 18 winners in this series of interviews.







When did Young Guns first pop up on your radar?

A few years ago when I was in college, I saw a lot of people I look up to and admire featured by Young Guns. Since then it has been on my radar and a goal of mine. It seems like an incredible community to be a part of.

Congrats on winning on your second try! What made you enter this year?

Last year I was nominated but didn't make the class. I was super excited to find out that I made the cut this year. A ton of growth can happen in a year I think. I'm 24 now, but was 23 the first time I submitted. Since then I've grown as a creative and I think the new work on my reel combined with some of my previous spots helped my chances this year. Sometimes as a creative it doesn't feel like a lot is changing or evolving from day to day, but whenever I step back and look at the big picture of a year of work, it helps me realize how much change can happen quickly.

Young Guns is as much an exercise in self-curation as it is in sheer creative talent. After all, you are only allowed to submit six projects. How did you go about deciding which pieces to submit and which to leave out?

I picked the projects that are closest to my heart. One of them is the first film that gave me the confidence that I could be a director. Other more recent projects were profound to make or just really fun to be a part of. Each of the six films I submitted are special and unique to me.

What went through your mind when you discovered that you won, knowing how difficult it is to make it into Young Guns?

I was pretty shocked. It has been a goal of mine for years, but I took it as an honor to just be nominated. Winning was a total surprise. It gave me validation about the path that I'm currently on.

If you had to pick one of the six projects that you entered as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

This is a tough one. "Hummingbirds in the Trenches" was the first film I made that gave me the confidence to be creative and direct. It was really formative and I still look back on how lucky I was to have such a great crew and team so early on. My other documentaries, "LEON" and "Good Medicine" are very important to me and they both changed my life.

If you had to describe your creative style, the part of your work that’s most distinctively “you”, what would it be?

I love elevated realism. Taking things that feel super real and human, and elevating them cinematically– either through experimenting or metaphors. I always have a detailed plan and idea of what I want, but I remain super flexible once production starts. I think embracing changes and thinking on my feet has given me some of the better moments in my projects– not getting too married to the initial vision going into a film is important for my process.

Who are some of the biggest influences on your work and career, people who may have had a hand in mentoring and supporting you?

I honestly look up to a lot of my friends. Some of the cinematographers and editors I work with have been incredibly important in my development as a creative. Shooting with Zoe Simone Yi has been really big for me. We both came up together through school and developed a lot of our favorite projects side by side. Matt Schaff is an editor I collaborate with frequently and he has taught me how to be a better storyteller. Other people I've taken inspiration from– Gavin Brivik who is an incredibly talented composer I work with, Grayson Whitehurst who is one of my closest friends and one of the best writers I know, Danyal Niazi who is a gifted cinematographer and frequent collaborator, and Donavon who is a musician I collaborate with very frequently. Outside of my closest circle of friends and collaborators, I do look up to the career of Spike Jonze. The freedom he has to direct features, commercials, music videos, action sports, and documentaries is amazing. I don't want to be only known for one thing in the future. My goal is to have the flexibility to be constantly trying new things.

Now that you’re in the Young Guns family, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

There are so many. In some of the more recent years, Savanah Leaf (YG17), Nadia Lee Cohen (YG16), Marco Prestini (YG16), Jonas Lindstroem (YG16), and Maceo Frost (YG15) really stand out as inspirations.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a pretty crazy year, with a global pandemic and social upheaval shaping so many facets of our lives. Aside from the positive news of winning Young Guns, how has this year been for you?

I've always been taught that harder times are a better teacher than successful times. I have not written 2020 off. It's made me realize how delicate everything is and I generally feel like I am more present and appreciative now. I took a lot of time to write and stay creatively busy. While it has been a challenging and surprising year, for me it has been one of the more formative years of my life.

Name a creative/professional dream that you have yet to fulfill — hey, maybe Young Guns can help propel you in that direction!

2020 has taught us that nothing is promised. While I definitely have goals, right now I am focused on putting one foot in front of the other and giving every project that comes my way all of my attention and focus. The main goal is to keep as many doors and pathways open creatively, and to constantly be playing in different genres of filmmaking. I've been writing a TV show script and trying to develop some longer form documentary and narrative work. Getting into some long form or episodic work is definitely a big goal for me.

Any last words about winning Young Guns 18 that you'd like to share?

I'm humbled and honored to be included in the Young Guns class this year. I would love to say congrats to all of the other winners and nominees. I'm grateful to my friends and collaborators who have supported me throughout my career so far, and I'm always thankful for my parents who first supported my desire to get into filmmaking at a young age.


" Jackson’s work has such a strong point of view, such a strong vision, that I can recognize his work whether it’s a documentary about how skateboarding has helped the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes, a surreal pink branded spot for Pabst, or a doc about the rapper Meek Mill. But his crowning achievement is his powerful gut-punch of a film about Leon Ford, a Pittsburgh activist who was shot multiple times by cops who thought he was someone else. Jackson uses sound and images to enable his subjects to have a voice and to show us a perspective that we haven’t seen before."

Cary Murnion
Director/Executive Creative Producer
Honor Society
Young Guns 3 Winner

"There was not a doubt in my mind that Jackson deserved to be a Young Guns winner — and beyond. His films are masterful, visually cinematic documents of current events which challenge the status quo with grace. Most importantly, his work is laser-focused in capturing the purpose and powerful energy of people."

"His subjects, impressive individuals with pointed messages, speak calmly and confidently, encouraging the audience to be still and listen. This is no doubt due to the efforts of the director to harness their narratives. Jackson’s work captures a “nowness” and a hope that moves the imagination and the mind into a better place in time while reflecting on where we’ve been."

Lauren Indovina
Director / Concept Artist
Young Guns 11 Winner

"Intimate. Personal. Transfixing. In watching Jackson's work you can tell he wants to understand the subject and person inside and out. Parts observational and parts craft, he wants to create films and narratives that bring you in ... so you feel present and comfortable in the story he is helping tell. "

Nessim Higson
Executive Creative Director
Young Guns 5 Winner

"I was blown away by the work of Jackson Tisi. His videography that tackled the tough subject of police brutality in America was truly moving. The rollercoaster of emotions during this 14-minute film is what drew me to his entire catalog of work. Jackson isn't afraid to take risks with his art and his ability to film these emotionally charged stories in such a beautiful and compelling manner is truly inspiring."

Nia Lawrence
Creative Director
Essence Communications



Make sure to check out all the Young Guns 18 Winners in the archive!

Young Guns 18 Archive



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