Meiling Jin is a multi-talented, actress, cinematographer and model who overcame all odds after surviving a suicidal event in 2002, to changing her personality from an introvert to becoming more of an extrovert, to transitioning from living in China to America to pursue and break into the tough TV & entertainment world. Read our interview with the lovely Meiling below…
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
My background is in journalism, doing feature stories about various people or events. Near graduation from Columbia College, I happened to see Kelly Luchtman shooting an episode of “Flavorhood Chicago” with star Mark DeCarlo in Chinatown. A typical TV show is 22 minutes, and some of my news features were 10 to 14 minutes, almost a TV show in length. It took about 10 seconds for me to realize that I could make TV shows also.
Tell us about your business.
My business, Studio Meiling Productions, LLC is a media production company capable of shooting cinema quality movies, HDTV multi-camera TV shows, celebrity news interviews, industrial shorts for internet advertising and high quality photographic images with post-production work. All filming, sound, editing, script, post-production work is done in-house. My partner, Robert, has almost 40 years with photography and recently video recording experience. He is an expert in sound, lighting and composition.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
This business is run on equipment and the ability to use it. First we had to study the equipment needed and what was available in our price range. This was where Robert’s role was important in order to put together a package of cameras, microphones, lights and other equipment needed to film what was on our list of projects. All of our first purchases were returned for better equipment as we learned equipment supports your skill in using it. After that, we practiced and studied our craft, sometimes practicing for hours just to get 10 seconds of outstanding video and then figuring out how we could repeat that process under various conditions. Next was to study what media format the various TV stations needed for their distribution. This took months of study.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
At this time we only shoot our own projects. This is turning out to be a full-time job. Actually we don’t have time to shoot commercial work, but later it could be a possibility. We do advertise our current projects on its own Facebook page and also on the various Facebook sites for indie filmmakers and Chicago actors. Facebook is the secret to success these days – never underestimate its power to reach across the country or globe.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
We were a few weeks in business and the equipment was still in the box when we had an opportunity to film a sizzle for a cooking show, “Cooking Naked” with MTV’s naked chef Jacques Laventure. We didn’t even know how to color balance the cameras and we didn’t have enough lights. Motion picture camera operator, Steve Hiller, whom had worked the cameras on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, came out to setup and turn on the cameras for us. Now we are learning to pitch our show. This also took months of study and conversations with other professionals. Knowing what you need to learn is actually not intuitive. Learning by failure has been our typical course of action. Do it, then learn why you didn’t do it correctly. You will get there.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Networking is the most important aspect of most any business. Getting a thousand “likes” on your Facebook doesn’t help you unless one of those friends has a mutual need for your business or for working with you in your business. Also network in person at events where you will meet business partners or customers that you need. It’s time to be serious and to meet and attract people that can help you, aside from your base of fans. Using Facebook, we have been able to find experts in the fields of video, sound, editing software, etc. that can help us. When I have a problem with Final Cut Pro, a Facebook friend can help me in minutes while I’m sitting at my desk. That is what young entrepreneurs need to do.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Motivation is difficult because we are working on a project that is now at the one and a half year point. For the first six months we studied and it was difficult. Results weren’t obvious, just things like, “oh, this is how you hide a Lav.” It seemed like taking a four year college course in six months. This is where networking was important. The next phase was filming and correcting errors in our production. But we were moving forward. The shooting schedule was overwhelming at an average of 3 hours per day, every day, every month. The stress was unbearable and there were times that I broke down. But Robert, being older and more experienced explained how every project in the world succeeds – lay one brick, then lay one more only looking at that one brick – don’t stop and soon you have built a pyramid.
How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
There are a lot of indie filmmakers in Chicago. But it is most important to understand that none of us are in competition with each other. We are all on the same path from a dream to success. There is room for all of us to succeed. But we are proud of our work and we believe we produce work with the best of them, well most of the time. Sometimes we goof around too. But for us it is being professional that matters. We have the equipment, the skill and because we use a lot of actors, we want to present a professional atmosphere when working with them. But we do have fun while filming, it’s just a matter of how the scenes are shot to make the actors feel comfortable and appreciated. We do pay attention to other Chicago success stories such as the TV show “Teachers” on TVLand created by a Chicago team of women “The Katydids.” “Easy Abby” is great work from some ladies also out of Chicago and we are hoping there will be a big success there also.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Facebook is full of motivational posts. Everyone posts them. We all need to be motivated, but we need to understand our business even more. For us, learning from the pro’s is needed. We study and study and study. For our sitcom project “Chop Chop TV Show” the comedian John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame is our mentor. There are many great comedy writers but we needed one that can teach comedy. John is one of the great teachers of comedy and he makes it understandable. His advice is number one for us. Also when Michael Moore was in Chicago, he said, “Make the best movies you can and ‘someone’ will want them. Don’t think about that ‘someone’, just make great movies.” So we are making the funniest sitcom we can and now pitching it to media outlets. Robert quotes those two men all the time.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
In my field, the number one most important skill is to be able to review your work and be critical of it. Don’t ask your mom, she will always love it. Look at your work and ask, is it professional, can it be better, how does it compare to the more experienced businesses in the same field? We are hyper critical of every second of video, sound, light, focus, composition, etc. It’s not that we are great, but we know what “great” is and we are always striving for it. We have errors in our production, but we can see them and we know what to avoid next time. Entrepreneurs need to be like that. But before you start, ask yourself, “Will other people want this?” Too often a great idea is only “great as an idea” – not as a product. Who will want it? How many can you sell, or how many will watch your video, how many will support it. In television, even the worse imaginable show will have one million followers – guaranteed. But that isn’t success in today’s market.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
The Internet is the greatest tool for businesses. But as I talk to other entrepreneurs in a similar field I can see that they don’t know the vast amount of resources that are available to them. You need to know “what” you need to know. It’s not as simple as it sounds. Next you need to know how to get that data from the Internet.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
I’m Chinese and the scope of my work is less known to most of my American friends and fans, I’m well known in China as a journalist. This all happened because of the internet and social media. In my peak days as a journalist, I was writing 40 headline stories a year and receiving 30,000 to 50,000 incoming messages a month on social media from fans.
• Instagram @meilingjin
• LinkedIn: Meiling Jin
• Facebook www.facebook.com/meiling91.0720
• Facebook Fanpage www.facebook.com/meilingjin0720
• Chop Chop TV Show Facebook www.facebook.com/chopchoptvshow
• YouTube& Vimeo: Meiling Jin
• IMDB: Meiling Jin
• Hashtags #ChicagoFilmmaker #ChicagoTVproducer #TVproducer #ChicagoJournalist #ChineseJournalist #Entrepreneur #MeilingJin #ChicagoYogi #ChicagoModel #ChicagoActor
• Public Wechat: meilingjin0720
• BaiDu: 金美翎
• Tencent& Sina Weibo: 金美翎
• Tencent Blog http://user.qzone.qq.com/705147955
If you would like to see our work, here are two show sizzles and our business demo reel:
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
Most of my reading is industry news or technical advice for filming and editing. Robert reads theory of comedy and studies filming composition and technical manuals. So that sound very boring, but necessary.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
At this time pitching our show “Chop Chop” is our goal. Learning to pitch took months of study and errors. Learning who to pitch to took more time. Making connections and networking is ongoing and key to our success. Everyone should know, even though we have learned how to do this, we are not successful yet. It’s a long process for TV production and staying on course is our goal.