On Sunday, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color and only second woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. Zhao is the filmmaker behind Nomadland, a quiet and compassionate study of American itinerant workers who rely on seasonal work at Amazon, national parks, and other employers. Zhao also won an Oscar for Best Picture and was nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Along with directing Nomadland, Zhao produced the film and wrote its script.
Nomadland is just the third feature film from Zhao, who grew up in Beijing before moving to the U.S. and graduating from Mount Holyoke and NYU’s film school. After three relatively low-budget (and critically-acclaimed, to say the least) indie films, her fourth is a monster. She’s currently in post-production on The Eternals, a superhero film based on Marvel characters which she finished shooting early last year, just before the world went into lockdown.
Considering that Zhao entered film school in 2010, Zhao’s meteoric rise from low-budget indie-filmmaker to $200 million-budget movie maker is an impressive one. And there’s a lot to learn from Zhao. [KEEP READING for] three lessons that anyone, inside or outside the film industry, can take away from Zhao’s short but wildly successful career.