Industry Talks

Industry Talks: Asya Nikolaeva

In this series, we’ll be showcasing a variety of talented women in the music industry who are acing it right now. To find out more about how they navigated their chosen path in the industry, we’ll be uncovering how they got to be in their current roles and just exactly what that role entails. With the hope of sharing the abundance of career paths in the music industry, this feature aims to inspire more women to find their very own place in the music world by showcasing those who are already thriving in its environment.

For our fifth Industry Talks feature, we spoke to Asya Nikolaeva who is an award winning Ukranian director, producer and founder of the San Francisco based production house On A Whim Films. Her latest project for German electronic artist Christian Löffler has already won a number of awards including Indie Short Fest – Best Music Video, Best Director (Female) Independent Shorts Awards – Best Music Video and International Music Video Underground – Best Dance Finalist.

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Hi Asya, thanks for taking part in our Industry Talks.

Can you tell us what your job title is? 

Film director that is in love with her job title

What does your job involve? 

Lot’s of positive energy and enthusiasm first of all 🙂

From my film school years, I love the determination of the film director role, like a conductor of a huge orchestra that plays a complicated symphony. It’s such an honour to have this opportunity of coordinating and mixing of all these music parts. Of course, it’s a lot of creativeness and focus! my job is a full-cycle production that starts from an idea to pre-production, after that is the most exciting part – production of the video itself, then post-production with editing, colour correction, and sound mixing, and finally the premiere of a video.

As a director, I participate in each step of the cycle engaging with lots of talented and professional people in the process, because filmmaking is definitely teamwork.

Tell us a bit about your career so far and how you secured the role you’re in today.

At some point in time, attending film schools had become my hobby and habit. I graduated from Kyiv Institute of Film and TV, Advanced Courses of Screenwriting and Filmmaking in Moscow, Summer Program in London Film School, and finally SF Academy of Art University Motion Picture Major.

But I am convinced that any theory has to be backed up with practice, so I started shooting music videos when I was in my 2nd year of university. I was 20 years old by then. Then were the long times of my freelance career. I enjoyed it a lot and loved every project (from 30sec commercial to documentary festival movie). And gradually it all has led me to found my own film production company On A Whim Films based in SF, California.

Our newest project, a music video for German electronic musician Christian Loffler for his track ‘Ballet’, has determined one of the main directions of the production – shooting cinematic music videos for electronic musicians from all over the world. And we’re not planning on stopping.


What’s the best part of your job? 

When the new project arrives and you realise that it matches your taste, soul and your heartbeat! And the moment you start brainstorming the idea and aesthetic with the team. I adore creating new worlds, characters, and arcs.

How do you ensure that your job doesn’t burn you out mentally? 

I have a therapist once a week:)

But the best remedy against burning out is actually being on the shooting set and shooting process itself.

Do you have a degree? If so, what is it in?

Yes, I have master’s degree from Kyiv University and MFA (master of Fine Arts) from SF Academy of Art University. But isn’t it funny to be a Master of Film directing?!?:)

Were internships important to kickstart your career?

In my case it was true. My career started with an internship it one of the biggest production companies in Kyiv.  As soon as you have an opportunity to come to a team of professionals, take it and dive into it! The School of life is the best school.

Has networking played a significant part in your career? 

Filmmaking without networking does not exist at all. Especially when you live in California 🙂 Most of the discussions and pitching happen during parties, night outs and hiking. To be honest, networking is not my strongest skill, but living in SF I try to become a real hustler. Learning from the best – IT startuppers:)

If someone was looking to start a career in video production, how would you advise them to start? 

Read a lot, make notes on everything you see around you (dialogues, locations, scenes that you can see from your car etc), because you can combine all of these notes to your future script someday. Watch loads of renowned and good movies, be curious. Start gathering your own team of talented and passionate people around you.

Don’t be afraid to use your mobile phone for filming. And when possible, try to get to a shooting set to observe the shooting process from inside out.

Any top tips for being a successful woman in the music industry?

I believe that a successful woman in any industry is a woman who is in comfort with herself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and go your own beautiful way.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll, plus eye patches in the morning…. I just love such characters in my stories:))

And finally, which other women are killing it in the industry right now?

Role models of ON A WHIM FILMS are Anna Purna Pictures and A24. The founder and CEO of Annapurna production is Megan Ellison. She is not very active on social media and prefers to stay in the shadow most of the time. She managed to grow a successful production company that aims solely at indie films that have high box office around the world. She has been nominated for the Academy Award 4 times by the age of 35. She most definitely kills it in the industry right now. It would be amazing if she could go with me for a dinner after this interview😘

Find out more about On A Whim Films here.

Industry Talks | The new feature from Lock Magazine.

Industry Talks: Asya Nikolaeva
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