As 450 people gathered in front of his camera, Jackson Tisi, in his signature way, focused his lens on others. Like he’d done many times before — as the media captain of the Welcome Week Student Leadership Team, as a freelance filmmaker and as a creative collaborator — he gave people the space to let their own stories shine.
“I try to do my best to represent these complex stories that usually are about someone’s entire life in what is typically an eight-minute film,” Tisi said. “It is a challenge I try to embrace.”
Having grown up in Wyoming, Tisi was 12 when he made his first video of his brother skiing because the price of ski gear was expensive — if Tisi and his brother wanted to keep skiing during the winter months, they would need to a brand to sponsor them.
Tisi’s short films, highlighting his brother’s cinematic jumps and slaloms, landed him a sponsorship from a ski-gear brand that allowed both of them to ski throughout winter.
“By virtue of growing up in a small town and wanting to make videos, I was one of the only people my age who wanted to do that, so I had to do everything myself,” Tisi said. “From conceptualizing something to shooting it and editing it, it was all on me just learning how to do all of that.”
Tisi, who wanted to stay in New York during the summer after his sophomore year, took a position as the media captain of the Welcome Week Student Leadership Team in order to obtain free housing. Tisi has done this job two years in a row now, and each year oversees a team of 30 students.
“I got to work in an office with really great people and it was a way for me to be able to stay in New York City,” Tisi said. “I guess I did a good enough job the first year, and so they asked me to come back and do it again.”
Zach Harrell, associate director for NYU Student Life and director of Welcome Week programs in the office, said that Tisi might not embody the traditional archetype of a student leader, but he exerts his influence in equally meaningful ways.
“Jackson is very down to earth and relaxed in regards to the way that he approaches life in general,” Harrell said. “When you think ‘Welcome Week leader,’ you often think ra-ra student, so I think having Jackson as a strong member of our leadership team really solidifies what we always say — that there is no single kind of successful leader.”
Harrell said Tisi was in his element when he directed a 450-person dance video shoot in Washington Square Park as part of the ‘hype video’ that Tisi created to welcome the class of 2021 to campus this fall.
“The moment when I watched him film and then the moment we sat down in my office with all of the footage of the day were just amazing, and I’ll remember it for years to come,” Harrell said. “I was like Jackson, this is amazing, this is way more than we envisioned, and he was like ‘oh, it’s okay.’ He’s very humble about the work that he does.”
That video got over 10,000 views on YouTube.
“What I found the most rewarding for Welcome Week wasn’t the hype videos but working with a team of my peers and learning how to take a leadership role,” Tisi said.
Harrell said Tisi is a comfortable leader and epitomizes the idea that there really is no one type of person who can get involved.
“Jackson would spend time early in the morning till late hours in the night sitting down with each student leader in his team to get a better understanding of what they hope to get out of the role,” Harrell said. “Jackson offered advice on tangible media skills like how to edit, how to film and how to shoot.”
Since his first snowboarding video, he’s worked on human interest documentaries, experimental music videos and branded content for various employers. He uses his video skills to shed light on inspirational stories.
One of the documentaries that Tisi filmed recently is titled “Mr. Impossible” and tells the story of Richard Murray, a Stern School of Business alumnus who lost his mother to pancreatic cancer and was orphaned when he was 12 years old. Murray, who works on Wall Street, competed in Haymakers for Hope, a boxing match which fundraises for cancer research. He made this video for the Breakout foundation — a startup organization that empowers non profit leaders and entrepreneurs.
“I’m very politically-minded, and so documentary work is kind of a way — at least in today’s climate where people can’t even seem to argue the same facts any more — to tell a story,” Tisi said. “It’s hard for people to dispute or interrupt a documentary — they kind of just have to watch the whole thing and [they] kind of can’t really dispute someone’s life experience.”
Tisi may not be a traditional leader, but his uniqueness is what makes him effective.
“I would use the word student leader with Jackson, but I don’t know that Jackson is someone who really identifies as a student leader,” Harrell said. “But that’s what makes Jackson so special.”
The print version of this article incorrectly stated that Tisi’s video for the Class of 2021’s Welcome Week had over 100,000 views when it actually had 10,000. The online edition of this article has been corrected.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 7 print edition. Email Miranda Levingston at [email protected]