Tag Archives: Director of Photography

Cinematographer Yang Shao talks ‘The Great Guys’ and philosophical filmmaking

Yang Shao always knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He loved the idea of sharing his views with the world, and filmmaking is the ultimate way to do so. Born and raised in the Eastern part of China, he wants to share his passion and viewpoints with the world and bring heartfelt stories to the cinema.

“Modern cinema being predominantly shaped by the western culture is in my opinion missing some jigs of the puzzle which I think eastern culture can offer. Films can be entertaining without having one guy kill everybody around him. Life is so much more than just guns and murders. Beauty and soul of the world – that’s what I want to share with the world through my cinematography,” he said.

It is such a philosophy that has made Shao an internationally sought-after cinematographer. His contributions to films such as A Better World, Under, and Once More have asked audiences some of life’s biggest questions while captivating them with their stories, and the comedy horror television series Life is Horrible has brought joy and tears of laughter to viewers all over the world.

In Shao’s most recent film, The Great Guys, he explores a magical world through the lens of his camera. The film follows a fairy who comes to earth to look for the greatest kid to keep in her home, which is in a fairytale world. She meets eight kids and hears eight different stories. At the end of the story, she decides to bring all those eight kids back to her home together. The story reminded Shao of his childhood.

“To be honest with you, as a kid I always believed in magic. I was a naïve kid when I was growing up and I think that helped me become and achieve those results in the film industry. I try to always stay curious and allow things to surprise me. I think that’s what drew me to this story. I wanted to share this magical world with the young generation, including my own kids who are growing up in a completely different world today,” said Shao.

The Great Guys premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival where it received the Best Director Award. The movie then was distributed in theaters across China. After a successful run, The Great Guys was sold to one of the biggest streaming platforms in China iQiyi. The Director, Jin Zhang, thanks Shao for the success the film received.

“An artist friend of mine recommended Yang as a highly professional and aesthetically exceptional cinematographer. Talented artists have their own vision of things, of ideas and scripts. We managed to find the midpoint where our visions met. To create an outstanding product, you need an extraordinary talent. I’m lucky to have had Yang on my movie,” said Jin Zhang.

Shao did indeed find ways to make each scene visually shine. He aims to light up every scene in a way that drives the story forward. There are different ways to do that, but specifically for this project, he decided to experiment with using only soft filling light of warm colors. He wanted to put more emphasis on the characters. The light therefore is what draws audiences’ attention to various parts of the scene, highlighting what to focus on. In this story, it also shows the difference between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Shao also used a hand-held camera to film, having long takes between cuts. With a magical story, he wanted that feeling to be conveyed at all times. Lots of colored filling light helped to achieve bright and colorful picture that played well with the story and highlighted the emphatic world saturated with magic.

“One thing that I particularly like is the dedication of the crew and the entire team to the craft. I really enjoy working with people who are not only professionals but who also are passionate about what they do. Passion is really what shapes the work and how you see yourself dealing with those people. Nine out of ten times when I’ve seen people had some issues on the set is when they were not driven by their passion. Passionate-driven people on set come from a very different place and in my opinion the final outcome is different in this case. More intimate and personal,” said Shao.

Shao’s favorite part of making the film, however, is the interest he received from his daughter. At the time he was reviewing the screenplay, she was only five years old. He was unsure if he had the time to take on the project, so he read the script many times trying to make a decision. When his daughter asked what he was doing, he began to explain the technical aspects of filmmaking. He realized, that rather that talk to a young child about these things, he’d explain the fairy tale script instead. Immediately, his daughter was enthralled.

“At that moment I thought that with this movie maybe I can get her closer to the magic and not let her think that our life depends only on technological progress. And I did. With that movie my daughter and I started talking about more fun and kid stuff,” he said.

So, what’s next for this industry leading cinematographer? Keep an eye out for Shao’s three upcoming features, NeedIn the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.

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Yuito Kimura uses unique cinematography style to create masterful pieces of art

As a child, Yuito Kimura always enjoyed watching mystery and crime movies. At the time, he would just watch them as a source of entertainment. Now, he appreciates them from an artistic standpoint, noting how each shot is framed and how the filmmakers chose to tell the story. As a celebrated cinematographer, Kimura’s style was inspired by such films, being dark, contrasted, and stylized, using practical lighting. He carefully pays attention to framing, camera angles and movement depending on the scene and what the character is doing. If there is a scene about a girl crying by herself, he won’t just frame the character without having meaning behind why he chose to do so. His job is to tell her emotions by choice of lens, framing and camera movement. Such attention to detail makes Kimura a standout in his industry and shows just how much talent he possesses.

No matter what project he takes on, Kimura makes sure it is the best he can visually be with his work. The Japanese native has shot everything from music videos, such as “We are Stars” by Snowy Angels, to commercials, like the one for Townforst, to acclaimed films including Star Wars: Amulet of Urlon and Back to the Future?. He consistently impresses all those he works alongside with his commitment to his work.

“Yuito was wonderful to work with – he always showed up on time and when he came to work, he brought his creative suggestions on how to make a scene better. His extensive knowledge about camera lenses and how to angle the camera had a positive impact on many of our scenes in the film. Yuito also put together a hard-working crew who never complained and always had a positive attitude while on set. He has a unique way of looking at a scene and telling a story. He is very thorough and made sure that my vision was being brought to light during filming. The fact that he is willing to take risks when capturing a shot for a scene makes him vastly different than a lot of other DPs who tend to stick to what’s safe and traditional,” said Christina Kim, Director who worked with Kimura on the film Dropping the S Bomb.

Dropping the S Bomb tells the story of the not so book smart Cassie, who, after discovering that the guy of her dreams plans on attending Stanford, does whatever it takes to be accepted, even if it means doing things that may get her kicked out of school if she gets caught.

“I really like the idea of the story. The girl is trying to get into Stanford because the boy she likes goes there. She does do whatever it takes to get into school and I really like those funny and silly decisions and actions that she would do for him. Throughout the story, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. It reminds me of my school era. It gives me sympathy,” said Kimura.

While shooting this film, Kimura made sure to always stay focused despite a fast shooting rotation. This is what he enjoyed most about working on the film. With such a fast-pace, he had to come up with ideas quickly, and he was given a lot of freedom to do so. He needed to think about more than he usually did and deeply understand the story compared to other projects.

The film was then screened at Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Nice International Film Festival 2016, Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival 2017, and Phoenix Comicon Film Festival 2017. Kimura is proud of what they could achieve through hard work and a great story.

Most recently, Kimura shot a commercial for Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes for both television and online. It follows an Asian businessman who encounters an unexpected event after he goes back to his office at night. It is a sexual comedy, and although it is a commercial, Kimura knew the importance of telling a good story.

In this project, Kimura used two kinds of contrast styles to achieve a mysterious mood and add to the comedy. He used one style for the visual, and another style for the story. From the beginning shot to climax, all shots are contrast. When it hits the climax, he then used a more flattering lighting style to show what was truly going on. The moment he read the script, he came up with this idea to help enhance the story, knowing that as a cinematographer, he is vital to telling it.

“Yuito is an extraordinary cinematographer. He works really hard and focuses on his profession, treating every detail so seriously. He is also a very creative cinematographer who always has new ideas and concepts to make the films better. He has a unique eye and is an asset to every production he works on. He really loves what he does. His passion is totally on this field,” said Phenix Jiangfu Miao, Director and Production Designer.

Watch the Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes spot here, the winner of Best Commercial at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2018.

An Early Love for Design Led to Saif Al-Sobaihi’s Celebrated Cinematographic Career

 

Saif Al-Sobaihi
Cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi

While many cinematographers find their way into the field through photography and other areas of filmmaking, cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi, who’s made a powerful name for himself in the U.S. film industry and abroad in recent years, initially found his way to the craft through a love of visual art and design.

“I used to collect a lot of visual books, especially interior design books,” Saif explains. “I just loved looking at the lighting, composition and the smooth design… At that point I had no idea what cinematography was.”

Growing up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saif immersed himself in design at a young age, swiftly developing an acute visual eye and an unparalleled attention to detail. His boundless creativity  even led him to be recognized by his country whilst elementary school when he earned the First Prize Award in the Saudi Arabian national painting competition “Homeland in the Eyes of Our Children.”

Constantly collecting photographs and books focused on visual design, those roots eventually taught him to recognize such things as the interplay of objects in a room, how to achieve an aesthetic balance, and the way the light or lack there of sets the mood, have been key to his success in the film world.

As the cinematographer of highly praised films such as “La Calvita,” “El Circo,” “Pinwheel,” “SKEMO” and others, his unique ability to blend the technical and creative sides of his work in the field of filmmaking shine through flawlessly.

“Some cinematographers are more artistic and others are more technical… To me cinematography is a balance that can’t be defined. It’s a field where creativity, energy, personalities, obstacles, and the importance of timing overlap on set,” explains Saif. “Just like the way harmony in music supports the melody and provides its texture and mood, cinematography supports and even creates the texture and mood within the stories we see on screen.”

Saif has earned extensive accolades for his film work, with “Pinwheel” garnering him two Best Cinematography Awards at the Festigious International Film Festival and the Around International Film Festival in Berlin, “El Circo” earning the Southeast Regional EMMY Award for short form fiction, “La Calvita” being screened as one of “The Coming of Age Mixtape” films chosen by the Bushwick Film Festival, and “SKEMO” being chosen as an Adobe Design Achievement Semifinalist.

“El Circo” director Pablo Ramirez says, “Saif understood perfectly what I had in my head and helped me transform those ideas into beautiful images that showed the organized chaos we wanted to portray… Saif has a unique vision, he has the ability to listen to what his directos want and he also has the sensibility to express himself when he has a different opinion. Saif is one of the most professional persons with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”

While he’s been key to the success of multiple narrative films, Saif actually began his professional career as the cinematographer on the music video “We Are” for well-known Swedish popstar Peg Parnevik. The vivid colors, combination of panning shots and close-ups, as well as the pace of the frames reveal Saif’s unparalleled skill behind the lens.

 With nearly two million views on YouTube, the video serves as an impressive accomplishment for even the most seasoned cinematographer, so that says quite a lot considering it was his first professional project in the field.

About the video, which he shot on a RED Scarlet Dragon 6K sensor with Zeiss CP2 primes, Saif says, “I learned a few valuable lessons from this project: lose the ego, keep things simple, and have fun!”

Out of all of his work, Saif marks the 2017 film “La Calvita” directed by Giulia Jimenez as ‘one of the most interesting projects’ he’s been the cinematographer on to date. With the saturated colors, shots of miscellaneous items such as tires, bathroom sinks and other odds and ends riddled through the streets communicating the semi-impoverished nature of the neighborhood, and a storyline that centers on Lupita (Karina Rovira), a young Latin American girl who travels to the Venezuela-Colombia border on a mission to make some money by selling her hair, it’s easy to see from the trailer alone why the film was so interesting for Saif.

In addition to being an Official Selection of the Bushwick Film Festival, “La Calvita” was also an Official Selection of the 2017 Georgia Latino Film Festival and the 2018 San Diego Film Festival.

With an almost surreal visual style, and a transporting latin garage style score composed by Hugo Raúl Blanco, “La Calvita” has a unique appeal that’s reminiscent of of experimental psychedelic films like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain” and Vera Chitlova’s “Daisies.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the way Saif takes us into Lupita’s world through close ups on her face that allow us to truly feel the complexity of her emotions. This, coupled with the wide shots he takes to reveal the peculiar nature of her surrounding, make it feel as though she lives within her own world– one removed from the actual environment where the film takes place.

Saif shot “La Calvita” on a Sony FS7 using only the Cooke 25-250mm T4.0 Zoom as his lens for the entire film.

“As a cinematographer in stories like that where the world seems a bit surreal, you get to experiment with different equipment and techniques more comfortably. And that is a lot of fun,” explains Saif.

I wanted the look of the film to be gritty and authentic… This film talks about real social issues, so I made sure I captured not only the physical performance of the actors, but their psychological processes and inner world as well. ”

Some of the social issues Saif refers to revolve around Lupita’s economic status and feeling that selling her hair is the only option to make money to pay for her mother’s medication, and the concept of beauty promoted by society compared to what it truly means to be beautiful on an individual level.

After having her hair lopped off in exchange for $35, Lupita wanders through town looking forlorn over the messy buzz cut that sits in place of her previously long and beautiful brown locks. As she runs her fingers through her hair clearly trying to make sense of how this new look has changed her, she encounters a billboard where the model comes to life and begins speaking to her as she stands alone in the middle of a grassy field. The model tells her she wants her to feel better and that she needs hair to feel better; and like a fairy godmother, she releases a waterfall of pink flower petals that graze Lupita’s face and like magic, her hair reappears. From the viewer’s perspective the scene is touching and emotionally subtle, but on a technical level it’s easy to see that a lot of effort went into it on the part of Saif and his team.  

“The director wanted the billboard model to be commercially “well-lit” like a 90’s latin billboard commercials kind of vibe. We shot that section in a green screen studio lit with spacelights, Kino Celebs and later on used a Mole Richardson 2K” explains the cinematographer. “My gaffer Dylan Genis rigged the camera on a 12 ft ladder for the high angle shots. For the ‘low angle’ shots, we used baby sticks and hi-hats.”

He adds, “It’s great to have a team who are interested in the project and have good sense of communication and experience.”

Through narrative films like “La Calvita” it’s easy to see Saif’s talent for creating impactful visual stories that draw the audience in and evokes emotion. His attention to detail and his aptitude for blending the technical and creative sides of his work in film make it easy to understand how he got to where he is today, and it all started from his love for visual art and design.

 

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho, A Visual Psychologist

One of the most captivating things about a film, or rather, a good film, is the compelling nature of its imagery. The way a single shot can effect our emotions as an audience provides cinematographers with the powerful tool to create a visual language that runs along with the film’s story.

French cinematographer Johanna Coelho falls into the group of cinematographers who are known for making films that draw viewers in with their film’s visually stimulating imagery and leaves them with an emotional experience.

Coelho explains, “Images have always been a passion for me. From an early age onward I was very interested in understanding how we can visually transmit feelings and emotions.”

What separates the best cinematographers from the mediocre is their ability to shift the mood and style of the images in a way that is cohesive to the ever-changing elements of the story— but more importantly, they need to accomplish this without the audience noticing.

If viewers become preoccupied with the images in a film to the point of overshadowing the story, then the purpose of film as a medium for expression has been lost.

This subtle balance is something that Johanna Coelho, and the rest of the world’s most renowned cinematographers, recognize and execute on a daily basis in their work.

“My job is to create images that represent the vision of the director in the film,” said Johanna Coelho. “I have to be able to interpret emotions visually and create the story’s various atmospheres in the best possible way. I like to say cinematographers are visual psychologists.”

Coelho, who is originally from France, has worked on an impressive list of projects that not only show her diversity when it comes to choosing what images strike the perfect balance in the way of what’s appropriate for contrasting genres, but also display her unparalleled abilities to propel the overall energy of the story to a place that visually impacts viewers’ on an emotional level.

As the cinematographer, also known as the director of photography, of the film Scaremonger, which debuted earlier this year, Coelho was in charge of creating a juxtaposition of imagery that had elements of both realism and fantasy. The film centers on the story of a mother worried for her son who is being bullied by the neighborhood kids.

“The director wanted to treat this social issue as a dark fairytale,” said Coelho. “I had to create this magical atmosphere for the mom’s nightmares versus a pretty realistic look for the day scenes. We created gigantic shadows representing monsters appearing on the walls, we tried to make them happen as much as we could on set, and for some of them we had to use VFX. It was very interesting to see what the limits of what we could achieve on set with the resources we had were.”

The outcome of the film serves as a testament to Johanna Coelho’s extraordinary creativity and skill as a cinematographer. The film did astonishingly well on the festival circuit where it received the awards for Best Narrative Film at the 2014 California International Shorts Festival and Best LGBT Film at the 2014 Fulbright Film Festival, as well as was an Official Selection at the IFS Film Festival, Serbia’s Cinema City Festival, Costa Rica’s International Film Festival, and the renowned Montreal World Film Festival.

Poster from the film Scaremonger
Poster from the film Scaremonger