SHP+ continues on the issue of minor representation of female filmmakers in China. Women’s Perspectives is a series of articles where we interview women filmmakers to give exposure to their name and their work, but also talk about their dreams, challenges and realities of being a woman in the industry.
Xiaomi Director’s version 小米 导演版
Director: Yoko 洋子 | DoP: Fengbaiqin 冯百钦
This year’s Xiaomi anniversary commercial “生生不息” was in striking contrast to their typical brand film. Without a single line of voice over copy, the spot abandoned grandeur in favor of simplicity, showcasing only people running, scene after scene, evoking the audience’s interest and emotions. Just like the characters in her directorial debut, Yoko has been running towards her new career as a director, ready to take up the challenge. We talked to the director about her recent career shift, professionalism on set and the realities a female DoP has to come to terms with.
Yoko is a new director, but she’s not new to the industry. She’s been working for a decade as a cinematographer, building not only a diverse portfolio of work in beauty, food and electronics, but also building long-lasting relationships in the process. Her continuous work with Xiaomi and their mutual established trust was one of big reasons for Yoko to finally try her hand at directing. The untapped potential of being a storyteller and the physical challenging realities of being a DoP was another reason. Right from the start of our conversation, in a very direct, but down-to-earth manner she shares: “At the beginning, I didn’t really know what a DoP does, so I was pretty naive at that time. For the first 5-6 years, while I was young, and full of energy and passion, I thought that as a woman I can do anything. Now I know, there’s a reason why there’s a so few of female DoPs in this industry. You’re not as strong as a man, physically. You get tired. Sometimes things are too heavy for you to carry, and the job conditions are challenging. Most importantly, you will have a family in the future. And when that happens, if you want to be a mother, you might have to stop your career”.
Recounting these experiences, Yoko doesn’t regret choosing this line of work, and would not have done things differently. To her, filmmaking, telling a story through a lens has always been attractive. And of course, having an additional cinematographic insight to her work is always a benefit. She also credits her educational background as another competitive edge. A graduate of Shanghai Theater Academy, she learned a lot about acting, directing and further expanding her studies in New Zealand. Yoko shares that in her experience working as a DoP in China, most directors tended to prioritize a beautiful image, new ways to edit and post-production result over acting. She talks at length about wanting to show real people, full of life and personality, mentioning works of movie director Jia Zhangke and advertising director Zhang Dapeng as inspirations. “I think he’s (Jia Zhangke) very brave. He’s got a great sense how to get people in one room and deliver something authentic in a few shots, in a few simple dialogues”, Yoko shares.
Director: David&Greg | DoP: Yoko洋子
As a filmmaker, who puts a lot of attention to acting, it’s no surprise, Yoko names McDonald’s commercials as the most challenging projects. “Shooting food demo is very different from shooting anything else. You only got a lens, and a burger. Burger cannot act at all. But you need to deliver the message, to make people hungry through the lens. If you know how to achieve what the client wants and how to move the audience, I don’t think food demo is boring”, she says. Moving forward Yoko won’t abandon cinematography, but she’s focusing more on directing projects now. Contrary to the opinion that commercials are inferior to film or theater, she believes ads have the power to resonate with wider audience. Yoko’s really into telling simple, touching stories, especially about women and kids. “The true, authentic story is always touching”. She says with so much conviction, it’s hard to disagree.
Director: Tao Wright | DoP: Yoko洋子
When we ask her about any prejudices, she’s felt towards female DPs and any challenges she experienced, Yoko’s list is long. On one hand, she acknowledges her young appearance and petite figure doesn’t make it easier to convince people she can handle the job. On the other, even despite her “can do” attitude, she admits having to turn down some cars or sports commercial shoots in remote locations because she knew she wasn’t the best candidate. Like any thought-provoking topic, the question about why there aren’t more women commercial filmmakers in China doesn’t have a simple, black-and-white answer. But for her, working hard, taking the time and effort to always write DoP treatments, spend time to go through scripts with a fine-tooth comb and come to the set extra prepared are some of the many efforts she makes to show her professionalism and ability, regardless of her gender. While this might be a common symptom that women still have to put twice as much effort to prove they earned their place, Yoko chooses optimism over a negative view on the subject, Yoko concludes: “The most non-judgmental way to approach it, is to forget about the gender. No-one will say male director, or male DoP. When you take gender out of the equation, that’s how change will come. The best way to shut down the prejudices that women are weak or are not as clear about what they are doing, or are too emotional— is to just prove them wrong. You show them: no, I’m just a professional. I have my personality, I’m emotional, but not with my work.”
当我们问及作为女性摄影指导，她是否感受到偏见和她所经历过的挑战时，洋子一下就打开了话匣子。一方面，她承认自己年轻的外表和娇小的身材有时让人们怀疑她是否能胜任这份工作。另一方面，尽管她有“吃苦耐劳”的态度，但她承认有时不得不拒绝一些在偏远地区拍摄的汽车或体育广告，因为她知道自己不是最佳人选。和很多发人深省的话题一样，关于为什么中国没有更多的女性广告导演这一话题，我们并没有一个非黑即白的直接答案。但对洋子来说，努力工作，花时间和精力去制作摄影计划, 花时间去仔仔细细地审查通过脚本, 充分地做好准备再去片场等等，不论男女，这些许多的努力，都展示了她的专业与能力。虽然普遍来说，女性目前仍然要付出双倍的努力来证明她们配得上自己的职位，但洋子在这个问题上选择了保持乐观，而非消极对待，洋子总结说：“最不带偏见的办法就是忘记性别。没人会强调说一位男导演或男摄影指导。当你把性别从这个等式中去掉，变化就会发生。要消除女性软弱、不清楚自己在做什么或太情绪化的偏见，最好的办法就是证明他们是错的。你用行动告诉他们：不，我只是个专业人士。我有自己的性格，也有自己的情绪，但我工作的时候并不会带着个人情绪。”
If you are a female commercial director/cinematographer/production designer/ editor, or you know someone who’s suitable for the series. Feel free to share with us the name.