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.
Director of Photography Fei Yanqiu always thought a career in filmmaking was for people who are privileged. Nevertheless, after realizing that her degree in Journalism will not allow fully exercise her profession in China, Fei has decided to reach out to a dream and with support of her parents went to study filmmaking with emphasis on directing and cinematography at NYU School of the Arts Asia in Singapore. After graduation she immediately applied her degree by shooting her classmates’ projects around the world. With those projects, she entered the commercial film industry in China by chance, or as Fei puts it, she was “very lucky to get a random offer to be a DoP on a commercial”. She put in the extra effort, working diligently to make sure she would make it and prove to all that she earned it while counting her blessings becoming one of the few working female DoPs in this industry. Representing the young generation of Chinese filmmakers, Fei has a little different attitude about being a female in this male-dominated industry.
At the premiere of Indian film “Disco Obu” at the prestigious Clemont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, which the film has won a Mention Spéciale du Jury. 印度影片《迪斯科欧布》在法国克莱蒙费朗国际短片电影节首映并获得评审团特别提及。
At the Oscar Qualifying Film Festival “Short shorts Film Festival & Asia” for the premiere of “Jose’s Tour de Tokyo”. A film created for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Game. 为东京奥运会拍摄的日本影片《何塞的东京之旅》在奥斯卡认证的东京国际短片电影节首映
During our talk she sounds confident but doesn’t try hard to construct a persona and put some polished, make-believe version of herself. It’s easy to imagine, that this attitude translates to her behaviour on set. “I’d like to be seen as professional, focused, and friendly”, says Fei. Friendly IS important, just as: defending her crew IS important; building close-knit teams on sets where everyone looks after each other IS important; treating everyone with respect, no matter the hierarchy, IS important.These are the main aspect of a production Fei prioritizes. As to her main strength as a creative person, she tries to distance herself from the stereotypes that women are more emotional and detail-oriented. Instead, she emphasizes on the emotions of the script or story and focuses on ensuring those come to life in her visuals.
“I feel that my strength is that I always care about emotions, that’s my motivation to write a story, to create an image. I don’t want to just make things look cool because it’s trendy. I want everything that I do to have roots, depth”, Fei attempts to describe. She continues: “Sometimes directors ask me, why do I have so many questions, I should just make things beautiful. But this beauty has to come from somewhere. Does it come from confidence, or is it beauty from a sensual feeling, or is it a beauty from being appreciated by the others? I need a bit of details, background, context”.
Shooting music video “plastic heaven”, the director says “Let’s have everything high on tripod, static, and in square”. 在拍摄MV“塑胶天堂”时，导演说“我希望所有的镜头都是正方形的，固定的高机位。”
Shooting at Aba, Sichuan, 5000km+ altitude. Shot mostly during sunrise and sunset, very difficult working condition but encountered many beautiful surprise along the way. 在5000米海拔的四川阿坝拍摄，只有日出和日落的短暂拍摄窗口，非常艰难的拍摄条件却相遇了非常多美丽的惊喜。
Fei shares, that before coming to Shanghai she had the impression that it was very challenging to work in film as a woman. And this impression was both accurate and not entirely true at the same time. Before coming to the world of commercials, she has shot two feature films. She remembers how people questioned her abilities to shoot in difficult conditions. But Fei’s “keep calm and carry on” attitude easily proved them she could not only manage, but could thrive under difficult situations, including how once she worked as a B camera operator, and an A camera assistant told her off for sitting on a lens box. While this had no logical reason, but instead was just an old superstition in the Chinese film industry that a woman sitting on a lens box brings bad luck. In the commercial industry, the experience was surprisingly different. “When I worked in some other regions— the system was you had to work your way from a very low position, accumulate skills/experience, and only then people would give you respect. But here, I feel if you come with talent, people will accept you and give you opportunities. I’ ve never had anybody telling me blatantly in the face, that they won’t choose me just because I’m a woman”, Fei says. At the same time, she confirms that a female DoP still attracts unnecessary attention at every production. “Nowadays it shouldn’t be something so special, but it still is. It makes me feel like I need to be better, to work harder to make people believe, that it’s not a unique thing, that a woman can do”, she admits.
Client 客户：FILA x WILSON
Production 制作方：ORES Group
Director 导演：Alvynn Diagne
With that being said, she’s skeptical about female filmmakers’ quota initiatives. On one hand, Fei appreciates that these initiatives create more opportunities for women. On the other hand, this opens a door to a discussion abyss about women being pigeonholed as suitable to shoot women products only. Fei, of course, doesn’t think it’s the case. She also remembers one project pushing for women crew strongly: “For that project the producers interviewed me and other women DoPs, and they chose me. But I wish they interviewed men as well. And if I stood out, wouldn’t it serve the purpose even more? Also, they asked for all women crew. But sadly there are not that many girls working in the technical team. My current assistants are mostly men, and I think they’re great. I don’t want to choose crew just based on gender but not ability. But if one day, the industry has allowed more women to participate in the technical role, I’d love to have a bad-ass female team.”
On set for Oishi commercial “Press Start” with my 1st Assistant Camera, Joy Zhou
Today, Fei is no longer a timid newbie and it helped to have supportive collaborators in her corner, like director Howie Lam. Another chance encounter, through Xinpianchang this time. Fei says she’s grateful for people like Howie, who prioritize professionalism over gender and defend this point of view. She also collaborated a lot with Alvynn Diagne and Ben Mullinkosson. With one of Ben’s projects Fei created some of the best images she shot in the coolest place she’s ever been for work.
如今，艳秋不再是一名胆怯的新手，现在在她身边有很多帮助支持她的合作伙伴，比如导演Howie Lam。又是一次机缘巧合，他们通过在新片场的相遇建立了合作。艳秋说她很感激像Howie这样的人，他们优先考虑的是专业性而不是性别，并能坚决维护自己的信念。她还与Alvynn Diagne和Ben Mullinkosson合作过。而在一次与Ben的项目中，她去到了她工作过的最酷的地方，拍出了她最佳的一些作品。
Client 客户：上好佳 Oishi
Agency 代理商：Noir Creation
Prod 制作方：The Right Kind
Director 导演：Howie Lam
A four-days shoot of music video in Aba, Sichuan was challenging. Everything was shot on handheld, made it harder in high latitude, a short window of shoot during sunset and sunrise only. Nevertheless, Fei remembers the experience fondly: “It was hard, but nobody complained as the producing team did the best they could with the budget we have, to took care of everyone, but it was still extremely difficult. It’s an MV, so sometimes you had to continue going to the end of the song. Right after we hear “Cut”, one of my assistants would immediately take the camera from me, and another one would ran up with an oxygen tube. We were all taking care of each other, looking out for each other. Due to budget and schedule, we could only go to locations on the shoot and I didn’t even know how the field would look like. The sun would rise, we rolled and I just surrendered to the nature”.
Client 客户: 摩登天空 Modern Sky
Talent 艺人：杨苏阿黛Adai Suyang
Director 导演：Ben Mullinkosson
When asked what directors she likes to work with, Fei says she’s always happy to work with someone who would also love to think outside the box. Who has the knowledge and technique to be bold and try something new. She shares she’d love to work with local directors who fit the description, and worldwide acclaimed directors like Megaforce team, if she thinks beyond.
Fei has no plans to abandon advertising, she’s grateful for all the valuable lessons this industry has already taught her. She’s also working on her feature script in the “dark comedy” genre. “Shooting commercials is great— I get to explore a lot of visual styles, play with new tools. But I get tired of my hands being tied. I am very excited about the commercials that have unique storytelling, good creative. Something universal that can connect people on emotional level, something new, not repeating what’s been done before, something with a meaningful message”.
On set for LEGO x Lamborgini
On set for “Plastic Heaven” with director Ben Mullinkosson
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.