Conflict is a deeply embedded part of our lives; no question. It’s ironic that in an attempt to escape the day to day difficulties which we experience, we often find escape by watching the problems of fictional characters in films. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that the filmmakers who grant us this means of solace experience an ample amount of conflict themselves in their endeavors. Cinematographer Eva Ye experiences conflict constantly with her involvement in films. It might be hazardous conditions, inclement weather, differing opinions on set, and others factors. The main difference is that when Eva deals with these factors, budgets and artistic expression hang in the balance. Ye has a reputation for keeping a cool head while getting the desired shot. For anyone who has even been on set during a production, that’s much easier said than done. Whether she is the DP on a TV production, music video, film, or any manner of creative filmmaking, Eva’s small size holds big ideas and large talent. Come to think of it, she’s a bit of a contradiction herself with so much talent inside a small container.
Ye’s work on the film Warm Smooth Mean (Official Selection of First Look Film Festival) has received great praise. This film with its surprising reveal near the end is full of mystery and tension. Warm Smooth Mean follows Hunter Nelson, a young man troubled by the suicide of his father River Nelson. River was the singer of a legendary country duo named Silent Station. When Hunter receives a royalty check from his father’s work, he travels to a small town to give the check back to his father’s former bandmate Jerry Lee McCoy…and to search for the answers behind River’s untimely passing years ago.
Jess Maldaner (director of Warm Smooth Mean) and Eva worked extensively in preproduction to make their plan for the film. Past experience had taught them that having the film specifically and painstakingly planned out would benefit them later. While the industry has been around long enough to make it difficult to create a truly “original” premise, the look and stylized quality of a film can often set it apart. The first part of the film takes place in Oklahoma and the lighting appears soft, mellow, and yet somewhat cold as Hunter begins his journey. As the film goes on, the secret reveals, the fight ensues, and the filmmakers begin to use more harsh and warm light to construct the scene, which heightens the stakes.
Ye’s work is center stage in perhaps the most climactic scene of the entire film. She describes, “Because of my dance background, my strong ability to operate a handheld camera is something that makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not a strong person. I’m actually quite petite compared to a lot of operators, standing at 5’4” and 110 lbs. To be able to move a camera with my hand quite intuitively is something I’ve learned through years of dancing. The rehearsing was definitely crucial in achieving this shot. We spent almost the whole night shooting this scene. There were at least 10-15 times of me moving with the actors without the camera to test out camera positions. When it came to the actual shooting, I knew exactly where I needed to go. There were people spotting me from behind in case I ran into something when I was backing up. I backed up with the actor coming towards me and stopped when he stopped. I pushed in when he got a hit in the face and fell backwards. It all worked out really naturally. Planning and rehearsing was the core of getting the scene right.” Director Jess Maldaner augments this description stating, “Eva’s handheld camera operation in this crucial fight scene was flawless! Her creative instincts allowed her to deliver the perfect amount of camera movement in the shots to create a high level of tension for the viewing audience. Eva’s work was paramount to the final look and emotional effectiveness of Warm Smooth Mean. Her technical skills coupled with her understanding of how to convey an emotional experience visually was a huge asset to the final film. She is a master of camera movement. She is also that rare exceptionally talented artist who is completely free of ego. ”
Sometimes your talent is welcomed, other times it requires some convincing when opinions differ. While filming one of the opening scenes which required some very smooth and stable camera work, the production found themselves without a car mount for the camera. While Maldaner was convinced of the need for green screen to achieve the look for the shot (taking place on a bumpy stretch of highway in Palmdale), Eva was convinced that the quickly disappearing sunlight would not accommodate this. Arbitration was in process and Ye held to the fact that her abilities and ideas would get the desired effect with greater expediency…which it did. The finished scene shows a steady shot with the blurred flat desert outside the window. Conflict averted, artistic vision intact.
Part psychosexual thriller, part art-house film, Shen is a unique portrait of desire and domination in their most cerebral and bodily manifestations. Conflict abounds in the storyline and the imagery Eva produced for this film propels it. Shen’s life is irreversibly altered when she discovers an anonymous artist has drawn her in an erotic position. After a series of strange occurrences, Shen realizes this man is drawing her future. Though her obsession with him begins as a mere daydream, his continual re-appearance starts to make her question what is real and what is hallucination. Meanwhile, her relationship with her fiancé takes a turn for the worse as he suspects she is fantasizing about someone else. His desire to control her reaches a fever pitch after he invades her journal and uncovers her disturbing secrets.
Writers Jace Casey (also the director of Shen) and Abigail Flowers understood that they needed an exceptional DP to create the mood and look which the storyline evoked. Ye’s reel had suspense, romance, thrillers, drama, & music videos. The style of shots and feeling delivered in Eva’s camera language clicked with theirs. While Casey had a plethora of experience in theater and as an actor, having an accomplished cinematographer like Ye greatly aided his process for this film. Eva recalls one scene in particular in which she was able to use her abilities to aid her director recalling, “On set, we maintained communication and respect for each other constantly. There was one occasion when we needed to take a shot of the downstairs swimming pool through the point of view of the actor standing at the 30th floor apartment window. In Jace’s mind, he knew that’s what he wanted but he was unsure if the focal length of the lens, the height of the camera, and the tilt-down angle of the lens barrel were appropriate to convey the action. He was on the verge of eliminating the shot. My experience and knowledge of such shooting situation helped Jace to understand how we could achieve this particular shot, which turned out just the way he wanted if not better. I think it is the understanding of the fine line between a creative collaborator and a loyal supporter of his original vision that made us work so well together.”
The fruit of that cooperation among the two resulted in a film whose achievements include: Harlem International Film Festival “Top Short” (2016), Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival “Best Escapism Film” (2016), and Official selection of Studio City Film Festival, Laughlin International Film Festival, & Monarch Film Festival (2016).
While there are so many talented filmmakers in the industry these days, ability alone is not the deciding factor in regards to who other professionals choose to work with. Many times it is the proper combination of expertise, artistic vison, and temperament that win out. Eva agrees, “My ability to always find the right angle makes me incredibly versatile, yet I am also very strong and firm with my suggestions. I know what I want, yet am willing to consider alternative options. That is a courtesy I always offer to my fellow filmmakers as well. The willingness to listen to others while believing in yourself is an asset. I’d like to think that my calm presence on set helps create a balanced, mindful atmosphere for shooting. Even when things may not be going right, you should always find a way to stay focused, remain positive, and strategize.”