Growing up in Changzhou, a small town in the Eastern part of China, Yang Shao found himself drawn towards filmmaking. As a child, he would pick up his family’s handy-cam and experiment, filming everything he considered interesting. In such a way, he was destined to be a cinematographer. He always had a good eye for photography and frame composition, and when the average person would just see tall buildings while walking in the city, Shao saw letters, signs, magic. He spent his youth thinking of what angle every image he took in would look the best, and he still applies this mentality now, years later, as a celebrated cinematographer.
Shao has put his artistic touch on many film and television ventures. Projects such as A Better World, Life is Horrible, Under and The Great Guys have gone on to see international success with the help of his talents. Audiences can soon expect the same from his upcoming features: Need, In the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.
The highlight of his career, however, came just last year when Shao worked on the film Once More. It perfectly showcased his talent and passion for cinematography, as the Director and Producer were eager to let him explore his creativity. He was also eager to share the story with the world.
“I was really moved by the story this movie tells. I believe in the importance of telling good-hearted stories and this one is a perfect example of that kind of story. Also, we had an amazing team who was working on the project and working with those folks was really a pleasure,” said Shao.
Once More explores the tale of a psychologically collapsed dancer who failed in a renowned competition and broke his left leg. As the remedy to this life, he intends to commit suicide, but he is accidentally saved by a neighbor girl he was in secret love with. This subtlety encourages him to get back to the stage by dancing with the bum leg.
“At the present time with the #TimesUp movement showing the toxic environment in the film industry that was exposed in the recent year, I think there’s still a lot of room for masculine vulnerability. In fact, that kind of trait in men actually gives me hope in our future. And this movie is a good example of bright and pure emotions that are left in men’s souls. I believe in importance of bringing up the stories that have to be heard but at the same time I know that good-hearted and kind stories is what will make this world a better place,” said Shao.
Once More premiered in March 2017 at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures where it was a semi-finalist on the festival program. From there, it saw great success at many international film festivals, and Shao himself was recognized at many of them, winning Best Cinematography at the American Movie Awards, the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Top Shorts!, Festigious International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards, and more. In total, the film brought Shao seven awards for cinematography, and also numerous awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Producer. Such acclaim could never have been possible without Shao’s artistic eye.
“I always knew that Yang is a talented cinematographer and always wanted to work with him. He brought his outstanding skill-set to the project. I’m looking forward to working more with Yang,” said Kees Van Oostrum, Executive Producer of Once More.
It was Van Oostrum that approached Shao to be a part of the film. He knew Shao’s cinematography style and that he would be vital to the production. As the cinematographer, Shao chose to use more of the natural light because the story is very elevated by itself and a lot of artificial light would only have hurt the picture in his opinion. A large portion of the movie takes place in a theater, and he made a decision to use abstract lighting to highlight the emotional state of the character and emphasize the stress that the protagonist was going through.
Coming from the East, Shao shot the story with an Asian flavor, bringing the best traditions of the eastern cinematography combined with his extensive experience working in the film industry. This allowed him to obtain angles many would not have, and this tactic was fully supported by the Director, Rachel Zhou and main actor, Jaeme Velez.
“I think we found something very precious there on set. When people’s energies start to bounce around and more importantly play in the same key, that’s when the real magic happens,” said Shao.
Above all else, however, Once More was special for Shao because of the story. He saw himself in the main character, connecting to the protagonist’s artistic journey. It provided a beacon of hope during a difficult time for the cinematographer, and he will never forget what it gave him.
“His passion and will resonated with me on a deeper level. His struggle and obstacles that were on his way to his dream are similar to mine in a way, and to most of the artists’ paths. There was a time in my life where the only thing that was left was hope and big desire to create something larger than myself. And actually, this film came along right around that time. It was like a big sign telling me to keep going, and I think in the end it paid off really well,” he concluded.
Written by Annabelle Lee