Movie fans across the world are familiar with the marquee names of actors. Directors and producers like Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Quentin Tarantino have also achieved the king of international notoriety that places them in the celebrity category. For each of these, there are legions of publicly unknown artists whose talent creates the stories that tug at our hearts, unearth laughter, and move us to appreciate the world we live in. Though the public may be unaware of these exceptionally skilled professionals, those who truly understand the storytelling process proclaim their contributions. Three-time Academy Award winning producer and writer Jana Sue Memel has produced more than twenty-five feature films as well as countless live action shorts airing in more than thirty countries. In discussing the film Son of Wanderer (on which she served as screenwriter) Memel points out, “The Camera Man position on a film is truly underappreciated. Jun Li was the camera operator/Steadicam operator for Son of Wanderer and his insightful contributions were a direct part of the recognitions the film has already received.” These recognitions include wins for the film at the London Independent Film Awards, Los Angeles Film awards, Rome Independent Prisma Awards, and others. While the producers, directors, and others are the brain which comprehends the story, professionals like Jun Li are the eyes which allow audiences everywhere to see first-hand the events which unfold on the screen. They are the windows to the movie’s soul. As the camera operator’s motto states “We see it first.”
Son of Wanderer is a story that allows us to see that holding back from those closest to us can cause a great divide. Mingzhe Li is a successful artist in the US but originally from China. He appears to have a great life with a beautiful and loving wife but he is estranged from his mother [Li]. When Li shows up unannounced at the couple’s San Francisco home, the motivation for this visit is kept secret. Through flashbacks we learn that Mingzhe’s father was a famous and talented artist in the 1970’s before the Cultural Revolution in China and alcohol led to his downward spiral. The family eventually dissolved and when her teenage son showed an inclination for art, Li quickly snuffed this notion. This planted the seed of resentment which would separate mother and child. In present day, Li finally informs her adult son that she has come to America to inform him of his father’s death. A torrent of emotion, years in the making, erupts and Li leaves for China at once. Only Li’s secret box contains the antidote to their discourse.
Director Chi Zhou and cinematographer Nan Li wanted to express the unusual coldness between mother and son in the movie, without the need for exposition. In many of the scenes, there is literally a divide between them. Jun’s skill with the Steadicam was heavily utilized in Son of Wanderer to obtain not only the composition but the feel which was so essential to this film. His carefully calculated movements with tight lock offs and use of negative space for both characters establishes a tone that belies its difficulty to create with a Steadicam. What might appear as dolly and track moves are in reality Jun’s skills operating at an exceptional level. He communicates, “I’m very delighted this film received so many cinematography awards. There are three main points made the look of this film. Because the theme of this story is a modern family drama, we based it in a realism style, emphasizing the saturation from very beginning. Secondly, in order to make each character stand out, we used a wide open lens for the whole shoot. The very shallow depth of field creates a grand cinematic look. Finally, the slow and gentle camera movements run through the entire film and transfer this sense of timing to the audience. All of these components were carefully crafted to help the viewer feel the emotions of our characters.” Camera operator/Steadicam operator Jun Li’s contributions to this production are key in presenting the story and its success. The verification of this is found in both the awards Son of Wanderer garnered as well as the deeply moving experience of watching this acclaimed film.