Originally this was mean to be more of a screen test. I was inspired by two low light tests in Chinatown that I saw on Vimeo here and here. I thought I’d grab one of the many actors I know and do something similar just to see what I’d get.
I wanted to shoot some footage inside of Jing Fong, the epic dim sum restaurant on Elizabeth street. I ended up collaborating with actor Sean Hudock, and after talking about it for a little bit, we decided to try and come up with some kind of narrative. We started off with the idea of him being chased but ended up on him being lost and wandering for some reason. I had this image in my head of Sean on his cell phone by the lion statues in front of Jing Fong. I figured we could use the image as a metaphor for strength, like at the climax of our narrative he somehow gains the upper-hand. I ended up coming up with the idea that he’s fighting with his girlfriend and at the end she calls him and apologizes.
So we meet up on Canal street. I’m armed with my 5D MKII and a 50mm f/1.2 prime L-series lens. I start looking around for interesting ideas, playing with height and scale, running through a gamut of close-ups, medium, and long-shots. I do a couple of shots through the window. We start making our way down Canal street towards Jing Fong’s shooting anything interesting along the way. I had it in my mind ahead of time that I wanted a strong rack focus shot from something prominent in the background to Sean’s face, so we got that. I wanted some colorful bokeh. We got that. It was like an informal check list.
My main goal in looking for shots was symbolism. I was looking for stuff that could be interpreted as being representative of some inner turmoil or plot point. I didn’t know exactly what the symbols would represent, I figured that I would construct that in the editing. I wanted pregnant symbols, essentially, something that would give birth to ideas later on. So I shot dirty snow, the hanging flower light, some signs, subway entrances, trash, slaughtered animals, steam, anything that I thought could be used later to construct a narrative. The whole “plot” was lose enough where we could construct ideas on the fly.
The night came to a head when we realized that Jing Fong’s was closed. Great. My centerpiece denied. We ended up ducking into a small restaurant and worked with what we had available. We took a break when the food came and I just shot a lot of different ideas. The entire time we were shooting, I was thinking about the edit and how I might tie different shots together. My experience with photojournalism and looking for shots infused with narrative and meaning I think played really well into this kind of situation. For the close-up on the cell phone, I switched over to my 100mm Macro f/2.8 prime lens.
I had no idea how to shoot the ending, so I shot Sean against a bunch of different backdrops that I could choose later on. I shot him on his cell phone in front of a giant map (maybe he’s found his way), in front of signs that said different things (they were all too literal), and in front of different buildings far in the background that had interesting bokeh effects. I ended up choosing the shot I did because it looked nice enough and I didn’t really like the other options. I figured the closeup shot of the lion would supply the visual message that the tables had turned and I didn’t need to rely on anything like that in the final shot.
I shot the whole thing wide open at f/1.2 and something like 640 ISO. I put the visual settings on the lowest contrast and a little less saturation to try and prevent strong reds from blowing out the color channel like they usually do. The whole shoot only took a few hours, including dinner. Very laid back.