LOS ANGELES – With a love for movies and capturing unique images on camera, Beijing native and Steadicam Ninja Jun Li always had a passion for films and filmmaking. With his deft hand and unique vision, Li is noted for bringing scenes to life with his camera of choice, the technologically advanced Steadicam which offers a jitter-free shots even as the operator moves around on foot even in the most uneven or rocky terrains.
Today, Li is bringing his talents to the upcoming film comedy “Good Friend from the West" where he tackles the Western genre and its quirky comedic backdrop wit his usual gusto and passion.
“I am very excited about this new film project from the talented director Shuaiyu ‘Lance’ Liu,” said Li. “The biggest challenge working on this film was the weather and lack of crew. We were filming in a dry lake in the mid of a desert in Southern California. In early March, the huge temperature difference between day and night made many crews sick. On top of that, we had sand storms as our uninvited guest who visited us couple of times a day.”
Liu (“Underground”), who wrote and directed “Good Friend from the West,” tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a Chinese railroad worker and a wounded outlaw on the run in the Old West. The film stars Dan Rutkowski (“Ray Meets Helen,”) and Zhan Wang (“Where Dreams Rest”).
“In this film, he was going for a specific cinematic style that is Hong Kong classical Kung Fu films of the 70s,” Li said. “He showed me some reference of specific camera movement and zoom-in shots that he wanted to do. Seeing it, I was super clear about what he wants, which ends up saving us so much time on set. So, as a camera operator, it’s crucial to figure out what the director and cinematographer are expecting for and what kind of story they want to express.”
But having the movie shot on film did have its limitations, Li admitted: “Since we didn’t have enough budget to set up proper real time video playback for director, he could only check the frame before we actual rolled the camera.,” he said. “That means for every single take, I was the only person on set who can see the frame and there was no playback. When a take was done, Lance would always come to me and ask if the take is ok. I’d give him my honest as a result, the film would never be finished if there was any doubt or suspicion between Lance and me. I think that’s a very important relationship between director and a camera operator.”
“Good Friend from the West” has been screened at various film festivals, including most recently at the 52nd WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival held earlier this month. Release is scheduled for later this year.
The film is the newest project for Li, who recently completed work on the television series “Seven Days.” His past work includes such films as “Way Out,” “All That Glitters,” “Abandon,” “Dog Tag,” “No Deer for Dinner,” and many others.
It’s a long way from Li’s early days in the business after learning the unique capabilities of the Steadicam while studying under the tutelage of legendary Steadicam operators Jerry Holway and Chris Fawcet at the Tiffen Steadicam Gold Workshop in Georgia, the premier learning facility for Steadicam. He would also take private classes from 21-year Steadicam veteran Greg Smith to further hone his skills.
“My philosophy is quite simple when it comes to my work. A caring camera operator can surely bring more possibility to the creative process of a film,” Li said. “By examining the script as early as possible, I will have a solid idea about the visual component of the film and it allows me to share that with the director and cinematographer and further add to the creative process which in the end is very gratifying.”