Artist Spotlight: Cinematographer Nan Li
LOS ANGELES – Cinematographer Nan Li is known for his creative approach to filmmaking and his unique style in capturing images. So, when he took on the film drama “The Last Scene,” he knew audiences would be drawn in by the movie’s captivating storyline and its unique characters.
“I am thrilled to take on this challenge and be a part of this engaging new film,” Li said. “It’s a compelling story that helps us face our own fears, biases and weaknesses while telling us something about our own humanity.”
Produced by Stella Li, “The Last Scene” follows the story of a writer who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery and must then battle his own demons before he can discover the true culprit. The film stars John Carney (“Jake’s Head”) and Irene Kissinger (“Theft”).
“Shooting this movie in 35mm film is perhaps one of the most attractive things about ‘The Last Scene.’” Li said. “In China, no one uses 35 mm film anymore because producers don't want to spend the money on it and take the risk of bad exposure or printing mistakes. The film schools in China don’t teach anything about it as well. It’s a pity, but right now in China, camera crews don’t know how to load the film to magazine or the right sequence of slating.”
Realizing using film requires much precision and preparation to correctly illuminate and capture the mood of a scene, Li brought much experience and attention to detail to the shoot, elaborately setting up lights, doing test shoots, organizing crew members to provide logistical support as well ensuring actors are positioned correctly.
“Exposure is the biggest challenge. Shooting on film is a totally different process compared to digital. Since I cannot see the image right away, every single point in the frame has to be exposed precisely,” he explained.
Growing up in China, Li was attracted to movies and music – even starting his own rock band to emulate his rock idols and express his creativity – but he knew early on that his future lay in Hollywood where many of the films he loved were made. His fascination for movies and filmmaking led him to Heilongjiang University where he studied film and advertising, knowing the importance and connection between art and marketing for filmmakers.
Upon graduation Li began working on films and television commercials in his native land even as he planned to pursue his career in cinematography in the U.S. and learning from the top men in the field. With a Master’s Degree in cinematography and a keen eye for capturing unique images and mood, Li was tapped for a number of films, such as “Wants of the Flesh,” “Shell,” “The Time Catcher,” “Song of the Wanderer,” and many others.
“Film is an imperfect art. For the filmmaker, I am always struggling which part can be better and which shot I have to give up even though the image is so beautiful,” he said. “Unless there is an apple box or something else in the frame, there is no right or wrong in terms of story, directing, cinematography and production design. It's all about personal taste and preference. As a cinematographer, I always think I am here to serve my director and his or her story.”
Meanwhile, Li continues his work with a number of independent films on his schedule, including the film drama “As Ye Sow,” the crime drama “Carma,” and the film comedy “Not for Comedy,” in addition to his work in commercials.
“I like working on commercials. It's whole different experience from films. For film, I have to be loyal to reality. The lens is the audience's eyes. I have to choose lens size carefully. Once the image is not like how we see thing, it has special meaning or you are making mistakes.”