Talking Cinematography with One of London’s Most Sought After DOP’s, Rina Yang.
Growing up in a small Japanese countryside town, Rina Yang’s first foray into cinematography was at a young age when she decided it was what she was born to do, playing around with her dad’s camera as a teenager and shooting just about anything when she was bored. Shortly after graduating from university she started work as a camera trainee, learning from some of the best within the film industry.
From frequent Nike campaigns to music videos and commercials, with some of the industry’s highly acclaimed artists like Rihanna, Jorja Smith, Adwoa Aboah etc., her mode of storytelling is visceral and captivating, an art form that sets her apart from her peers in her industry.
Being a DOP in a male-dominated industry hasn’t worn Rina out the slightest; in fact, this young film maker shows no signs of slowing down, her recent work, a thought-provoking campaign by Nike featuring the highly controversial career of South African track and field Olympic gold medallist, Caster Semenya. She’s been met with success even with her own Narrative collaborations with talented directors like Taichi Kimura, of which she won several awards for Best Cinematography on their film short together, ‘Lost Youth’.
We shared a very rare moment with the budding talent, having her tell stories of her career in front of the lens, as opposed to being behind it. Here’s our one on one with Rina Yang.
What made you fall in love with Cinematography?
I didn’t really fall in love with films until I went to film school. I used to watch films when I was in Japan. Growing up my dad would watch a film or two a day, I would sit next to him watching these war movies that he liked. I remember one evening; I was around 15, I sat watching this sci-fi film really late at night and as a bonus, they had this behind the scenes feature, I watched it and I was super amazed. I thought that looked interesting. I bought all the books on how to make film and started making my own stop motion animation on my dad’s camera.
Do you have a particular project that is really close to heart?
It’s been about 10 years since I started making films I guess, but I still look back on little films that I made myself, like on Vimeo Private or something. I think you watch those things and still have a connection [to them]. It’s interesting, its like you’re looking back at yourself in the past. I look at my recent work and it does feel more commercial, which is not a bad thing. I think my work is seen by more people, which is exciting. But it doesn’t feel like your work sometimes because there’re so many cooks in the kitchen. So I think that the work that is closest to my heart tends to be the ones that didn’t have many voices [attached].
On meeting and working with Taichi Kimura on ‘Lost Youth’:
It’s bizarre because I found out about him through a music video; we went for coffee one day and we kind of clicked. We are really good friends now. We did a few music videos together for Chase and Status and other Grime artists. [For Lost Youth] he showed me the treatment for the idea he had and I got really excited. It was amazing, it was to do with portraying the bits you don’t see in Tokyo, Japan and the youth.
I was excited, we were going to show what it is really like, the darker side of Tokyo that people don’t tend to see. That was Taichi’s main vision, especially the youth culture as it is and it has developed since then. So that was how it came along. We worked on visual concepts, he did an amazing job with casting and costume. We were really stubborn about location options, we had a small budget so the locations had to be special.
What are the technicalities of Cinematography and its impact on your creative process?
When I realised I was interested in cinematography, I obviously had to study like crazy on the technical side before I was able to think more creatively. As a cinematographer, you are expected to have technical knowledge like aperture and know all of the gear. But once I knew the basics, I could start to think more creatively. To anyone who doesn’t know cinematography, I am technical but when it comes to talking about how to achieve the concept or any project with my director I don’t talk about technical stuff, I don’t want to bore them. So I surround myself with people who have the technical knowledge. I talk to my team creatively but sometimes I have to be technical depending on the project. I am more interested in creating emotive images rather than something that is technically perfect.
What was it like being a part of that iconic Nike campaign with FKA Twigs and the likes?
When you are in the process of making things, you don’t realise how big its going to be sometimes. I didn’t realise it was going to be such a popular campaign when I shot it. I had worked with FKA Twigs previously, so it was really nice that she asked me back for the commercial. It was great because when you have an amazing creative director like her, the styling is amazing, casting [is] on point, amazing location and a great soundtrack.
On her preferred format of cinematography:
I like short films because you can shoot something and sometimes its out in a week or two. You get to see the outcome of your work in a very short amount of time. Every single project is so different, sometimes you need more light or you need to be more slick with cinematography. I think for young filmmakers or cinematographers it is a really good training ground. I’d like to try a little bit more of drama myself but at the same time I am really glad I came through commercials and music videos. I am super picky when it comes to long form. We all became filmmakers because we saw movies and we wanted to make films. It’s got a special place in my heart, so it has to be something I really connect with.
You can follow Rina Yang on Instagram @the_rinayang