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Through the Lens of Arthur Wong
Hong Kong Society of Cinematographers 1/1 - Page 5
Author(s) : David Vivier
Thomas Podvin
Date : 12/1/2005
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Movies :
Double Vision
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HKCinemagic: Talk about the Hong Kong Society of Cinematographers (for which you are the chairman). Do all DPs join this society?
Arthur Wong: I can say, all of them. The first three or four years we only got 25-26 members, because the rule was too strict; to be a member you had to do at least three pictures that should be released in cinemas in HK for at least one full day. And then all the comity members have to vote if the applicant is in or not. After three years, with only 20-something members, people began to say it was only a small circle for them.

Me and Jackie Chan, we are very good friends. We know each other since I was assistant [cameraman] and him assistant to choreographers. He encouraged me and said, “why don’t you get all the cameramen in the field, make it big. And the true thing is it is only to explore the techniques and share the skills, you don’t have to endorse all HKSC members as the best cameramen. So people won’t say anything.” So we changed our rules and with only one film under the belt you can be a member.

HKCinemagic: The main goal of this society is to get DPs to learn new techniques by organising seminars and workshops, isn’t it?
Arthur Wong: Yes, sometimes we would co-organise workshops with Panavision or with Kodak and hire some DPs from the US or from other countries to share their experience. Now there are about 60 members in the society. The society was created in 1998, one year before the Director’s Guild. Every year, we arrange a lot of seminars. These [past] four years were mostly dedicated to explore the HD [technology].

Ultraviolet, ultracolorfull
HKCinemagic: Talking about HD, it has become very popular in Hollywood. When will we see that technology in HK?
Arthur Wong: I don’t think it’s the time yet. Last year I was very lucky to get a contract with Columbia Pictures for Ultraviolet [Ed.: filmed in HD with a Sony HDW-F950 camera]. That movie used the latest technology in HD, and it was used for the first time on Star Wars Episode III, they used a Sony F900. Now the 950 is out. It gives more freedom and wider latitude in photography.
Two years ago I worked with Columbia Asia Pictures on Double Vision. After that Columbia and Panavision jointly organised a HD workshop. So I was sent there to learn and to shoot a short film of about three minutes. That led to a very good opportunity to work on Ultraviolet.
HKCinemagic: So now, you have the skills to shoot in HD, but it isn’t going to happen soon in HK, is it?
Arthur Wong: Well, if you had asked me this question three years ago I wouldn’t have believed so.
The HD technology [has appeared suddenly] and has developed very, very quickly. So these years I’ve been arranging more and more seminars non-stop or workshop on HD in HK. And I got some funds from the government to open these workshops. Exactly the same workshops from L.A. with their own technicians. I believe that within four to five years it [HD] would take over films [Ed.: as of 2009, it still doesn’t seem to be the case in HK with local productions getting lower and lower budgets].
HKCinemagic: You made two movies with Columbia Pictures?
Arthur Wong: Double Vision and Ultraviolet. Ultraviolet really is a studio picture. With Double Vision, I could join the workshops. It was only opened for the ASC members, American Society of Cinematographers.
HKCinemagic: What would you like to say to people interested in the cinematography work?
Arthur Wong: First of all, read through the script many times, make sure you understand clearly.
Point number two is to have a very good communication with the director. Because you are you, he is he. What is his thinking? Maybe it is quite different from you imagine. That’s why you would not understand clearly how the director is going to make a movie in his way. And then, thirdly, use your heart. That’s it.

Another point: Understand the actors, who the lead is, etc. Different people act differently. So watch them during rehearsals. And maybe you’ll see the difference between the plan before and after, as the actor will act his way. So you have to adapt very fast.

This is the difference between HK movies and other countries. In the 1980s, the busiest period of the industry, a lot of time we didn’t have any script on hand. In the morning, the call time was 7 o’clock. The script would be faxed to the location at 9 o’clock. (Laughers) And then after the director read it he would say something new or very different from what was discussed the previous day. So you’d have to change very fast, adapt. This is the situation of HK movies. We don’t have very good preparation.

I don’t like this system. But I think it’s getting better and better. The money is tighter and tighter, so everybody has to be well prepared to save time and money on location. In the old days, every action choreographer would come up with the choreography on the set. But nowadays it’s different, you have to use video camera, pre plan everything and show it to the director: “in this scene we will fight like this or that.” He approves, and we go on location. We don’t have to think, just do it.

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