Memories of a Cinematographer

Cinematographer Richie Yau shares some thoughts and memories of working on Family Party.

MEET RICHIE

I am the cinematographer on Family Party. Some people call it the ‘director of photography’, ‘DP’, or ‘DOP’ for short. My job was to help visualize the film and make it a reality. In other words, I need to get the pictures out of Pari’s head and into the camera.

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Cinematographer Richie Yau

G&E AKA “ARMY OF TWO” AND SOMETIMES “THREE”

So when I was told that I was able to only have a couple of guys to help me with lighting, I called on two people – Drew Moe, my gaffer, and Ryan Weeda, my key grip. These guys are elite. We came up together through the trenches of film school at Chapman University. Both of them are great DPs and I believe if you surround yourself with hardworking, talented people, it will elevate your own work.  Here’s how great these guys were. Drew would always give me two choices on lighting. There was the good way to do it and then there was the “awesome” way to do it. Guess what I chose most of the time?

Some days we would have Kevin Ganelin, who came in not knowing how to tie a shoelace to becoming one of our most missed crew members when he was not around.

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(L to R) Drew Moe, Kevin Ganelin, and Ryan Weeda

GRIP TRUCK MINI

It is good that our crew was small because we had limited equipment to work with. We had a small grip truck packed with gear, which ended up being a perfect size for our little production. If we had anymore gear, we wouldn’t have had the manpower to handle it. I’m very impressed with Ryan Thomas and Matt Stouppe’s equipment, truck, and especially their service. On our second to last night of shooting, we were going home after our longest day of shooting and the grip trucks’ tire blew out right when we hopped on to the freeway. We called Ryan and he said to leave the truck and he’d take care of it. We left the truck on the freeway and the next morning on set, Ryan and Matt came with all the gear packed in their two cars. The fixed truck showed up shortly after and we stayed on schedule.

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The grip truck also served as a makeshift rest area.

CAMERA TEAM

I was so lucky to have the camera team that I did. Not often do I work with a 1st AC that I have never worked with before, but Tyler Lee Cushing was one of the best I’ve worked with. It also helped that he owned all the camera gear, which I really enjoyed working with.  Sometimes you would see me petting the camera. I know Pari will miss his long talks with it.

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(L to R) Richie Yau, RED Epic camera, Pari Mathur, and Tyler Lee Cushing

To round out my super camera team, we had RJ Saraza as my 2nd AC and Debbie Vu as our DIT. Since we had a slew of actors in one scene, RJ had his job cut out for him, giving them all marks for blocking. I seriously have never seen so many marks before on the floor. It was some kind of record, I’m sure. Debbie came in as DIT, but helped on camera as well; she made all our jobs easier. Over the two weeks that I worked with Tyler, RJ, and Debbie, I got to know them better and I would love to work with them again soon.

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RJ Saraza, marking till he dropped

THE WHEELCHAIR

One of my fondest memories of this set was the drawing of me in a wheelchair with the camera by Shreeram, who plays Raja. I’ve used a wheelchair in the past for some shoots but never to this extent. It sometimes felt like I was on the wheelchair for half the day. We would use the wheelchair as our poor man’s way of dollying. We actually had a doorway dolly, but not enough track. The wheelchair came in handy because it was quick to setup and could go the distance if we needed it to. It was not ideal, but it was a good alternative. So I was in the wheelchair so much that this kid ended up drawing me in one. I look like some kind of camera wheeling cyborg with hair. It was so cool! This kid is so talented. The best kid actor that I have ever worked with.

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Shreeram Modi, the camera wheeling cyborg with hair, and wheelchair Richie

EASY EASYRIG

When Pari told me that he wanted to do most of the film handheld, my shoulders and arms started aching. I thought immediately that I better start lifting weights and working out every day. I didn’t do that, but luckily my lovely producers had gotten me an EasyRig. The EasyRig is basically a device that attaches to your body to distribute the weight of the camera so it makes it easier to manage. It does not however take the place of a SteadiCam and will still have all the motions of walking and running. It saved my shoulders and arms and I recommend anyone dealing with medium to heavy camera rigs to use one.

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EasyRig in action

SPIDER MOUNTAIN AND ETC.

I hate spiders and when we found out the front yard of our location was infested by them, Drew called it “Spider Mountain”. My crew showed some real dedication, or maybe they were just crazy, but when I needed some sun light flagged off, they had to jump into “Spider Mountain” to do it. They came out of the pile of web and spiders luckily unscathed, but man it was a freaky thing to see.

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Staring at the horror that was “Spider Mountain”

The other mountain that we had to climb was “Roof Mountain”. Basically, we had to deal with multiple versions of this. Drew and with the help of Ryan and Kevin, came up with some very “creative” rigs for attaching and securing grip and lighting to the roofs of buildings. I have two favorites. One that had to do with extending the awning of a building at a school and the other was installing a jib arm on the roof of a garage. By the way, these were the “awesome” versions of doing what we needed done.

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The many faces of “Roof Mountain”

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

I have to give a lot of credit to Alun Lee, the 1st AD, and Cait Wilson, the 2nd AD. They deserve a lot of credit for helping us make our days. We drove each other a bit crazy at times but we got it done. The best AD team I have had the pleasure of working with.

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Cait Wilson and Alun Lee, the two most feared members on set

Pari was great to work with. He listened to my ideas and when he didn’t, I trusted his. It’s one of the most creative collaborations I have ever had. I will miss our Philz Coffee meetings, white board diagrams, watching reference movies, getting Pari points, and him shouting “Blast Off” instead of calling “Action”.

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Bromance

PARTY ON

The party is not over yet. We still need your help to raise the additional funds to complete the film. We are accepting donations to help keep the party alive. Donations can be made through our non-profit partner Fractured Atlas. All donations are tax deductible.

Also check out our Facebook page and our website. Please spread the word!

Thank you!

-Richie Yau

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