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Cinematographer Yang Shao dives into tough social issues in artistic film
Yang Shao always found himself drawn to filmmaking. With his eye behind the lens of a camera, he felt an ability to reshape architecture, to spot what the eye misses, and to create beauty in the seemingly ordinary. He always knew he was meant to be a cinematographer, and never stopped pursuing this passion.

"The idea of taking the audience on a journey with you, sharing your feelings with them, making them feel how you feel, having them look for answers on profound or even philosophical questions and all that through the complex and comprehensive language of the art of the moving pictures was and still is fascinating to me. It started when I was a young teenager, when I first properly understood and fell in love with movies," said Shao.

Now, as an in-demand cinematographer in his home country China and internationally, Shao is living the dream he had since childhood. He recently has seen tremendous success with films such as Once MoreA Better World, and The Great Guys, and the television series Life is Horrible. Critics and audiences alike are continuously captivated by his work, and all those he works with are constantly impressed with his talent.

"I was looking for a Director of Photography for my project and was about to give up. I'd heard and seen lots of proposals, but nothing felt like the right fit for the project. After I watched Yang's video portfolio I thought that he might work for the project. After he sent me his treatment, I was assured that I won a jackpot. Yang saw exactly what I needed in the project. His Asian sensibility worked great for my fashion-style film and I can't appreciate him enough for his talent," said Javier Barcala, Director.

Barcala worked with Shao on the film Under, a fashion film which takes cues from fairy tales fantasies, mythology and beauty advertising stylization. The story shows the modern world in a very different color from how many are used to seeing it. It talks in a different tone, which is focusing on the visual to act almost as an entirely new language, using music and filmmaking to resonate with a younger audience regarding issues that they have to deal with, such as sexism, race and gender inequality.

"I'm glad I was part of this project and had my input in that work because in my opinion today art can't be simply made for the sake of art. Art has to bring up what's left behind and forgotten, what's hidden in the dark corner of the room, something that everybody knows about but isn't too brave to talk about," said Shao.

Premiering in 2016 at the Berlin Fashion Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Film, Underthen had quite a festival run. It was an Official Selection at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival and the Largo Film Festival, as well as a Semi-Finalist at the California International Film Festival and Davis Chinese Film Festival. The awards and accolades are, for Shao, secondary to the message the film conveys.

"I believe if more visual artists looked in the direction of experimental filmmaking tomorrow modern entertainment culture will not be experiencing the disaster that it's facing today. Social issues that have not been addressed for the past couple of decades led us to a very distrustful and toxic environment. I believe that art is a tool that can help us get away from it and heal the weaknesses that we gained during the unhealthy climate in the entertainment field," he said.

Shao and Barcala both wanted to create something unique. They wanted to strip away all traditions and try something new. For Shao, this meant interesting angles, unusual camera movement and less natural lighting. Oftentimes for the cinematographer, he works on stories asking for naturalism, therefore never requiring extra-odd colors or odd camera techniques, as it will only harm the final outcome. However, with an artistic genre, he was allowed to experiment. Both Shao and Barcala agreed that if the story had fashion focus, it would allow more room for creativity.

Shao set the bar high for himself right away. He chose to use a lot of wide shots with lots of negative space to emphasize the lonely world of the protagonist. The camera movement is flowing throughout the entire movie to keep the audience feeling like they're on the same journey with the heroine. 

"If you can compare me to a high jump athlete, I know the bar is high, I know I can do it, but also, I'm jumping blind-folded, because I was doing so many things I'd never done before. It's that feeling that I enjoy a lot from projects like that. I think that's definitely something that pulled me towards that project. Generally speaking we had a great team of creatives who put all their heart and soul into making this film happen," he described.

Shao was also able to use the knowledge of his Asian culture to create his aesthetics and style for the film, which is a big trend right now in Western culture. Audiences like seeing more Asian faces on screen, Chinese letters and all around Asian flavor in their films. Shao's particular taste and style fit perfectly for Under. His vision brings that mysterious feeling and a scent of darkness and "Asian seasoning" according to the cinematographer.

Undoubtedly, Shao has had a formidable career, with no plans on slowing down. He currently has three features in the works titled NeedIn the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway. He firmly believes that cinematography is one of the purest forms of artistic expression and encourages all those looking to follow in his footsteps to not get discouraged.

"If you want to be a cinematographer, never stop watching movies. There's a point in everyone's career when cinematographers watch a lot of movies, then when they achieve just a little bit of results they stop developing their skills and taste. The world is living and moving in such a high speed these days that what's popular and interesting today, might be boring and old-fashioned tomorrow. That's why it's important to keep your finger on the pulse, watch good movies and stay updated on the world trends," he advised.

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