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A Timeless Tone for The Last Scene

When it comes to vocations, there are essentially two types of people; those of us who like to show up to our jobs knowing exactly what we will be doing and then those who test themselves with challenges every day. Artists love what they do but often spend much of their day searching, even agonizing over what will achieve the best outcome. Cinematographer Nan Li felt the resonation of this concept in his work and the plot of The Last Scene. This film juxtaposes a writer and the story he is creating, intertwining reality and fiction. Viewers witness a suspenseful robbery/murder game of chess while also gaining insight into the writing process itself. The excellence of the film is rooted in the mastery with which the filmmakers both delineate and dissolve these two worlds. Even though we know these two scenarios cannot intertwine, the presentation seems completely natural. As the Cinematographer for this film, Nan was the master of delivering the final imagery which charmed audiences and led to a host of awards from the Queen Palm International Film Festival (Best Cinematography winner), International Independent Film Awards (Best Cinematography Gold winner), Oniros Film Awards, Five Continents International Film Festival, Oxford International Short Film Festival, and others.

Nan follows a rule of threes when approaching a production. He reads the script first for story, then for formulating cinematic style, and finally for imagery. The DP took a decidedly retro approach with an American mid 70’s look for The Last Scene. While digital filming is the default standard these days, Nan used 35mm to nonverbally communicate the feel of a long past era of crime and espionage. Nan notes that shooting in 35 mm is an honor and exciting for him as it is nonexistent in his homeland of China. Stating his reverence for the use of actual film, Nan relates, “Shooting by film is a totally different process compared to digital. Because you cannot see the image right away, every single point in the frame has to be exposed precisely. I spent a lot of time measuring the exposure and imagining how it looks in the frame as well as how I could adjust by pulling or pushing stops. Should I do ENR to keep the black pure? Should I do Bleach by pass to add more contrast or should I do pre-flash to reduce the contrast? These are all one-click aspect in the post when shooting digital…and it's reversible. If the director or the producer doesn’t like it, it can be easy reverted to the original look. With film, everything has to be considered in advance. Once you do the special processing, there is no way to go back in most case. It’s demanding and often unforgiving, which is what makes it so special.”

An affinity for the more difficult, even cumbersome path is not something most professionals aspire to. It’s often relegated to artists and athletes as this pressure creates immense growth. These efforts are often greatest when they go unnoticed. During a suspenseful moment in The Last Scene, the female thief approaches a narrow doorway and enters as she surveys the surroundings. Viewers are unaware of the thirteen foot jibarm attached to a Chapman dolly that dances around the actor and communicates the feeling of looming danger; courtesy of Nan’s design for such tight quarters. An artist such as Nan finds new solutions to the problem of how to create and inspire emotion. He confirms, “Film is an imperfect art. I am always struggling to understand which part can be better, which shot I might have to give up even though the image is so beautiful. Unless there is an apple box 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 Director of Photography, I always think I am here to serve my director and the story.”

Written by Keith Carly
A Timeless Tone for The Last Scene Reviewed by JaamZIN on 7:36:00 PM Rating: 5
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