Junbai Zhou: Seeing and Hearing Music

Versatility is a strength no matter what your profession. Chief Lighting Technician Junbai Zhou has found that her skills have allowed her to vacillate between feature films like If She Screams, television series (Amazon Prime’s Breakfast with Granny), and photo shoots for iconic publications like Harper’s Bazaar, but she professes a great affinity for music videos and the versatility this canvas offers. Describing what she finds so appealing about this medium, Junbai relates, “Sometimes it can be really hard to find people have the same passion as I do; to want to break the limits and bring new possibilities with lighting to these productions. I enjoy working on films and TV but one of the best parts of being involved in the music video production community is that I get the opportunity to work with different directors from different countries from day to day. It’s a very interesting journey and a priceless experience.”


Cinematographer J. Garrett Vorreuter had an ambitious aspiration for a new music video by music artist Iris and brought Junbai aboard to ensure its manifestation. The two had worked together on the feature film If She Screams and Garrett was convinced that Zhou would be the perfect partner to bringing his desired aesthetic to fruition. A modern story of covert spies, the goal was to present the visual style with adopting the influence the Italian painter Caravaggio to combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting. Junbai describes, “We were really interested in using saturated color to intensify the danger and really high contrast lighting to elevate elements of the story. Even during the outdoor hand-to-hand combat scenes, I used a shining board to creative this high light on the actor’s faces to create a non-organic lighting look that contrasted with the natural environment. This matched the intensity of the two girls fighting.” This almost subliminal effect is utilized throughout the video, such as when red color surrounds the protagonist’s face to communicate her being the hero of the story. Junbai used pink and sodium vapor to similarly hint at danger as pensive moments evolve. In a short amount of time, “Dangerous” by Iris has accumulated nearly 5,000,000 views on YouTube and increased the artist’s global notoriety.

Director/writer Gabriele Fabbro proved with his production “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” that excellence in storytelling is not able to be categorized so easily. This music video/short film is on an equal standing with the best creations that the feature film or television industries have to offer. From the direction to the editing, acting, and lighting, this three-and-a-half minute presentation of the classic pop song conveys as much emotional depth and stunning visuals as those considered to be timeless classics. Bathed in red light and possessing some of the most interesting characters without being unsettling, the romance challenges of the story’s main couple are told in a manner that does not necessitate the spoken word to land its impact. The immense amount of recognitions and awards for Fabbro’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” announces its excellence and embrace by a community which recognizes the greatness of the artists involved in creating it. A small selection of these include: Nominated for the AOF/WAB Award for Best Music Video, nominated for the Festival Prize Best Music Video at the Chicago CineYouth Festival, wins for Best Music Video at the Glendale International Film Festival, Los Angeles CineFest, United International Film Festival, and nominations for Best Short Film from the LA Shorts International Film Festival and others.

"Can't take my eyes off you"

The story incredibly takes place in only three long shots which never linger or offer a mundane moment. Color and lighting is the key to the story. Recalling her work on this award-winning production, Junbai describes, “The design of using three long-take Steadicam shots to capture everything for this film really created a challenge in requiring all of the lighting equipment to be hidden. There is constant motion throughout the story and the lighting had to both be able to create the mood of the different scenes, be hidden, and even mobile at times. I literally had hundreds of rehearsals with the Steadicam operator to make sure that we were perfectly in sync.” From creating separate mood lighting for the protagonist in a party to guerilla lighting on the street, the only thing deficient in this production is the attention that Junbai’s immense skill has received; any focus on it would however detract from its greatest strength which is its ultra-subtle contribution to the feeling throughout the video. While conceding that her work can often be quite physically demanding, Junbai Zhou notes, “Tiredness and stressful situations are worth it when you’re able to work with people you respect to create something you are all so passionate about.”

Author: Patrick Wilson

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