One of my favorite parts about working at VIMBY is the people! I get to collaborate with talented filmmakers and creatives from all over the world, and together we tell stories. Often we are asked to shine a light on others but this week we’ll be spotlighting an old friend Ed Wu, whose first feature-length film, Sleight, just premiered nationwide.
Looking back on it you and VIMBY go way back, like all the way back! Could you remind me again how you and VIMBY started working with each other?
It’s kind of crazy to think that I’m one of the original people. I was in Indiana at the time at IU for undergrad, I was making videos and posting them on Vimeo, when Steve Seidel hit me up out of the blue. He was like, “We’re looking for filmmakers in Indiana,” and I was really interested because it was an opportunity for me to shoot and get paid to shoot! Super lucky thing to fall into.
What was the first VIMBY project you remember working on?
I believe it was From Bach to Black Sabbath.
It’s basically this piece about theses two guys I knew back home in New York who are electric violinists. They’re both classically trained violinists, one of which does more pop-y stuff, and the other one basically played metal on his electric violin. I played violin since I was 6, so I was really into the music community and they were the most interesting people.
Do you have a VIMBY story that sticks with you?
The biggest one is probably the one about Chance the dog. I remember walking into the house and seeing this dog like, “Oh yeah this is going to be pretty amazing because of how this story between this guy in a wheelchair and his dog who is in his wheelchair.”
I remember thinking that I could see this one blowing up, but I didn’t think that it would blow up to the point that it did. 80 million views across Facebook and YouTube, it was pretty crazy to see! It was really incredible to just meet those people, see their story, and then see the popularity of their story afterwards.
So you’ve got a signature hairstyle… Can you tell us why the “Wu-Hawk” and why is it always orange?
The orange came before the Wu-Hawk. I was infatuated with orange since I was like 12 or maybe younger. I love the vibrancy of it. All of High School I grew out my hair, and by freshman year of College it was down to my waist, so I never really had a normal haircut.
That Thanksgiving a friend donated her hair to Locks of Love, and I was getting a little tired of the long hair so I decided to cut it off. I don’t think I had a specific reason to go with the Mohawk but that’s what I did. It was black at the time, but the natural progression was obviously to go orange because of my love for orange.
Who are some Cinematographers you admire?
Present-day, my favorite DPs are people at the top of their game. I really respect Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, and if we’re going younger guys who are just breaking in or just killing it right now Bradford Young is my other favorite. Bradford Young because of his darkness.
I want to go dark when I shoot narrative movies. I think there is something about being in the shadows and just not revealing everything out front. I think a lot of people tend to go towards over lighting. I think there’s a good mystery of what is happening, questioning what’s happening and being able to feel that darkness basically.
As a student of Cinematography how would you say you’ve progressed throughout your career?
In the past, I guess 10 years, I would call myself a Cinematographer for 5 years. Cinematography is an art form and you have to be an artist. You also have to be a technician, and you have to be a businessperson.
From an Artistic level, I think it’s trying to find what I appreciate in cinematography. What movies do I enjoy watching? What about those movies do I like? Why do I like Emmanuel Lubezki? Why do I like Roger Deakins? Then trying to come up with my own way to tell a story.
Technically, I’ve learned what makes good lighting or what makes good camera movement. Learning what the elements of cinematography are and how do you get better at those. Where to place the light, where to place the camera.
I think being a businessperson comes down to managing people and the interpersonal relationships with everyone on set. A phrase that I use as a cinematographer, there’s above the line and there’s below the line, I would say the cinematographer is the line. Basically you’re playing the middleman between a lot of departments and a lot of different people. We’re all trying to get to one shared goal, but everyone is very different, especially project-to-project.
Let’s talk about Sleight. This is your first feature as a Cinematographer. How would you elevator pitch this movie?
Elevator pitch. This is why I’m in cinematography.
Alright, alright, I can respect that. Tell me, what is it about?
The film is about a teenager who lost his mom that’s got to make end’s meet and take care of his little sister. His name is Bo and he’s a street magician; that’s his love, that’s his passion. He does street magic to pay the bills, or try to pay the bills, but it’s not enough.
He ends up turning to drug dealing. It’s not typical drug dealing. It’s kind of like this world that… I don’t know. It’s a little more glamorous. He ends up making a couple of bad decisions trying to get ahead a little too fast and has to save his little sister Tina as a result. Sleight is a weird mash up of genres. It’s a coming-of-age, gangster crime thriller, science fiction, superhero origin story. Even though it’s got these sci-fi and magic element to it, it comes back to this human story.
Sleight made its premiere at Sundance, what was is it like experiencing that?
It was the first time that I’d seen the film with a crowd. It was crazy because at the end of the movie during the climax the entire audience was hooting and hollering. They’re all cheering for Bo, literally cheering for him! It was a full crowd that was on their feet rooting for the protagonist. It was a really cool experience.
If some dude who’s just about to graduate film school asked you for advice on becoming a DP, what would you tell them?
There are a lot of things I would say.
I think the one thing that’s in the top of my head right now, is know why you’re doing cinematography and why it’s your passion. Know the reason why you want to be in cinematography, or whatever element of filmmaking that you want to be in, because during the down times of your career or your life you need to know what that passion is because it will drive you forward to do what you love to do.