China’s only female Steadicam operator still chasing her dreams

By Chen Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/30 13:08:40

Deng Lu Photo: Courtesy of Deng Lu

Becoming a cinematographer might not require perfection, but as Deng Lu understood it, to become a qualified and professional cinematographer, she had to master every skill, including how to hold a more than 30-kilogram Steadicam. Today, she is the only female cinematographer in China who can operate one.

"Maybe you think I am very naive, but I thought being a cinematographer meant you had to know how to use a Steadicam, until I became one and found that many cinematographers didn't know how to use them," Deng, one of the few female cinematographers in China, told the Global Times in December. 

Born and raised in Beijing, Deng showed a keen interest in films when she was a child. "I was quite unsociable when I was a child. My favorite hobby was to sit in front of the TV, watching different kinds of films," she said with a childish smile. 

Deng's mother is a clothes designer, and her grandfather, who had a major influence on her, was a documentary photographer. After he passed away, Deng decided to fulfill his dying wish for her to become a cinematographer. 

Doing a man's job

Deng said there are fewer than 10 female cinematographers in China, but she is not necessarily proud to be one of this small group. On the contrary, she is always nervous in case she comes up short and people judge it to be because of her gender. 

"Doing a job that men usually do is not easy, but women's biggest advantage in this profession is tolerance," Deng told the Global Times. 

She noted that a female cinematographer sometimes needs to bite the bullet to work with a team, but at the same time, she cannot show her weakness. "Many female students studying related majors often ask me if I suffer gender discrimination during my work. Well, it does exist, but I think it's only from about 10 percent or even five percent of people. Maybe that 5 percent will discriminate against anyone who does better than him, whether you are a man or woman. So as long as it does not cross your bottom line, then take it easy. The key thing is introspection. You need to concentrate on doing your job well. When many people criticize you, be careful because you are more likely to make a mistake."

Deng is very positive on the issue of gender discrimination and believes the phenomenon will decrease as people became more tolerant and equipment becomes lighter thanks to technological development. 

According to Deng, a qualified cinematographer needs to have good physical strength, strong endurance, and most importantly, accurate judgment, pointing out that in terms of judging emotions, women have the advantage. 

"I am quite emotional. I'm often moved to tears when shooting actors. For example, when I shot the film Somewhere Winter, I was touched and cried twice while shooting, which was something my male colleagues could not understand," Deng said.

She also shared her experience of working with Chen Kaige, a renowned Chinese film director and a leading figure in the fifth generation of Chinese cinema. "Mr. Chen is very strict about shooting. I thought he would turn me down, but surprisingly, he offered me a job and gave a very clear description of the kind of shoot that he wanted. He was satisfied with my delicate lens style and once commented that my lens was like a 'poem', which I think is the highest praise I have received in my life."

Overcoming challenges

Deng has been working as a cinematographer for six years, and she said she feels proud when she tells people that she is still pursuing her dream even though she is now in her 30s. "Achieving my dreams requires me to overcome many difficulties, both physically and mentally."

She describes the physical aspect of the job in one of the hardest scenes she ever shot. "I remember I carried a more than 30 kilogram piece of Sony equipment and followed the protagonist from a forest up to a hill, down to a river, then I had to get on a boat to shoot the actress on the river. Each take lasted seven minutes and was later shortened to six minutes. We shot nine times in total, and I had already run out of strength by the fourth time. But I kept telling myself 'You can do it', and through willpower, I finished it. Then I realized I had tears running from my eyes and my hands and feet were shaking."

Cao Le, Deng's best friend, told the Global Times that Deng is a simple but hardworking person. 

According to Cao, Deng started her job as a stills photographer, and then found she could not handle the heavy equipment when she was promoted to cinematographer. She began to train for the job by going to the gym for eight to nine hours a day, building up her muscles. To fill the gaps in her professional filming knowledge, she went to study at the Beijing Film Academy. "She has super strict requirements of herself, and likes to challenge herself."

"This job doesn't allow you to have a good rest and a healthy diet. We normally begin to work at 6pm, finish at 5am, go to bed at 8am and wake up at 2pm, but I still love it because I am pursuing my dream," said Deng. 

She noted that being a cinematographer is like being a painter, and each work has its own characteristics. "I want to be a director in the future, and I want to convey to the audience how I feel about movies through my own lens."
Newspaper headline: Shooting stars

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