We had the good fortune of connecting with Vivian Lau and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Vivian, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
My life used to be solely focused on work. I thrived off working every single day of the week, taking every single job that came my way. But after a few years, I burned out from taking every offer that came my way, whether it was a project I wanted to work. on or not. Now, I prioritize myself and my mental health over trying to work every job that I am offered. This has made such a big difference in my life and relationships. I try and pick the projects that I know are going to be fulfilling, that I’ll be proud to sign my name on and put all my effort into. As an artist, it’s so important to try and do at least a few projects a year that you are really passionate about. It refreshes your mind, and can bring you out of any creative funks you may be in after a while doing endless commercials that aren’t giving you any personal sense of achievement.
Taking the time to be more picky about what you spend your time working on opens up so much mental space to be able to focus on your friends and family. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time trying to hustle just to hustle, because that was what people told me I should do in this industry, and that I had prioritized better projects and better uses of my time. But now that I have found that balance, I find more pleasure in all the jobs I do and also getting to go home and not be completely burnt out and spend time with my dog!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Art is hollow without passion and dedication. I try and bring as much heart and emotion into all the projects I take on to shoot as a DP and express that heart on screen through the cinematography. Bringing the characters’ emotions and stories into the visual language of how the story is told. Trying to find ways to shoot and light scenes and stories that are new and original and trying to differentiate it from the immense wealth of art and content out in the world. I try and focus on taking projects that highlight underrepresented subjects and groups – people of color, the nonbinary and transgender and LGBTQ stories – all the stories that traditionally haven’t been allowed to be told on screen. It’s not easy to make a name for yourself working on smaller projects either, when all the money and attention is focused on the big budget commercials, music videos, that don’t tell such niche stories. But you have to believe in yourself and the projects you take on. I’ve been very lucky to shoot a wealth of different stories the past few years that have all helped me grow creatively as an artist, and to see stories differently. With every film or project I shoot, I gain new perspectives on collaboration and visual storytelling.
All the smaller projects I’ve done up to this point have given me the confidence to take on and ask for bigger jobs. I came from doing countless small budget short films and web series, to seeing a commercial I DP’d play on a huge billboard in Times Square. Perseverance and a rock solid support system will carry you a long way. There were so many times I wanted to give up because trying to make a name for yourself in such a big industry is so difficult, especially as an Asian American woman in a field that is historically dominated by white men. It’s difficult to convince people that you are competent and can do your job well when they haven’t hired someone like you before. But show them you are and you can, and prove them wrong. Believing in yourself is the first step to getting others to believe in you! Surround yourself with your support system who will bring you up when you’re down, and don’t let yourself give up no matter how hard it is to be seen in your field, because hard work and perseverance will pay off.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My favorite things to eat and drink in LA: coffee, ramen, and sandwiches. For a friend who’s a new visitor to LA, I would take them to Hollywood to drive by the Hollywood sign, visit and hike Griffith Park (the must-do’s in LA) and pick up coffee from Rubies and Diamonds on Sunset. They have amazing sea salt caramel lattes with oat milk if that’s your thing. For lunch, let’s get gluten free sandwiches from Mendocino Farms, or stop by The Butcher’s Daughter on Abbot Kinney in Venice and for dinner, it’s worth waiting in a 2 hour line for Tatsu Ramen on Melrose!
I would take them for a drive down the PCH with the windows down and experience the California Coastline. Drive through the winding mountains of Malibu to get to El Matador State Beach and walk in the water and through the caves, or to Leo Carillo State Park for a dog friendly beach adventure! Sunsets on the Pacific Ocean are unrivaled. My first California coast sunset I experienced was from the Venice Boardwalk. You can’t go wrong with any spot along the Pacific coast at sunset!
Echo Park is one of my favorite neighborhoods for walking around and exploring bookshops and coffee spots. If you have food allergies like me, you should check out Honey Hi for gluten free and vegan food and smoothies! You can walk around to all the cute bookstores or the farmers market if you go on a Friday. If you can find parking in Larchmont Village, definitely walk around and check out Go Get Em Tiger for a coffee and a bite to eat
After we’ve done all the classic LA things, let’s drive out to the Angeles National Forest for some fresh crisp air and some mountain hikes. The San Antonio Falls Trailhead is one of my favorite walks to bring my dog and she gets to play in the waterfall! Pack a sandwich or lunch and enjoy hanging out in nature while still being so close to LA. And don’t forget to bring your trash back to your car with you!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There have been many role models and mentors in my career thus far. One of the greatest things about living in LA is the diverse film community that you can immerse yourself in. Before moving to LA, I knew very few Asian American female Directors of Photography (DPs). When I moved out here from the East Coast, I had the opportunity to work with and befriend a group of wonderful Asian American female DPs. Their work ethic, creativity and talent, and immense support for each other have guided me these past few years working in LA. I wouldn’t have the confidence to be where and who I am now if it weren’t for these women.
My family has always been endlessly supportive, from when I first decided I would pursue cinematography to when I moved out to LA (over 2,700 miles away from them!). My mom, my dad, and my sister are my biggest cheerleaders and always the first ones I go to about exciting career developments. Everything I do is to make them proud! And of course, I wouldn’t be where I was if I hadn’t decided to choose filmmaking as a career without my high school film teacher who always pushed me to be creative and work harder than everyone else. The impact of teachers can’t be understated!
And of course, I wouldn’t be where I was if I hadn’t decided to choose filmmaking as a career without my high school film teacher who always pushed me to be creative and work harder than everyone else, and some of my cinematography professors at Emerson College who helped me see the world in a different way. The impact of teachers can’t be understated!