We had the good fortune of connecting with YoonSoo Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi YoonSoo, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
Honestly, I think that people already subconsciously know if they should keep going or give up, but are afraid to act on it because they’re held back by things like their pride, relationships or the fear of failure. Personally, I tend to give up on something quickly if I feel like I can’t do it well immediately, since I don’t want to waste my time. I have heard people say you need to throw yourself head first into something to be able to succeed, but I’m not sure if I agree with that. I first need to gauge the scope of something before committing to it, since I’ve learned that I’ll be disappointed and hard on myself later on if I don’t. I used to want to be a painter, so I committed to taking classes and spent a lot of time working on my technique. Taking the classes made me realize that painting is something I’ll never excel at–I spent a lot more time practicing than other students and my work was never considered “good.” So I found other similar arts, like photography and cinematography, that I enjoyed, and I found that I was good at them. My goal is to be the best cinematographer. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and I know I’ll never give up until I reach my goal. For me, as long as I have a goal, I am confident in knowing what I need to do to get closer to achieving it.
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.
In my films, I usually prioritize a strong story over getting beautiful shots or using great equipment. When working on projects as a DP, focusing on the story first allows me to support the director fully. When set-ups or equipment are the focus of my work, I’ve learned I can’t successfully express the story to the audience. In terms of what makes me unique, I’m constantly thinking about how to film things–I do image training whenever I see something beautiful in daily life. What I’m most excited about right now is shooting my first feature film with a friend. I’m really proud that I’m in LA and living out my dream.
The beginning of my journey in LA was not easy. I came here to expand my perspectives and take my skills to the next level. Since I’m not from the US and not a native English speaker, I had to first learn the language and culture on top of how the film industry works here versus Korea. My first year here I mostly focused on learning English, and right after I started film school the pandemic hit. Because of COVID, I couldn’t get the same hands-on experience in film school–I also couldn’t meet other people to learn from each other and share experiences. During that time, I was inspired by the films I was watching and focused on what I could create for myself with the equipment I had at home, like taking photos and practicing lighting set-ups. I felt like I was still improving my skills, and after things opened up more I was able to take these skills with me on set. There are still difficulties after COVID, but I’ve been able to collaborate more with creatives on various projects.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would go all out on a 3-week cross-country road trip from LA to NYC. The country I’m from is smaller than the whole state of California, so I’ve always wanted to live in a place where I could take an epic cross-country road trip. I have this old Minolta film camera that was my father’s when he was younger, so I’d want to stop by some famous filming locations I haven’t had a chance to see yet to take pictures: places like the Hoover Dam (from The Transformers), Missouri (from Ozark), and Brooklyn (from The Godfather). I also think a trip like this would be a unique experience to share with another person and allow us to learn things about each other we haven’t had a chance to talk about before. Spending so much time together in a car would be challenging, but big challenges always lead to big inspiration.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There’s one person who changed my entire perspective in filmmaking: Roy H. Wagner, ASC. He was one of my lighting class instructors in film school and is very dedicated to helping his students. I used to think that you needed expensive camera equipment to create amazing film visuals. Roy has always told me that gear is just gear–what’s more important is who’s using it. He showed us that’s true with a film he shot called Stand!, where he re-created a scene from A Nightmare On Elm Street with an iPhone. He also always makes himself available to support his students: whenever I’ve emailed him a question, he takes the time to call me and thoroughly explain his thoughts. I’ve learned a lot from him and improved my skills as a cinematographer. He still inspires me in my work and I hope to be like him someday.