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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

A Filmmaker’s Journey: An Interview with Shyan Tan

2022-01-03
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In this article:

Behind every film or commercial we see on screen is plenty of planning, hard work and creative experimentation to paint a visual narrative. With a decade’s worth of experience in the industry that includes working with major brands for TV commercials to competing at international film festivals, Singaporean filmmaker Shyan Tan knows this only too well.

We caught up with him to hear about the challenges he faces and the careful considerations he has to make in his productions as he continues to hone his craft.

Hi Shyan, please tell us a little about your background and an introduction about yourself.

Hello, I am Shyan Tan, a Director of Photography based in Singapore! Over the many years of filmmaking, I have had the privilege of working on TV commercials, short films and telemovies locally and abroad. Some of these narrative works have gathered some accolades including the Lumos Awards for Best Cinematography at the prestigious Asian Film Academy in Busan, South Korea. I have also had the privilege of having my recent film “Strawberry Cheesecake” directed by Siyou Tan being included in the official selection of Pardi di Domani in the prestigious Locarno Film Festival!

 

That’s amazing! Please tell us a bit on how you started on your filmmaking journey and how you first started using Canon Cinema EOS products in your career?

For that we really have to go back in time about 9 years ago to 2012! My team and I started off by using the original EOS C300 and CN-E Cinema prime lenses. Back in those days, choices were far more limited than we have today and the EOS C300 was one of the best mid-range cinema cameras in the market. The small profile of the camera and the ergonomics really allowed for easy handheld work. Combine that with the dynamic range, colour science and skin tone rendition left me really happy with my first experience of the system.

Ever since the first experience with the EOS C300, I have been using Canon Cinema cameras and lenses frequently as part of my go-to package. Currently I am using the EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C500 Mark II for some of my work. One of the biggest improvements since the first EOS C300 is the addition of Canon Log 2 which maximizes the dynamic range of the camera, something that is welcome. What hasn’t really changed despite the evolution in the camera shape is the ease of use and ergonomics which I am really comfortable with!


Shyan Tan with the EOS C300 Mark III on the set of “Wild Saturdays”

 

Choosing the right gear for your project certainly makes a difference! What are some recent projects that you have worked on and what were some key considerations you had to make during production?

With the EOS C500 Mark II paired with the Sumire Prime lenses, I recently shot a brand profile video called “Our Unbreakable Bond”. The EOS C500 Mark II with its full-frame sensor allowed for shallower depth of field while shooting with a wider angle lens. This allowed me to go closer to the subject I was filming and at the same time, still maintain a certain degree of separation from the background. The dynamic range of the EOS C500 Mark II was also crucial to the video as we had low light and high key scenes and the camera duly delivered the clean shadows and gentle highlight roll-off I was looking for!

 

EOS C500 Mark II

Sumire lenses

 

One of the under-appreciated aspects of the camera is also its size and weight. As I was filming a celebrity, their time on set is extremely limited and shooting pace has to be picked up as a result. They certainly do not have time for you to get comfortable with the camera or rest between takes!  By having a small and light body with comfortable ergonomics, I could pop the camera on my shoulder and shoot for long periods of time, this helped greatly towards the success of the project.

 

The scale and nature of the project can bring about different sets of challenges. Apart from working with celebrities in commercials and music videos, you have also done several short films. Could you share with us your experience?

A short film I did recently with Director Sabrina Poon titled “Wild Saturdays” was shot on the EOS C300 Mark III and I chose the camera due to its image quality in low-light situations. Working with a tight budget, it was obvious from the start that I would not have the luxury of getting all the lights I wanted. At the same time, I wanted the details in the production design to shine in order to assist the storytelling via context in the scene, which meant I needed more depth in every frame. 


Scenes shot in low-light from the short film “Wild Saturdays”.

With these considerations, I shot with the EOS C300 Mark III with its Super35-sized DGO sensor. The Dual Gain output sensor gave me the confidence to expose in low-light conditions and not worry too much about noise in the shadows. In addition, I was able to shoot the entire film in Cinema Raw Light and that gave us huge flexibility in post during colour grading!

 

Very glad to hear that both cameras served you well! Since we are on the topic of narrative films, what are some of the obstacles you have faced when it comes to producing such content?

I have faced many obstacles in my journey as a filmmaker! But I would say the most difficult is trying to find a team of like-minded craftsmen. The indie film industry in Singapore is really small and we need a lot of support from one another to make a film! It can be difficult to find people in the industry who want to do passion projects for heavily discounted rates. So to be able to form a team of people you can trust who are also willing to contribute towards passion projects is one of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced.

 

Definitely not an easy task considering how specialized some skillsets are needed for roles on set! However since you have done quite a number of films, what would be some advice you might have for aspiring filmmakers out there?

My advice to budding filmmakers would be to just go out and shoot something! Practice makes perfect, if you are always too afraid of making mistakes and want to make the perfect film, you will never get there. Every time you try, you learn something new, I am also constantly learning from every shoot that I am on. Filmmaking is a never-ending process, there will never be the perfect film, I always say my best film will be my next film!

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