REEL Lady: Cinematographer Rain Kathy Li

REEL Ladies spotlights Rain Kathy Li, ranked in Variety as the top 10 cinematographers to watch out for!! Rain talks about her interest in cinematography, her journey, and current projects.

What was your journey into the film industry? What initially sparked your interest?
I went to England when I was 15, and had to do many part-time jobs to support my studying and living. Modelling is one of those jobs. I always knew that’s not for me but through modelling I discovered my interest in lighting. I love watching photographers setting up lights..the way that they work with nature and the differences between photographers in term of their way of lighting. Then, I gave up modelling and went to the lighting department.

What was it about cinematography that you were drawn to?
I didn’t grow up in a family that has anything to do with film but I always loved colour and images in life through my travelling. It taught me how to capture things with my eyes, soul and interpretation, which could be very different from the reality. I love lighting, finding the most appropriate composition to portray an image.

Give the ladies a brief run down of what a DOP does to prepare for a film.
DoP is short for Director Of Photography.. She or he controls the overall visual look of a film, in close collaboration with art and costume department to create what the director wants.However, in term of the craft itself, cinematography concentrates on camera and lighting to create the mood that the director wants for a scene…He or she collaborates with the director extremely closely to find the right tone of the images to tell the story.

Do you work on DV as well?
I work on whichever format that is right for the film. It doesn’t matter whether it is DV or film. I started in video as DoP because it is cheaper and easier but quickly moved to films because it is much more fascinating and magical

Which do you prefer?
Film, definitely. All of the films that I have shot or interested in watching as just an audience, all set in the world that is closer to the reality. I love the soft touch to the reality that film stock creates. It’s magical and cinematic. I also love that surprise that you get from waiting to see what the rushes look like.

Your career as a DP hasn’t been that long, but you’ve already worked with some great names in the industry. Christopher Doyle & Gus Van Sant. How did those opportunities come to you?

Rain Kathy Li & Chris Doyle

Rain Kathy Li & Chris Doyle

I’ve been working in the lighting and camera department since the age of 16. Started as a DoP since I was 19 in short films, commercials and music videos. It was extremely hard as a young female DP. No one really trusted me so I saved money and made 5 short films myself.
I wrote, directed and dop’d and edited them. Did everything myself and then I had a showreel…Everything just started from there slowly. I met Chris through a friend and we immediately bonded. He sees a lot of him in me and the way that I work, as I recalled what he said to me, so he started the idea of collaborating with me.
However, it was just an idea at the time. After he saw what I have done on the first project that he’s passed on to me, he said he wanted to work with me for the rest of his life, which is totally flattering but I didn’t know how truthful those words are. The collaboration started from there 4 years ago. I met Gus through Chris and he was very excited and curious with the idea that we were working together. He’s an extremely generous film-maker who is willing to give opportunities to young talents and film-makers.



You have some great films lined up in the near future, one with Rebecca Romijn. HOW are you finding these great projects that are launching your career?
I’ve been extremely lucky to work with so many great directors and actors, and other extraordinary creative crews. I started in independent films and stayed very loyal to it because I believe in that way of making a film and telling a story. Word of mouth. Being recommended by people that I have worked with before or know me well, approached me to bring their ideas into a big screen. To me, film-making is about always about people.8. For the ladies reading, and Cinematography is their interest, what would you tell them?
It’s a beautiful world to be in. It’s great to see the world in the ways which others can’ t immediately. It creates its own reality and beauty.

Where do you see your career in the film industry going?
This is not a career for me but my life. I never intended to be on this journey but I’m so delighted and excited to be party of it. I let life take me to wherever space. Not much money in the dependent film world so I wouldn’t call it a well paid career..It has to be about love and passion. My agent is always complaining about how little money that I make. haha! They are still supporting me though.

You had a hand at writing too, do you want to pursue that further?
I love writing but not a good writer. I’d love to put my thoughts on papers, or turn into a script. If I have a desire to tell or share something with others, I’ll definitely love to write it into script and make a movie out of it. But no intention in writing and directing as a career.

What is the film you are working on now?
I’ve just finished a project in Iceland with Gael Gacia Bernal for the UN. It’s a film consisting of 8 different short film by 8 international renowned directors, such as Wim Wenders, Jane Campion, Gus Van Sant, etc. Gael is one of them. Each film targets on special issue related to the UN agenda.

Filming in Iceland, what do you have to do differently in preparation in filming in these climates than normal?
Stay warm! Most of the equipments handle cold much better than us, but it just makes the shooting hard. Those machines get unstable. In those extreme environment, we normally have second camera body as back-up. I shot a film last Jan in Regina, Canada. It was –47 degree southeast. I never been in anywhere as cold as there. The electricians had to use different kind of gaffers tapes to tape the ND gels on the windows because normal ones just couldn’t stick anymore. I shot a film last year in NY and it was extremely hot..In the taxi scenes, I was handhelding a camera cramped in the seat with two actors, and the director and also the camera assistant, the camera just kept getting broken down..We had to use a portal fan cooling it down all the time. .It was so frustrating.

What would you like to see from women in film?
I’m so happy to see more and more women directors get reorganized in cinema. Hopefully it’ll happen to cinematographers too… It’s still an extremely sexist in the field of cinematography.

How can the ladies get a hold of you to approach you about working on a project? (website, email)
You can see a lot of my work there but not features or recent project unfortunately. It’s in the process of getting updated. All my contacts, including my agents’, are there. The web hasn’t been updated since last year..Many more clips are coming soon.

My e-mail address:

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A Networking Community & Organization for Women in Film & Entertainment! View all posts by REEL Ladies

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