Members Support Sun Cinematography Award

Cinematography students Becky Baihui Chen and Shelby Adair received the 2019 Sun Cinematography Award, which has a history of ASC involvement behind the scenes.

Jon Witmer

Cinematography students Becky Baihui Chen and Shelby Adair received the 2019 Sun Cinematography Award, which has a history of ASC involvement behind the scenes.

Header image, from left: Lindsey Shockley and Steven Edell, two of the Sun Cinematography Award founders, with award recipients Shelby Adair and Becky Baihui Chen. (Photo courtesy of Blackmagic Collective.) 

The Sun Cinematography Award, conceived to encourage the success of female cinematography students, recently announced its 2019 winners, with first prize going to Becky Baihui Chen and second prize to Shelby Adair.

Receiving the award, Chen says, “is truly an honor, especially as I finish my final year in the graduate film program at USC. Not only has it been a huge encouragement as a female cinematographer from China, but it has been a powerful inspiration to continue my passion and to give my best to every project that I capture with my lens.”

The award is presented annually to a female student enrolled in the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Award recipients receive production workflow support from Blackmagic Design, $500 toward the cinematography budget of a project for which the recipient is the director of photography, a one-year student membership in Women in Film, a one-year membership in Friends of the ASC, and a mentorship with a working cinematographer.

This year’s mentors are Peter Levy, ASC, ACS, who has been paired with Chen, and Anthony Kuhnz, who will work with Adair. “I’m honored to be a part of [this award] and to do what I can to ensure that its purpose will be fulfilled,” says Levy. “I feel that being a mentor is a small way of giving back. I view the role as having two functions. One is to help the mentee make the transition from academia to the professional working industry and to help them on their way to monetize their skills; there is way too much that is not learned or taught in the ivory towers. And [the second] is to be the one who will answer any questions pertaining to their lives as cinematographers — from the naive to the complex, from the technical and procedural to the emotional. Our profession requires us to embrace a lifestyle as much as it requires acquisition of knowledge and experience.”

Becky Baihui Chen with Peter Levy, ASC, ACS. (Photo courtesy of Chen.)

“Cinematography has different aspects, including lighting, framing and camera movement,” Chen observes. “A great DP is both a conductor and a diplomat. It is important to look at the overall picture and to trust the crew to finish the details together, as a team. To be a creative and effective cinematographer, one needs to be diplomatic in managing the crew, and to collaborate well with different departments to make a great film. This is what I have already learned from Peter, and I am proud to live by it.”

Past mentors have included ASC members Nancy Schreiber and Michael Goi. Christopher Chomyn, ASC has long been an advocate for the award, spreading the word to eligible students and helping to recruit many of the award program’s mentors, including Levy.

The Sun Cinematography Award was founded in 2009 by Rain Breaw, Steven Edell, Lindsey Shockley and Iram Parveen Bilal, with the goal of fostering emerging women in the field of cinematography by providing greater access to the tools students need to produce a reel that showcases their talent, as well as access to a mentor who knows the path on which the student is about to embark. The award is named in memory of Charlene W. Sun (1974-2009).

“Charlene was a student of mine at USC,” Chomyn shares. “She was a remarkable woman. She was a gifted artist [and] singer — and a family-practice physician — who wanted to make films. She left an indelible imprint on all who knew her. The Sun Cinematography Award was created by friends of Charlene who wanted to preserve her memory and legacy, and to advance the work about which she was so passionate. This award memorializes a soul and advances the art.

“Both Becky and Shelby are super-talented in addition to being lovely people,” Chomyn adds. “They will make the most of the award, and I’m thrilled both were able to be selected this year.”

Chen’s reel can be viewed here, and Adair’s can be viewed here. More information can be found at the Sun Cinematography Award website.

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