Daphne Wu is an award-winning cinematographer based in Los Angeles. Since her graduation from USC's School of Cinematic Arts in 2011 she has accumulated a full repertoire of features, shorts, music videos and fashion films as a director of photography.
She has ten narrative features under her belt as of 2018, including My B.F.F. (2016) with C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders, E.T.), and Aimy in a Cage (2015), starring Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) and Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire, Enter the Void).
Her active approach to cinematography is to constantly innovate and challenge how a narrative can be translated visually onto the screen. She loves to take creative risks and enjoys working with directors and producers that are just as fearless in their vision.
1. When did your dream of becoming a filmmaker begin and how did you get started as a cinematographer?
It began with reading, really. I was such a bookworm as a child - I fell in love with stories set in far off worlds, was captivated by so many narratives, characters, fiction as a whole. Meanwhile I’d always been a visual artist, and combining those two interests led to me to film school. At USC you get to try almost every department and it was a very easy decision for me to gravitate towards cinematography. Shooting was by far the most exciting, most fulfilling, most fun, most everything job to me.
2. When you graduated from USC in 2011, what were your hopes and dreams for the film industry?
My hope was to tell impactful and beautiful stories through my visual medium. I dreamed of collaborating with like-minded directors and producers on narratives that resonate with me on a personal level.
3. What has been your greatest achievement as a filmmaker thus far?
My greatest achievement has been shooting so many narrative features early on in my career. I have been very lucky that I could flex those long-form storytelling muscles in the very first years of graduating college. I was definitely green then, but I think that made me more fearless in some ways. And within the logistical bounds of low-budget features, a lot of creativity and quick thinking is needed!
4. Tell us a little about the process and the experience of working on a TV series. Looking back at your first experience in 2011 with A Series of Unfortunate People to the work you did for 5th Ward, how was the experience and what were the differences?
A Series of Unfortunate People was my very first paid job as a director of photography. I hadn’t even graduated film school yet but had edited a good reel. This is a very fond memory: I packed a sedan’s worth of film school friends into my car as crew members, and drove everyone up into the Hollywood Hills for this web series. This was 2011 and the cast members included Randall Park and Keegan-Michael Key!
5th Ward is the latest long-form project I’ve been on and my first time shooting an entire season of a television show. This was a great experience in creating a visual look for material that didn’t just span 90 minutes, but several hours of episodes.
5. What do you find is the biggest difference in terms of shooting for TV as opposed to a film project?
The audience has more screen time with characters in television, so in some ways that makes it easier to develop stories visually - you essentially have more time to show what you need to show, you have more time to let the audience react, reflect, and wander in the material.
However television schedules are no joke! I do enjoy (sometimes) being able to take my time on feature sets.
6. What is the process for shooting a documentary film such as The Disunited States of America, and how was the experience for you?
Disunited is a portrait of the everyday lives of Americans leading up to election night in 2016. This was my first documentary feature and a life changing experience - I spent weeks filming these individuals all across the political spectrum, them waking up, taking their kids to school, hanging out with their families. This film really expanded my horizons personally as well as professionally.
7. What has been the greatest lesson you've learned during this journey?
To be patient and to stand up for my ideas and my creative vision. Cinematography, and filmmaking in general, is so subjective and I think it’s easy to think, I’m not the most experienced person in this room and I should just do things the way they’ve always been done. But really, someone hired you for your taste and your opinions, and the more I make sure my ideas get their due consideration in the collaborative process, the better the final product has been.
8. Where do you hope to see yourself in five years’ time?
I hope to be shooting even more features! I want to find scripts that tell personal, honest stories from diverse perspectives.
9. What are you currently working on?
Currently several short films and music videos. I am also developing a feature called Days of Competition, a coming of age story about a high school swim team, which I am very excited about!
10. What words of advice would you like to pass along to someone just starting out in the industry as a cinematographer?
To young women, especially women of color: your perspective is important and your ideas are invaluable! There is a lot of subconscious bias and prejudice in the film industry, don’t let it get to you and find the allies - they exist! Go after the stories you care about, but don’t worry too much about having to take a gig for a paycheck either. There are several groups for women in the film industry now and they are great sources for professional growth, finding work, and new friendships.