Sung-Yen Lai

Motion Pictures & Television / MA

I had a good sense of what I wanted to be and it wasn’t a cinematographer. I was a visually-oriented person with an active imagination, and loved bringing the images flooding my head onto blank paper. As I moved through college, I landed on graphic design as the career for me, and flew thousands of miles to San Francisco to study at Academy of Art University.

About a year and a half into my graduate studies, a friend asked me if I would help out on a film shoot. I was the lowly PA, which was fine with me. Each chance to be on a set - my friend was always desperate for crew - resulted in me spending less time on my graphic design studies. Then, one fateful day, I was recruited to be the dolly grip. A twenty-minute crash course and I was good to go. I managed to push it smoothly, maintaining the even speed. My origin story: the thrill of that day still lives in me even now.

Transferring into the School of Motion Pictures & Television, and focusing on cinematography, I learned to operate state of the art camera equipment, got certified as a steadicam operator, and grew proficient in performing every role in the camera department. A slew of professional work on feature films, and PSAs, narrative short films is a quick summary of my work to date. I am most proud of my recent Best Cinematography award in the 2022 NXT UP Fest. Sonder, an evocative short about a daughter coming to terms with the death of her father and her changing relationship with her mother is currently on the international film festival circuit.

NXTUPfest 2022 Winner: Cinematography

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