For Justin Ivan Hong, cinematography is not just a job, it is his way of expressing his thoughts and feelings about the world. Responsible for the visual aspect of filmmaking, he knows the power of his craft. Cinematography is the closest embodiment of his creative impulses and function for the Singaporean. It’s the culmination of visual, cognitive and emotional perception reflected in an image.
“Everyone who has the luxury of sight knows, consciously or subconsciously, the effect of what one sees can have over you. It can be overwhelmingly beautiful, horrendous, and everything in between. Sometimes simply indescribable. This is what I like about cinematography. Imaging, when done right, has the ability to communicate so much more than what words alone can do. This is why movies are so powerful. It entertains, teaches, puts forth new ideas, and reflects on our lives. It is a privilege to be able to contribute to that,” he said.
Such passion for his work his evident in every project Hong takes on. He is an artist, and in films like The Buddhist, Sui Side Inn, I Love New York, and so many more, audiences can appreciate his talent in each shot. He has worked on countless award-winning and successful projects throughout his tenured career, but none was more special to Hong than working with his idols Mark Hamill, known best as Luke Skywalker from the iconic Star Wars saga, and producer Howard Kazanjian (Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark).
“These are people whose works are milestones in film entertainment and belong to a generation of filmmakers that are revered amongst other filmmakers. It was just an honor for me to be working side by side with them and having a feeling that the torch was being passed on to my current generation of film practitioners,” said Hong.
In 2016, Hong began working on Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest, a documentary television series that follows the star of Star Wars and voice of the Joker on a mission to find and meet with collectors of pop culture memorabilia and experience their amazing collections. As a lifelong collector himself, Mark wants to dig deeper and explore the origins of the most fascinating people and objects he runs across on his quest.
“Even though the topic of this show is concerned with fun things like toys and comics, I think that there’s something to be said about, and something to be learnt from, theses collectors’ sense of dedication, passion, commitment and in-depth knowledge. These are traits that can be applied to enrich and enhance almost any other area of life,” said Hong.
When shooting Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest, Hong was careful with how he approached the cinematography. He didn’t want to be too artistic with his work, as it is a documentary and the content therefore took precedence over everything else. He instead identified the areas where the visuals could step forward and concentrated on those. These were mainly in the subject interviews and shots of the toys. He wanted the audience to get a sense of the color, variety, and sheer size of some of these collections and he did so with a combination of specialty macro lenses, sweeping camera movement across the shelves of toys, and wide-angle lenses to reflect the scale of these large collections. His choice to be creatively selective allowed for the dialogue to flow freely without constraint, giving authentic and genuine discussions that greatly contributed to the show’s success.
“Justin’s blend of practicality and innovation towards cinematography culminates into a distinct vision that is irreplaceable. He was able to understand the demands and constraints of a show like this and tailored his approach to remain nimble and flexible. This enabled us to react quickly to spontaneous moments and capture the best content that we possibly could. Justin was an integral part of the success of this show,” said Tim Beers Jr., Director.
Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest premiered in 2017 and was initially distributed on the Comic-Con HQ channel. It was an instant hit among sci-fi fans and around the world. It is currently available on all major streaming services, such as Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, and more.
“I feel very proud that this series was popular and well-received. Part of being in the film/TV industry is this innate desire to entertain, and when that happens, it is very satisfying. Aside from just being entertaining on its surface, this series gave a spotlight to a group of people whom we do not hear about very often and gave audiences a chance to be informed about something they might otherwise have never been able to learn about,” said Hong. “And Mark was the consummate professional and gentleman. He is every bit as charming as you’d imagine him to be and the crew and I had an absolutely wonderful experience working and interacting with him.”
Be sure to watch Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest to see some industry icons and Hong’s beautiful cinematography.