Project Forte: Eurica Yu

Eurica Yu

Eurica Yu

Written & edited by Kate Feher

We continue Women’s History Month with Project Forte as we highlight bold women in the field working each and every day at their craft.

Eurica Yu (she/her) is a Cinematographer currently working in New York, and previously Philadelphia, where she attended Temple University for Film.  Eurica has broken quickly into the industry, moving from PA position, through AC work, to a broad spectrum of DP experience.  Forever cognizant of the issues that drive her, Eurica is already involved in supporting Sporas, a network dedicated to raising acknowledgement and appreciation for BIPOC Cinematographers and camera crews of multi-ethic backgrounds around the world.  Read how she navigated her professional education independently, as a young adult searching for a place better tailored to her goals of diversity and creativity.

 

Eurica Yu

Eurica Yu

 

Eurica Yu:                  My name is Eurica, and I am a Cinematographer based in New York. I went to school at Temple University in Philadelphia, and worked in the city for four years before I decided to move to New York. I feel like it has more opportunities and diversities.

Kris Mendoza:         So, you grew up in Malaysia — what led you to Philly and the decision to go to Temple?

Eurica Yu:                 It really goes a long way back…my mom put me into this acting tuition center called Ace EdVenture because she wanted me to be more comfortable in front of people. She had heard from friends that this particular tuition center was really good and it would help boost confidence.

But I got there and I was really nervous because I didn’t like presenting, and I was terrible at it. Every week they had us presenting, acting, reading and writing a ton. Just the thought of presenting made me so anxious and nauseous, so I would make excuses every week to get out of it. The anxiety was so bad that I took a month break before my mom told me to give it a second chance. It took me a while to start liking and enjoying myself in the class. I soon realized that Ace EdVenture teaches their students the American Education System, something that my country, Malaysia doesn’t implement as we study under the British Education System. The British system is a 100% exam based education. Sitting for theory exams determines how intelligent you are which to me is very flawed because we study for years multiple subjects in a day only to sit for a huge exam. I didn’t thrive well in that system because I’m a very practical learner. I totally flunked Math. 

Kris Mendoza:         So much for that Asian stereotype…

Eurica Yu on set

Eurica Yu on set

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah. Math and science? Completely down the gutter. So that’s when I discovered the American education system had different projects and extra credits to sort of boost my score. In the American system, I could also choose different varieties of subjects within the course. The British education is very rigid. I was learning nine subjects in a week, four subjects in a day for years and sat for this huge test for days and that would just determine how intelligent I am because what if I wasn’t feeling well on the exam day? I think that was so stressful and flawed.

Kris Mendoza:          It seems like you weren’t finding what you liked or responded to in the British education system so you specifically sought out the US for higher education?

Eurica Yu:                   Yeah because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t like the exclusive importance of testing. I’m more like a “street smart” rather than a “book smart.” So I just didn’t thrive in that environment.

When I was younger, my parents liked to compare me with my brother just because we came from the same blood, but I’m so different from him. He’s excellent at taking exams. He sorta has a photographic memory. I just remember this one time, he asked me to quiz him for his History exam. He said, “Just pick any page.”  So I picked a page and he asked, “What page number? Read the first letter for me.”  That’s all it took and he immediately just vomited everything he could remember.

Kris Mendoza:          Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

Eurica Yu:                   I’m the complete opposite. I take really long to read anything that the British education system became pretty exhausting for me. You can’t tell your parents that because then they would dismiss your feelings and think that you’re lazy or you’re unmotivated. I wasn’t un-motivated as a child. I just didn’t like the system, and didn’t think exams were important. 

After secondary school, I enrolled into the American Degree Transfer Program (ADTP). I did 2 years of general classes in Malaysia before transferring to the States to focus on my specialty. 

I wasn’t aware that there was a film industry in Malaysia. I remember watching this Malaysian legendary filmmaker, Yasmin Ahmad who made a Merdeka Petronas commercial called “Tan Hong Ming” discussing about the interracial love in Malaysia. That commercial was so powerful and really highlighted what Malaysia’s racial diversity is all about that we’re so proud of. I thought to myself “How did she do that? I wanna do it too.” I thought it was done by a broadcasting company.

Eurica Yu:                  So, I took an advertising class in college where my group had to make a 15 minute video about something, can’t really remember. We uploaded it onto Youtube but I’m not going to show you because it’s really, really embarrassing. That was my first exposure to filmmaking so I enrolled into the Broadcast and Journalism Department in uni.

Kris Mendoza:         Here at Temple?

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah, I enrolled at Temple in the journalism department.  When you come to Temple as an international student, you’re required to arrive 2 weeks earlier because the school wanted all the international students to mingle. I switched from Journalism to Film when I sat in the Journalism Orientation for 5 mins and couldn’t picture myself doing it as a career. Didn’t tell my parents until I did it but at that point, there was nothing much they could do so they had to stick with it. 

And then one thing led to another. I was very certain that I wanted to be in the camera department but I didn’t know how to be a Cinematographer so I went into the Assistant Camera route, mostly because I wanted to know more about cameras but also trying to extend my Visa. With camera assisting, i was able to work for bigger well known companies which would really help with my visa application but I wasn’t fulfilled. 

On the side, I would shoot passion projects for friends as a way to build my reel. I thought to myself as I’m doing it “This is what I want to do. I want to shoot. I want to operate. I want to be the head of a department, in charge of lighting, designing and discussing creative stuff.”

Kris Mendoza:          That’s interesting, so it seems you didn’t have the story of “at five years old I knew I wanted to be DP/ go to college for film.”

Eurica Yu:                  No. My family background is very science oriented. My dad is a civil engineer, mom an accountant and my brother is a doctor. Film and arts isn’t introduced in our family background so i was never exposed to it. Back in secondary school, you’re divided into the science and art stream between 16 and 17 years old. The division creates a segregation and misconception that makes you think if you’re in the science stream, you’re smarter than those in the art stream.

Kris Mendoza:           It seems like there’s a bias towards quantitative approach to things, culturally.

Eurica Yu:                   Yeah kinda. I conformed to that thought because that was my exposure then. My parents never really pressured me to study because they kinda gave up on me since I was really bad at studying. I felt even more pressured to be slightly better because of everyone else.

Kris Mendoza:          So do you think it was because of cultural background and upbringing that led you to believe that this wasn’t even really a career path? You couldn’t even fathom that you could do this for a living for the rest of your life until you kind of came and saw it in action?

Eurica Yu:                  Right, but my ex-girlfriend back then, she was really intelligent and said “I chose to be in the art stream because I wanted to prove to the teachers that you can be smart and you still choose a different path than the norm.” She really stood her ground and that was very inspiring.

When I took this route, I had to teach myself to look at things very differently from the way I was raised. For example, I didn’t know a lot about color theory or anything. I needed more exposure to art.

Kris Mendoza:         Gotcha. You kind of have to get roped in to the science of color – your art. Seems like that tied it all together for you. Once you knew where you wanted to go, it seems like you kind of went for it full force though.

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah I got hooked. And being in the US, I could actually make a career out of it.  One of my first film sets was for Princess Pussy, which was a senior thesis. That set was run by mostly women and I just remember watching this female DP named Ashton Green, who lives in Berlin now. I saw her working and I was just so mesmerized because, thinking to myself, I’ve seen all these old white men or really young white men, men in general doing this but not many women as a head at that time. Seeing Ashton proved I could also do that .. and I could also run this whole department. She was very inspiring.

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Kris Mendoza:          Awesome. All right, so fast forward, post-graduation. What were some challenges you kind of faced early on in your career?  What were some overall challenges that you saw in terms of getting your AC/Cinematographer position off the ground?

Eurica Yu:                  I dealt with a lot of people assuming I don’t know what I’m doing because I look really, really young. That’s a gray area because, well I am really young and I guess I was doubting myself due to the lack of exposure to art. 

Another challenge was networking, just trying to get my name out there as a DP since I started in the industry as an AC. In Philly, there’s a core set of people to work with, which is great because you really form a community there and I love it. But it also can be quite difficult to break into that because of how everyone is so attached to each other, and their working groups. 

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Kris Mendoza:           Do you think it’s a saturated industry where you’re just competing with dozens or hundreds of people to get your name out there, in terms of promotion?

Eurica Yu:                  Yeah. I think so. It’s really competitive in LA and NYC as they’re both very saturated. I lean more towards New York instead of LA, where there’s more diversity in creatives.

Kris Mendoza:           Ok, delving into that diversity.. people often struggle as women in the film industry, or as an Asian in the film industry, or as LGBTQ in this industry… but you are all three, a female, Asian, queer DP.  So my question is, how does that identity influence the work you pursue?

Eurica Yu:                  It’s really interesting that you brought this up because I was just talking to Bianca Moon. Bianca is a really, really good friend of mine. We actually met on one of Maestro’s sets, I think it was Americano. Which is also how I met Jenna Lam… But I was talking to Bianca about the rise of awareness when there’s still a lack of diversity in film and in the mainstream media. We just felt, do we want to be recognized as women in the film industry? or do we just want to be recognized in our positions and for our talents? 

Some production companies reach out because they’re looking for a female cinematographer due to sensitive issues, and yes, it’s nice that they are targeting a lack of representation in film. But at the same time, those companies never go to men to say they need a male cinematographer.  At that point, they just want a cinematographer.

There never needs to be a question of gender.  I see that we do need more awareness and that’s why we are talking about female representation in film and video games and the mainstream media. But the end goal remains, we should be recognized for our talent.

Kris Mendoza:          That’s a really good point. So do you have similar thoughts on being Asian?

Eurica Yu:                   Being Asian. Yeah. I think it’s a really tricky one. Because, first of all, I’m not Asian-American.  I’m working on a project with Ayumi Perry at the moment… She’s very passionate in highlighting Asian-American stories and that resonates with me but not entirely because I’m Chinese-Malaysian, not Asian American. I’m just an Asian living in America.  I do get some weird stares or comments because I’m Asian sometimes. I was on a subway in Philly and I think this lady saw that I came on and she jmmoved away. It was pretty shocking. Usually it doesn’t happen but recently with the height of COVID, it was more common.

And I’ve been getting a lot of comments about where my accent is coming from, where I’m from and it’s just like using that to start a conversation is actually pretty uncomfortable and disrespectful.

Kris Mendoza:          It shouldn’t be a qualifying question.

Eurica Yu:                 Yeah, also, because my brother and my sister in law are in the UK, I pick up on their accent, along with my Malaysian and American influences intertwining together. This affects how I speak to people and how they understand me. Recently, I was talking to someone and they asked me where I was from – It’s always this question of where you’re from – but I never ask where a white person is from…

They ask me, “Where are you from? Your accent is really different. Are you British or Australian?” Or “Are you South Korean because you have a perm?” And I think it’s weird how I’m being perceived over here. I say, “Nah, I’m Chinese-Malaysian.”

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Kris Mendoza:            A large part of the status quo in the US looks at Asians generally, and I think that’s contributing to indiscriminate attacks. 

Eurica Yu:                     Yes. But to answer your question, overall I think, in terms of being Asian in the film industr,  the visibility is very very low. Especially Malaysians, there are not many of us at all. I think there are two people I know: one is Isabella Tan in New York and another one is Ong Rui Jiang in London, but he used to be in LA. Those are the two people I know who are Malaysian, currently in the film industry.

And this is true for the black community, where it’s even more difficult. This last summer during everything that happened,  there was a rise of white filmmakers photographing black communities when that opportunity should be given to the black community first. They have lingos and culture that I won’t be able to understand since I’m raised differently.

On the other hand, being queer in the film industry is actually pretty liberating. Everyone I have met in the film industry so far has been very open-minded, which creates a safe space to express who I truly am. I was hiding and confused for many years and now that I’m older, experimenting more with what I truly want, I realized that my focus currently is telling women’s stories because of how underrepresented we are and also advocating for more queer stories/representation. I haven’t gotten a lot of that, to be honest and I want to do more non-profit work to help the community because I felt the struggle. I didn’t have a support group growing up and it took so long for me to kind of understand myself. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. 

I’ve also been interested in the climate crisis/environment at the moment. So my interests have an intersectionality between women, queer culture, the climate  crisis and also stories that involve underrepresented communities and diversity.

Kris Mendoza:          So in terms of projects, has there been a favorite project for you to date?

Eurica Yu:                   I mentioned working on this passion project, it started in October, and I think that’s my favorite project so far. Ayumi Perry, a wardrobe stylist, approached me with Sophie Xu, who is a Chinese fashion and portrait photographer. They were thinking of producing an editorial fashion film targeting these Asian experiences and reached out to Simone Holland and she passed my contact info along. 

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That project has been very ambitious because there’s literally no budget at all. It was just an idea but the concept was very strong. Everyone’s background is different: Ayumi is Japanese-American, Bianca is Korean-American, Sophie is Chinese, and I’m Chinese-Malaysian. Yes, we’re all Asians, but the three of them culturally are from East Asia and I’m from Southeast Asia. Those are very different culturally. 

Kris Mendoza:         So you mentioned Simone, kind of passing along an opportunity because she felt like you were more qualified to tell that story as an Asian… Why is it important for these marginalized groups to tell the stories of their own culture?

Eurica Yu:                  It’s a grey area I feel. We film different cultures/ethnicities all the time because we want to share the story behind it but the tricky part comes when you’re using that platform to exploit them. There are so many marginalized communities with talented members just lacking the representation and acknowledgement. So if we’re just given the opportunity or if someone would fight for us, then that would make so much difference here. 

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Kris Mendoza:         Absolutely. And you’re doing that, you’re building a coalition across women and supporting other women’s solidarity – Who are some women that inspire you in terms of the work you do or how you carry yourself everyday?

Eurica Yu:                  Definitely this cinematographer from London. Her name is Rina Yang. Her story is really inspiring because she was raised in Japan and came to London for school, not speaking any English at all. She slowly worked her way up and created opportunities for herself with her talent. Another woman that inspires my work is Alice Aedy. She’s a documentary filmmaker and a climate activist. She started this online platform called Earthrise Studio to discuss climate issues, to spread awareness on the urgency of the climate crisis and also spreading knowledge about the environment. There’s a lot to digest but she slowly breaks it down for you everyday. Sade Ndya, a cinematographer from LA is also someone I look up to. She is an incredible cinematographer and always advocates for the marginalized communities. That was really, really important for me to witness it, especially starting out competing in an industry so saturated with white people. It’s incredibly difficult to break in but I feel like there’s a way. 

Kris Mendoza:          What’s next for you?

Eurica Yu:                   I’m actually doing this low budget music video that is self-funded by the director. This would be my first time filming a music video. The EP has an incredible soundtrack and the concept behind the 4 part music videos is very ambitious for the budget. I’m working with Margot Bennett and Tana Sirois for this and we’re very excited to show everyone the final product.

Kris Mendoza:          Awesome. So, last question for you is in two parts. Why do you love what you do? You talked about the path that led you here, but now, why do you love what you do and what do you hope people will take away from watching and experiencing your work?

Eurica Yu:                  I love doing what I do because of the creativity that everyone brings to the project, the communication between departments and the commitment that each individual gives. I love when the project is good conceptually even though it’s a passion project and people are invested in it, because you see endless creativity coming out of it. It makes me so happy when I see this happen because it’s hard doing that when there’s a huge pressure looming over you to deliver a good piece. When you’re the head of department, you have the decision to pick the crew you want to work with and I always prefer working with the more marginalized communities who lack representation but are really good at their jobs. I really wanted to make them shine. I wanted to make sure everyone’s voices were heard. On the passion project, there were a lot of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ crew members and it was a dream to work with them. 

The freedom of discussion is really important to me. It’s one of the main reasons I do this job – I get to meet so many kinds of people from many walks of life. Some people think as a cinematographer, you’re the only one making the final decision, but I value learning from others and taking in suggestions from different departments, especially since they’re the expert in their field. It’s very liberating to see this all happening.