At just 21 years old, Hong Kong filmmaker Sam Robinson is showing what it means to think ‘outside the box’ by shooting his home city in a hip and era-defining style.
Not your standard filmmaker, Sam Robinson takes pride in shooting flashy images alongside trippy drone footage with his rented film equipment. This combination of eclectic imagery and tricky camerawork is most apparent in his film ‘FOCUS HONG KONG’ – a shortie documenting the heart and soul of Hong Kong from a new and energetic perspective.
Sam’s work has always stemmed from a natural curiosity in the world around him and a relentless need to satisfy his artistic impulses. Despite being born and raised in Pok Fu Lam, a residential area on the outer edge of Hong Kong Island, it took a stint abroad in countries such as London and California for him to realise just how extraordinary his home city really was. He explains that many foreigners, in his experience, share the misconception that Hong Kong is just a city made up of “expensive shopping malls and giant skyscrapers. But in reality, the city has this amazing diversity where one minute you can be on a beach and then 15 minutes later you can be enjoying a cocktail on an 80-floor skyscraper overlooking the famous skyline.” This frequent need to amend false impressions of his home city encouraged him to create ‘FOCUS HONG KONG’ as a means of showcasing the city’s many surprising contradictions to his friends and acquaintances abroad.
From the stunning Victoria Harbour to the gentle slopes of Tai Mo Shan, FOCUS HONG KONG grants its audience lightning glimpses of life in Hong Kong through its slick hyperlapse footage and showstopping visuals filmed by drones. The filmmaker stopped at nothing to get the shots he wanted – whether that meant camping out on a mountain at night to catch the perfect moment of sunrise, or racing through the streets at night in search of the perfect shot. “I focus a lot on aesthetics, and always try to pull off unique shots. I would attach my camera to escalator handrails and the backs of taxis as a means of capturing the city’s spectacular neon lights from eccentric and compelling angles.”
Working in a restaurant by day and filming by night, FOCUS HONG KONG was definitely a labour of love that took time and considerable effort. “Filmmaking is a tiring process, and fitting it into my full-time job was tricky. One night I slept at the top of Tai Mo Shan just so that I could capture the sunset. Putting in the extra mile to get these shots takes a toll, and because filmmaking is my side passion, I was questioning if I should be putting all this time into art and not my other commitments.” In addition to that, he didn’t actually own any of the cameras or gadgets necessary to make a movie, and instead had to rely on rented equipment from a tiny store in Mong Kok. “So far, I’ve always filmed using the Canon 550D, a GoPro Hero 4, and the Sony RX100. You can rent these for up to 72 hours at a discounted price, which was cost-efficient for me.”
Being self-taught, most of what Sam has achieved has been the result of hours spent researching online, with him often studying up on his “film game” well into the early hours of the morning. Without a set shot list, he spent most of his free time meandering through the streets at night, shooting whatever happened to inspire him. His advice to others would be to follow the same route. “There’s a current expectation for youths to feel that they need to rock a certain style and be at a certain level before they can come out with their ideas. My advice would be to start documenting. Just go for it and try everything. The key to getting places, especially in film, where the technicalities are endless, is to accept that you have to be a novice at some point in time, rather than trying to match a standard you can’t maintain. Positive energy is the start of everything, and then you need to work hard and find your niche. Don’t do what everybody else is doing.”
For Sam, what marks him out is the very personal motivation behind his mini-movies. Turning his camera on his current hometown of LA next, he still plans to film from that perspective. “As a result of the development of HD cameras, we live in an age where everyone wants to be an influencer or famous online, but for me it’s really about creating content that I can look back on when I’m 40 and know exactly what I was doing and feeling at the age of 21. It’s important to remember that there is no winner or loser, no right or wrong – everyone simply has different tastes.” That his result in such distinctive footage makes him one to watch.