The United States has always prided itself on being built upon the strengths of people from other parts of the globe seeking to better themselves and their situation. Perhaps in no other situation is this so starkly visible as with artists. Originally from Thailand, Samon Siripanichgon knew that his talent in the filmmaking industry would be propelled to greater heights by immersion in the American film industry. Among the many productions who have benefitted from his skill as both a set lighting and camera expert is the SXSW film festival official selection Parked in America. Like Samon himself, the main character of this film leaves everything familiar behind and must acclimate to the “American way.” Mr. Siripanichgon and cinematographer San Yvin established a phenomenal approach for the camerawork of Parked in America, one which garnered a Grand Jury Award nomination at the prestigious SXSW film festival. Starring Judy Song (as Jamie Park), Jeff Lawless (as Eli Barnes), and MeeWha Alana Lee (known most recently for Awkwafina is Nora from Queens-the 2020 comedy also starring BAFTA nominee Awkwafina and Primetime Emmy Award–nominee BD Wong), Parked in America is a modern immigrant tale with a captivating visual approach.
Not surprisingly, there are many factors which contribute to a film’s aesthetic style. The choices made, the tools used, and the manner in which they are utilized, all of these are often (incorrectly) considered secondary to the audience who simply receives them as part of the overall emotion coming off the screen. Although he has a vast set of skills beneficial to the look a production, Samon’s primary tasks on Parked in America were concerning the camera. He notes, “I discussed the camera and lenses we were using with the DP to establish that I was familiar with them. We did the standard ‘day before the shoot’ camera check. This is extremely important as these components are so delicate and fragile. If even one little cable pin is broken, the whole system doesn’t work.” Beyond the care of the camera itself, Samon was the focus-puller for Parked in America; a role that is immensely important to the final version of any production. It’s almost impossible to accurately appreciate how adept Samon is as a focus-puller without having attempted it one’s self. There are moments in the story when a character will walk from far away to very close while the camera is at its widest aperture, meaning that the depth of field is at its shallowest. With the camera pushing in as a character walks in, the depth of field is shallow and the plane of focus is incredibly small. While some of this technical language might seem foreign, one need only to “feel” what is happening with the camera and action happening to comprehend how spectacular the effect is.
There is a special yet intangible nature to Samon’s work in Parked in America. This story is about a girl who suddenly finds herself in a country and culture where the language and the food are different from everything she’s ever known. This is a feeling Samon recognizes and it reverberates through his work on this production as he states, “I think the part that resonated with me the most was having my environment change so drastically and so quickly. When I moved to New York for college, I came here on my own. One day I was living with my parents and the very next, I was moved into the dorms with strangers in a new city. I was homesick for things that were familiar to me like my family, friends, and food. Finding an authentic taste of home was difficult. New York is probably the best place to be when it comes to finding foods from different cultures but even the closest resemblance didn’t feel completely like home. Much like Jamie Park, I also had to find new friends. I spent some time bouncing around friend groups before finding the ones that I still have today. Most of these are those who also have somewhat of an international background. I think due to our common experiences, we are more drawn to each other.”
Writer: Sharon Howe