Fading Lights dazzles at the Isabel

Filmmaker Ryan Lee puts an abstract spin on campus film

Image supplied by: Supplied by Ryan Lee
Lee on set of the Fading Lights video.

Four years ago, Ryan Lee, ArtSci ‘16, never would’ve thought he’d be graduating from Queen’s with a BA in Film and the founder of an independent production company. Originally a LifeSci major with a Film minor, Lee finally graduated this past spring with a BAH in Mathematics and Film. 

His latest film project, Fading Lights, was screened at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts in late April. 

Fading Lights is an unpredictable and edgy addition to Lee’s portfolio. Though most of his videos are consistent in their high quality videography, Fading Lights is more abstract than any of his previous work — especially campus oriented videos, such as We Are the Gaels.

“There’s a lot of deliberate ambiguity within the story,” Lee says, leaving the active interpretation to the viewer. 

Fading Lights from Reel Videography on Vimeo.

For most of his projects, Lee’s thought process is fuelled by music, specifically indie-electronic. “It always starts with a song,” he said, and from there the visuals come to him in fragments, like puzzle pieces sliding into place. 

“I found the song [“F+L” by Point Point], and decided I wanted to make a video with it,” Lee said. “It just so happened that I had volunteered to help the Queen’s Dance Club make a promotional video for their end of year recital.” While filming for the club, Lee met the main dancer in Fading Lights, Gabrielle Quilliam. 

“When I saw her dance style, I knew she would definitely be in a piece,” said Lee. Whether she would be in Fading Lights or another video was not obvious at first, but once Lee heard “F+L”, the project began to come together in small pieces, with Quilliam as the lead dancer. 

Fading Lights opens with a pan of a rocky clifftop sunset as music gradually fades in with the stunningly high quality image. Quilliam’s feet are seen taking emphatic steps across the landscape and eventually the camera pans out so that both her and the landscape are visible in the shot. 

Quilliam is then joined by another dancer, and together they dance as though they’re mere reflections of one another. In the second half of Fading Lights, Quilliam performs among flashing lights in front of an infinity mirror — a set of mirrors set up recursively producing a series of continually smaller reflections. Lee described this part of the video as an abstract experience. 

Supplied by Ryan Lee

“The pre-production process was so different, Nick [co-director] and I, as well as Bella [producer] met a number of times to discuss what it would look and feel like,” Lee said. The idea to stage the dancers in front of an infinity mirror, Lee said, just came to him.  “I thought that would be cool.” 

Despite a number of technical limitations, the team used two locations for the video — the Isabel and Rock Dunder. The total value of the equipment Lee’s team rented was a whopping $115,000, he said. “We knew of the technical challenges … so we had to figure out how to use the stuff and build the set.”

The treacherous hike to and from Rock Dunder is daunting enough without carrying expensive camera equipment and when it’s light outside. However, because they wanted to catch the sunset, by the time they were finished filming, the team had to hike down the cliff in the pitch black. “The producer, Bella, fell and broke a few toes actually [on the way down],” Lee said. 

The video was shot in 6K resolution, as opposed to the still impressive 4K that is popular with independent filmmakers. “I have 1.5 terabytes of footage on my hard drive right now. It took me seven days to put it all together,” he said.  

The production and editing of a short film is no easy task, especially for a fourth-year Queen’s student with a full exam schedule. The screening was on April 26, exactly a week after Lee’s final exam — a memorable finish to Lee’s undergraduate career. 

The end result is a two act, four minute video that immerses and dazzles the viewer. With no script, no lines and no subtitles, the deliberate ambiguity is evident. Fading Lights is as open to interpretation as a short film can be.

Lee discovered his passion for film at Lakefield College, his high school near Peterborough, Ontario, where he took on the production of school spirit videos. He won a Best Use of Technology award in grade eight for his first video ever, made for a history fair. 

Lee brought his passion for video with him to university, filming special projects on campus, and starting his own collective, Reel Videography, to “capture the spirit of individuals, ideas, and communities,” according to the company’s website. 

Next year, Lee plans on continuing projects with Reel Videography on contract work. “In July I’m going down to the US for a couple months to work with another video production company,” Lee said. He plans to scale up to more commercial projects down the road.


fading lights, ryan lee, student films

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