A Thousand and One, the award-winning debut feature of writer-director A.V. Rockwell, takes viewers on an emotional journey through New York City, capturing the struggles and resilience of a mother and her son. The film’s cinematographer, Eric Yue, brings a unique perspective to the story, making the city of Harlem an essential character in the narrative. In an exclusive Q&A with Focus Features, Yue shares insights into the film’s creative process, the challenges faced in shooting different time periods, and his experiences working with the talented cast and crew.
Yue got involved with A Thousand and One through Rockwell’s manager, who had seen his previous work on the feature film, The Giant. Initially, Yue proposed shooting the ’90s section of the film in 35 mm and switching to digital for the 2000s, but due to budget constraints, he opted to use digital with vintage lenses for the ’90s and more modern lenses for the 2000s. This approach helped create a distinct aesthetic for each time period.
To capture an authentic representation of Harlem, Yue and the team scouted numerous locations to find the perfect storefronts and streets that embodied the spirit of the neighborhood in the ’90s. They also used colors to differentiate between time periods, opting for a warm palette in the ’90s and cooler tones in the 2000s.
Yue’s attention to detail extended to the film’s exterior shots, where he utilized extras and carefully dressed sets to create a genuine atmosphere of the neighborhood during different eras. This focus on authenticity was particularly evident in his approach to camera movement. Hand-held shots were used to convey the chaos and instability of Inez’s life in the ’90s, while tripod shots provided a sense of stability in the 2000s.
Collaborating with Rockwell, Yue drew inspiration from archival photography, particularly Katsu Naito’s Once in Harlem. This book, which documents the neighborhood in the ’80s and ’90s through black-and-white photography, served as a valuable reference and even inspired a shot in the film.
Shooting on location in a small New York apartment presented challenges, as the tight space and summer heat tested the limits of the cast and crew. Additionally, Teyana Taylor’s fame brought unexpected attention to the set, with crowds forming and paparazzi appearing to catch glimpses of the hometown hero.
Despite the challenges faced during production, Yue is proud of the final result. One of his favorite scenes, a simple shot/reverse shot of a conversation between Terry and his date in a Chinese restaurant, showcases the power of understated cinematography and strong performances.
Ultimately, Yue hopes A Thousand and One serves as a “love letter to mothers, sons, daughters, the hustlers, and displaced of New York City,” offering a poignant portrayal of resilience and the power of redefining family.