How exciting and delightful to catch up with a past student who has been making waves all over the world, particularly on a hectic autumn afternoon at Hurtwood, hooking up with the gracious and truly talented Arden Tse in China.
Since leaving us in 2009, he has been impressing the movers and shakers of the film business in Los Angeles and now, it seems, in China. Defining himself as first and foremost a cinematographer, he is increasingly taking on the role of director also, and in spite of basing himself in California he finds himself in rather flattering demand, from one job to the next, in China itself.
Fondly remembered by many at Hurtwood, Arden has been a loyal and long-standing fan of the school. On a brief and unannounced visit during the summer term, he promised to make time for this chat and true to his word, we begin via Facetime to unpick his memories and just how he began his extraordinary journey. There is a quiet dignity in his manner; measured and thoughtful, Arden gives his full attention to sharing his experience, and has clearly given a great deal of thought to how he can share effective advice with students with similar ambitions. Fulsome in his praise for Hurtwood, he describes his arrival at the school as the fulcrum of all that has followed. Why? He was originally moving into the traditional educational channels of academic study. The ‘lightbulb moment’ occurred when he realized there was a place where he could actually study the things that were fundamental to his creative ambitions.
Once here, he threw himself into every possible project on offer, and he repeats on a number of occasions how invaluable this has proved to be. Originally destined to carry on his Media and Film Studies at Westminster, he swerved at the last fortuitous moment and headed off for the Hollywood Hills. LA, with all its history and allure, drew him in, and the next four years saw him consolidating skills, ‘doing as much as a student possibly can do,’ building on practice and experience at Loyola Marymount, and once again making the most of every project on offer. He recalls taking every piece of work experience that came his way and making all the connections on offer.
Born in Hong Kong, Arden had spent much of his youth in the UK, so it took some ingenuity and commitment it seems, to consolidate work visas in the USA (films are made out of such stories, I think) drawing on references from many of the teachers and practitioners he had impressed along the way. A key one turned out to be our very own, and now legendary, John Goddard, who, along with Luke and Matt, garners plenty of praise throughout our chat. He describes them all as his ‘very first mentors in film.’ Without question his extraordinary pile of awards accrued over his graduate study: Best Cinematographer each year between 2012 and 2014, as well as a prestigious end of year award in the name of a beloved and highly respected Professor Ian Connor. 2014, the year he graduated also saw him awarded by the ASC in Hollywood, and more importantly perhaps, the work started pouring in. There is real pride when he tells me how he has worked continuously across the board on everything from feature film, web series, shorts, music videos, commercials (including Coca-cola), and branded content. The first film was with Mischa Barton – ‘The Sixth Sense’ – and many other big names, on ‘Starcrossed’. Take a look at his IMDB page and you will get a flavour of the sheer range of work this young man has under his belt. ‘I was making my reputation more and more among my generation, in LA’ he tells me, ‘and not just as an Asian cinematographer, but as a cinematographer in general.’ Busy, loving the work and expanding the range of work, he began to realise that, on one level, everyone knows everyone else: ‘It was within my generation.’
Then he got an offer which he was delighted to accept: ‘The chance to come back to China for a much, much bigger piece, a period piece. It was a very big show indeed. With a very big budget, he seized the chance of a career ‘stepping stone’, as he calls it. Far from his original plan of returning to LA when this job finished he found himself very much in demand, continuously for the last year. A lovely blend of gracious understatement and modesty, Arden is nevertheless proud of this fact. Lured there by one job, it has become the pattern that as one ends another tantalizing offer emerges, and as such he seems to be finding a combination of challenges and projects that are giving him more and more artistic and creative autonomy. Quite early in his studies, he tells me, he realized that this world is indeed a big one, but it is also an intimate one of ‘who you know’. I suspect in his case it is more ‘who knows how good Arden is’, and with this very much drawing him into new challenges within the Chinese film industry, he is having a marvelous time creating work. There are so many current projects in the mix, some of which cannot yet be acknowledged, but which continue to extend his range and reputation, and it is inspiring to hear the enthusiasm that so clearly drives him.
I already feel I have taken too much of this talented young man’s time. I know he is only briefly off duty, and between shoots. ‘Some thoughts and advice for our many aspiring creatives?’, I ask. Apart, that is, from the obvious example of sustained commitment and hard-work evidenced at every turn of his journey? Take advantage of every challenge, project and opportunity for real practice and film making, he proffers. Praising the artistic professionalism of Hurtwood, stay aware of this, he says. ‘This is one of the best schools in the world. Take pride in this, but look beyond the limits of the place for more challenges and competition. Seek wider horizons beyond Hurtwood after your two years, seek a bigger vision.’ He is living proof of the success of precisely this search. As we round off our chat, he asks that I acknowledge just how much he owes to his time at Hurtwood, and to what he calls the ‘people who really shook the world for me.’ He thanks Cosmo first and foremost who interviewed him and squeezed him into an already bulging school list; Andy and Miles he acknowledges as having shown him ‘what the best in the field looks like’. Both Alison and Clare, he tells me, taught and encouraged him in every aspect of theatrical experience, and showed him both care and love throughout his time; both remain a very strong influence on his work. A final thanks is for Ian, his housemaster, and all the support he offered.
Time now to the let Arden get back to what he is so obviously good at. Finding himself now with the luxury, he tells me, of choosing ‘more and more what I like rather than what comes to me,’ he acknowledges that his ‘immediate future is in China’. He nevertheless intends to move his talents ‘between continents’. Hurrah for the cinematic world, I say! Given the state of the present moment, this seems an optimistic and inspiring future, and I find myself wondering if it could be creativity, entertainment and art that could help us understand each other more readily, much more than all of the negative political rhetoric ricocheting round the globe. Good to meet you, Arden. Thank you for your articulate and heart-felt praise for your ‘dream maker, Hurtwood.’ You repeated your belief that it gave you possibly the best start available, most importantly because it allowed you to ‘be true to [your] heart.’ It is clear that you have indeed made the most of every opportunity. The pleasure was mutual, and you make us very proud.