Shooting in a Foreign Language – Korean-American filmmaking

Film is a universal language, but English is not. And even the universal language of film is spoken differently in the USA and in Korea.

I’ve been taking a travel course, for which I directed a short film called “FORMALDEHYDE” in Korea, in Korean, shot by Nuttanai Lertpreechapakdee (a US student from Thailand) and key crewed by students of various nationalities from my school, Chapman University with the Dongseo students taking oddly-named but essential roles and supporting us in every possible way. It was an amazing experience relying on someone else – Director’s Assistant Woong Yoon, the best English speaker on the Korean team – to help me direct actors. For a director, your performance is your most important (but not only) job. So he and I built huge trust over there, which is coming in very handy as I production design their film and we try to make our days with the ever even-headed Tom Derr keeping the clock while Woong doubles as translator and AD. It’s also taught me to trust my instincts over my intellect when it comes to what is truthful behavior from actors and what is “acting”.

Saving the planet, one plastic reusable cup at a time… we write our names on them and pour our soda into them from big bottles. Also prevents people leaving cans all over the show and losing their drinks!

PD isn’t really a key role in Korean student film culture, so I’m executing their vision creatively at the last minute more than I’m truly production designing in this case. I make suggestions, they make the choices. Now and then I dig in my heels about continuity. We have a five minute argument about the number of sausages that should be in one shot today. When it comes to sausages, I tend to get stubborn and autocratic.

In a way, there are two directors, two producers, two cines, two everythings, on each of our productions. It’s if we each have a Korean or “American” counterpart who doesn’t quite do the same job we do, or even the same job we think we do. (PS. My Cinematographer Nate/Nuttanai Lertpreechapakdee is Thai and I’m South African but for these purposes, we’re all from the USA.)

We bought a chicken on a stick in Busan, for use for eyelines. Now it seems there’s a rival on set… The Chicken’s not gonna like that.

The chicken who’s not going to like that. Pics of Chicken and rival by Nate, which is why they’re so awesome.

We made our day today – more or less. Three more to go and “NEIGHBORHOOD” (Directed by Jaehwan Lee, working title) is looking good. There have been times both on Neighborhood and on Formaldehyde when I’ve struggled with doing things a totally different way. But in the end, working with people creatively is all about accepting that you can’t have it all your way all the time, and that to do what is best for the film, you should always, and always will, work as hard as you have to, and keep smiling.

Yeah, I’m inspired.

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