1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
It was the short film TESS, which I directed in 2017.
TESS portrays the near future where highly advanced humanoid AIs are present.
It digs into one of our fundamental emotions, loneliness or isolation, through characters interacting with an AI.
This project received an alumni scholarship from SVA, where I earned a master’s degree in directing, and it was partially financed by a Korean production company.
TESS was screened at numerous US and international film festivals in 2017 and 2018.
2) How did you get into directing?
Thanks to my father, an avid and trendy movie fan, I grew up submersed in movies. My family had a quite large collection of movies and I remember re-watching my favorite movies over and over. My artistic endeavors only grew even as I pursued other professions, and I started with photography, especially fascinated by story-telling photos. Eventually I found myself pursuing a dream in creating visual stories, like I had daydreamed in my young adulthood, and I finally took the chance to take on filmmaking in New York in 2014.
3) What is your most recent project?
My most recent project was HELEN, a short film I directed in 2018. HELEN, my second sci-fi film, tells a story through the eyes of young Kevin, of how human relationships change in a world where the advancement of technology distorts human relationships.
My previous experience in directing TESS—my first sci-fi film—helped with the more complicated CG works I needed for HELEN. I put my utmost effort in planning and preparing details in particular shots before filming.
Last year, HELEN made its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia and additional screenings in the U.S. are scheduled this summer.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
For me, the best part of being a director is meeting talented filmmakers and collaborating with them. Visualizing my “sketched” story by filling in the blanks and adding colorful details through collaborating with talented people in the film industry is always and amazing and invaluable experience for me.
Another aspect I love is directing on set. The pressure on the scene to integrate all the energy and capacity of cast and crew within a limited time makes directing on set the most intense and cathartic moment in filmmaking.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
The worst part of being a director is the level of stress I face the day before shooting. I worry over where things can go wrong or what unforeseen hiccups there may be. I find myself double, triple checking every single detail in order to avoid any mishap, and the level of stress is immense. Fortunately, so far, I have been able to relax right after shooting, and put the stressful moments behind me when going into the post-production phase and starting new projects.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I am focused on movies, such as the full-length feature script I am currently working on. My previous two short films are the proofs of concept for this feature work. On top of my current feature script projects, I am also looking for opportunities in commercials.
7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I am still looking for a mentor. In the meantime, I rely on many people for feedback on my work. Friends who know me well from previous collaboration projects always give me good advice.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
My favorite directors are Leo Carax and Paul Thomas Anderson. Leo Carax’s movies leave strong afterimages of specific scenes in my mind for a long time. I think such photo-like images as a whole helps me understand his work intuitively, from deep in my heart.
As for Paul Thomas Anderson, I am intrigued by his unique and powerful stories I could never forget, as well as the great visual images in his work.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Mauvais Sang, Midnight Cowboy, Let the Right One In (2008), Blade Runner (1982).
Among many movies I love, these are the old movies that I have been appreciating recently. Also, I like almost every music video Michel Gondry and Spike Jones directed and I am never tired of watching them over and over again. One of the TV shows I enjoyed the most is Fargo.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born in South Korea and grew up in a typical Korean family with parents who emphasized “proven” and “stable” ways of life—thus my childhood was strictly geared towards successfully passing the college entrance exam and pursuing a stable career. I entered a women’s university and majored in Economics as my parents wished, but I wasn’t really interested in the subject. Instead, I became more aware of gender identity in the female-only environment. I gradually realized I had drawn boundaries on my own future and confined myself to the typical role of women in society. This realization ignited me to contemplate on who I really was and what I truly wanted. After graduation, followed by a short career in finance and much soul searching, I finally found filmmaking as the medium to fulfill my desire and I expand my career as a director/producer in New York and Seoul.
Contact Ji Hyun Kim via email