A few days ago, Reel Asian Marketing Committee Members Ramlah Marvi and Stephanie Cheung, had the honour of sitting down with Korean Canadian director Albert Shin to discuss about his first Korean language film In Her Place. This is Albert’s second feature film about an affluent couple from Seoul, South Korea who seeks to secretly adopt an unborn child from a rural and troubled teenage girl. Shin portrays several themes including, family relations, alienation, identity and he directed the film in a calculated pace to illustrate the characters’ emotions and anticipation of the impending birth. In Her Place held its world premiere over the weekend the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and you can catch the second screening on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 3:30pm. More info
Interviewer: First of all, we want to know more about your background in filmmaking. What inspired you to be a film maker?
Albert: Well I think I fell in love with movies at a really young age. I guess maybe I was those typical kind of immigrant children stories that my parents had to work a lot. They kind of left me to my devices a lot and I guess I gravitated towards movies. Even though I was 4-5 years old, I would rent 3-4 VHS movies and started watching them and then I really fell in love with filmmaking as I got older. I transitioned from watching as a fan, to watching it as how these things are made, and I guess that kind of love never went away. It just kept growing and it still grows today. So it’s one of those things I definitely want to do.
Interviewer: Why did you choose this script In Her Place over other scripts?
Albert: I’m based in Toronto even though I am Korean Canadian born in Canada and I was raised in the GTA. So I made a lot of films that happened here in Canada, but I still grew up in a very Korean household with a very Korean name. I didn’t want to reject that side of myself either. I thought that Korea is a vibrant culture and it’s of culture influx. There are a lot of things, lots of tension, a lot of energy there, so I really wanted to make a film there. So I thought about trying to make a movie in Korea. I started off that and I defined a story and it took many years. I wrote this film in 3 or 4 years so it took a very long time to do, but something about the story and I found this location and fell in love with it and this is the perfect place to shoot a film so I really wanted to do it. I don’t know what it was about the story itself, but it really spoke to me, even if it took a really long time to write it. I kept thinking that this is what I want to do. These characters are really important to me and I really wanted to bring these people alive. So it kind of kept me going time after time over and over again in these years. Finally I figured out how to do it, so here we are.
Interviewer: You are the director and the editor for the movie and I thought that was interesting. I was wondering what did you enjoy more?
Albert: When I was in school, I kind of started doing editing and I transitioned into directing, producing and some of the other stuff. So my brain is always wired as an editor still, even though I really love directing. Directing is my number one love I’d say, but I can’t help but think in how to cut the films even when I’m shooting and writing, how to edit the film is always embedded in my mind. You know there’s a saying that a director shouldn’t edit their own film because they’re too close to the material. You need someone with a different kind of perspective to kind of help then. But for this film in particular, it was interesting, I had to edit it because it’s a Korean film and I had to edit here in Canada. I couldn’t find a Korean editor that understood the language; it was kind of up to me to do it. Being an editor, knowing how to edit saves times because we’re making really small independent films and small independent films always never have enough money, not enough time. So not shooting stuff frivolously and not spending too much time on shoots you don’t need is very important. When you have a sense of how editing is supposed to go, you don’t end up spending time on things you’re not going to need and spend the time on what you actually need. So it was very helpful. It was a very small budget film, was kind of me having to plan how to shoot the film but also how I wanted to edit the film was very important because then it would help be like, okay this isn’t working, so we can edit it like this and just figure it out.
Interviewer: I wanted to ask was there any interesting or funny stories you could share while you were filming this movie.
Albert: Yeah there were a lot of interesting stories. When you make movies, you know the crew usually comes together and it becomes family-oriented in the sense because we’re all stuck together for so long, that even if you don’t like the person, you kind of have to fight and love everything together. But this film in particular was interesting because we were so far away from the city and everyone was secluded in this tiny little village. My Korean isn’t perfect, so I was kind of like that unknown factor to all the crew members because they were all like “Well this Korean Canadian who wants to shoot a movie in Korean and it’s dealing with women, pregnancies and things like that. Like why does he want to make this film?” To kind of break the ice, I started making up my own kind of Korean slang and basically making things up, it helped break the ice. And they were like wow it’s a very heavy movie but behind the scenes it was very joyous and it was a really fun experience to make it. So it offset the heaviness of the actual film itself. It was kind of fun to be with these people. By the end of the film, we had our own kind of weird half-English, half-Korean language going on which only the people in the crew would understand. It was fun and it was kind of us going kooky being so stuck far away from everybody.
Interviewer: What did you do for the casting of the film because usually the casting is usually the most daunting part of the process?
Albert: Casting for this film was really hard. We casted for almost a year and I just couldn’t find the right actor, so it was really tough, at a certain point I thought maybe I wouldn’t find the right actor. I tried different avenues, amateur actors who are actually more like this person, trying seasoned professional actors to bring something to the table. It was just really hard in particular with the younger girl, I must have looked at hundreds of people, and it was just non-stop looking at people. I thought we looked at every Korean actress of that age in Korea. It was really kind of tough, but I was able to find these actors that I thought were just perfect for the role. It took a lot of time but it was worth it and there were some times I thought “you know what this person is good enough” but I’m glad I kept pushing my crew in Korea to find them. Like there’s gotta be more people, more actors and not only the people I found were perfect for the film, but they understood what I wanted to do with the film. Not just the actors but the crew that were looking to do something different. Obviously a Korean Canadian filmmaker coming in from Canada trying to make a film is kind of different then the way they make films. It was something definitely different for them. It kind of rejuvenated their creative juices and I was looking to do something different as well. Like putting myself in a foreign environment to make a movie, which is hard to do, even if you’re in your own backyard. So it was very fun, it was a fun collaboration; it was a really interesting give and take.
Interviewer: As a filmmaker do you feel the responsibility to make a film with a strong message?
Albert: I do! I don’t want to makes films which does not have an idea or does not have anything to say. I like to play in the grey zone where it’s very ambiguous. I want to pack my film with subtext…where it’s not clear. I don’t want to tell them how to think about the film. I want the film to stir their own kind of feelings and argue things and maybe self-reflect. Because this is what best cinema does… it makes you think. Whether I make a comedy or anything, I want it to have a message.
Interviewer: What are your thoughts about Reel Asian Unsung voices program?
Albert: I think it’s an amazing program. It’s a great program to get one started. Filmmaking is creative expression that everyone wants to do, but since it’s technical not many people know how to. Reel Asian has created an avenue where youth can explore and challenge themselves to work with this creative expression.
Interviewer: What message would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
Albert: Go and make movies. Many people like movies but not everyone likes making them. Some realize it is boring or too slow for them. Go and make movies and make sure you have something to say and you know how to say it.
Interviewer: What is the one film every filmmaker should watch?
Albert: There are two actually. Godfather 1 and 2.