Global Editing South Korea

1st Qtr, 2020

On Feb. 9, Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s multiple walks to the Dolby Theatre stage included accepting an Oscar® for best picture – a historic win as it was the first movie not in the English language to claim the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ top honor.

A few weeks earlier, ACE recognized Parasite’s editor, Yang Jinmo, with its top Eddie for Best Edited Dramatic Feature Film. All of this underscored ACE’s continued efforts to establish connections with the editing communities abroad. The ACE Board of Directors approved last year an initiative of the International Relations Committee to create a new membership category: the ACE International Affiliate Membership. After the Eddies, Edgar Burcksen, ACE, sat down with Yang and his interpreter, Jaehuen Chung, to find out about his work on Parasite, director Bong and the Korean film industry.

Edgar Burcksen, ACE: Did you go to film school?

Yang Jinmo: I went to high school in the U.S. and after graduation I enrolled in Bard College in New York, [with plans to] major in painting. But I had a lot of friends who majored in the film and electronic arts program, so in my sophomore year I changed my major to that study. I graduated 2000-ish. [Laughs] I went to college for two years and then I had to put my study on hold because of financial problems. So I worked for four years as a waiter … in a Korean bookstore … a sushi restaurant as a service manager … and I even worked at a jewelry shop as a salesperson, then I went back to finish college.

EB: How did you land in the film industry?

YJ: Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse) shot a film at our school. It was called Palindromes and four or five of our students worked on it as production assistants and I was very fortunate to work on it as a sound assistant.

EB: When did you start working in editorial? YJ: After graduating from college I was still living in New York and I met a very famous Korean film director, Lee Myung-se, through a mutual friend and he asked me to come back to Korea with him. He wanted me to be an assistant director but that was a little awkward for someone my age to be an assistant director so he suggested that I start as an on-set editor. This is a unique system that we have in Korea, this on-set editing. I heard it also exists in the U.S. but it’s not used so much. With limited budgets, we had to come up with a very efficient way to produce quality films. The role is somewhat a combination of a script supervisor and editor. The on-set editors are obviously on the set and their job is to monitor continuity and assemble the shots of feeds from the on-set cameras. They present the assembly to the director to give him the confidence and make sure that they have what they need before they move on to the next scene.

EB: That seems to me a pretty decent system because you never know what you have until you start putting things together.

YJ: I heard that the producers in the U.S. are very skeptical to have editors on the set next to the director. I think that almost 99 percent of the Korean films have on-set editors, because it limits considerably the time in post-production.

EB: So the on-set editor sends his work to the ‘real’ editor?

YJ: Yes, that’s normally the case. In Korea the on-set editor and the main editor are different. But I wanted to combine them. The first movie I did where I combined the on-set editing with the main editing was The Beauty Inside. I did a couple of projects with that system. But now I’m so busy that I send my assistant editor to the set to do the on-set editing. I would like to do it myself so I can check to see if there’s everything I need but they do not want to pay my rate for that job [chuckles].

EB: [For] your movies like Okja and Parasite, the filmmaking and especially the editing was so in tune with the U.S. way of making movies. YJ: When you’re talking about film grammar we study a whole lot of Western cinema and you can see how that seeps into our projects. But the difference comes from the different sensibilities that we have and the different culture that we were grew up in.

But ultimately I think that around the globe we think in the same film grammar and that’s why we can enjoy movies from other countries and cultures. I always say that Walter Murch, ACE, had a big influence on me. Another big influence is Thelma Schoonmaker, ACE. Unfortunately, editors in Korea seem to have [a] short life span; they will have their 15 minutes of fame and then they disappear. I look up to Walter Murch and Thelma Schoonmaker because of their longevity.

EB: In Parasite a lot of genres are successfully seamlessly merged into one coherent dramatic storyline. Is this the way films are made in Korea?

YJ: [During this question a big smile appears on Yang’s face]
A lot of people are very curious about this. In Korea it works both ways. Some films are made with a specific genre in mind whereas there’s also films that are made more as an auteur film like Parasite where we concentrate more on the freshness and originality of the story and we can afford to cross the borders of genres.

In Parasite the story transforms from drama or comedy into thriller when it’s needed but because our story is based on the reality of this world it will always come back very strongly to drama. Director Bong and I never talked about genre fluidity or how we could merge certain genres, it was always about how original and cinematic we could be. A lot of editors are surprised that the finished film of director Bong reflects to what he had designed in his storyboards.

I would say that 80 to 90 percent of the storyboards is what you see in the final output of the film. Of course the details, the takes you use and the pacing and rhythm, that is part of editorial. In the editing phase he actually selects a take not for the best camera move but he looks more at what is fresh in the performance of the actors. What is great about working with director Bong is that I can focus on really fine-tuning and perfecting the final film.

EB: Did you move sequences around in the structure of the film or did you change sequences?

YJ: I would say that overall they’re the same but in some instances when we intercut between sequences I tweaked a lot and adjusted the pacing. We did not move sequences around but we did eliminate a scene that we had shot in consideration of the pacing.

EB: Have you edited documentaries?

YJ: I did, with directors Park Chan-kyong and Chan-wook for instance. The Seoul government commissioned citizens of Seoul to upload any clip that would be about Seoul. We collected thousands of clips and edited them into this documentary called Bitter Sweet Seoul.

EB: I’m asking this because you did such a great job on montages in the film and that has so many references with documentary filmmaking. In preparing for our conversation I watched a YouTube clip called Parasite’s Perfect Montage about how they got rid of the housekeeper abusing her allergy for peaches.

YJ: They did a very good job analyzing that montage. But the amazing thing about director Bong is that the framework, the basic design of that montage had already been written in the storyboards. I obviously laid out the assembly for the montage and then I started to move things around, adjusted the pacing etc. but the basic storyline was already predesigned. Director Bong mentioned that if we could successfully pull this off we did not need to worry about other parts of the storytelling because they would be relatively easier.

I had a lot of fun working on ‘Ramdon Sequence.’ The sequence happens halfway in the running time at a crucial part in the film where the Kim family has reached their goal of all being employed by the Park family and that means something needs to happen to jolt the story into the second part. As the Kim family celebrates their accomplishment, partying while the Park family is on a camping trip, a heavy rainstorm starts. It prompts the Parks to return home unexpectedly and sends the Kims into a frenzy to hide their party, prepare ramen requested by Mrs. Park and all but mom Kim as the new housekeeper try to escape the house before the Parks arrive.

EB: Was the cross cutting between all of those scenes storyboarded?

YJ: This sequence was storyboarded in a lot of detail. All of the ingredients for the sequence were already there when we went into editorial. It was all just figuring out the timing and pacing that director Bong wanted and what I thought was important to tell that story well. When I’m talking about this sequence or when you look at the sequence as an editor it has all that embodies everything that I put into Parasite. It has all the necessary elements that I try to pay attention to as an editor in the film.

For instance, yes all the shots were done following the storyboards, however how much of a shot is used, taking the tempo [into] consideration …those were what I focused on. Not all the shots were perfectly shot. Sometimes I had to combine shots, sometimes the camera work was not perfect so I had to speed it up a little bit and sometimes I had to shorten the shot – so that detailed work I had to do as an editor in order to perfect the sequence. Whenever I work on director Bong’s films I really am not concerned about the structure because the screenplay already has everything lined out perfectly. With him it becomes more about fine- tuning the sequences with whatever I have to do to elevate the level of the film.

EB: Are you at all involved in director Bong’s films before he starts shooting?

YJ: Not in the case of Parasite. But in the case of Snowpiercer or Okja where I also was the on-set editor he would change things from time to time even during the shooting or a day before. When he was doing this kind of tweaking I was involved in that process.

EB: How involved is director Bong during the editing?

YJ: When director Bong is in the editorial phase he does not do anything else but that. He has a complete trust in me about the process but he will be working with me day in and day out.

EB: Was there an on-set editor on Parasite?

YJ: I had an on-set editor with whom I worked for many years on many projects. I believe this will be her final project as an onset editor because now she has become the main editor for other projects. Her name is Meeyeon Han and her main task on Parasite was to make sure that director Bong had all the shots he needed to assemble the sequence. When that assembly comes to my edit room I would start from the beginning and dissect the sequence to start the real editing. To be honest, sometimes I would not have the necessary shots, the coverage that I would need to make a sequence work. We would then manipulate our shots to make the sequence work.

EB: I’m very familiar with that. With the digital footage these days you can easily blow it up so you have the close-up that you’re missing.

YJ: Yes, right! [laughs]

EB: Does director Bong shoot a lot of coverage?

YJ: Director Bong does not shoot master shots and then divide it up into coverage. It is shot to shot following the storyboards. I think that is one of the amazing things about him and that is maybe one of the reasons why he was honored with an Oscar for directing this year. In the storyboards he already had come up with the shot size and camera movements. He already had determined where in the sequence he would have a close-up. This is great for the actors because they do not have to drain their energy in repeating a performance for coverage. For me as an editor I can focus on other important things because he has  already decided what shot to shoot and where he is going to use it for specific reasons. I think that’s one of the reasons why the movie comes out at such a fine-tuned and perfect level. What I’m so appreciative about with director Bong is that when he asks me to tweak a sequence and show it to him, he reacts right away. As an editor, listening to that response, instantly, helps me a lot and motivates me to cater to the director’s vision.

EB: You mentioned that your on-set editor is a woman. Diversity is something that we are very keen on in ACE. Are there many female editors and assistants?

YJ: In Korea it’s the opposite of here in the U.S. There are more female editors than male editors. The busiest and most soughtafter editors in Korea for the last decade have been female editors. Out of the top 10 there were only three men. These women were all really busy; editing was driven by female editors.

EB: Where do you work? Do you have your own editorial or is it located on a studio lot? YJ: My editorial suite is a very private space. That is different from the U.S. where there are studios with a lot of edit bays.

A lot of editors in Korea still edit with Final Cut Pro 7 and I use that system as well. The latest one, Final Cut X, is not used here at all. Avid and Adobe Premiere Pro are not very well known.
I have been using FCP 7 for a long time so it’s second nature to me. I’m very comfortable using it and also because it’s not supported anymore I do not need to pay for it [chuckles].
When I’m doing VFX I’m using Adobe After Effects.

EB: When the editors work in private residences do you have contact with your colleagues? Is there a union or professional organization like ACE?

YJ: Fortunately for me I began my career as an on-set editor so I was in contact with a lot of editors at the studios. We do not have professional organizations or networking platforms where we can contact each other to refer job opportunities. We also do not have agencies that represent editors. Because I worked for a long time as an on-set editor there are a lot of directors that I befriended back then and they hire me to do their movies. Fortunately, the movies that I worked on have become successful so the producers now also reach out to me.

When I edited Okja a lot of agencies from Hollywood reached out to me to sign with them but I did not. At that time I wanted to focus on Korean films. I thought that was my path. But now after the success of Parasite I decided that I might work in the U.S.  as well and I signed up with a [U.S.] agency.

EB: Apart from editing is there anything else in your future?

YJ: To be honest, before I received the ACE Eddie Award I always wanted to get into directing one day. But now even though  there’s still a lingering desire to direct, I want to prolong my career as an editor as long as I can in the vein of my editing heroes, Thelma and Walter. … Editors in ACE are the editors I very much look up to.

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