Filming his dreams on a shoestring budget

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Filming his dreams on a shoestring budget


Super-low budget independent films may be common in the West, but in Korea the conventional wisdom is that making movies takes lots of money. That’s why a young director’s well-made low-budget film recently created a buzz in the local movie scene.
Sin Yeon-sik’s “A Great Actor” gained instant recognition when it was invited to the Pusan International Film Festival last month and has received praise from critics and fans alike. Although relatively long (175 minutes), it is viewed as a highly intellectual story and technically well-made.
“A Great Actor” follows Su-yeong, who abandons preparations to take the higher civil service exam in order to join a performance group. The story focuses on the agony that many young people face trying to balance reality and ideals, mirroring in a way, the struggle of Mr. Sin to put together his movie with limited means. His production involved just nine crew members and 12 actors. The script was written in two weeks, and was shot during 40 days in January and February. Shooting, post-production and promotion costs totalled 4 million won ($4,000), all told. The director supplied a quarter of the budget, while the remainder came from actors, crew and friends.
Of course, nobody was paid. “I will help you visualize your identities as actors,” Mr. Sin said, to persuade the actors to participate. In lieu of payment, Mr. Shin gave them freedom in terms of the shooting schedule. “The actors worked well with an attitude that they are getting something more than just money,” said Mr. Shin.
Another money-saving trick was that Mr. Sin shot promotional films for the movie simultaneously. Also, when he wrote the script, he considered the real-world financial implications of the scenes. “When you write scenarios without considering your budget, you can never go back and cut afterwards. After the venues were scheduled and the actors were cast, I wrote the scenario accordingly. I was already considering the filming schedule, budget and strategy from the script writing level,” he said.
Needless to say, Mr. Sin also drove the van, built the set and even cooked for the crew occasionally. His house appears in several scenes, and he also acted in the movie, playing the part of stage director, naturally. Keeping to his policy of “minimum manpower and maximum human connection,” the project was such hard work that he lost 8 kg.
Nevertheless, Mr. Sin is modest. “Filming a movie on a budget of three million won (before additional post-production) wasn’t as difficult as one would assume. It was rather interesting,” he says. “We spent one million won on the theater stage, which we could’ve done better, but there were no other scenes I had to sacrifice because of money.”
The biggest asset that he received from the process was self-confidence. Now, Mr. Sin, his crew and actors are enthusiastically preparing for the next project. This director’s efficient and economical methods show that movies do need money, but good movies take more than money alone.

by Yang Sung-hee
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