Director changes landscape of documentary film
Producer-turned-filmmaker Kim Jae-hwan became an overnight sensation when his documentary, “The True Taste Show,” hit theaters in May. But more importantly, he has changed the landscape of documentary filmmaking in Korea.
His film exposes the ugly truth behind how famous restaurants are created by restaurant owners, broadcasting stations and brokers. It was the first documentary in Korea to take a hard look at corruption in the broadcasting industry.
“Making a documentary about the media is a very risky and dangerous idea,” Kim said during a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. “There have been many people whose lives were ruined after they challenged the media. But I wanted to set a good example. If I prove that I can survive after making a provocative documentary about the media, there will be more documentaries like it in the future.”
The film premiered at the Jeonju International Film Festival in early May and two screenings were enough to bring the film to theaters nationwide. Although most films are released about a year after they premiere at film festivals, it took just a month for the “The True Taste Show” to achieve the same.
Among critics, Kim has won acclaim for his willingness to take risks, inviting comparisons to American filmmaker Michael Moore, whose films “Bowling for Columbine” (2002) and “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004) were popular at the box office despite remaining controversial.
Kim said he knew he wanted to make a documentary about the broadcasting industry, and said he chose to focus on restaurants because it was an accessible topic.
“Everyone is interested in food,” he said. “And I wanted to show what happens when the media betrays its true nature.”
Kim began by opening a restaurant of his own in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, and installed hidden cameras in every nook and cranny. He contacted brokers, which help restaurants get featured on TV shows. For 9 million won ($8,181), Kim’s restaurant was featured on local broadcaster MBC’s “Find! Delicious TV.” For another 10 million won ($9,090), the restaurant was featured on local broadcaster SBS’ “Live Show Today.” The profits were shared by the broker, production company and broadcasting station.
Dozens of Kim’s staff were involved in the production and all were required to sign nondisclosure agreements saying they wouldn’t reveal anything about the project until the film was released.
In addition to exposing the deals between the brokers and broadcasting companies, Kim’s documentary also shows how small and midsize production companies that produce food shows for the three major broadcasting stations - MBC, KBS and SBS - hire fake customers to give their food shows legitimacy. The “customers” rehearse lines and learn exaggerated gestures before going on the shows.
During the production period, several members of Kim’s staff were hired as fake customers for one show after another.
Although the film is about a serious topic, Kim keeps things light with a series of humorous vignettes that keep audiences entertained.
According to Kim, 177 restaurants were featured as “famous” dining places by the three broadcasting stations as of the third week of March last year. Another report by Statistics Korea said that on average last year, 515 restaurants opened and 474 closed per day, which he believes makes restaurants more desperate for TV appearances.
The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Kim, who has opened a new chapter in Korean documentary film, to discuss the film and the path he has chosen as a filmmaker.
Q. Why do you think people are so enthusiastic about your documentary? Although the film opened at 10 theaters, that figure doubled after just a few weeks. Do you think it’s because you’re one of the few filmmakers in Korea willing to take on the broadcasting stations?
A. I think most people have a lack of trust in the way the media presents restaurants because all the shows are pretty much the same. Even people who haven’t seen the film but have just read about it have become upset about broadcasters and the way they profit from featuring restaurants on their shows.
In addition to that, most documentaries are filmed from the third person point of view. But I was different. I was able to deceive the broadcasters and those involved in the same way the broadcasting stations often do.
MBC filed a court injunction against you for the documentary last month but the court dismissed it. Have the other broadcasting stations filed lawsuits against you?
No. But the other broadcasting stations will probably harass me with minor issues in the near future - and they can hire the best lawyers because they are rich. KBS and SBS were directly involved (in taking money from restaurants) but they’ve never apologized for it.
The broadcasting stations always criticize others, but they themselves have never really been attacked. But now they’re going out of their minds because they’ve been attacked. They can’t see why the public is raving about the documentary.
Is it right to feature a restaurant on TV in exchange for money? Before this film leaves the theaters and everyone forgets about it, I’ll urge the broadcasting stations to apologize for what they’ve done and try to get them to offer appropriate fees to production companies.
(Reporter’s note: It has become common practice for broadcasting stations to pay production companies small fees that are out of proportion to the work done. In order to make up for the loss, the production companies say they have had to seek money elsewhere, in this case from restaurant owners. The money is then paid to brokers and broadcasting stations as “sponsorship fees.” There are no relevant laws to regulate these types of deals.)
On the surface, the film talks about Korean restaurants, but it actually deals with the double standards held by the media. Did you consider a subject other than restaurants to deliver your message?
I wanted to talk about the media in a fun and lighthearted way. And food was the best option because it shows the essence of the commercialization of the media. Plus, everyone is interested in food. And I wanted to show what happens when the media betrays its true nature.
It took about nearly three years for you to make the documentary, meaning you probably met more people and did more research than what you were able to show in the film. How did you decide what to keep and what to cut during the editing process?
It was difficult. I once considered including so-called power bloggers (famous bloggers, some of whom get paid to advertise products or services on their blogs) and cable TV networks. When trying to be featured on a TV show, restaurants can pay for several different packages. One package includes a TV appearance and two blog posts.
But I decided to go for simplicity. I focused on the broadcasting stations because they are the biggest predators in the food chain. If they can change, I believe that everything else will get back on track.
While making this film, I met many victims of these food shows. For example, restaurants near the restaurant that becomes famous on a TV show start to see their customer base decline.
In one instance, a restaurant owner who was featured on a TV show decided to open several franchises and started making contracts with potential franchise owners. But after collecting franchise fees from hundreds and thousands of people, the owner bolted and people were left with no recourse.
Your restaurant became popular after your pork cutlet with fiery peppers was featured on two TV shows. Why didn’t you show people swarming to the restaurant after the shows aired?
Because we closed the restaurant before the show hit the airwaves. But we still receive inquires from people who want to visit.
In many other interviews, you’ve mentioned that you are planning to make two other documentaries about the media. How is that going?
I’ve already shot some footage for my next project. It’s about people who the media labels as “experts.” For example, there are a huge number of doctors who pay brokers and broadcasting stations to get featured on TV shows and promote their clinics. Each of these programs charges their own price depending on the time slot. But are these people really experts? Some probably deserve to be called experts, but the thing is that many unqualified people are being held up as experts by the media. And once the media introduces them as such, they start making money. It’s the beginning of a tragedy. This is another way the media gives us false examples of success.
I once told a newspaper about the project and since then, it’s been hard to find doctors who are willing to participate. Personally, I don’t want to finish the project if I can’t find doctors to interview.
Did your family and friends try to stop you from making “The True Taste Show”?
Of course, they didn’t like my idea. So I had to think a long time about whether I should make it or not. But once I decided to go ahead, I never looked back.
With this film, I want to bring about change in the broadcasting companies. What I don’t want to see are temporary changes in a couple of food shows, the disappearance of fake customers and broadcasters shifting their responsibilities to production companies. Then everything will be the same. But I still believe that change is possible.
You seem like a type of person who can’t stand to see unfair practices or injustice. Are you?
I think I am.
(On the day of the interview, which was conducted in Yeouido Park, Kim advised a couple riding their bikes on the walking path to move to a bicycle lane for the safety of other passers-by.)
Your work is similar to that of American filmmaker Michael Moore. Do you have any tips for filmmakers who want to be like him?
When choosing your subject, think carefully about whether it’s an issue you are passionate about. Because it’s a tough world out there.
By Sung So-young [email@example.com]
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“제2, 3의 ‘트루맛쇼’는 계속된다” 김재환 감독
영화 `트루맛쇼`는 가장 서민적이고 친근한 TV 프로그램의 감춰진 진실을 폭로한다. 삼시세끼 맛난 먹거리에 대한 관심은 TV 맛집 프로그램에 시선을 돌리게 했다. 3대가 내려온 맛의 비결, 좋은 재료, 주방장의 정성과 손맛, 독특한 음식궁합으로 만들어낸 맛. 그러나 우리가 아무런 비판없이 받아들였던 TV 음식 맛집이 방송의 비하인드 시스템과 돈의 힘으로 철저하게 꾸며진 것이라는 놀라운 폭로다.
MBC 공채 PD 출신인 김재환 감독은 3년여의 준비와 5억여원의 제작비를 투입해 `트루맛쇼`를 만들었다. 현재 MBC를 비롯해 방송3사의 프로그램을 제작하는 외주 프로덕션의 대표이기도 한 그는 "방송사의 절대 을인 내가 왜 이런 다큐를 찍었는지 그들(방송사)은 궁금해 미칠 지경일거다"라고 말한다.
영화가 몰고올 파장에 대해 예상은 하고 있었다는 김재환 감독은 그만큼 철저한 준비를 했다. 출연진의 녹취록 등으로 법적 대비에도 만전을 기한 것. 영화 개봉 전 MBC가 제소한 영화상영금지가처분 신청에 대해 기각 판정을 받은 것은 철저한 준비 덕분이다.
"감정적으로 대응하는 것은 MBC의 잘못이다. 항상 대기업을 상대로 당해왔던 재판을 나를 상대로 MBC가 제소한 거다. 앞으로 이번 사례를 들어 기업이 방송사를 표현의 자유를 이유로 발을 걸면 MBC는 손 쓸 도리가 없다. 무식하면 용감하다는 표현이 딱 맞다. 만약 검찰이 개입되면 방송사의 협찬, 즉 `블랙마켓`의 판도라 상자가 열리게 될거다."
이번 영화는 `역지사지 퍼포먼스`의 일환으로 기획, 제작됐다. 입장과 위치를 바꿔 사실을 바라보자는 기획이다. 3편으로 기획된 `역지사지 퍼포먼스` 중 `트루맛쇼`가 가장 먼저 선을 보였다. TV 맛집 고발 외에도 김재환 감독은 TV에 출연하는 각계 전문가들, 그중에서도 의료계에도 관심을 가지고 있다.
"96년 MBC에 입사에서 제가 경험한 미디어 산업에 대해 이야기 하고 싶었다. 그것은 돈과 권력에 대한 다큐다. 논란은 예상했지만 만들어진 후 이슈몰이를 할 수 있을지, 개봉을 할 수 있을지는 정말 미지수였다. 그런데 전주영화제에서 `트루맛쇼`를 틀어줬고, 영화제에서 영화를 본 일부 관객들과 언론이 사회적 논의가 일어날 수 있는 계기를 만들어주기까지는 정말 기적과도 같은 일이었다."
영화의 내레이션을 맡은 박나림 아나운서의 캐스팅은 의외로 흔쾌히 이뤄졌다. 입사동기면서 자신도 가짜 맛집 프로에 출연한 경험이 있던 박 아나운서는 불이익이 생길 수 있음에도 불구하고 영화에 동참했다.
영화는 돈을 받고 맛집으로 음식점을 둔갑시켜 주는 TV 프로그램과 그 중간에서 이익을 취하는 브로커, 외주 제작사가 돈을 받을 수 밖에 없는 구조로 만든 메이저 방송사, 그리고 아무 비판없이 방송을 수용하는 우리들에게 `천박하다`고 대놓고 호통을 친다.
김재환 감독은 "손님은 옳다, 시청자는 왕이다라는 관점에 직격탄을 던지는 거다"라고 거침없이 말했다.
"영화에 나오는 캐비어 삼겹살이 방송에 서른몇번이 나왔다. 하지만 아무도 이의를 제기하지 않았다. 방송을 보면서 시청자, 언론 역시 합리적인 의심을 해야 되지 않나. 또 방송에 나오면 일반 블로거나 네티즌 역시 그에 가보고 사진을 찍고, 후기를 올리며 호들갑을 떤다. 그런 것으로 인정받고 싶은거다. TV가 인정한 특별한 음식을 먹었다는 허영에 중독된 우리 음식 문화는 천박하다. 음식 프로가 맛이 아닌 맛집에 포커스가 맞춰져 있기 때문에 이런 천박한 문화가 만들어졌다."
"시청자들의 시청 태도는 천박함과 동시에 굉장히 공포스럽기도 하다. 1년에 9천개 음식점이 맛집으로 소개되고, 맛을 표현하는 손님들의 멘트 역시 획일적이다. 5만여명이 똑같이 획일적으로 맛을 표현하는데, 아무도 `맛이 별로다`는 말은 하지 않는다. 문제제기가 없고 비판의식이 사라진 우리 사회는 전체주의 국가와 다를 것이 없다. 그런 사실을 생각하면 무섭다."
김재환 감독은 "맛은 미디어와 인간의 욕망의 교차점을 극명하게 보여주는 지점이다. 대박에 대한 음식점의 환상과 이를 무비판적으로 받아들이는 시청자, 비평이 없는 미디어 문화, 절대 성역으로 군림하는 방송사에 대한 직격탄을 날리고 싶었다"고 제작의도를 밝혔다.
이어서 "외주사가 돈을 받지 않고도 프로그램을 제작할 수 있는 토대가 마련돼야 한다"며 "방송구조가 바뀌지 않는다면 공격의 칼을 늦추지 않을 것"이라고 단호하게 말했다.
김재환 감독은 내년 상업극영화를 연출할 계획이다. 차기작 역시 놀라운 소재가 될 것이라며 말을 아꼈다. `트루맛쇼`로 일대 논란을 일으킨 뚝심있는 감독의 다음 작품 역시 기대해봐도 좋을 듯 싶다.