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Ko - production in Busan
  • by KIM Su-bin /  May 15, 2018
  • “I want to make a film that's original”

    VR content of the like we could only find at film festivals or theme parks are now being produced in the form of medium-length films (over 30 minutes) for theatrical release. The very first VR 4DX film, Stay with Me (2017), was part of the 2017 VR Content Frontier Project supported by the Korea Culture & Content Agency. It's the first case where VR, 4DX, and film were brought together. It's also going to be introduced to the Cannes International Film Festival's market as part of the NEXT program. We met KWAK Sin-ae from Barunson E&A who produced Stay with Me to know more about the behind-the-scenes story and also her future plans.

    What was the starting point for Stay with Me?
    =Barunson E&A has a VR content development company as an affiliate, EVR STUDIO. I thought that, if we could share our knowledge about film production, we would be able to produce VR films as a group. We started the project with the intention of stepping into the market early. EVR STUDIO would be in charge of anything related to VR, while Barunson E&A would be in charge of film production, casting, and the supervision. Director GU Beom-seok is part of EVR STUDIO, while SEOK Jae-seung of Barunson E&A worked on the screenplay and produced the film.

    Instead of an action or a fantasy film where you could have had a spectacular experience, you made the unusual decision to make a romance film.
    =I find it difficult to watch such exciting content for more than 5 minutes. Some might even want to take off their HMD. With animation, you can make the resolution higher, but we were limited in terms of resolution because we shot with a camera. Since we were considering a theatrical release as well, we had to keep in mind the running time. We thought about what genre of movie would make it the easiest for people to watch for an extended period of time. Also, Stay with Me is the first theatrical release that allows the audience to have such an experience. Since it was planned to be released in theaters, we did not choose a specific audience type and thought that the best was to create something everyone could enjoy. With these elements taken into consideration, we decided it should be a family film or a melodrama.

    How is VR film production different from that of a regular film?
    =When it comes to shooting, the camera has 8 lenses, each with a different angle. Except for the floor, it's shooting everything. The whole crew has to hide, and it's hard to plan all the hiding spots. We also cannot use boom microphones either, and since the actors cannot wear wireless microphones, we must hide them in the elements of the set, like plants. We also cannot use reflectors or set up any kind of lighting equipment. In cases where we cannot create the images we want, we have to resort to CG. It's not just the shooting part that's different, the post-production process is also technically different. We need to join all the videos shot by each lens together - we call it stitching – and that means that all frames require CG. And then, we work on the 360 degrees VFX.

    Did you decide to add to it 4DX in order to maximize the realism of the experience?
    =I wondered why one must wear an HMD to watch a film in theaters. There should be a benefit for watching it at a theater and I thought the 4DX technology would make the movements feel more realistic. When thinking about what would reinforce the experience of a VR film, 4DX came to mind.

    Were you able to see both the potential and the limits of VR film production?
    =Watching a film with an HMD is difficult because it's heavy. Also, we're currently limited by the wireless communication technology needed to broadcast simultaneously to all the headsets. There is also room for improvement when it comes to camera equipment. If these three elements improve, the viewers will feel more comfortable and filmmakers will have more freedom of expression. Also, VR films make little profit at the moment. We were only able to make Stay with Me thanks to the funding we got, but it wouldn't have been possible to make it on our own. 75% of the seats were occupied, which means we sold 75% of the tickets available. This may sound like a good performance, but we could only operate one screening at a time in one theater, and with no more than 40 viewers for each screening, due to technological limitations. 40 was the maximum number of people who could enter a 200-seat theater, and we only sold 75% of those seats. This means it's actually a very low number. The theater would have made an exponentially bigger profit, had it been used to play a different film. The theater decided to screen this film with a vision for the future, but it can only be considered as a special screening event for now. I heard that CGV is planning to build a VR-specific theater. If that happens, I think things will look brighter for the exhibition of such films.

    Will Barunson E&A focus on 2D films for the time being?
    =Yes. We're producing director BONG Joon-ho's Parasite right now. We're starting the shoot this month. We're also working on director UM Tae-hwa's second film.

    What kind of film do you want to produce in the future?
    =I want to make a film that's original. I started my career in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. I really love the films of that time. Each film had an original character. I was taken by surprise when I watched Whispering Corridors (1998), Swiri (1999), and The Foul King (2000). Same with Happy End (1999), to which I contributed. Comedy, horror, melodrama, and even films without specific genres all had their own directions and motives. I still reminisce about the Korean films made during that time. I also worked on VANISHING TIME: A BOY WHO RETURNED (2016) with the same goal in mind. I wanted it to be polished and to be able to extend the limits of films. However, it wasn't as easy as I thought. Whenever I produce a film, I feel like I'm aging. I want to make a film I wouldn't mind trading my life with.
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