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Ko - production in Busan
  • LEE Dong-ha, CEO & Producer of RED PETER FILM
  • by JEONG Ji-hye /  Feb 06, 2018

    YEON Sang-ho, director of TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016), is releasing his second live-action feature, Psychokinesis. On his two feature films, YEON had the help of the head of RED PETER FILM, producer LEE Dong-ha. From auteur-oriented works such as LEE Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010) to genre-oriented films such as Horror Stories (2012), he has worked in a variety of genres. With Psychokinesis, LEE and YEON combine the unique subject of psychic powers with Korean-style drama. We met with LEE, to have him explain his role as a producer, as well as future plans for RED PETER FILM.

    How would you describe Psychokinesis?

    It tells the story of a father who can move objects with his mind using psychokinetic powers. Various types of people, including the father and his daughter, appear in the film, and the overall movie has a strong sense of black comedy. This sensibility, which you can see throughout YEON Sang-ho’s previous works, is perhaps even more striking in Psychokinesis. YEON has a superb talent in delivering his point-of-view by highlighting distinct aspects of Korean society through genre-oriented elements. I hope the audience will realize that at its core, the movie is about the lives of everyday people.

    The success of TRAIN TO BUSAN must have had a positive influence on the production of Psychokinesis.

    NEW, the investment and distribution company of TRAIN TO BUSAN, gladly decided to invest in the film. With their full support, I could focus on assisting director YEON and the vision he was going for. Furthermore, we had quite a few dangerous stunts including wire action, and because we were shooting during hot and humid weather, we had to be particularly conscious of on-set safety issues.

    As a producer, you work closely with the director to analyze the screenplay, and consider this process to be important.

    I give my opinion about a screenplay to the director in a fierce and straightforward manner, whether it does or does not get included in the final draft. Even with TRAIN TO BUSAN, YEON and I were attacking each other the entire time (laughs). We cover various issues in advance such as investment, casting, crew members and discuss what could be a potential problem. We need to specifically draw an overall picture of the filmmaking process, which will also help the director have some time to contemplate these issues. We can finally start production once we reach an agreement, after many discussions. From then on, I adjust everything to the director’s vision.

    The production scale of Psychokinesis seems quite large, with the special effects needed to portray the psychic powers. Efficient budgeting must have been mandatory.

    Because we had to deal with psychokinesis and create scenes that had never been attempted in Korea, we invested our efforts into the visual aspects of the film. There’s a considerable amount of VFX, and we actually built large-scale sets that we originally had in mind. The actual production cost of Psychokinesis was KRW 9.8 billion (approx. USD 9.2 million), and a considerable amount was spent on production design and set production. Also, for ScreenX and 4DX projections, we used ‘Three CAM’, a technique that utilizes three cameras at the front, left and right. This creates a panoramic experience by delivering three separate screens of a single scene onto the ScreenX 3-screen installation. I tried to give the support needed to add more imagination to YEON’s vision.

    How did you first meet YEON Sang-ho?

    In 2011, while I was working on the omnibus film Horror Stories as chief producer, I had a chat with the directors KIM Gok and KIM Sun, of the short Ambulance On The Death Zone, who told me The King of Pigs (2011) was quite good. Soon afterward, I was drinking with PARK Jung-bum, director of The Journals of Musan (2011), who said he was close with YEON and he called him to join us. That was when we first met. We happened to live close to each other and often met to share ideas. It was around this time when YEON showed me the screenplay for The Fake (2013), and I introduced him to the then president of NEW’s Film Business Unit, JANG Gyeong-ik (currently the head of Studio&NEW). NEW decided to distribute The Fake, and YEON has continued to collaborate with NEW since then.

    You founded your production company, RED PETER FILM, in March 2014.

    There were quite a few projects I had in mind, but being familiar with the dilemmas many of my colleagues experienced while managing a film production company, I originally had no desire to set up my own company. It was actually YEON who first made the proposition. While we were developing the idea for TRAIN TO BUSAN, YEON suggested: “why don’t we do it together?” While he was showing several producers the script for TRAIN TO BUSAN, he was told: “you think it’s possible to make a zombie film like this?”, while others were not even interested. However, YEON and I were convinced that it would be a lot of fun and interesting enough for the audience. I was convinced that although it would cost us a lot, it wouldn’t be a loss of money for the investor. That’s how it all started.

    Is there a difference between being the head of a film production company and acting as the producer of a film?

    There is more responsibility that incumbs to a film production company head. As a producer, you solely focus on one movie until its release. Now, if I’m convinced one project is going well, I’ll start working on another project to make sure it’s on the right track. Apart from that, I don’t think there is a big difference between the two roles. 

    As a producer, you worked in diverse genres from drama to thrillers, including action and horror. I am sure this experience will influence the films you plan to make at RED PETER FILM.

    After working on A Brand New Life (2009) and Poetry (2010) as a producer, I had the opportunity to learn more about genre films while producing The Cat (2011). After working on Hwayi: A Monster Boy (2013), I was convinced I could make genre films in a different way. I worked on TRAIN TO BUSAN which led to the opportunity to make Psychokinesis. I think RED PETER FILM will set no boundaries in terms of genre or subject matter, but we will focus on movies that center on characters and people. If we can expand to more varied genres, I’d be glad.

    Within the changing market trends and media platforms, what do you think the role and position of the producer should be?

    Netflix and Amazon have a huge influence, and investment and distribution in domestic and overseas markets have diversified over the years. The director must think about how to present their vision according to the medium. The producer needs to have a strategy when it comes to creating different ways of packaging and producing. Now the role of the producer has become more crucial.

    The international acclaim and impressive overseas sales of TRAIN TO BUSAN must have raised the possibility of international co-productions for RED PETER FILM.

    We’ve received more propositions from foreign parties after the success of TRAIN TO BUSAN. I think we could make some adjustments like utilizing the Hollywood platform while conducting production in Korea. Among some of YEON’s ideas, some seem to be a better fit for overseas production. I guess I should hurry and send YEON overseas (laughs).

    With TRAIN TO BUSAN, the Cannes Film Festival Midnight Screening led you to sell the film to 160 countries and raise over USUSD 5.4 million in profit. An overseas strategy for Psychokinesis must have been discussed.

    The strategy used on TRAIN TO BUSAN by our overseas sales company CONTENTS PANDA has been very effective. However, as we see Psychokinesis having a stronger appeal for the Korean audience than TRAIN TO BUSAN, we’ve decided to release the film only in China after its domestic release in Korea. Later, it will be available for streaming on Netflix. (Netflix and NEW signed a global distribution contract for Psychokinesis during last year's American Film Market)

    Are there any new talents or veteran filmmakers RED PETER FILM would like to work with?

    After TRAIN TO BUSAN, I had my eyes on the film production company KwangHwaMoon Cinema, which is affiliated with directors KIM Tae-gon of Familyhood (2016) and WOO Moon-gi of The King of Jokgu (2014). I also wanted to work with filmmakers such as JO Sung-hee of A Werewolf Boy (2012) and KIM Byung-woo of The Terror, LIVE (2013). They still are intriguing directors. I also believe that independent filmmakers such as PARK Jung-bum, KIM Gok and KIM Sun have the capacity to create great mainstream movies. At the moment, we have high hopes for newcomer CHOI Su-jin, of our screenplay writing team at RED PETER FILM, who directed the short OJT: On the Job Training (2016) and is hard at work on her script.

    We’re curious about this year’s lineup for RED PETER FILM.

    We’re set to start shooting Misungnyeon (working title), directed by actor KIM Yun-seok, in early February. We are co-producing the film with the production company Huayi Brothers. We also have another debut director’s film being co-produced with filmmaker LEE Chang-dong and producer LEE Joon-dong’s PINEHOUSE FILM, which is budgeted around KRW 3 billion (USD 2.8 million). Director LEE Sung-gang’s new animated film, Princess Aya (working title) will be completed in September. We will also be gearing up for YEON Sang-ho’s next film this fall and will start recruiting crew members between March and April.
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