Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • TPS International Co-Production Manager LEE Jong-ho
  • by KIM Ki-hyun(KOFIC Location Coordinator) / 11.30.2012
  • “We Have Abundant Experience, from Start to Finish”

    TPS is a production service and film production company. It was established in 2007 by several well-known producers who had previously produced Park Chan-wook’s movie Joint Security Area. TPS has provided production services for three international projects, including Universal Pictures' The Bourne Legacy, and two Korean projects, including GoGo 70’s. It has also produced four films of its own, including The Front Line. We met TPS’ International co-production manager LEE Jong-ho for an interview that focused primarily on the international production services provided by TPS.
    - How did the TPS company begin?
    We set up the company with two working models: production services and film production. The name “TPS” has two meanings: it stands for “Total Production Service” with regard to production services, and The ProducerS when it comes to film production. Our intention is to generate profit through production services, and to plan and produce films using these profits.

    TPS’s producers have all previously worked in production, so we knew a lot about it. Since each producer’s knowhow was different, bringing it together produced more information. We were able to share information about films on which we hadn't worked ourselves.
    - What are TPS’s strongest points?
    Based on experience working on several dozen films, TPS’s producers possess a solid body of knowledge about film production. We believe, and have had this recognized by others outside the company, that we are able to make quality films on a given budget and within a given period of time. With the Korean film market shrinkage since 2007, however, production companies have found it hard to pay production fees to production service companies. In the Korean production world, the common belief is that you just need to employ a producer and a line producer. They think production service fees just push up the total cost. So we’ve been working to get on quicker with producing our own films.  

    We expected that, in comparison, international project production would still have merits in terms of sums involved and that, if we created good relationships with international production companies by providing production services, we would also be able to take part in international joint productions with those partners.
    Because TPS has maintained good relations with regional film commissions throughout Korea, they have sometimes been able to contact us for production services when they work with international projects.
    There aren’t many production service companies in Korea. There are some, but they don’t have enough production experience, unlike TPS. We have abundant experience in providing the things that clients want when filming, from start to finish.
    - Have you ever hit language barriers during the production process? I’ve heard that interpretation is the most problematic issue when it comes to joint productions. Have you ever had problems with production due to a lack of good interpretation?
    Unexpectedly, we’ve found that staff understand everything even if they can’t speak the necessary language. Although we do, of course, work with interpreters. The terms used on sets are similar [from language to language]. These days, a lot of crew members have studied abroad, so many of them speak good English.

    We have provided production services to international projects for as little as two days and as much as two weeks. Communication is really important. Only having a rough idea of things that need to be accurately communicated can be dangerous. The interpreter who’s been working with us, John LEE, is preparing with us to work as a director. He began living in America when he was a middle school student and later majored in Film Studies there. He’s now majoring in directing at the Film, TV & Multimedia department of Korea National University of Arts. He has worked as an intern at GQ USA and worked at film companies, too, so he’s quick at understanding things. Interpretation is about conveying people’s words unaltered, but John expresses the things we say in ways that are easy to understand for international teams. And he translates the things they say not just directly but in ways that properly convey the nuances behind them, which is very helpful.
    - What film were you making on your longest, two-week project?
    It was the 2010 Franco-Belgian joint production Approved for Adoption. Belgian cartoonist JUNG Henin was born in Korea and adopted to Belgium at a young age. JUNG published an autobiographical comic, Couleur de peau: Miel, and French director Laurent BOILEAUmade a documentary showing a visit by JUNG to Korea. 20% of the documentary was actual footage filmed in Korea, while the rest was animation created in Europe. TPS worked on the part filmed in Korea, filming scenes of JUNG remembering places in central Seoul such as Namdaemun Market, Changgyeonggung Palace and Mt. Namsan, together with French and Belgian crew members.
    - How did you get connected with the Approved for Adoption project?
    Nicolas PICCATO, head of Seoul-based production company Panda Media, was the producer for the Korean part of the documentary. Nicolas was a close friend of TPS. Originally, another line producer had already taken on the project and was working on it, but French production company Mosaïque Films couldn't trust this line producer when it came to budgetary concerns. With two weeks to go before the Korean shoot, Nicolas from Panda Media came to us with an urgent request for help. We received the screenplay, drew up budget documents and sent them. The French production company saw these and proposed working with us on the Approved for Adoption project. That’s how we came to work together.

    - How do you normally get connected with overseas projects?
    Some companies see our website and contact us directly by email. That was the case with the Canadian TV film project The Tiffany Rubin Story. Tiffany Rubin is a black woman who had a child with a Korean man, then got divorced. She used to send her son to his father for the day sometimes, and one day he disappeared. She found out that the husband had taken the child. The documentary showed the true story of a mother going to Korea to find her son.
    The Canadian side requested CG source filming in Korea. We shot urban streets, and views from a moving vehicle. We found a double in Korea and filmed full shots from far away, and took source footage in Eulji-ro. We also made the artwork for the sets. We designed the placards and advertisements, made them to order and sent them to Canada. We worked mostly by exchanging opinions via Skype, then discussing specific details by email after these conversations.
    In the case of The Bourne Legacy, we were put in touch with the project by the Seoul Film Commission (SFC). After we had made contact, they contacted the Canadian production company that had made the The Tiffany Rubin Story, which was mentioned in our company profile, and asked them about their experiences working with TPS. Apparently the Canadian company gave some quite favorable answers. As far as I know, this process played an important role in The Bourne Legacy’s producer’s decision to choose TPS as its Korean filming partner.
    - What was it like working on The Bourne Legacy?
    The filming in Korea lasted for three days, but we spent two months preparing. The production editor, Steve Lionetti, came to Korea two months in advance. Steve had previous experience working with Hollywood overseas production in Asia, having worked on projects like the Chinese part of Mission Impossible III. He didn’t show us the screenplay; he just told us what the story was about. He prevented any information from getting out by marking all documents clearly with “TPS”, and drew up a secret agreement. The agreement was to the effect that none of the staff would leak any information about the film to the outside. The Korean shoot was the first part of The Bourne Legacy to be filmed. They shot here before starting any of the main shoot in the U.S., then shot in Manila a month later.
    Steve prepared everything perfectly with us. The day before the shoot, we examined the filming schedule minute by minute. We checked lines of movement, waiting positions for vehicles and even the floors at which elevators had to be ready. We checked, checked and checked again. Steve was originally due to be in charge only of the Korean shoot, but it went so well that he was put in charge in Manila as well.
    - How do you put together teams for each project?
    Every client wants different staff. Some might ask for only main staff; others might say they only need assistants – it varies from case to case. With The Bourne Legacy, most of the main staff traveled to Korea so they only wanted assistant staff from us. Most of the main staff, including the director, assistant director, director of photography, operator, first assistant camera, artistic director, gaffer and synchronous sound recordist, came over from the U.S. So we employed Korean assistants who spoke English well. We looked for staff that were good at their work as first assistants, and assistants that spoke English, if possible, at levels below that.
    - Did SFC provide a lot of help during The Bourne Legacy?
    We got a considerable amount of help from the commission. One of the most important parts we were preparing for two months in advance was filming in the subway and around Gangnam Station. There were so many variables when it came to filming in areas with busy nightlife around Gangnam Station. It’s not easy to get permission tro film in bars and clubs in Korea. You never know if something is going to happen on the day of filming. If something did happen and filming had not gone ahead, TPS would have had to take full responsibility. That's the only way it makes sense, from the client's point of view, to pay us a fee to take on production work.
    We asked SFC for help with filming in nightlife areas near Gangnam Station. We asked it to help us with obtaining official documents from Gangnam-gu Office, meeting bar and club owners and asking the police for help with closing off certain areas during filming. We persuaded them by explaining how important it was for Seoul to get exposure in a major Hollywood film and asking them to provide good service. We went back and forth between the district office and the police station several times asking for cooperation, and bought food waste disposal bags and went around asking bar and club owners to let us film on their premises, but it took a lot of time. After going through all this, we were finally able to film the Gangnam Station scenes well.

    - How did you decide to film at Gangnam Station?
    Starting two months in advance, we worked by a process of sending materia lfrom our location hunting to the artistic director in the U.S., who looked at it and asked for more information. The artistic director came to Korea two weeks in advance to check and approve props and locations, then went back to the U.S. and discussed things with the director. Then they came to Korea again for the actual filming. We thought about filming by helicopter, but it was very expensive and difficult to do in central Seoul. So we laid a track at Coex and took shots showing the Hangang River, to make it look like a helicopter shot. Unfortunately, the weather was hazy that day.
    - Were there any particular differences or difficulties when working with the Hollywood team?
    In Korea, we hardly do any shooting with film. In Hollywood, though, they still use film. This means that filming uses a lot of budget, so it's hard for the developing lab to provide compensation if something goes wrong. This put a lot of pressure on the developing labs. In Korea, film developing labs seem to be disappearing one by one.I'm worried that, at some point soon, there will be no staff capable of loading film, making [this kind of] shooting difficult. I think, though, that Hollywood will also move gradually towards digital filming.

    One very different thing is that in Korea the director or the production unit is in charge of driving, while the U.S. team asked us to employ drivers and a coordinator exclusively to manage transportation and the driving personnel. We took on a separate coordinator to be in charge of vehicle schedules, drivers, what time they went where, and where they went after moving. They were precise in most cases, but especially thorough when it came to transportation.
    - How did you hire equipment?
    The original plan was to use a Panavision camera, which would havebeen brought directly from the U.S. to Korea. But because of costs and various other problems, we decided to use an Arri camera that was already in Korea. If they had still wanted a Panavision camera, we would have rented one from Hong Kong, but the director of photography ultimately chose an Arri camera, so we shot using only equipment in Korea and without bringing in any from overseas. We hired cameras and lenses as a full package. There is a lot of good shooting equipment in Korea, but in some cases there were only a handful of a certain type of high-end lens. We asked the U.S. side to bring that kind of high-end equipment, so that the final budget was a bit higher than the original one.
    - How did you arrange accommodation?
    We arranged for the staff that came for the pre-production process to be able to choose from a range of hotels. During production, we found out about prices and discount programs according to the grades of hotel the U.S. staff wanted. But there was one hotel that dealt directly with Universal Studios, so they booked rooms there themselves.
    - Was director Tony Gilroy satisfied with production in Seoul?
    Satisfaction levels after the Seoul shoot were high. When Tony Gilroy and the producer had gone back to the U.S., they sent the Korean staff an email saying how filming in Korea had been a very good experience. Gilroy had once shot a scene in the Chicago subway. He said that although the Chicago subway authorities had granted permission for the shoot, they were uncooperative overall: they insisted the subway train could only be moved forward and would not reverse it for the film crew. In the Seoul subway, however, they were able to borrow a train after normal operating hours and operate it backwards and forwards on an actual track as they liked. Gilroy said that filming with the Seoul subway had been an amazing experience that he had especially enjoyed. He was very satisfied with the acting on the part of the extras, too.
    Gilroy said that working in Korea had its merits and that he would tell other directors about his experiences filming here. He even predicted that Korea would before long become the main location for a Hollywood film. In a PR interview, he said that directors getting to film in Seoul were lucky.
    - How does TPS publicize itself overseas?
    In our early days, we put up a booth at BIFCOM, at Busan International Film Festival. Currently, all we have is our information posted on a location guide site (www.thelocationguide.com).
    - When providing production services, what’s the biggest difference between international projects and Korean projects?
    Actually, shooting a film seems to be just the same whether it’s a Korean or an international project. The language aspect doesn’t, in fact, present much of a problem once people work together. They understand each other perfectly.

    One aspect we had to pay more attention to because it was an international project was drawing up a precise budget. The biggest difference was the limited shooting time. Korean directors don’t stick to the schedule when working. Even if they're supposed to finish at 12 o’clock, they keep asking for more time. With international projects, though, if it’s announced in advance that filming can only last a certain amount of time in a certain place, filming ends precisely at the stated time.
    - What problems did you experience with budget documents, or what were the differences in the way budgets were composed?
    We had previous experience with international projects, so there were no problems when it came to budget documents. Universal Studios have a very detailed budget, but the items within it are more or less the same as in Korea. One of the differences is that foreign producers can’t understand the inclusion of meals in the pre-production budget. Food is important in Korean culture, so meals are included in the pre-production budget too. I think we have to meet the budget standards of foreign productions, rather than insisting on our own way, when it comes to this.
    - What do foreign clients want to know, or need, when it comes to filming in Korea?
    First of all, they wonder if it’s possible to deal with budget and accounts transparently. Information on locations, conditions for tax refunds and incentive systems, and financial support, are also among the first things they ask about.
    They want location licenses and contracts for all locations. In Korea, it’s difficult to write contracts; most people don’t want to. When it comes to international projects, location contracts are written in great detail. We receive forms in English, amend them to a more Korean form, get them approved and then proceed. They have articles on how long filming will take place at a certain location and under what conditions; and on whether the location can be used again, under the same conditions, if extra filming is needed. Some places refuse permission, saying they don’t want to allow further filming later on. In such cases, contracts provide legal guarantees that further filming will be allowed.
    - How are tax refunds dealt with?
    We send tax lists and receipts to the client and start by sending the tax refund sum from the fee received by TPS. After that, we submit quarterly tax reports and get refunds. We create English-language receipts in the format our clients want, based on the Korean versions.
    - How do you get staff insured?
    Foreign staff get insurance in their own countries before coming to Korea, so there’s no need for us to insure them. We therefore only insure Korean staff.
    - What’s the most important thing when it comes to production services?
    Trust lies at the heart of production services. It’s important to build up trust. You can’t do big projects from the start. I think that if you start by building up experience through small projects, you’ll be able to do big ones too.
    - When it comes to American companies, what’s most important is not money but clarity and precision.
    In Korea, people grumble about spending an extra 10 million won because they want to save money. But American companies prefer getting filming done smoothly on the day rather than saving money, as long as it’s discussed precisely in advance.
    Knowing how to draw up a budget also seems important. In Korea, there have been no more than 10 films with budgets of over 10 billion won. Not many people have experience of being in control of films with budgets that big, and not many have experience of drawing up budgets or balancing accounts and knowing where mistakes have been made. A budget of 10-20 billion won is huge to us, but in the U.S. that’s the scale of a small or independent movie.
    - Can you tell us about any particularly memorable episodes?
    During the Approved for Adoption project, I felt closer to cartoonist JUNG Henin in that he was an adopted Korean. His history, including the pain of losing his younger adopted Korean sibling in an accident, is all included in the comic book he illustrated. He lived a hard life, and used comics as a medium for overcoming his pain. He married Nathalie, who was also adopted to Belgium, and they have a daughter. The whole family came to Korea while we were filming. It was their first visit. After filming, we went traveling to various places. We went to Holt Children’s Services Inc to find his birth parents and I also found out various bits of information, but in the end we couldn't find them. In winter that year, I went to stay at their house in Bordeaux for five days. We made packed lunches together and went sightseeing, and I had a had a good time looking around Jung’s studio. It was Christmas at the time, and I remember how we sang songs and had a party together.
    tel +82-2-2135-1570
    mob +82 (0)10 3406 2768 (LEE Jong-ho)
    email ayaman123@gmail.com
    * Korean Films
    1. Girl Scouts (2008)
    2. GoGo 70’s (2009)
    * International Films
    1. Approved for Adoption (2010, France, Belgium)
    2. The Tiffany Rubin Story (2010, Canada TV movie)
    3. The Bourne Legacy (2011, America)
    1. Ride Away (2008)
    2. Paju (2009)
    3. The Front Line (2011)
    4. The Ethics of Anger (Post Production)
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