“Thanks to the support of many Korean cineastes, my sincerity has been secured.”
Minari, which was first unveiled through the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, ended its one-year award ceremony with the American Academy Awards. Minari, still being screened at the theater, also reported that it drew more than 1 million viewers in Korea a week after Actor Youn Yuhjung won the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actress. Behind the ‘wonderful journey of Minari, there is Christina Oh, a Korean-American producer from Plan B Entertainment. We had a chance to hear from Christina Oh, the executive producer of the films OKJA, The King, and Irresistible, about her experience as a producer in Hollywood, along with her work on Minari.
Q: I think the long journey with Minari which was started from Sundance to Oscar has done. How was your journey with the film?
A: This journey has been incredibly moving and humbling. To see how the film has been received amongst friends, family, and people of all differing backgrounds has been unbelievably heart-warming.
Q: Youn Yuhjung became the first Korean actress to win the Oscar for acting. I wonder how your work with her was.
A: She is amazing. The shoot was not easy. It was very hot, and we had very little money and time, but she was a complete professional and really trusted our director, Lee Isaac Chung. She showed up every day, despite all the difficulties, and really gave it her all.
Q: I heard it was the actor Steven Yeun who recommended you read the script for MINARI. What was your impression when you first read it?
A: Yes! Steven and I became friends through shooting Director Bong Joonho’s OKJA. He, along with Isaac’s agent, sent the script to me. I was so moved by the beautiful story - a meaningful one about a Korean immigrant family (that felt very familiar to mine and many other Korean-Americans), who were simply trying to survive and thrive as pioneers on new land in America.
Q. How did you come to the conclusion to produce MINARI? What was the conclusive point that led you to decide to produce MINARI? (These 2 questions are kind of similar, so I will give one answer).
A: Once I read the script, I felt so connected to the material, and I knew I wanted to meet and speak with Isaac. He was teaching in Korea at the time, so we arranged a time to Skype. Once I met him and his kind and gentle soul, I knew I wanted to produce the film and do my best to give Isaac the space he would need to make this movie.
Q: I heard that MINARI was completed under a less than 2-million-dollar budget and just 25 shooting days. I wonder if such budgetary and time constraints burdened the production and how did you manage to overcome such difficulties?
A: Yes! You are right. We had less than $2M and just 25 shooting days. It was definitely a burden for all of us, but one that we were happy to bear. Even though it was very hard, everyone showed up and gave it their all because we believed in Isaac’s vision.
Q: There is a rich list of names of Korean descent on the production crew credits including Production Designer Yong ok Lee, Costume Designer Susanna Song, Makeup Designer Kelly Park, Casting Director Julia Kim and Editor Harry Yoon. What kind of considerations did you have when you put together the production crew?
A: This was really important to me. Although I am a Korean-American, born in the United States, my parents and the entire immediate family are from South Korea. I was raised with a lot of Korean cultures, and I have much respect for my Korean roots. In understanding this, I felt it would be important to bring on as many Korean/Korean-Americans onto the crew as possible because if the film is made with authenticity in mind, then the audience will be able to connect with the story more easily.
Julia Kim: Having a casting director who could identify true Korean language speakers was vital in casting David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho). Both of those characters are fully bilingual in Korean and English - much like we were when Isaac, Steven, and I were kids.
Harry Yoon: I met Harry a couple of years ago, and I knew I wanted to work with him on this because not only does he have a great editing eye, but he understands both Korean and English which was important when it came to editing scenes with a lot of Korean dialogue. But Harry is also great with stories and understanding the American side of things. His knowledge of both ends of the spectrum really helped create an immersive environment to view the film.
Kelly Park: I originally wanted a makeup designer who spoke Korean to help make the Korean actresses (Youn Yuhjung and Han Yeri) more comfortable on set. However, our budget needed us to hire a local person in Oklahoma. When it became clear that it wasn’t going to work, I asked our production designer Yong-Ok Lee to help connect me to any Korean-speaking makeup artists she knew, and she thankfully introduced me to Kelly.
Q: Although this film is set in Arkansas, U.S.A. during the 80s, there seems to be a deep sense of Koreanness in the props and costumes. What kind of considerations did you make when you were developing the basic setting for this film? (I will speak about set design because that’s where it really stems from - it’s kind of similar to my answer in the previous question.)
A: Yes - it’s so awesome to read that you felt that “Koreanness” because that’s exactly what we were all hoping for. I met with an amazing Production Designer, Yong Ok Lee, who grew up in Korea in a similar era. She had a deep understanding of the design and Korean culture and how it translated to Korean-American culture. It also helped that Isaac, Steven, and myself all grew up in similar settings, and it was fun to think and talk about how we all had “the same 접시(dishes), 그릇(bowls), 수세미(sponges) while we were growing up.
Q: MINARI follows the journey of a Korean family as they struggle to settle down in America. Also coming from an immigrant family, participating in this film must have been quite special for you.
A: This is the most meaningful project I have ever been a part of. OKJA is really special to me, too, as I loved working with Dir. Bong and learning about Korean filmmaking in Korea, but Minari meant so much to me on a deeply personal level as I had never seen a Korean family depicted on-screen in this manner in American cinema.
Q: I heard your father played the supermarket owner who was supposed to sell the farm produce Jacob grew himself. How did your father get to play in the film?
A: HAHA oh you heard this! :) Yes, my father plays the market owner that buys Jacob’s produce towards the end of the film. My father has always been interested in movies, and maybe unknowingly instilled my love for films while I was growing up. When he heard I was making Minari, he asked if there was a role for him and he auditioned to be the market owner. I showed Isaac, and we gave him the part!
Q: How did you start your career as a film producer?
A: I went to film school and studied Producing, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a Producer until I started to work at Plan B Entertainment. I started as an assistant and worked my way up to producing Film and TV for the company. It was and is hard work, but I have amazingly supportive colleagues and mentors in Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. They helped me learn about the work and gave me a lot of space to grow into my own being at the company.
Q: Ever since you started working at Plan B in 2011, you’ve worked on a number of projects including WORLD WAR Z, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, OKJA, and THE KING. Are there any particular titles you believe served as a turning point for you, or any one that carries special meaning for you?
A: OKJA. Definitely OKJA with Dir. Bong. That time was a real turning point for me in my personal and professional career. Prior to then, I had never been to Korea, and filming OKJA gave me a chance to come to Korea, connect with my roots, and work with one of the most influential directors of today. It was an incredible experience, and I cannot wait to work with him again. Hello, Dir. Bong! :)
Q: There seem to be more creative film talents such as actors and film directors from Korea getting the opportunity to work in Hollywood since the success of PARASITE. Can you give some advice to those Korean creative talents who wish to work in Hollywood?
A: Keep working and doing the work. Find good people to work with and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. Oh, and always be kind!
Q: The film industry has seriously been challenged since the breakout of COVID 19 last year. How has the pandemic impacted your life and can you tell us what the mood is like in Hollywood at the moment?
A: For me, when we closed the offices last year, I thought maybe we’d be back in 2-3 weeks. Now over a year later, I cannot believe we’ve been away for so long. I think it’s been challenging for some people to enter back into the workforce after not being around people for quite some time, but I do think Hollywood is optimistic and eager to get back into filming.
Q: What kind of film projects do you wish to make. Or can you explain what your dream is as a film producer?
A: Minari was a sort of a wonderful dream project, so I feel content and simply want to keep striving to make meaningful art. I would maybe like to make a touching romantic drama, find a really interesting action or horror film, or I’d love to produce an animated project.
Q: What projects are you working on at the moment?
A: Along with a bunch of projects in development, I’m about to start shooting a show for Amazon called PAPER GIRLS. Oh, and I’m happy to report I am already developing another feature with Isaac! :)