What I’ve Learned Shooting The Music of Jo Hyeja, Day1

We just finished day one of three shooting The Music of Jo Hyeja. I’m excited by the footage I’ve seen, and my feet and back hurt like hell. (It was a long day.) I should probably just go to sleep, as we have two more long days ahead of us, but I want to take some notes… so I’m posting now.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Having one person around who is a serious pro-type, who is further up the learning curve than you are, and who is excited about the project, helps immensely. Miss Jiwaku asked a friend from her filmmaking class to help, and he not only did all the camerawork (and it’s very good camerawork), but also hooked us up with equipment at a discount rental fee, brought it over, and so on. Great guy, and he really is throwing himself into the project. His know-how and energy are a big contribution.
  • Instincts are good; follow them. When we cast the lead part — that of the character Miju — we didn’t struggle too much in the decision. We narrowed the choices down to two actresses, and then both picked the same one for the final choice. There were some questions thrown at us about the casting, but our instincts have been proven right: so far, I have zero qualms about our casting — at least for everything shot today.
  • Making a tiny little movie costs way more money and takes way more time than you might imagine. When you hear about indie films with a budget of $5,000, that’s absolutely freaking peanuts. Even when you call in favors from friends willing to stand in as extras and/or work small jobs on set, you still have to pay actors, pay for equipment rentals, pay for the food and drink to be consumed both on camera and off, and so on. I baked a ton of pretty good scones the other day; most of them are gone after one day of shooting.  Come Sunday, we’ll be ordering food for dinner, I’m sure. Still, out budget is pretty tiny for this movie: no more than $1000 out of pocket for production expenses, plus maybe a little more (half again as much) for color correction if that’s necessary in the end.
  • Working the boom mike is hard. It really is. I can feel it in my legs and back. It’s not just holding it still — because the boom rattles and the sound gets picked up by the mike if you don’t — but also getting it at the right spot and keeping it there. I’ve worked out a technique, mostly, but I know I’ll be feeling it in my back by the end of the shooting. Also, being audio tech and working the boom mike at the same time would be easier if I had a belt pouch for the excellent little audio recorder we’re using, and a pair of wireless headphones. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m not a bad audio tech. Maybe not brilliant, but pretty good, all in all. I think. We’ll see when the final mix is done.
  • Horror is funny, and comedy is horrific. Our film is a Lovecraftian horror set in Korea, but it’s actually pretty damned funny at times. Some of that is the writing, such as a little jab at K-pop music I worked in — which was inevitable, in a Korean adaptation of “The Music of Erich Zann,” after all. But a significant amount of the humor comes from the actors themselves. There’s one smallish part that was written flat and dry — more fool me — but which the actor we hired for the part took it up with gusto, and breathed eerie, unsettling life into the character, turning it into a somewhat unsettling, and rather disturbing-to-look-at sort of Korean version of those unsettling locals one runs into in New England towns where so many of Lovecraft’s tales were set. He’s scary, but there’s also this wonderful funniness to how scary he is. We found ourselves holding back laughter more than a few times, even as we recognized something that will be truly unsettling in the final cut.
  • Korea is Lovecraftian. In a number of ways.  Miss Jiwaku and I were talking about the “meaning” of the story, as it is in the script — ie. adapted to a Korean setting. She was talking about how both the main characters, who are basically like the characters in the Lovecraft original except they’re female and are particularized in different ways, are both poor, both living in bad conditions in a run-down building, both cut off from a society so atomized and trivializing of anything too unusual that the horror of their lives cannot but finally manifest in the end. I was all, “No, no, Lovecraftian horror is existential horror, it’s about the meaninglessness of life, the uncaringness of the universe…” but then I realized that there is an intersection I was missing.Modern Korean history is arguably the experience of a kind of existential horror — the experience of a brutal dictatorship, and a post-dictatorship where, while immense wealth has been generated, the powers that be don’t give more than a fraction of a damn how much trickles down to the lowest of echelons, upon whose backs the wealth was built. When the protagonists are confronted with an intelligence from Beyond, they have no resources to call upon in order to effectively deal with it. The existential Lovecraftian horror is very applicable, in an allegorical sense, to Korean social issues, and the history that haunts the nation today.

And I guess that’s what I’ve learned today. Also: that shooting a film is fun.

We’ll see if I still think so 48 hours from now…

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