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‘Okja’: How the ‘Snowpiercer’ Experience Inspired Bong Joon Ho’s Move to Netflix

The lauded filmmaker was guaranteed complete creative control on his latest film. That's an experience he hasn't had before.

An Seo Hyun, "Okja"

An Seo Hyun, “Okja”

Netflix

There’s no greater debate at this year’s Cannes Film Festival than the raging battle between the supremacy of theatrical releases and the possibilities of Netflix. Caught in the middle are films like “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” bowing at the festival in advance of their digital prmieres. But one key point is often missing from this conversation — the ability for Netflix to give filmmakers the autonomy they want.

Case in point: “Okja” helmer Bong Joon Ho, who credits the streaming platform with committing to financing his outrageous tale of a girl and her super pig — which features an all-star cast and stellar special effects — on his own terms. After all, he knows what it’s like when his creative freedom is at stake.

On his last film, 2014’s “Snowpiercer,” the director clashed repeatedly with U.S. distributor Harvey Weinstein on his cut of the film. Before “Snowpiercer” bowed at the Berlin Film Festival, there were persistent reports that the infamously snip-happy Weinstein wanted to get rid of 20 minutes of film. After test screenings and internal discussions, Weinstein eventually agreed to open with Bong’s version, utilizing an innovative limited release with an accelerated VOD window from Radius-TWC.

READ MORE: Bong Joon Ho Responds to Cannes Netflix Debate: ‘Physical Theaters and Digital Streaming Platforms Will Co-Exist’

When he was opening the film three years ago, Bong was open about his concerns regarding creative control — and his worries were well-founded.

“As soon as I realized that The Weinstein Company was going to release this film, I prepared myself mentally,” Bong said in an interview with IndieWire at the time. “There are so many famous stories about Harvey Weinstein. I tried every way to preserve shots and keep my vision intact. I’m very thankful they decided to keep this version.”

That experience directly informed the director’s priorities when setting up “Okja.”

Snowpiercer

“Snowpiercer”

RADiUS-TWC

“After what we went through on the last one, it was very important to start the process knowing that we had control,” producer Dooho Choi said after a press event in Cannes on Sunday. “That was most appealing aspect of it — knowing that he could play, and that someone would not be looking over his shoulder constantly. It was a pretty smooth process in that regard.”

During the press conference held at Netflix’s Cannes hub — a second round with the media for the director after his official Cannes press conference — Bong explained to the crowd of assembled press that his team had explored the possibility of setting up “Okja” with more conventional means.

“The traditional studios were a bit skeptical or a bit overly conscious about the radicalness of the script, and they weren’t on board,” he said. “From the get-go, it was guaranteed creative freedom [with Netflix]. They weren’t meddling with any part of the filmmaking whatsoever.”

Last week, Bong spoke out at a press event for Netflix in Seoul, where he lauded the streaming giant for allowing him to make the kind of film he wanted to make.

READ MORE: ‘Okja’ Review: Bong Joon Ho Delivers His ‘E.T.’ With Delightful Tale of a Mutant Pig and the Girl Who Loves Her — Cannes 2017

“For me, as a filmmaker, how much creative freedom I am given is much more important than how the film is distributed,” Bong said, per Variety. “Some companies did not want to invest in ‘Okja,’ because it was too expensive, while others turned it down because the film had a bold storyline. Netflix guaranteed both the budget and my complete creative freedom. Whether in America or in France, not many financiers are willing to do that.”

“Okja” premiered in Competition at Cannes earlier this week. Netflix will release it on June 28.

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