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PARK CITY ’06: So Yong Kim: “Tell your story now and work within the limitations of what you have.”

PARK CITY '06: So Yong Kim: "Tell your story now and work within the limitations of what you have."

Every day through the end of the Sundance Film Festival, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview and each was sent the same questions.

So Yong Kim directed “In Between Days,” screening in the Independent Film Competition: Dramatic section. The film is about a Korean teenager who recently immigrated to the U.S. and the feelings she develops for her best friend here. Kim earned an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. She is making her directorial debut with this film.

Please tell us about yourself. How old are you? Where have you worked?

I’m 37. I don’t have an outside job right now, have been editing full time for about eight months.

Where are you from?

I was born in Pusan, Korea, then immigrated to the U.S. when I was 12. We lived in Korea Town in LA then later moved to a suburb called Covina. I left LA when I was 17 for college and never wanted to go back to live there. Nice to visit my family in LA though.

Now, Bradley Gray (my husband and the producer on the film) and I live in a small town called New Paltz, about one and a half hours north of Manhattan in a small house in the woods. We first met in Chicago while in art school. Since then we’ve lived in London, New York, Tokyo, then settled in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a little over two years. When we came back to the U.S., we didn’t want to go back and live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but opted to hide out. It’s been great to live and work here in the woods.

What were the circumstances that led you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore?

I used to make installations and performances in Chicago. Then when I moved to NYC, I had less access to space and people. So I started making short experimental films/videos with little sounds to go with them. I made them at home while working full-time. I first studied painting then performance art and experimental filmmaking at the Art Institute of Chicago. After making experimental films and videos, it seemed natural for me to transition into narrative filmmaking. I think I was ready to share my stories with a wider audience. After working on Brad’s first feature film, “Salt,” in Iceland, I felt confident that I can make this film. I highly recommend young filmmakers to just go out there and find ways to tell their stories.

I would like to learn how to write better. I still try to make little songs or sound pieces for my films but my goal is to eventually, when I’m really old, like in my 80s, to go back to painting.

How did you finance your own film?

We made some money from selling “Salt” to the Sundance channel, some savings and begged for money from our family. This all went into making “In Between Days.” We had the camera package donated and our co-producer in Canada, Jennifer Weiss, helped us find the rest. My advice to other struggling filmmakers is to not to wait for financing of your ideal budget. It’s time lost, and you lose your energy waiting. Tell your story now and work within the limitations of what you have. It will make your film even better and the process more creative.

Where did the initial idea for your film come from?

I was living in Iceland when I got invited to the MacDowell Colony (in New Hampshire) to work on an experimental film. But when I got to MacDowell, I started writing a story about a girl who lives in this isolated world. I wrote the script in two weeks then that covered about 30 years of my character Aimie’s life. It took another two years to clean it up and to narrow the story down.

What are your biggest creative influences?

I studied painting then performance art and experimental films. So my biggest creative influence always comes from that area, such as Pina Bausch and Maya Deren. In narrative filmmaking, my biggest influence has been my partner and filmmaker Brad Gray. I learned how to make narrative films from him and from working on his first feature, “Salt,” in Iceland. The entire team was the director, the cinematographer and me. I was the boom operator, the cook and the producer. So after that, I felt I could make a feature of my own. The three most influential films on “In Between Days” have been “Rosetta” by the Dardenne brothers, “Unknown Pleasures” by Zhang Ke Jia and “Rebels of the Neon God” by Tsai Ming-liang.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?

When I first wrote the script over two years ago, it covered over three decades of my character Aimie’s life. It took a long time to edit that down to what became the final story. The most challenging aspect of the film was the casting. I had a feeling that we had to go on the streets to find the perfect fit for the character. We were putting flyers around Korea Towns in New Jersey, Queens and Manhattan. I knew it was meant for us to make the film when I discovered Jiseon Kim working at a Korean cafe in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After I cast her to play Aimie, the script was adjusted to fit her personality and our limited budget.

Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance?

It was on my birthday, and Brad and I were in New York City at my cousin’s apartment to go out. We were arguing over what restaurant to go to when we got the call from Caroline Libresco.

What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?

The ideal would be to sell the film and get distribution. But I would also like to promote Brad’s next film, “Jack and Diane,” which we are producing together. We want to let everyone know that we plan to make films for a long time, at least until I start painting in my 80s.

What is your definition of “independent film”?

I believe Brad’s first film, “Salt,” and my film, “In Between Days,” are independent films. I think Andrew Bujalski is making independent films. I’m not sure what the definition is.

What are a few other films you’re hoping to see at Sundance and why?

Sharon Lockhart’s “Pine Flat” — we saw her film in Berlin for the first time in 2003 and became big fans. “Peter Pan Formula” [by Cho Chang-ho] — heard good things from friends. “Wild Tigers I Have Known” — read Cam Archer’s script and liked the story. And would like to see as many documentaries and narrative features as possible.

Who are a few people that you would most like to meet at Sundance?

Tom Waits because I want to hear what his voice sounds like in real life and other filmmakers.

If you were given $10 million to be used for moviemaking, how would you spend it?

$1 million-invest in 10 filmmakers, $100,000 each to make their first features, a percentage of the profits will be invested in the next 10 filmmakers’ projects

$2 million-fund 20 Asian women filmmakers to make their features — doesn’t have to be their first feature, funds come back to invest in the next 20 filmmakers

$4 million-fund Brad’s next two features

$2 million-make my next four films

$1 million-fund nonprofit organizations like … land mine removal (Mag.org), children soldier/labor abuse, Habitat for Humanity

What are some of your favorite films, and why? What is your top 10 list for 2005?

Favorite films and why:

“I Was Born, But …”-I love the story, and I love everything I’ve seen by Ozu.

“Beau Travail”-I love the choreography and movement. Reminds me of Pina Bausch.

“Rosetta”-It’s very focused and singular. It’s a story about a girl, and I love the way it is made. It’s honest, physical and inspiring.

“Ballad of Narayama” and “Mother and Son”-Both of these films have very tender relationships between a son and his mother, but the stories and they way they are told are quite different. I love everything I’ve seen by Imamura, also.

“Woman in the Dunes”-It feels crazy, and I like that.

Top 10 of 2004/5:

“Cafe Lumiere” by Hsiao-hsien Hou

“The Child” by [Jean-Pierre] Dardenne

“Good Night, and Good Luck” by [George] Clooney

“Tropical Malady” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

“The Wayward Cloud” by Tsai Ming-liang

“The Sun” by [Aleksandr] Sokurov

“Mutual Appreciation” by Andrew Bujalski

“Manderlay” by [Lars von] Trier

“The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes” by [Stephen Quay and Timothy] Quay

“Last Days” by Gus Van Sant

“Nobody Knows” by Kore Eda [Hirokazu Koreeda]

What are one or two of your New Year’s resolutions?

Be a better person. Make more movies and help other filmmakers.

If you took President Bush’s job, who would you hire/fire?

Fire everyone. Then hire all women who have raised children.

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