Last week, it was an honor to share the insights of filmmaker Alex Chu. This week, the third featured artist of What's Your Story? is Kiyun Sung, a New Jersey based filmmaker. Here is what he has to say (and you can watch a portion of his interview here):
1. In a short paragraph, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and your work
My name is Kiyun Sung. I am a Korean-American filmmaker based in northern New Jersey. I graduated with a degree in International Relations and, following a study abroad in Korea University, became the Graphic Design Manager of Teach North Korean Refugees, a Seoul-based NGO.
I originally began my foray into cinema by making short VFX-heavy videos, inspired by Freddie Wong, Brandon Laatsch, and Corridor Digital, and releasing them on YouTube. Then in 2014, I decided to invoke my love of Korean history and culture and made 운명의 왕: The Destined King; the first U.S.-made Korean fusion-historical short film. Since then, I’ve been making high-concept short films and projects that feature Korean or Asian culture and history through my production company, Baek Ho Productions LLC.
2. What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your work and why?
The most challenging aspect of my work is finding multilingual talent that can also do specific accents and dialects. For example, in one of my projects, there were Korean characters that spoke in a much older style of Korean (사극톤). Consequently, I had to do a more extensive casting process to find talent that could comfortably perform and speak in that style.
However, the most rewarding aspect is being able to work alongside extremely talented people in both cast and crew. I am always blown away by the immense passion and dedication that people bring, and I am always thankful that I am able to work with such individuals.
3. How do race and/or gender and/or diversity play into your work?
Race and diversity do play heavily into my work. A lot of my projects center on stories that are or are based on a specific history and culture. Consequently, I try to make sure the casting is appropriate and do extensive research to help ensure the film is authentic and respective to the respective culture and people.
4. What are the best and worst things that have happened to you, within the context of race or gender issues in entertainment, and what did you learn from them?
The best thing that has happened to me was discovering there are a lot of people in the American entertainment industry that are open to Asian culture and working on projects that are based on that. However, the worst thing I learned was that there was also a lot of people with misinformed conceptions, especially in regards to cultural practices and the history that has led to modern-day Asia.
However, I learned that it is no use to be angry or upset. Rather, I have found that it is better to practice patience and understanding, then - when appropriate - to gently teach people and help them understand things that - while understandable to us - are not easily translatable to the West.
5. If you could share a single sentence of advice or insight for others in the entertainment business, what would it be?
I would advise people in the entertainment business to be patient and supportive as much and as often as possible.
6. Do you think filmmakers have an obligation to create diverse content? Why or why not?
I don’t necessarily believe filmmakers have an overriding obligation to create diverse content. I think filmmakers should develop films that they want to see. If they are forced to tackle content that they are not familiar with or uncomfortable with tackling, then the end product may seem disjointed, forced, or inauthentic.
7. What are the biggest challenges you face as a filmmaker and how do you deal with them?
As a filmmaker, the biggest challenge I face is whether or not I have the artistic ability to tell the stories and create the films I want to make. However, I’ve found that so long as I surround myself with a dedicated and passionate team, that many of my fears and concerns can be overcome and the end product often exceeds my own expectations.
8. What are the most sage words of advice you can offer to new and emerging filmmakers?
I would advise new and emerging filmmakers to open themselves to the social sciences and history; to learn the historical and social processes that have come to shape the human experience and form the diverse array of cultures and nations that we see today. But perhaps more importantly, it is from these processes that we - as a species - have come to develop stories and by learning them, your work can resonate with audiences across the globe.
9. Does your advice change at all if I ask you to focus on women and/or minority filmmakers? If so, why and how?
No, I don’t feel that my advice would change if I was asked to focus on women and/or minority filmmakers.
10. What is the single most fun moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
In the course of filming one of my projects, we were on-location and our art director was pinning up the flag of the Joseon Dynasty. I had just briefly stepped out to talk to my co-producer when the location owner came by to look around. He asked our assistant director about the flag, to which he (accidentally) responded that it was the flag of a reunified Korea.
11. What is the single most obnoxious moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
So far, I haven’t experienced anything particularly obnoxious. I’m only usually confronted with curiosity and questions, and those are from crew members who are not familiar with Korean culture and history and want to learn more.
12. What lies ahead for you in terms of the entertainment biz?
In the immediate future, I am currently wrapping up post-production on a Korean alternate-history short film, A New Age: Clash of Civilizations. I’m also developing a semi-animated film about Yang Manchun, a Korean general that defended against the Tang Dynasty in the 7th Century. Otherwise, I hope to continue making films and videos that feature Korean and Asian history and culture in unique and prominent ways!
13. What does the phrase "Ethical Is Beautiful Be Beautiful" mean to you and your work, if anything?
I feel that “Ethical is Beautiful, Be Beautiful” means to be morally principled, and that by being morally principled, we can naturally make works that appeal both to us and audiences across the globe.