What was your inspiration for Future Perfect?
I made ‘Future Perfect’ as part of my graduate directing studies at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts Asia. For a long time, I had wanted to make a short film that wasn’t necessarily very plot-driven and instead told the story through vignettes. When I came across the photographic series ‘The Beauty Recovery Room’ by Ji Yeo, I was very inspired by the contrast of boredom and violence inflicted on the body. All these women have undergone invasive and painful surgeries, all the while they are recovering in the comfort of a luxurious hotel room. I wondered what these women were thinking in this moment and what kind of future they imagined for themselves. As a former art history student I have always been drawn to photography and cinematic painting and inspired by how these three different mediums interact. In fact, I even wrote my thesis on it at the time. I am also influenced by films that have a very static and meticulously composed visual style, such as the films of Roy Andersson, Ulrich Seidl, Aki Kaurismaki, and Nikolaus Geyrhalter.
What was production in South Korea like?
When we entered production it was very stressful. Basically it was just me and my boyfriend (the director of photography) making this film, because we had very little money and it’s expensive to film in South Korea. I didn’t have money to fly in my classmates, so that they could crew on my film and I also didn’t have money to ship in the school’s equipment. I did hire a local producer, who could help me contact people and also translate for me. It was the three of us walking around and trying to get things done. Luckily my boyfriend was living in Seoul with his parents at the time, so I could stay with them. Before my studies ended, I had received an allotment from the school, which I used to buy a camera, so that I would be able to shoot my own projects if I wanted to instead of having to rent equipment all the time. I was thinking of the future and about not having access anymore to the school’s equipment. We used my Blackmagic Cinema Camera and then we rented three LEDs for the lighting. I myself recorded the sound.
Did you have any trouble directing the actors, since they spoke another language?
Of course, I had written a script, but I was comfortable letting my actors improvise as long as they got the same emotional beats of the scene. I was lucky because there are a lot of good actors in Korea. During casting, however, I don’t really look for acting qualities, but more at what’s there in the person already and if they have certain qualities that are similar to a character in the screenplay.
How did you experience the process of making this film?
While it wasn’t ideal to shoot this way with such minimal crew and time, to me it felt very liberating. At school we had access to big lights and bigger crews, but I sometimes found that way of working distracting. So for me, this project was a little bit like getting back to the basics and only focusing on the story I wanted to tell and my directorial vision. I felt that the projects I had made up to this moment were very much in between: not totally in the style that the school would deem successful (being an American school their entire approach to film was more traditional and American) and not totally what I wanted either. So for my thesis film I wanted to take a risk and make a film that would be totally me – even if it would end up being a failure. Besides, what is failure anyway? Although I think for my next projects it would be nice to have the luxury of a little bit more time and a few more hands to help on set. It gives me confidence, however, that I don’t need a lot to make a film and if needed to we can be a two-man band making the film.
What about the post-production?
They always say that you make a film three times: when you write it, when you shoot it, and when you edit it. I had shot the film that I wanted to, but it took a while for me to find out how to arrange the scenes and how to transition from one scene to the next. I also cut out some scenes and characters to make the film flow better. When I conceptualized this film, I knew that the sound design would play a crucial role. The shots are quite rigid and empty and I needed the sound to convey a bigger world and enhance the tone of the scenes. When I worked with sound designer Tom Jansen, the film came more to life and it gave me a new way of looking at the film. Most importantly: you can have a lot of fun thinking of the sound design.
And finally, what would your advice be to other filmmakers?
My tip for other filmmakers is to just keep doing your own thing. Trust yourself and keep experimenting. Everybody is on his or her own path. I don’t believe you should ask for permission and wait until everything is perfect before you make your film. Sure, this might impact the way you produce the film and how much you’ve got to spend. But I think it is more important that you keep making films. So be smart and put the money on the screen! But also always reserve some money for post-production (especially sound).