Hangul Celluloid: Where did the idea for your film <Cats and Dogs> originally come from?
Min Byung-woo: I directed a film entitled <Stray cats> in 2011 using a cat as the main story material. This production was also filmed on an iPhone. Subsequently, I decided I wanted to make a feature film based on this story but I thought the running time would be insufficient if I only detailed a story about a cat. So, I became determined to also include a dog as I knew that subject well on account of having a friend who was raising a dog. I mixed that story with the tale of a romance I experienced. That was the original idea for the movie <Cats and Dogs>; derived from a cat, my friend’s dog and my romance story mixed together.
Hangul Celluloid: What led to your decision to make the <Cats and Dogs> (as well as your earlier short films) using an iPhone?
Min Byung-woo: I won first place with a short film named <Stray cats> at the first <Olleh Smartphone Festival> in Korea. When I saw my movie screened at the General Theater on the day of award ceremony, I was shocked that the image was so good. So, at that time, my determination to make a feature-length movie using an iPhone was born. I also expected that if I made feature using an iPhone, it would become known as Korea’s first feature-length smart phone movie and that would, I hoped, bring exclusivity and issue to the film.
Hangul Celluloid: Park Chan-wook previously made his short film <Night Fishing> using an iPhone and used scenes shot at night to utilise the iPhone’s starkness of colour contrasts to great effect. What difficulties in terms of visuals and cinematography did filming with an iPhone bring to your production? And did the iPhone’s colour starkness inspire your decision to use more washed-out colours in the flashback scenes of <Cats and Dogs> than in the main, more colourful, main sections of the film?
Min Byung-woo: My movie had almost no problem in light of technique. I deliberately set the background as day in more than 95% of scenes when writing the scenario. I hardly filmed at night but I used minimum lighting indoors and I didn’t use extra lighting outdoors at all. And I utilized the iPhone’s original color balance to maximum effect during the final post-production work.
Hangul Celluloid: Can you tell us a little about the production set-up used to make the film? – How many cameras, lenses, sound etc.? How long did filming take and what did post-production involve?
Min Byung-woo: I used one camera, basically although I sometimes ran 2 or 3 cameras. Since the battery life of the iPhone camera was an issue, I always arranged 4 iPhones to be sure nothing would impede filming. I hardly used an extra lens at all as I thought the idea of using a photography director’s iPhone; a movie director’s iPhone; and staff’s iPhone would decrease the overall impact of what I was trying to achieve, and for the same reason I only used the pure, standard iPhone camera. I used a piece of equipment called the ‘ar-4i’ for the sound, and there was also there was boom man. The filming period was 2 months and I filmed for a total 33 days. There were animations, webtoons, DIs, Mixing, and music work in post production, which took about 6 months in total.
Hangul Celluloid: How did you go about casting the film and can you tell about the actors and actresses you chose for the film?
Min Byung-woo: I was introduced some people matching the character images through my acquaintances and at that stage I proceeded with auditions. I ultimately selected individuals most closely fitting my characters’ personalities. The name of male character is Mi Ji-hoon - a new figure working as a musical actor – while the name of female character actress is Son Min-ji - a new CF and short film actress.
Hangul Celluloid: <Cats and Dogs> features both sections of animation and smaller animated segments superimposed over live-action. What led to your decision to include these and what was your inspiration for them?
Min Byung-woo: The male lead character resembles a dog, and a dog is a dynamic animal whereas the female lead character resembles cat, and a cat is rather a static animal. So I set the job of the male lead as animator, and the job of the female lead as a webtoon writer. This allowed me to bring in the smaller animation and webtoon ideas to the narrative.
Hangul Celluloid: How would you describe the narrative themes present in <Cats and Dogs>?
Min Byung-woo: A dog-like guy keeping a cat, a cat-like girl keeping a dog and their sometimes sweet, sometimes sour love story.
My goal was not some extraordinary portrayal of love, but to tell an everyday love story that any one of us could have experienced at some point in our lives. In other words, this film is not Mt. Everest, but more like your average neighborhood hill. Amidst this ordinariness, the protagonist’s dog and cat assist in making this story a little different.
Hangul Celluloid: Certainly in the early stages of <Cats and Dogs>, the main male character (Woo-joo) is shown as an outgoing, optimistic individual while the main female character (Bo-eun) is far more pessimistic, independent, feisty and wholly unwilling to get involved with him. Did archetypal characterisations of males and females - especially changing depictions of females - in Korean films play a part in shaping your characters’ personalities?
Min Byung-woo: I really didn’t really consider Korean cinema archetypes to any great extent at all. I don’t know that much about them. I just simply expressed a cat’s general habits as personified by the female lead character, and the same went for the male character’s dog-like habits.
Hangul Celluloid: As some people reading this interview may be unaware of your earlier short films, could you tell us something about them?
Min Byung-woo: <Stray cats> is a 15-minute short film made using iPhone. The story is that the main male character recollects an ex-girlfriend through a cat he comes across by accident on the street, and this film was made by one staff member (director), one actor, and one cat. Of course, there was also music staff and mixing staff in the latter part of production. The iPhone makes it possible to use very small staff numbers.
Hangul Celluloid: As a director who has made both shorts and a feature-length film, what are your thoughts on the difficulties faced by independent film-makers in making films, finding investment and getting their work seen by audiences, in the wake of the Korean film industry being largely controlled by huge conglomerates with an increasing focus an big-budget blockbusters?
Min Byung-woo: Budget problems are by far the biggest difficulty and because of budget limitations, other difficulties also occur. In order to solve the budget problem, I need a really good idea for a film. Confined space to write scenario and a place without light are also important. Many, many arrangements are needed before filming even begins. Budget is also needed for the completed film to be seen by audiences and it is ultimately hard for independent film to be seen at all. However, if a film is made very well I feel that all of these are solved.
Hangul Celluloid: What do you see as the future for small independent films in Korea?
Min Byung-woo: In Korea, the position in which small independent films stand is gradually becoming increasingly narrow. Korean blockbuster films are holding the theatres almost completely. As Such, the future of Korean independent films is dark. I want iPhone feature-length films to become a new genre, creating power to spur the future of Korean independent film. In the end, I think the only way for the future of independent film to be assured is to make films well.
Hangul Celluloid: How important is the international market to you? Do you feel that the international market provides opportunities that are not available in Korea for allowing audiences to see your film?
Min Byung-woo: Yes, I think so. The international market is very important to independent film, as a whole. However, fortunately <Cats and Dogs> will be released in Korean theaters in the second half of 2013. It will be the first time a feature-length film made by smart phone will be run in a general theatre anywhere in the world.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you plan to attempt to have <Cats and Dogs> screened at film festivals in Korea and/or abroad?
Min Byung-woo: I am attempting to get <Cats and Dogs> screened both in Korea and at overseas movie festivals. It has already been screened at a Korean movie festival and a festival in the US. And it is continuing... However, the most important thing is the aforementioned fact that a smart phone feature film will be released in Korean theatres for the first time in the world in the second half of 2013. And furthermore, it is my final goal to see the film released in the theaters of other countries. I want to make film history with a full-length film made by smart phone being released in general theaters.
Hangul Celluloid: Do you already have plans for you next project and, if so, could you tell us a little bit about them?
Min Byung-woo: The work I am next going to prepare is a comedy film dealing with the Korean James Bond. It will have certain similarities to the American <Austin Powers>. Unfortunately, this film cannot by filmed by iPhone as it is a blockbuster. I’m planning to revisit the smart phone long film challenge once again after filming that movie. I hope that people will be excited about both films and have high expectations.
Hangul Celluloid: Thank You for taking the time to answer my many questions.